Homophobia has fuelled affair coverage – Schofield – BBC News

  • By Steven McIntosh
  • Entertainment reporter

Video caption,

Watch: Phillip Schofield said the affair was his “biggest, sorriest secret”

Phillip Schofield says he believes homophobia has fuelled the coverage over his workplace affair with a younger male colleague.

In an interview with BBC News, the ex-This Morning host apologised for the “grave error”, saying his career was now over and he had “lost everything”.

But he said while he would have “been in trouble” over an affair with a woman, it would not have been such a “massive scandal”.

Schofield came out as gay in 2020.

The TV presenter spoke quietly as he said he was “desperately sorry” and revealed he had experienced suicidal thoughts in recent days.

But he pushed back at some of the scrutiny of his conduct, which he argued had been greater because the relationship was between two men with an age difference between them.

“I would still have been in trouble, because I’d broken the rules of having a relationship with someone at work,” he said when asked if an affair with a woman would have cost him his job, “but I don’t think it would have been a massive scandal.”

Schofield said revelations about a similar heterosexual relationship would have been treated as “nudge nudge, wink wink”, adding: “If it’s a gay relationship, then suddenly it raises eyebrows, it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”

He continued: “People do find each other attractive in different age groups, I mean it does happen… I appreciate it’s the workplace and the history, and I get that – but the fact it is so massive is predominantly homophobia.”

Image caption,

He appeared emotional during a candid interview with BBC News

He said he understood people who thought there had been an abuse of power, but said it “didn’t feel like that at the time”.

Schofield’s admission of the affair raised questions about the power balance between the pair and whether or not he had taken advantage of his position.

“I understand that, and it’s a very valid question to put to me,” Schofield said. “If it’s an abuse of power, it’s not in my nature to be that person, but of course it could be perceived as that. But that wasn’t how it felt at the time.”

Schofield said he feels he has been a “victim of hate” and false rumours, and told the BBC he had received private support from some colleagues and media figures who believe he has been unfairly treated.

He added: “One very prominent public figure phoned me the other day and said ‘I wanted to check that you were okay, I have never seen such homophobia in my life’.”

Schofield explained his first romantic encounter with his colleague took place in his dressing room, adding there were only five or six such encounters in total between the pair over a few months.

The former This Morning presenter speaks about his affair and the subsequent fall out, with the BBC’s Amol Rajan.

Referring to his former colleague, he said: “He is an innocent party here. I was older, I should have known better. [The affair] was consensual, but it was my fault.”

The BBC, like many media outlets, is not naming the young male colleague, who has a right to privacy under Article Eight of the Human Rights Act, and was not present to give his account of events.

In the detailed interview about the affair, Schofield told the BBC:

  • His colleague was 20 years old when he first had any kind of sexual contact with him
  • He has had suicidal thoughts, adding that his daughters “haven’t left me for a moment” since news of the affair broke
  • The first romantic encounter between Schofield and the man took place in his ITV dressing room
Image caption,

Schofield told the BBC’s Amol Rajan homophobia was a factor in people disapproving of the relationship

Questions have been raised about ITV’s handling of the situation, how much bosses knew of the affair, and whether its own investigation into rumours on set and social media went far enough.

ITV has instructed a barrister to carry out an external review to establish the facts about how ITV handled its own investigation into rumours of the affair in 2020. Both Schofield and his colleague denied a relationship at the time.

The network’s chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall has been asked to attend the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 14 June to answer questions about the broadcaster’s approach to safeguarding following the controversy.

Schofield emphatically denied a claim that a newspaper had done a deal with him and his management in 2019, where the media outlet allegedly agreed not to write the story about the young man in return for the exclusive interview about him coming out as gay.

“Absolutely categorically untrue,” Schofield said, adding that he was encouraged to do an interview with The Sun by a media advisor as part of his announcement.

Schofield said the affair started at a time he was “really beginning to get in a poor mental state with my own sexuality”.

Describing his coming-out process, he said: “Something started to trip me up and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Things change.

“Over a period of time it was a kernel and it grew bigger and bigger until I was really mentally struggling, deeply mentally struggling.”

He said it was not “an excuse” that his relationship with the colleague began around that time.

Schofield told the BBC that conflict over his sexuality “was utterly torturing me, I couldn’t sleep or eat”, adding that his weight dropped to nine-and-a-half stone, and he was discussing coming out with a therapist and close colleagues.

