The Secret Meaning In Holly’s Message Reveals What She Really Thinks Of Phil (2023)

As so often these days, the emoji said it all. On Saturday, Holly Willoughby published an Instagram post confirming Phillip Schofield had left This Morning.

At the end, she placed a tiny digital symbol of a pink heart. The emoji usually signifies love and affection, but to those who move in some online circles – including avid Instagrammer Ms Willoughby – it has an entirely different meaning, one that may provide a fascinating insight into the mind of the woman who is now ITV’s most powerful star. Specifically, pink hearts mean ‘girl power’.

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And those who know Ms Willoughby well tell me that is precisely what she meant by hers. ‘Girl power,’ indeed, has been her secret weapon – one that she has mercilessly deployed in evicting Schofield from the seat he had enjoyed on This Morning’s sofa for over 20 years.

His tenure, of course, ended unceremoniously on Saturday at 3pm, when in a shock announcement he said: ‘I have agreed to step down from This Morning with immediate effect.’

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There was no mention of Ms Willoughby, but that was no surprise: She had overthrown him. The King of TV is dead, long live the Queen! A glum-looking Schofield was soon seen in Cornwall with his mother Pat, in what appeared to be posed paparazzi pictures. It was a devastating fall from grace.

Throughout his long career at ITV, Schofield had always had the casting vote in hirings and firings of both on-screen talent and those working behind the cameras.

The 61-year-old has been described to me by various people as ‘unpleasant’ and ‘scary’. If he liked you, life was rosy. The moment he didn’t, you knew about it – and you couldn’t expect to last long. ‘He had the power – and my, did he love to wield it,’ says one shaken former ITV staff member.

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‘He was so powerful that we all thought he would be there for ever. If someone told me a year ago that he would be ousted from This Morning, nobody would have believed it could happen.’ It is surely one of the most extraordinary sagas in the history of daytime TV: How an inoffensive, chatty, blonde managed to oust the silver-haired silverback of the small screen. Ironically – and, no doubt, painfully for Schofield – Ms Willoughby, 42, owes at least some of her success to the man she has just displaced.

In 2009, Schofield demanded that Ms Willoughby join him on the sofa after he decided he’d had enough of her predecessor, Fern Britton. Back then, she was relatively inexperienced – and that, say some, was part of her appeal to Schofield.

She was malleable, he may have reasoned. She would consider herself in his debt – and she would never be a threat to him. How wrong he was. So how, after 13 years presenting the show alongside him, did she finally triumph? It all began three years ago, shortly after reports began to emerge of tensions behind the fixed smiles of the talented duo.

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Schofield and Ms Willoughby were then signed to YMU, the all-powerful ‘talent agency’ that provides ITV with stars from Ant and Dec to Amanda Holden, Davina McCall, Simon Cowell and Rylan Clark – and which is often said to truly run the channel.

In 2020, Ms Willoughby, having grown tired of YMU’s ‘blokey’ culture, decided to leave and start her own all-female company, Roxy Management. Her departure led to a huge legal battle as YMU’s owners wanted 15% of her future earnings.

The dispute settled out of court 18 months later – with a result that satisfied Ms Willoughby. The fight, say sources close to her, further cemented her view that women should be ‘empowered and not roll over and give into men’ – especially sharpsuited corporate types who try to get their hands on your money.

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‘Girl power,’ then, has been Ms Willoughby’s policy in her business dealings for the past three years. And she soon turned her attentions to Schofield.

Her departure from YMU meant the agency placed Schofield – one of its longest-serving and biggest-earning clients – ahead of all its other stars. A source close Ms Willoughby says: ‘[Leaving YMU] was a key moment for Holly: She was set free to do what she wanted.

And now that we know what we know, it looks like this was to get Phil out of her career. Before that, all decisions were made with Phillip included because YMU were very protective of him and his career. ‘If Holly was still signed to YMU, there is no way the split with Phil would have been allowed to happen.

