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This Morning Crew Getty 1.jpg

The Phillip Schofield Story Only Gets Messier and Nastier

By Kayleigh Donaldson | TV | May 29, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | TV | May 29, 2023 |

This Morning Crew Getty 1.jpg

Sorry, Americans. Yes, we still have to talk about this story.

The unfolding scandal of Phillip Schofield has gripped Britain for several weeks now. The TV presenter’s slow downfall has been a long time coming for those who were paying attention, and over the past fortnight or so, we saw a lot of industry-wide open secrets emerge fully into the sunlight. Last Friday, Schofield released a statement via the Daily Mail admitting that he had engaged in an affair with a much younger former employee of This Morning, the show he has co-hosted for two decades. Describing the relationship as ‘unwise but not illegal’, Schofield admitted to lying to his family, colleagues, and agents (he has since been dropped from ITV entirely, as well as his agency.) Since then, the Mail on Sunday, that paper’s weekend companion, has revealed that Schofield’s lover was ‘just fifteen when they met’, further raising questions about the nature of their relationship (the age of consent in the UK is 16.)

This story has been revealing in many ways, both in terms of the cloistered nature of the British media and in how quickly the tides turn once the money stops rolling in. One of the reasons this scandal became unavoidable was because of the endless weeks of ‘sources’ running to the press to expose the growing rift between Schofield and his long-time co-host, Holly Willoughby. I’ve already written about this so I won’t repeat myself too much here, but it became clear that certain parties were keen to distance themselves from other individuals as quickly and smoothly as possible. Since Schofield’s statement, Willoughby has released her own brief and impersonal response, insisting that she had been deceived by her former best friend after he denied the affair to her face. This comes after a report revealed that This Morning had investigated the allegations of an improper workplace relationship, and both Schofield and the younger man denied it at the time.

We know what happens when the industry seeks to protect its own. Schofield’s case isn’t that different from the well-documented scandals that predate him, but there are key differences. In February of 2020, Schofield came out, live on This Morning, as gay, a move that garnered him much respect and sympathy from the press (he was still married to his wife at the time.) Yet, even at the time, it was tough to ignore the extensive rumours that he’d only done so to pre-empt the story he has now confessed to about his affair with a much younger staffer. When he released his statement, ‘Kevin Spacey’ became a top trending topic on UK Twitter, harkening back to when the disgraced actor tried to use coming out as gay as a defence against accusations that he abused men and boys. Indeed, questions over Schofield’s behaviour were even hinted at on ITV (you know shit is bad when Perez bloody Hilton gets a sliver of moral high-ground on any matter.)

Of course, now everyone has come crawling out of the woodwork to not only condemn Schofield’s behaviour but to let everyone know that they never liked him in the first place. This includes the likes of Dan Wootton, the hack loser who makes Piers Morgan’s hatred of Meghan Markle seem muted by comparison and who was blamed as one of the chief instigators of bullying against the late Caroline Flack. He claims he tried to expose Schofield in 2019, but this is the same man who wrote lavish articles in 2020 about Schofield’s bravery when he came out. A number of former This Morning guests, many of whom are coincidentally cashing in big-time on right-wing channels like GB News, are bragging that they always knew Schofield was a crook because of how mean he was to them, and that they saw things that confirmed his nastiness, but that they never seemed to report to anyone who could have done something about it.

It all begs the question: if everyone in the media knew, including some of the most hard-hitting editors in the country, why did nobody say anything? If they care so much about the young man who may have been targeted by an older and more powerful man, then why not put that journalistic integrity to good use? The answer is almost laughably obvious, but I suppose we still have to get into it.

English libel laws are notoriously tough, which can explain, to a point, why Schofield seemed untouchable for so long. Yet if anyone had the financial means to tackle such an abuse of the law, it would be British newspapers, which are infamously monied and lawyered to the teeth. They’ve done it before and survived against the odds (hello, Johnny Depp.) Some stars are untouchable not just because of their status but because of their financial potential for others. There’s a reason that Harvey Weinstein was toppled when he was at a professional nadir. Schofield experienced a major career boost after coming out, and even the British press at its most rampantly homophobic (its default mode, if we’re being brutally honest) didn’t want to miss out on a good gravy train passing by.

Tragedies are currency. There is always a price to be slapped upon the most scandalous, traumatic, and damaging events that could happen to a human being. No lessons are ever learned, not when you can make money from repeating them ad nauseum. Move the goalposts as required. Spend months bullying a major celebrity, then plead for kindness and mental health awareness when they die by suicide. There obviously came a point with the Schofield case where it became more profitable to finally push him out for something that was well-known than to willingly hide it and bask in his glow. Then again, it’s not as though victims of, at best, manipulative behaviour from their bosses has ever inspired empathy from the media, certainly not now that the #metoo backlash has thoroughly taken root.

Whatever happened at This Morning goes deeper than the presenter who got the most screen-time. This is a show that repeatedly referred to itself as a ‘family’, which should raise more than a few alarm bells for those familiar with union busting tactics. Its toxic culture is now coming to light but there’s no resolution to be found. Dr. Ranj Singh, a former contributor to This Morning, detailed on Twitter how he felt he had been forced out of the show after making complaints about staff were being treated behind-the-scenes. Schofield, by the way, dropped another statement denying claims of toxicity. Huh.

And at the heart of this is a man who has probably been through hell, someone who is now nothing but a convenience for the press to return to business-as-usual. There’s been a startling lack of empathy for the man who Schofield may have groomed, with his real name and face being plastered across social media by the same people who claim to be shocked by what’s happened. They don’t want to protect him. They just want to use him, often in grossly homophobic ways so they can push increasingly common anti-queer rhetoric (it should surprise literally nobody that a lot of very vocal anti-Schofield smarm on Twitter is coming from TERFs.) Whatever hurt he has experienced is surely only exacerbated by a craven press and social media onslaught. The hypocrisy is staggering, but it was always going to be.

So, what we have are a bunch of self-serving creeps rushing to save their own skin, a network now eager to shake off claims of toxicity, and media-wide open season on missing the forest for the trees. It won’t take long for them to return to the status quo.