Voices: I’m not surprised by Phillip Schofield’s exit – it’s been a long time coming
Daytime TV should not be this stimulating.
I don’t mean that it should be bad, I just mean that it should be a lull. Something you had on in the background when you were off school sick or, as an adult, something you have on over breakfast on a day off.
As someone who follows politics and current affairs, it’s also useful for tracking when a story has “broken through”; in other words when something on my “For You” tab on Twitter is featuring in more mainstream discourse. There’s a reason why This Morning is listed as a magazine programme. It’s a TV show covering stories that you might read about in a dentist’s waiting room. The magazine is never the story, it’s the means through which we access the story. So the fact that Phillip Schofield has – as he acknowledged on his Instagram page – become the story himself, poses a problem.
Unlike many celebrity falls from grace, Schofield’s has been much slower, and much less certain. It almost feels overzealous to even call it a fall from grace; his is more of a tarnished reputation that, despite the best polish, has some spotting and staining that may be irreparable. It’s honestly still too early to tell.
Schofield has been the golden boy of light-hearted entertainment since the late 80s, starting on children’s TV on Going Live!, going on to host Dancing on Ice and The Cube, and for the past 20 years as one of the two presenters of This Morning. He had a good thing presenting with Fern Britton, but it was when he started hosting with Holly Willoughby that his position at the pinnacle of British presenting was solidified.
When they presented This Morning the day after their National Television Awards win, having still not gone home to sleep or change between the event and work, it was an outstanding piece of television. We as viewers were ingratiated into their success and allowed to enjoy it with them. We were part of the team; they were open and vulnerable with us, and there was no façade.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, when Phillip came out as gay on live TV in February 2020, it showed a similar level of vulnerability. In that instance he acknowledged how, for the first time, he was the talking point, explaining that he and Holly would sit there and expect people to open up to them, and it was only fair that he did the same thing. It demonstrated an understanding of his viewers and fans, and an awareness that he would need their support to continue. People were, on the whole, quite willing to give it to him.
The problem for Schofield, however, is that he and Holly had already been part of the discourse for a while. Prior to the 2019 general election, the This Morning hosts interviewed both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson, and the pair were criticised for the dogmatic nature of their cross examination of Corbyn compared to their engagement with Johnson. There’s a reason that selfie went viral.
The intervening years have also not been kind to the pair. Although I didn’t care personally, I genuinely thought they’d never recover from Queuegate. The powerful and the plebs alike were queuing for days outside, and they sidled up to the fast-track line like it was Alton Towers. I’ve never seen righteous fury like it.
More recently, there have been rumours of a feud between him and Holly, and a separate rumour about an ex-employee potentially leaving the show because of him. Most significantly, only on Friday his brother was sentenced to jail for 12 years for child abuse. These have accumulated as black marks against Schofield’s name and reputation, and whether they are warranted or not is kind of irrelevant. It’s hard to be a comfort blanket for the nation whenever you’ve been dragged through the mud.
Perhaps we as viewers are part of the problem. There’s a real issue at the minute with fans of various shows, musicians, and movies forming parasocial relationships with the stars. Just look at how invested Swifties are with Taylor Swift’s alleged relationship with Matty Healy.
We project our feelings, values, and expectations on people who have no idea who we are, and are subsequently furious when the famous person does not meet up to our standards. To be fair, they’re getting very well paid for the position that they are in, and specifically in instances like This Morning, we implicitly trust them to give us access to important information, news and content.
We should hold them to a higher standard; they are in a position of authority, however fluffy the content they are producing may be.
However, the higher the pedestal, the further the fall; and unfortunately for Phillip Schofield, it’s a long way down.