For holidaymakers at Portugal’s exclusive Quinta do Lago resort, summers mean lazy strolls on endless sandy beaches, enjoying a bottle of the fruity local rosé, Barranco Longo and, of course, sightings of the inseparable TV stars Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.
For many years the duo, their families in tow, have been virtually impossible to miss in the Algarve. Year in, year out, they would swim, snorkel and sunbathe together, ending blissful sunny days with dinner parties at each another’s enviable £1 million villas.
So close were they that Ms Willoughby would often enjoy girls’ nights out with Schofield’s grown-up daughters, Molly and Ruby. Back in England, their families were so intertwined that there were bike rides and Sunday roasts in each other’s company — all of which were played out to their loyal fans on social media.
It’s a dramatically different Holly and Phil who were on screen for last Monday’s This Morning show — their first appearance since she was left ‘sad and furious’ at his decision to issue a statement about difficulties in their friendship without consulting her.
On air she wished a happy 14th birthday to her son, Harry, while ‘Uncle Phil’, who has known the child most of his life, looked overwhelmingly awkward.
Holly and Phil used to be inseparable, so close that their families would holiday together, but now they are in the middle of a feud
It’s now understood that Holly wants Phil to leave and for Alison Hammond (pictured) to step in
‘This time two years ago he would have joined in the family celebrations,’ says a source close to the presenters.
How the shine has come off Holly and Phil — or Phil and Holly, as I’m told he prefers.
Four weeks ago, I revealed in the Mail on Sunday that tensions on This Morning had become so unbearable that 61-year-old Schofield’s future was being openly discussed behind the scenes. Viewers, it seemed, were rapidly falling out of love with the TV stalwart.
Two days later, Holly claimed to have come down with shingles, which meant she would not be at Phil’s side as he made a difficult return to This Morning after a three-week break while his younger brother Timothy was on trial for child sex offences.
Yet some insiders suspected she wasn’t unwell but was instead distraught that her co-presenter had not warned her about the trial in advance.
Little wonder then, that since my original story, the pressure cooker atmosphere on the show has become a major talking point, even being mentioned in the House of Commons. Viewing figures, meanwhile, are in freefall.
So how long can the pair continue to present side by side? And what does it mean for the almost symbiotic relationship between their family and friends?
Some insiders suspected Holly wasn’t unwell but was instead distraught that her co-presenter had not warned her about his brother’s trial in advance. Pictured: Phil with his paedophile brother Timothy
Undoubtedly, considering the pair’s long history, their row has left some members of both families deeply upset.
Interestingly, though, Holly’s powerful TV producer husband, Dan Baldwin, is not said to be one of those mourning the schism — of which more later.
Indeed, so rapid has the incineration of Schofield’s affable on-screen persona been, that I’m told most of his bosses want him out and to keep the popular Ms Willoughby.
And his replacement? Holly wants her new best friend, the vivacious and curvaceous Alison Hammond, to take his spot. I’m even told that Holly has told her bosses of her wish — and ITV agree with her desires.
Removing the barnacle-like Phil from the sofa, however, will be no easy task.
One can almost sympathise with Holly’s move against him — she was, I’m told, left ‘in pieces’ when he and his management team at talent agency YMU prepared the statement about the state of their relationship and gave it to The Sun newspaper without informing her. The first she knew was when the tabloid — which has a long-term, close relationship with Schofield — tipped off her publicist late on Wednesday night. In it, he insisted she was his ‘rock’ but admitted ‘the last few weeks haven’t been easy for either of us’.
Nor has it been for This Morning’s bosses and staff, or indeed the higher echelons of ITV, who have endured some of their most tumultuous times in television to date. Many have been there for decades and simply don’t know how to solve this problem.
That includes This Morning’s editor Martin Frizell, 64, a breakfast television veteran who had a front row seat in another high-profile ‘sofa war’ between Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner in the late 1990s.
Undoubtedly, considering the pair’s long history, their row has left some members of both families deeply upset
Frizell, insiders tell me, has been ‘like a bear with a sore head’ behind the scenes at This Morning’s White City studios in West London.
It is said to have taken more than 48 hours of wrangling to get Holly and Phil in front of the cameras by 10am on Monday. Sources say it very nearly didn’t happen and claim that when it was mooted that Holly should host with another co-star, Phil refused to allow this to take place.
They limped through to Thursday, their last day of the week before the easy-going pairing of Ms Hammond and Dermot O’Leary took over for Friday’s slot. ‘The bosses have been going to bed dreading getting up in the morning for the past week,’ one member of staff at the network tells me.
‘Not only have they had the fear that things will implode between Holly and Phil, but that nobody will watch them.’
Their worries appeared entirely justified when they learned Tuesday’s toe-curlingly awkward performance saw This Morning drop by 170,000 viewers — going from 894,000 to 724,000. Long gone are the glory days of 2020 when figures hit 1.9 million.
And it only got worse. On Wednesday, viewing figures averaged 551,000, opening with 628,000 but plummeting to 590,000 after 30 minutes. By 10.45am they were down to 510,000.
As the clock struck 11.30am, just 485,000 were still with them, making This Morning, the supposed jewel in the line-up, the worst performing show of the ITV daytime schedule. Good Morning Britain averaged 635,000, while Lorraine got 585,000 and Loose Women pulled in 558,000.
Over on the BBC, Frontline Fightback, Defenders UK and Homes Under The Hammer during the same time slot averaged 773,480 across the three programmes.
