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Holly Willoughby under pressure to deliver ratings on This Morning after Phillip Schofield exit, PR guru warns

Holly Willoughby will be under pressure to deliver viewers to ITV after Phillip Schofield’s exit from This Morning, a leading celebrity PR has warned.

Schofield accepted that his 21-year run on the show was over after reports of a growing rift between the pair became public knowledge.

With her 15m social media followers and a thriving lifestyle brand Wylde Moon, Willoughby is a hugely-influential figure among young women and regarded as a vital presence for ITV’s advertisers.

She has been courted by the BBC, presenting prime-time entertainment show Freeze The Fear for ITV’s rival.

However, following the reported Schofield rift, Willoughby must now demonstrate that the show can prosper under a new presenting line-up, one entertainment figure said.

“The pressure is now on Holly to deliver for ITV,” leading celebrity PR Mark Borkowski told i. “All eyes are on her. The assumption is the sky is the limit without Phillip but were they like Ant and Dec? Can she deliver without him?”

Willoughby has a £730,000 contract to present This Morning and earns around £200,000 to co-present Dancing On Ice with Schofield, a partnership unlikely to be resumed next year.

With her personal brand said to be worth £10m, including clothes collections and children’s books, ITV needs to match Willoughby’s prime-time ambitions beyond morning TV.

“Holly needs to expand from This Morning. She is a valuable property, the nearest thing we have to a Gwyneth Paltrow crossed with Victoria Beckham,” Borkowski said.

“She is the girl next door and not threatening. Women trust her. She is a walking selling machine. Even the Queuegate row (when Willoughby and Schofield were accused of jumping the queue for the late Queen’s lying-in-state) didn’t actually cause a dip in audiences.”

However, the 42 year-old’s future lies with ITV rather than becoming the face of the BBC, Borkowski believes. “Holly has too many commercial interests, it would be a problem for her and the BBC. She is different to Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly.”

Some in ITV are wary of Willoughby pushing her influence. One insider said: “She isn’t a diva but Holly now has a team around her that are very powerful.”

An ITV spokesperson said: “Phillip Schofield’s decision to step down from This Morning was (as his statement made clear) a decision agreed between Phillip and ITV.”

Willoughby is said to favour rising star Alison Hammond – currently filling in on This Morning alongside Dermot O’Leary whilst Holly is off for a fortnight – as a permanent co-host.

The insider said: “The chemistry has to be right. An all-female duo may not work for viewers. It has to be the show’s editor and ITV executives who make that decision.” When she returns Willoughby will anchor the show with a rotating line-up of co-hosts from “the This Morning family.”

There was a reminder of the success of the partnership cast asunder with Schofield and Willoughby both recognised in the National Television Awards longlist for best TV presenter, announced on Tuesday, while This Morning is up for the daytime prize.

Days after his exit, Schofield and Willoughby were announced among 50 names longlisted for the NTA presenter prize, alongside their fellow This Morning presenters Hammond, O’Leary and Rylan Clark.

But Schofield – who pushed for Willoughby to be his co-host in 2009 and thanked for her support when he announced he was gay in 2020 – is being advised not to rush back to screens.

ITV said he would front the British Soap Awards, a live Saturday night show taking place in Salford next weekend.

“The Awards looks too soon. Phil should show no sour grapes and disappear from TV for a while,” said Borkowski, who has extensive experience in celebrity crisis-management. “Jonathan Ross came back from the Sachsgate scandal to become a regular on ITV entertainment shows like The Masked Singer.”

He added: “We should also bear in mind that Schofield is a master presenter of live TV and not many people can deliver that skill.”

Willoughby declined to comment.

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