Giant! Legend! Fire! No, not a description of emotions backstage at This Morning, but the names of three of the new stars of Gladiators, all of whom appeared on the programme with Holly and Phil today (the Nineties game show is about to make a comeback). So what, then, are emotions like backstage at This Morning, if not giant and fiery? Hmm, let’s see. Judging by the papers, we’re talking grief, angst and major sulks. The Daily Mail, which is almost as obsessed with Holly and Phil as it is with Meghan and Harry, informs us that the situation is very tense. Phillip Schofield did not tell his “rock” Holly Willoughby of his private woes (his brother was recently convicted of child sex offences), and as a result, she is said to be upset with him. The pair may, or may not, be on non-speaks. Schofield is said to have hired a PR. Unfortunately, containment has not yet been achieved. The rumours of their misery spread ever outwards. Yesterday at the despatch box (17 May), the Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, had a go at making a Holly and Phil joke. The honking on the Tory back benches was so loud it could probably be heard in the This Morning studio.
I tuned in this morning hoping to see visible signs of dysfunction: a twitching eyelid; a clamped jaw; a foot kicking an ankle below a desk. But the general mood was: Nothing To See Here. The couple continue to exude a kind of Mogadon professionalism, their expressions as glazed as cheap doughnuts. Eye contact between them having been carefully established early on, the former bezzies proceeded smoothly, if not entirely warmly, through the usual smorgasbord of mid-morning delights, among them an interview with a Loose Woman (Kaye Adams, who feels “fabulous” at 60), and a road test of various new consumer products including a bag from Amazon (“It’s just a bag, right?” asked Holly), and a delivery pizza with cheese on its bottom.
I used to think the worst words in the English language were either “a rail replacement service is in operation” or “I’m not having a starter”. However, I believe now that they may in fact be: “Still to come on This Morning,” as said by Holly and Phil at regular 15-minute intervals. How long is this show? Answer: it is as long as your A-levels, and then some. As the copy-takers used wearily to say in the old days when we reporters rang in with stories from freezing-cold phoneboxes: “Is there much more of this?” In the case of This Morning, the answer to this question will always be a fervent “yes” – and over to chef John Torode in Australia, who is smashing avocados for brunch.
On social media, fans joked that the robot to which the pair at one point chatted was Phil’s replacement. Ha ha. But to be frank, this conversation was no less boring or mechanical than any of the others they had. Neither one of them could muster a double entendre when they tasted Tingly Ted, a new hot sauce from Ed Sheeran. For long periods at a time, Schofield was entirely silent. What did it say on the iPad he clutched? I pictured incoming emails from his PR team instructing him to defend fully his share of the sofa, maybe by placing a strategic This Morning tea towel on it, and perhaps occasionally to try and touch Holly’s elbow (“avoid her knee, though!”). The situation only reversed when they did a slot on the latest supermarket fashions. While Schofield suddenly had important questions about linen mixes, Willoughby now looked grave. Either she was thinking about her arrangement with M&S, or she was wondering whether Tesco sells daytime TV presenters as well palazzo pants.
Beyoncé was discussed (fabulous at 41). A viewer won £12,000, two bags of sweets and an apron. Questions about dementia were addressed/batted off. Holly, we now know, cannot wait to see Disney’s forthcoming The Little Mermaid. “Are you the Marmite gladiator?” asked Phil of Legend, who’d just announced that “ultimately, I’m extra good at doing stuff, basically”. No one laughed – or even knew what Phil meant. In Western Australia, where he was cooking live, Torode’s sweetcorn pancakes burned very slightly. The single two least attractive bath mats in the history of the universe were offered up for our delectation. And then, finally, it was time for Holly and Phil to exit and relax their rictus smiles.
Up next was Vernon Kay with Loose Men, which is basically Loose Women with added (non-synthetic) testosterone and one of the Kemp brothers out of Spandau Ballet. Kay promised Holly and Phil that he and his guests would be talking about the “hard” stuff, by which one gathered that – careful with your lunch! – he meant erections. But in truth, it was hard to tell. Holly and Phil had no easy lines about theatrical Viagra to hand. They did not so much as snigger. I would guess that one of them will be walking quite soon – though what difference that might make to This Morning, I couldn’t tell you. It’s all George at Asda to me.
[See also: Succession games reach the “Daily Mail”]