His colleagues lauded Phillip Schofield’s bravery in coming out as gay, but few who know him well will have been surprised by the news.
The presenter himself made clear in a TV interview with his colleague Holly Willoughby that he has ‘never had secrets’ from his wife Steph, who knew he had been wrestling with his identity for years.
He went on to say: ‘I’m doing each day at a time . . . but no, there’s no one. I’m not rushing out to anybody.’
Jon Roseman, once agent to Fern Britton, who was his sofa companion for seven years, remarked: ‘Almost everybody working in TV has suspected this for years.’
Another colleague said: ‘Everyone talked about it openly at This Morning. The feeling today is that he’s a hero for coming out, and he is being backed 100 per cent.’
Phillip, 57, has been the object of industry gossip about his sexual orientation since the earliest years of his career. But he has always denied being gay, telling an interviewer when the subject was raised 32 years ago: ‘It makes no odds to me what people say, but I think my girlfriend (Steph) would have something to say about it.’
He said he had never had a sexual relationship with a man. ‘I never felt like it, no, absolutely not.’
This was the official line.
As recently as March 2018, when he and Steph celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, there was little sign of the bombshell to come.
Then his daughter Ruby, 24, shared a picture on social media of her parents in years gone by, kissing passionately.
Phillip wrote on Instagram: ‘2 birthdays and a Silver Wedding Anniversary in one week! That’s a lot of cards. Happy 25th Mrs S,’ followed by a shocked face emoji.
No one should doubt the sincerity of his heartfelt comments about how ‘incredible’, kind, wonderful and supportive Steph has been.
‘She’s amazing, she’s incredible . . . as a wife the way she’s supported me . . . she’s astonishing,’ he said.
The couple were on warm terms when she joined him on screen for ITV’s How To Spend It Well At Christmas last year — but they must have been deep in discussions about his sexuality and desire to come out.
Indeed, there were questions being asked about the true nature of the Schofield marriage three years ago, when an ITV documentary was broadcast chronicling Steph and Phil’s adventures on a South African safari. They appeared to be a couple perfectly in tune with each other, and the closest of friends.
So what prompted the move to ‘come out’? The public step has been taken with the assistance of a crisis management PR who helped pop star Sir Cliff Richard when he was falsely accused of being a child molester in 2014.
I understand that Phil Taylor, of Phil Hall Associates, has been retained by Phillip since June last year — he called on them for help after a public spat with fellow TV personality Amanda Holden.
A fully prepared media strategy, including a newspaper interview about coming out, is in place for this Sunday. By the end of it, Phillip will have moved on with dignity.
The work will, of course, continue as before. Schofield has a £2 million-a-year ‘golden handcuffs’ deal with ITV as well as advertising contracts with Princess Cruises, Waitrose Wine and We Buy Any Car, and shows no sign of wanting to retire.
However, if he and Stephanie wished to separate, a divorce, should that follow, could cost him dear: up to £4 million — and he might lose the £1.5 million house in Henley that he loves (it has two cellars for his wine collection).
He and Steph met when he was 25. Phillip had just landed a job on the BBC’s flagship Saturday morning show, Going Live, and she was a researcher.
The young couple moved in together in Chiswick, West London, and married six years later.
Phillip recently told a friend of mine that he had known ‘within three weeks’ that she was the woman he was going to marry, and had indicated that they were deeply infatuated with each other in the early days.
Steph was at his side, then, when he realised his career dreams
Phillip was raised in Cornwall: his late father Brian was a French-polisher and his mother worked in a care home for the elderly, but young Phillip was obsessed with being on television. He sent his first job application to the BBC when he was ten years old, and by the time he was 17 had sent 100 more. He would type them in an effort to disguise his age.
His bedroom was turned into a studio, with spotlights and a stage, and younger brother Tim was interviewed incessantly about every aspect of his life. Schofield once joked that little Tim’s first words were: ‘No comment.’
At bedtime he would ‘sign off’ into his mirror.
