Phillip Schofield affair leaves ITV morning show under fire in U.K.

LONDON — A wholesome morning show in Britain has become a drama in its own right, gripping the nation with scandals involving a star host, an affair with a younger male colleague, a feud between one of TV’s golden couples and even the queen’s funeral.

Here’s what you need to know about the saga, which is being described as a real-life British version of the Apple TV series “The Morning Show.”

Who is Phillip Schofield and why are people angry at him?

Schofield, 61, is a TV titan in Britain, where many grew up watching him host children’s shows on the BBC. He later moved to the rival ITV in 2002 and became a staple of “This Morning,” a lighthearted and award-winning breakfast program.

He was joined on the famed blue sofa by co-host Holly Willoughby — another major British star — and together the pair have been described as daytime TV’s golden couple for the last 13 years.

Schofield also made headlines, and gained sympathy across the nation, in 2020 when he came out as gay live on the show, sobbing in Willoughby’s arms. His wife of almost 30 years said she supported his decision to come out, and the two remained married.

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However, Schofield abruptly quit “This Morning” last week and later admitted to an affair with a young colleague in an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper.

“I did have a consensual on-off relationship with a younger male colleague at ‘This Morning,’” Schofield said. “Contrary to speculation, whilst I met the man when he was a teenager and was asked to help him to get into television, it was only after he started to work on the show that it became more than just a friendship.”

He swiftly came under fire from fans and critics, as well as his own agents — who dropped him — after news of his affair blew up. Many Britons are now even asking whether the show can survive.

As often happens with British scandals, the outrage seems to be less over the affair itself and more over the fact of a coverup and the potential abuse of power involved in a workplace relationship.

Schofield’s agents said they valued “honesty and integrity” and were dropping him because he had lied to them about having the affair. ITV said in a statement that it was “deeply disappointed by the admissions of deceit” and that it had previously investigated “rumors of a relationship” between Schofield and an employee, but both sides had “categorically and repeatedly denied the rumors.” Some of the outrage is also linked to Schofield’s image as a trusted figure with whom many people have grown up.

The scandal is a far cry from the normal tone of “This Morning,” which, like many British morning shows, markets itself as a lighthearted breakfast experience for viewers easing into their day as they make breakfast and sip coffee. The show typically features easy recipes, gardening tips, TV soap stars and politicians; Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was a guest this month.

“I am painfully conscious that I have lied to my employers at ITV, to my colleagues and friends, to my agents, to the media and therefore the public and most importantly of all to my family,” Schofield said in his statement. “I am so very, very sorry, as I am for having been unfaithful to my wife.”

Wait — this all sounds familiar — isn’t this like the plot of ‘The Morning Show’?

Yes — people are picking up similarities with the Apple TV series “The Morning Show,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. That show involved a male anchor being forced off the program amid a #MeToo scandal and examined the implications for co-host Aniston, who was left behind.

Fans of the British show, as well as the Daily Mail tabloid, have been making comparisons between the fictional show and the real-life fallout, with one fan saying: “Holly Willoughby is literally Jennifer Aniston.”

In a strange twist, Schofield actually also made a cameo in “The Morning Show” when it launched in 2019; he appeared on TV, in the background, behind Jennifer Aniston. British fans on Twitter were quick to create mock posters replacing the American stars with Schofield and Willoughby and calling it a “full circle moment.”

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Just as with the American fictional drama, armchair detectives and fans have been trying to figure out what the co-host Willoughby may have known about the scandal and whether she was part of the coverup.

She has issued statements on Instagram to her 8.3 million followers asserting that she knew nothing of the affair and felt betrayed.

“When reports of this relationship first surfaced, I asked Phil directly if this was true and was told it was not,” Willoughby, 42, said. “It’s been very hurtful to now find out that this was a lie.”

Some viewers say she must have had some inkling of the relationship, while her staunch fans say it is Schofield who has plunged the show into disrepute and is ruining Willoughby’s storied career.

What’s the queen got to do with all this?

British newspapers love a scandal — and this one has given them the opportunity to cover all the other controversies Schofield and “This Morning” have faced.

Former hosts on the show have stepped with allegations of a “toxic” culture surrounding the program, with one star accusing Schofield of “controlling, coercive behavior.” Another said he had been “increasingly worried about things behind the scenes” and had reported the “toxic” culture to management, allegations that the British media are comparing to the scandal that affected “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in the United States.

ITV said in a statement that it carried out a review and “found no evidence of bullying or discrimination,” while Schofield wrote on Instagram that “there was no toxicity” on the show, and that the loudest critics against him were “people with a grudge against me.”

However, perhaps the most British controversy that people are recollecting now involves two national institutions, Queen Elizabeth II and queuing.

Willoughby and Schofield gained notoriety last year, making headlines and inciting public outrage, when they were accused of “queue jumping” to visit the monarch’s coffin while members of the public waited for hours in line to pay their respects. (Queue jumping is considered particularly egregious in the Britain, offending people’s sense of fair play and orderliness.) The two hosts denied that they were cutting line and said they had been filming with the requisite media accreditations.

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For now, other presenters are filling in on the show and trying to perfect the British art of keeping calm and carrying on.

“We all know we happen to be in the news at the moment,” said host Dermot O’Leary on Monday’s show.

“But … we love making this show for all of you,” he said.

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