By now you may be all over Holly Willoughby’s Hollier-than-thou return to This Morning, given that Guardian readers sent coverage of the event straight up yesterday’s most-read chart. So you’ll no doubt already know that this was the first edition of the ITV daytime show that Holly has fronted since the defenestration of her former friend and co-host Phillip Schofield for having an affair with a much younger staff member.
You hear a lot about entities that would survive a nuclear apocalypse – cockroaches, scorpions, that sort of thing. On the day of a potentially catastrophic strike on Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam, please add the indomitable This Morning saga to their number.
Back to daytime Elsinore, then. It’s notable that absolutely everyone involved in this story has behaved like a complete child, with the sole exception of the poor young runner whose TV career seems to have been unfairly torpedoed by it all. Unlike your Phillips and your Hollys and your Eamonns and your Martins, only he has maintained a dignified and presumably deeply miserable silence, even as those big names many years his senior have gnashed their teeth and attempted to settle all their self-indulgent little scores in public. After this level of five-act carnage, everyone else should be cleared out and the runner himself should be given the This Morning throne. He should be the Fortinbras.
But we mustn’t run ahead of ourselves. Yesterday’s This Morning drama-fest began well before the show aired, as programme editor Martin Frizell was asked outside his home if there was a “toxic” working environment on the show. “I’ll tell you what’s toxic and I’ve always found it toxic,” replied Martin with an unsettling intensity. “Aubergine. Do you like aubergine? Do you? Do you like aubergine because I don’t like aubergine. It’s just a personal thing.”
Oh dear. I’m afraid the suspicion must be that Martin regards himself as a gifted absurdist. Alas, coupled with his lanky grey hair, this kind of deranged public address surely conjures weirder associations. In fact, only the lack of a warder handcuffed to Mr Frizell convinced me I was watching a daytime telly editor getting in a cab to work, and not an individual being taken from HMP Full Sutton to answer nine further charges.
Anyway, it was then on to the show proper, which began – hilariously – with Holly staring down the camera and asking the viewers: “Are you OK?” A question to which the only rational reply would be: lol r u?!?! Good of Holly to assume viewers were feeling “shaken, troubled, let down, and worried”, and not simply mildly enjoying the implosive drama of a show they occasionally flick on as background if home in the morning.
What followed in this opening monologue saw her mention the word “Phil” only once, with Willoughby thereafter fitting her erstwhile bezzie with an unrequested “they” pronoun. Let’s see it in action. “You, me and all of us at This Morning gave our love and support to someone who was not telling the truth. Who acted in a way that they themselves felt that they had to resign from ITV and step down from a career that they loved. That is a lot to process.”
Such a lot. Such a lotty lot. Indeed, the attempt to force it through the processor takes me to Holly’s lifestyle brand, an online portal by the name of Wylde Moon, where Holly seems as comfortable selling you a ceramic fragrance diffuser as she is explaining some weapons-grade cobblers about numerology. But here, perhaps, enlightenment as to the events of the past few weeks is suddenly at hand.
I note from Holly’s guide to crystals that malachite “uses vibrational force to sift out and shift any negative elements from the life you’ve been so brilliantly carving out for yourself”. Apologies for getting into complex geological science here, but is it possible the malachite’s sifting and shifting capabilities have in this case somehow rebounded on its wielder? How else to explain the fact Holly is now encased in a complex crystalline structure of negative associations, with a whole host of viewers promptly sweeping on to social media to brand her patronising, self-interested and disloyal?
Incredible, really, that a story of This Morning’s magnitude has not been accompanied by daily polling indicating precisely where the public is at with it all. That said, do we actually need meticulously weighted canvassing to tell us how the British public feels about sanctimony? In an age where even civilians are more than familiar with the celeb-marketing language of image and personal brands, there is something reflexively old-fashioned that a lot of people’s final verdict on this entire saga will probably be that Holly has been a poor friend to someone who may or may not deserve to be at their lowest point, but who has lost their entire career and could probably benefit from a text message. Ironically, someone who appears to have acted solely to avoid tarnishing her own brand has – by those very actions – seen it oxidise much faster than it would have otherwise.
That said, I can only congratulate Holly’s agent on the now seemingly diurnal reports that the BBC is about to “swoop” for the “daytime telly queen”. The last time reports like this emerged with such regularity , Holly was in the middle of the bizarre so-called crisis precipitated by her and Phil attending the late Queen’s lying in state via the journalists’ entrance. Are these truly the moments the BBC thinks: “let’s poach her”? No doubt time will show.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
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