Holly and Phil limped through to Thursday, their last day of the week before the easy-going pairing of Ms Hammond and Dermot O’Leary took over for Friday’s slot (pictured)
The figures, sources say, have left bosses ‘hugely embarrassed’. ‘It was like a funeral in there,’ said one This Morning employee. ‘You can’t kid the viewers,’ they added.
Nor can Phil now apparently rely on the show’s staff to have his back. As he and Holly had an awkward ‘farewell’ kiss on Wednesday, as she skipped out of the studios and into a waiting car to introduce the Prince’s Trust Award winners to King Charles at Buckingham Palace, cheeky production staff were speculating it could have been a ‘practice run’ for life without him.
But while their parting wasn’t a final goodbye, there are many at ITV who wish it was Schofield’s last farewell — including Frizell, his former cheerleader.
Because while the show itself was little short of an on-air car crash, it was nothing compared to what was going on behind the cameras between the embattled former friends.
Show sources tell me there was a disagreement after Schofield learned there was to be a segment on a forthcoming ITV Rolf Harris documentary, which was deemed to be too close to home given his brother Timothy’s crimes, which yesterday saw him sentenced to 12 years in prison. When approached by the Mail, ITV did not comment on this allegation.
The seeds for the fall have, in reality, been a long time coming.
Phil’s apparent envy of Holly, his former ingenue co-star — he hired her to sit next to him in 2009, when she was a relatively unknown former children’s TV presenter — had been simmering for some time. But the view inside ITV, I was told this week, was that the audience were until recently unaware of all this and truly felt they were ‘part of their gang’. The nation had bought into their chemistry — not one of romance but of pure friendship.
The show’s viewing figures, sources say, have left bosses ‘hugely embarrassed’. ‘It was like a funeral in there,’ said one This Morning employee. ‘You can’t kid the viewers,’ they added.
This translated into numerous awards, whopping salaries (they both earn £730,000 after Ms Willoughby, 42, got a pay rise amid the gender pay gap scandal in 2018) and, of course, huge ratings. One of the key players in Holly distancing herself from Phil has been Dan, her husband of 15 years. He owns successful production company Hungry Bear, which makes shows such as The Wheel and Breaking Dad, starring Bradley Walsh and his son Barney.
In December 2019, Dan paired his wife up with Walsh for a Christmas quiz show Take Off With Bradley & Holly. Schofield was said to be irked that his TV wife had found herself a new TV husband.
Then, last year, Baldwin placed Holly alongside comedian Lee Mack in the popular prime time action programme Freeze The Fear With Wim Hof.
Sources tell me that Baldwin has been encouraging his wife to untangle herself from Schofield for some time. His advice was certainly prescient — who can forget ‘Queuegate’ which prompted a furore at the late Queen’s lying-in-state last September? While Holly wanted to address why she and Phil didn’t wait with the rest of the public, he didn’t. And as he didn’t utter a word, Holly was said to have been left feeling she had been ‘thrown under the bus’.
Things have never been the same since, sources say. As for Holly’s undoubted upset that Phil didn’t warn her of his brother’s child sex trial, his allies say he did and she is now trying to ‘stitch Phil up’.
Into the vacuum where there once was a solid friendship has stepped the presenters’ respective PR machines. Both are suspicious of each other’s representatives, and in the middle, a despairing ITV are saying nothing on the record.
Schofield has enlisted the help of The Sun’s former showbiz editor Gordon Smart to assist in his Press coverage — though he clarifies that it’s merely to advise newspapers on how they should report on his brother’s 11 convictions against a minor.
Some say Schofield is ‘down in the dumps’ as he wonders how it came to this. Others insist he is stubbornly carrying on, refusing to leave the job he has done for the past 21 years, despite being told by some it’s time to step back.
Little wonder, then, that he is said to be perturbed to see the rise of Alison Hammond. For more than a decade she was the programme’s showbiz girl, sent out to interview stars or take part in silly skits with members of the public.
But after being employed as a main presenter by Frizell partly to solve his show’s diversity problem, she has become the golden girl of British television — indeed, earlier this year she was hired to host C4’s The Great British Bake Off.
Phil seems to have had a problem with strong women in the past. Amanda Holden, Loose Women’s Ruth Langsford and his former co-star Fern Britton are just three who have fallen out with him
ITV bosses loved when Alison Hammond and Holly presented This Morning while Phil took himself out of the limelight during his brother’s trial
Her relations with Schofield are said to be chilly — but then he seems to have had a problem with strong women in the past.
Amanda Holden, Loose Women’s Ruth Langsford and his former co-star Fern Britton are just three who have fallen out with him.
Notably, Schofield was absent from Ms Hammond’s 48th birthday party in Birmingham earlier this year, while Ms Willoughby was there with bells on.
She has become very close to Alison, staunchly supporting her through her recent blackmail ordeal when a former male friend threatened to release lies about her unless she paid him off.
Soon after, Ms Willoughby took Ms Hammond out with her famous girl gang, which includes Spice Girl Emma Bunton and former All Saints singer Nicole Appleton.
Then, as Schofield took himself out of the limelight while his brother was tried at Exeter Crown Court in March, the two women presented This Morning together for two days in his absence.
The bosses loved it, as did Holly.
‘Her beautiful, blonde, softly-spoken exterior is very disarming,’ someone who knows Holly well tells me. ‘Underestimate her at your peril. Holly wants This Morning to be the Holly and Alison show and usually what Holly wants, Holly gets . . .’