She would have had to carry on presenting with him with a united front, smiling sweetly as she was talked into doing things she didn’t want to do. Probably because that’s what made the most money.’ Her newfound freedom gave her crucial independence.

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A case in point, say Team Willoughby, was when she and Schofield were accused of ‘jumping the queue’ to see the late queen lying in state in Westminster Hall last year.

YMU advised Schofield to remain silent over the scandal, while Ms Willoughby was firm that she wanted to give her own explanation to viewers.

She did so, explaining their behaviour on air, while Phillip remained silent. Only last year, when I saw Ms Willoughby at the launch of what she calls her lifestyle and guidance brand, Wylde Moon, she told me she was fed up with women being blamed for the actions of the men around them.

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With hindsight, her words seem pointed. Perhaps it was a hint, even then, that she was sick of being held back by certain men. I’m told her ‘girl gang’ – including former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, All Saints singer Nicole Appleton, Universal Music supremo Shiarra Bell and PR guru Niki de Metz – have all been hugely supportive in her battle to extricate herself from Schofield.

Her publicist Laura Sinclair has also been vital. Yet her most influential friend has undoubtedly been fellow presenter Alison Hammond, 48. The two women have become close in recent months: Perhaps a savvy move by Ms Willoughby given that Ms Hammond is widely seen as the future of entertainment television.

‘Being part of Alison’s gang is not a bad place to be,’ says an ITV insider.

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‘The bosses absolutely love her. You’d rather put a picture of yourself on Instagram with her than Phillip Schofield, that’s for sure.’ The friendship has already paid off – the channel’s bosses, including This Morning editor Martin Frizell, adored seeing the two women host the programme during a trial this year.

Ms Willoughby is well aware of this, and her critics are quick to point out that you don’t stay at the top of one of the country’s most high-profile television programmes for as long as she has without knowing what channel bosses – let alone audiences – want. Former colleagues describe her as ‘cunning’ and tell me ‘she knows what she is doing at all times’.

One explained how she studies all the camera angles in This Morning’s studio so that she can make just the right facial expressions into each lens.

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Another said she is an ‘old hand’ at knowing how to pose for paparazzi shots – whether to smile, look sad or pretend she hasn’t seen the photographer.

Then there is her extraordinary – and lucrative – personal brand. While Schofield has 2.9million Instagram followers, she has almost 14million – an army that ITV values. Ms Willoughby has further bonded with the masses through her numerous parenting and children’s books.

Most outfits she wears to present This Morning, no matter their cost, sell out fast. Her business empire has seen her sign deals with giants including Garnier, Diet Coke and Oral B – while her keenly priced ‘capsule collections’ of clothing with Marks and Spencer have also been a huge success.

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And, certainly, she ‘knew what she was doing’ last November when she attended the Variety Showbusiness Awards as the special – and very public – guest of the BBC’s chief content officer, Charlotte Moore.

The much-photographed outing at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel panicked ITV bosses, who saw it as a canny move by Ms Willoughby to tell them, without saying a word, exactly what they stood to lose if she fled into Auntie’s arms.

What’s more, her television-producer husband Dan Baldwin, whose shows are screened on the BBC, has been a critic of Schofield for some time and would have relished casting his wife on flagship BBC programmes. So what’s next for her? After safely dispatching Schofield to obscurity, the mother-of-three will now take a fortnight off This Morning.

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ITV sources say the break should allow the dust to settle after Schofield’s departure, but I’m also told it is to give Ms Willoughby a chance to decompress after three gruelling months. Reports yesterday claimed that she and Schofield had called a ‘truce’ – but well-placed sources tell me there has been no thawing of relations between the pair.

Schofield is said to be ‘furious’ that he was told to step down. In two weeks’ time, ITV’s queen will once again take her place in the This Morning studio, alongside Ms Hammond – in another defiant show of girl power.

And Schofield, if he is watching, might just rue the day that he ever gave a break to this bubbly blonde who went on to win the sofa war, emojis and all.

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