Just minutes after the This Morning cameras stopped rolling today Holly Willoughby embraced her colleagues, sharing her relief that the most difficult day of her career was over.
In what was a ‘highly strategised’ appearance, the presenter told how she had been left ‘shaken, troubled, let down and worried’ by the scandal that has engulfed the ITV programme and its former host Phillip Schofield.
Even her £188 cream button-up dress from high street shop Reiss was chosen specifically to ensure the tone was dour enough, without being too gloomy for the moment.
She paired them with a pair of £535 nude heels by Gianvito Rossi – one of her favourites.
Once in place Ms Willoughby, 42, mentioned her former co-star only once in the two-minute speech, in which she said it was ‘very strange indeed sitting here without Phil’.
Holly Willoughby old how she had been left ‘shaken, troubled, let down and worried’ by the scandal that has engulfed the ITV programme and its former host Phillip Schofield
Holly being hugged by Josie Gibson, who she is presenting the programme with after Phillip’s departure
She then went on to distance herself from Schofield, who was ousted from the programme last month and later admitted to having had a relationship with a much younger male colleague.
Rather than using Schofield’s name, she referred to him as ‘someone’ and ‘they’.
After asking viewers if they were ‘OK’, Ms Willoughby said: ‘I imagine that you might have been feeling a lot like I have – shaken, troubled, let down, worried for the wellbeing of people on all sides of what’s been going on, and full of questions.
‘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 they had to resign from ITV, and step down from a career that they loved. That’s a lot to process.
‘And it’s equally hard to see the toll that it’s taken on their own mental health. I think what unites us now is a desire to heal for the health and wellbeing of everyone.’
Ms Willoughby, who was hosting the programme with 2010 Big Brother winner Josie Gibson, then told viewers that under-fire This Morning was moving forward to a ‘new chapter’ – one without Schofield.
She said: ‘I hope that, as we start this new chapter and get back to a place of warmth and magic that this show holds for all of us, we can find strength in each other.
‘And, from my heart, can I just say thank you for all of your kind messages. And thank you for being here this morning.
‘Myself, Josie, Dermot, Alison, Craig and every single person that works on this show will continue to work hard every single day to bring you this show that we love.’
Holly chose a £188 cream button-up dress from high street shop Reiss to ensure the tone was dour enough, without being too gloomy for the moment.
Ms Willoughby’s words met with a mixed reception from viewers, with some criticising her for being too ‘staged.’
But sources close to her say that she was ‘absolutely relieved’ to get it over with.
And the Mail can reveal that every word was pored over and changed several times before finally a final draft was approved by ITV bosses this morning, not long before the show aired.
Ms Willoughby had consulted her family over how she should deal with it during their sunshine break in Portugal last week. Afterwards she ran it by her publicist, Laura Sinclair.
The host’s TV production guru Dan Baldwin also helped.
However, then it was left in the hands of ITV bosses and Ms Willoughby to decide just how often Schofield was mentioned.
A late decision was taken to include him but not when discussing the scandal.
One source said: ‘Holly knew she needed to put the viewers at the forefront of all of this, the show is in dire straits and she sees it as her role to save it.
‘So she personally wanted to get it absolutely right which meant there were many drafts to be gone through.
‘Eventually they settled on giving Phil a fleeting mention. As well as getting the messaging right for the audience watching at home, how the statement was reported by all forms of the media was important too.
‘The last thing they wanted was a Phil shunned type headline.’
After the show, Ms Willoughby spoke to her colleagues and senior staff including editor Martin Frizell before returning home to see her three children.
The calm before the storm: Phillip and Holly on the sofa of ITV’s This Morning last month, on May 11
Friends of the star say that she ‘breathed a huge sigh of relief’ once she came off air in what they say was one of the most difficult days of her career.
‘Even when Holly finished the statement she had more than two more hours of live telly to do so yes, she was so pleased to have got through it,’ one said.
‘There were hugs as everyone vowed to move forward together.’
Ms Willoughby will be flanked once again tomorrow by Ms Gibson, 38, and then Craig Doyle for Wednesday and Thursday.
Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary will return for Friday’s episode.