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Beige, forever middle-aged, and a little strange: just how nice is Phillip Schofield, really? 

Phillip Schofield as host of ITV's How To Spend It Well at Christmas
Phillip Schofield as host of ITV's How To Spend It Well at Christmas Credit: ITV

The most heartbreaking scene in last year’s A Star is Born remake comes when Bradley Cooper’s character watches his protege-turned-wife win a Grammy award. His personal pride eclipsed by professional bitterness, he drunkenly climbs up on stage during her acceptance speech, hijacks her big moment and urinates down himself in front of the world. 

But A Star is Born was fiction. That sort of psychodrama simply doesn’t happen in real life. Unless, of course, you count Phillip Schofield allegedly losing his mind with jealousy because someone drew a cartoon crown on Holly Willoughby’s head.

The story, as reported in the tabloids, is this: in April, to commemorate their decade-long onscreen partnership, Schofield and Willoughby consented to be interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead of the Sunday Times Magazine. Everything went swimmingly – “It’s more than just a working relationship; it’s a genuine friendship”, gushed Willoughby – and then the magazine came out, and all hell broke loose.

The culprit? The magazine’s cover; a photo of Willoughby smiling and Schofield scowling, with a cartoon crown plonked on Willoughby’s head, and the headline ‘Queen Holly’.

Schofield was reportedly so incandescent about the cover that the magazine was forced to write a letter of apology to his management. A rift is said to have opened up between Schofield and Willoughby as a result, and people at ITV are running scared. “No one wants to make an enemy of Phillip Schofield”, a source nervously whispered to The Sun on Sunday.

Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby at the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show Credit: geoff pugh

Now, this whole thing might be nonsense. It might simply be more hollow something-out-of-nothing conjecture designed to fill a bit of space on a quiet day; a series friendly tweets the pair exchanged over the weekend seem to suggest that might be the case. But I hope it isn’t. I desperately want the story to be true. Nothing would make me happier than the thought of Phillip Schofield, driven to the point of gibbering madness by fame and professional jealousy, piling up all his furniture in the middle of his house and blasting it to pieces with a rifle like Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.

Because Philip Schofield occupies such a weird space in our culture. He's been around forever, but he's always been middle-aged. When he visited my local leisure centre in the mid-1980s, hot off the success of introducing Floella Benjamin vehicles with a puppet in a cupboard on Children's BBC, he was generally considered to be a less exciting presence than when Lofty from EastEnders opened a nearby branch of MFI weeks before.

He's been around for so long, in fact, that it's easy to forget just how weird his career has been. Remember when he played the lead in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat as a non-performer, essentially inventing the unkillable fad for wildly unsuitable West End stars? Remember how he only got his start on This Morning - rescued from the wilderness of objectively bad game shows like Ten Ball - because John Leslie became the world's biggest baddie and the producers needed someone quick?

Remember how most of his moonlighting gigs seem to revolve around hypnotism, like You're Back in the Room and Have I Been Here Before?, which might rightly make you assume that Schofield desperately wants to be Doctor Strange?

But This Morning is his true home. Richard and Judy, who basically invented the show, hosted for 13 years, but Schofield cruised beyond that landmark years ago. He has now been at the helm for a full 17 years. They should bury him in the studio when he dies, which he won't because I'm not entirely convinced that he has blood.

There’s a duality to him that is utterly fascinating. On one hand he’s such a powerful figure that he makes unnamed sources go all Private Frazier when approached by tabloid newspapers, but on the other hand he’s mainly known for hosting a fluffy little daytime show about basic cookery and affordable skirts. He’s legitimately about as bland as a human being can be – he’s utterly sexless, like the result of a failed laboratory experiment to forge vanilla from silt – and yet he seems to provoke strong opinions in former colleagues.

There’s Fern Britton; Schofield’s former co-host who walked out amid rumours that she was earning quarter of a million pounds less than him, and who seemed to deliberately nosedive their most recent interview when she claimed on-air that he didn’t invite her to a This Morning anniversary party. And now there’s Amanda Holden, who’s taken this whole thing public. 

Holden has not denied recent media reports that she resents Schofield for allegedly blocking her appointment as a This Morning co-host last year; something picked raw on her radio programme during a segment where she claimed that she wouldn’t want to find him in her home. Until now, all anti-Schofield sentiment has been restricted to codes and whispers. But Amanda Holden is being so indiscreet about her hatred for the man that all bets are off now. (Schofield does appear to have a good relationship with his Going Live! co-presenter Sarah Greene, if a 2017 onscreen reunion is any measure.)

The thing is, this version of Phillip Schofield – the needy, insecure, power-hungry cartoon Schofield – is easy to believe. The man clearly has an insane ego on him, as evidenced by his occasional irony-free forays into social justice. Two years ago, during a spate of knife-related murders in London, Schofield took the impossibly brave step of posing for a selfie in the back of a chauffeur-driven car with his thumb pointed down. Remember?

Remember the I’m-not-angry-just- disappointed look on his face as he realised that he had no choice but to intervene in this whole sorry mess by tweeting a picture of his thumb? Remember how it solved knife crime forever? Remember?

Or remember when, in the wake of a terror attack that killed three people, Phillip Schofield did an Instagram where he said he was “Walking across Westminster Bridge in tribute and defiance”, and the nation sighed in relief knowing that ISIS would suffer permanent damage because the Dancing on Ice guy making it all about him on the internet? Both these instances were profoundly silly, but in an undoubtedly Brass Eye way.

You cannot simultaneously thumbs-down the concept of knife crime and possess a working level of self-awareness. You just can’t. It’s hard to see these images and come away not thinking that, on some level, Phillip Schofield genuinely believes himself to be Beyonce.

Phillip Schofield meeting Prince Charles at the 2019 Prince's Trust Awards

Part of me doesn’t want this stream of bad press to end, because part of me thinks it’ll actually be good for Schofield. For decades he’s made his name as a weaponised nice guy, so anodyne and inoffensive that he may as well be a blob of tofu floating in some milk. So to learn that he has the same capacity for bitterness as the rest of us – to learn that he’s defensive and jealous and able to create lasting enemies – can only be a good thing.

Phillip Schofield onscreen is essentially just a cypher designed to keep housewives in a holding pattern until Loose Women starts. But Phillip Schofield offscreen, consumed with rage over a cartoon crown? He’s one of us.

I would, however, reserve a note of caution for Holly Willoughby. The magazine was right – she really has eclipsed Phillip Schofield to the point that he’s by far the lesser partner – but don’t forget how badly things ended for the last figure who left Schofield in the dirt like this. After all, when was the last time anyone heard from Gordon the Gopher?