Image caption,

Schofield and Holly Willoughby presented ITV’s This Morning and Dancing on Ice together before his departure

Schofield confirmed he first met the man – then a 15-year-old boy – when he was invited to appear as part of an event at a drama school many years ago.

He and the young man began communicating on Twitter after they followed each other following the event. Schofield said he asked for advice on working in the TV industry.

The presenter characterised their communication as a “completely innocent backwards-and-forwards over a period of time, about a job, about careers”.

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked. “What’s wrong with talking to someone no matter what age they are, does that mean if you’re following anyone on Twitter that you don’t give advice?”

He continued: “I’ve done it all my life. I’m best friends with the people who got me into television, and I’ve always believed in paying it forward, so I didn’t think about it.”

Schofield noted he follows 11,300 people on Twitter, which he no longer uses, and there had never been “any whiff of impropriety” during his time on the social media platform.

When the pair met in person for the first time since the drama school event, Schofield said there was “absolutely not” any hint of sexual attraction.

But Schofield said their interactions turned romantic “a few months” after the man began working on This Morning, when they had become friends.

“In my dressing room one day, something happened,” he said. Describing the affair, Schofield said: “I kissed someone in the workplace, which led on to a little bit more.”

He confirmed that his This Morning co-star Holly Willoughby “did not know” about the affair, adding: “Nobody knew.

“Rumours started, and then you lie. When you’ve had a workplace fling, you lie about it.”

Asked how much his colleagues knew, Schofield said: “Nobody ever asked me about being gay. When the rumour [about the affair] got bigger, then we were both asked.”

Video caption,

Watch: Alison Hammond fights back tears speaking about Phillip Schofield

Asked if he loved his former colleague, Schofield said “No, we were just mates,” later adding: “We weren’t boyfriends, we weren’t in a relationship.”

The TV presenter added he “absolutely did not” make the man sign a non-disclosure agreement and said he would be free to speak to the media if he wanted to.

Schofield said that, contrary to some press reports, the man was not regularly taken by taxis between Schofield’s London home and the This Morning studios.

“He didn’t frequently come to my flat, he came to the flat once, to my recollection, he didn’t stay over,” he said.

Schofield also denied he had organised for the man to be moved off This Morning to work on another ITV daytime programme when their relationship ended.

“Absolutely categorically not – he was a really good colleague and runner, very good. He applied to go to [another ITV programme] and got the job entirely on his own merits,” he said.

Last week, Schofield went public about the affair, a decision he said he took because “the lie got too big for both of us”.

“It just got enormous, and it crossed over from online to mainstream news, and that had to stop, for his mental health,” he said.

Earlier this week, Schofield was dropped as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust in light of the controversy, something the TV star said “broke my heart”.

Asked how his former colleague feels now, Schofield said: “What he wants is for all of this [media coverage] to go away, he wants a quiet life, he didn’t want any of this to happen in the first place.”

Schofield said he last spoke to him “a couple of weeks ago” when he engaged legal support for him, which he is continuing to pay for.

The TV presenter said he was “massively concerned” for the welfare of his former colleague, who he described as “vulnerable”.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Schofield said being dropped as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust earlier this week “broke my heart”

He denied reports that there is a toxic environment on This Morning, as well as claims that he had become too powerful or was unpleasant to work with. “I’m not rude on the studio floor, I don’t bully people,” he said.

Following the controversy, Schofield said he doubted he would return to a career in TV. “I have to talk about television in the past tense, which breaks my heart,” he said. “I have lost everything.

“What am I going to do with my days?” he continued. “I see nothing ahead of me but blackness, and sadness, and regret, and remorse, and guilt. I did something very wrong, and then I lied about it consistently.”

Schofield paid tribute to his daughters, who he said had helped him cope with suicidal thoughts in recent days.

“Last week, if my daughters hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “They’ve been by my side every moment because they’re scared to let me out of their sight.”

Schofield said telling his wife Stephanie Lowe about his affair “was the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had to have with her”.

He added: “She is extremely disappointed because I lied to her as well”.

Help and support

If you’re affected by any of the issues in this article you can find details of organisations who can help via the BBC Action Line.

The former This Morning presenter speaks about his affair and the subsequent fall out, with the BBC’s Amol Rajan.

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