He said: ‘My parents must have thought I was crazy but they were amazingly tolerant. Apart from a brief moment in infants’ school when I thought I wanted to be a gravedigger, I never had a thought about pursuing another career.’
After four years in New Zealand between the ages of 17 and 21, he returned to the UK and began doing links for children’s shows transmitted from what seemed to be a BBC broom cupboard.
Then he landed a job on Going Live, where his clean-cut looks drew comparisons with stars of the day such as Jason Donovan.
At one point he received 500 fan letters a week, chiefly from love-lorn teenage girls who found him absolutely desirable.
By then his career was being guided by Peter Powell and James Grant management, to whom he has remained loyal ever since.
Powell, once married to presenter Anthea Turner, and Schofield have been lifelong friends, along with showbusiness agent Russ Lindsay, whose late wife was Caron Keating.
They formed the ‘Chiswick mafia’ of young media friends, and would socialise together.
In an interview last year, Phillip said they would party hard: ‘It wasn’t a case of hiding it. I did the same as everybody else. I was a lad; we partied a bit but I didn’t hide anything. It’s just that nobody bothered to look in the right place.
‘We were simply getting leathered in Chiswick.’
Early on he was romantically linked to Caron, the Blue Peter presenter and daughter of TV icon Gloria Hunniford, and she was said to have been devastated when it didn’t work out.
Then came Stephanie Lowe. In an interview before they were married, he said: ‘I tend to be monogamous because I am quite loyal. I like having someone to come home to and discuss things with. I like coming home when the lights are on in the house, bread is being baked and the garden is mowed.’
His agent, Peter Powell, suggested he should follow Neighbours star Jason Donovan on stage as the lead in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
For someone who had never acted professionally and had barely sung, it was a bold risk. But at the age of 29, he gave it a whirl and ended up touring with the show for three years.
After Joseph, and his marriage to Stephanie in 1993, there were some relatively fallow years with a role in a game show — Talking Telephone Numbers — and a part playing Dr Dolittle on stage.
Daughter Molly was born when he was 31, followed by Ruby two years later.
It was 2002, when he was 40, that Schofield hit the big time. This Morning presenter John Leslie was sacked after he was named publicly on TV as the person who had allegedly raped Ulrika Jonsson. Into his shoes stepped Schofield, who had been on the rota of presenters who filled in on Fridays. He has stayed there ever since, the longest-running presenter in the show’s history.
It wasn’t a completely smooth ride. Cracks in the Mr Nice Guy persona began to show in 2018, when there was a very public falling-out with Amanda Holden, among others. The words ‘toxic’ and ‘controlling’ were used.
Amanda was in the frame to stand in for his co-host, Holly Willoughby, when Holly was picked to help out on I’m A Celebrity in 2018. However, Phillip apparently made it clear that he would rather work with someone else.
Amanda later took to the microphone on her Heart FM radio show to name the three things she wouldn’t want in her house as ‘spiders, flies and Phillip Schofield’.
Fellow TV hosts Eamonn Holmes and his wife Ruth Langsford are also said to have been vocal about his behaviour.
All seemed to have been forgotten, however, when Phillip and Holly joined the couple on the show. Holly, who is said to be very close to Phillip, was openly supportive, hugging him as he poured out his heart in front of the cameras.
As for the future, the belief is that wife Steph has always been very pragmatic and it seems they are going to stay good friends. Now, though, Phillip will be able to be more open with his sexuality.
As one colleague put it: ‘In recent years he has seemingly started to express his identity more. That said, a lot of people thought he would never come out.
‘My feeling is that the timing reflects his inner conflict but also that his daughters are older now. He has always been a great dad. His daughters used to get up and have breakfast with him between 5am and 6am so he could see them before the show.
‘I’m sure he planned this so they were old enough not to be teased. He is completely devoted to them.’
His former colleague added: ‘This is a monumental moment in his career. The viewers will want to tune in to see the “new” Phil and they all love him. The reaction in the Good Morning office is all, “Good for him”.’