The name on everybody’s lips is Philip Schofield. On 7 February 2020, the veteran presenter and broadcaster revealed he was gay, in a heartfelt and beautifully written letter via his Instagram account, and the same day discussed in person in a subsequent interview with his This Morning co-host Holly Wiloughby.
“You never know what’s going on in someone’s seemingly perfect life, what issues they are struggling with, or the state of their wellbeing – and so you won’t know what has been consuming me for the last few years… With the strength and support of my wife and my daughters, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I am gay.”, he wrote.
I am 33 years old and remember Philip Schofield when I was a little boy. There is an irony that for many of us, we remember him presenting from the Children’s BBC Broom Cupboard; an awful visual metaphor of the psychological closet that he hasn’t felt able to leave until now. But conversely, my impressionable encounter with him was not television, but listening to the cast recording of Doctor Dolittle – The Musical. A stage adaptation of the film of the same name that charts the story of a man who can talk to the animals, who goes on an adventure to hunt the Great Pink Sea Snail and amid his quest, discovers a seal called Sophie who wants to be reunited with her husband in the North Pole. Dolittle dresses the creature in women’s clothing and tosses her off a cliff to freedom in the sea, but is arrested and put on trial for appearing to have murdered someone.
Just before releasing Sophie into the ocean, Dolittle sings a song in the show called ‘In Your Eyes’. It’s my favourite song by Leslie Bricusse. I mention it, because when I was a boy, my mother ran an animal sanctuary, and as a youngster with a precious but abnormal upbringing; to see someone like me with a connection to animals was comforting. I adored caring for our vulnerable creatures and to see someone speak of a familiar love without judgement or humour was important to me, because I felt like I wasn’t unusual. I wasn’t alone. And at school when the other children would throw their sticks and stones for what our mad family were doing, at least I had Doctor Dolittle to listen to when I felt alone in the world.
“Autumn comes, summer dies,
I see the passing of the years in your eyes.
And when we part, there’ll be no tears, no good-byes.
I’ll just look into your eyes.
In your eyes,
I see the deepness of the sea,
I see the deepness of the love;
The love I feel you feel for me.”
From Doctor Dolittle by Leslie Bricusse
To see Philip Schofield now, his own eyes filled with tears and like Dolittle, relating to my own experiences once again, compelled me to write this so that if one day he reads this, he too might not feel too alone or misunderstood, and more likely, I can help paint what his world has been for others to understand (which you may not have considered could be vastly different to your own).
But what about Stephanie Schofield?
Philip and his wife Stephanie have been married for twenty-seven years. They met when Philip was a children’s television presenter and Stephanie was a production assistant. They are maritally tied, but the ties of their relationship have become a national tapestry, threaded thickly and beautifully throughout their family, but stretched and loose into commercial and superficial public responsibilities. We watch the two of them sip the best Prosecco to buy from Sainsburys at Christmas, they glide down red carpet events and even explored South Africa together in Schofield’s South African Adventure. I believe Philip and Stephanie Schofield love each other. In fact I think the strength of their outward facing love and solidarity must be commended. But whilst love is a simple but profound emotion, human beings for the most part are complicated and conflicted beasts. The couple may appear via your Gogglebox to lead an ideal life, but surely everyone understands that what is seen is a styled, formatted presentation. An illusion. And it’s important to consider that added stress and struggles will have been that if Philip did come out, the public will have felt cheated that their apparently perfect life was a lie. Forgetting that we all keep skeletons in our closets, and what has been presented to them for years was ultimately entertainment. Not real life. And to challenge that could have serious financial and negative career ramifications on the couple.
Like many aspects of Schofield’s professional appearance, he has taken control of the narrative. Perhaps he and his wife did that in the beginning so as to distract from questions surrounding his homosexuality. But regardless, as a nation of gossipers and a media financially reliant on social media, stories, scandal, forums and comment boxes, already the ignorant, the opportunistic and the cruel have started to come out of the woodwork.
One only need glance at Twitter to see a number of people condemning Philip Schofield for lying to his wife; that she has in some way been cheated. Whilst I have every sympathy for Stephanie Schofield, I think any reasonable person would understand that Philip is finally being true to his nature and ending their marriage is sensible. But, let’s not forget, whilst Philip may have been living a lie, that does not mean that the love and happiness the two have shared suddenly becomes worthless. Far from it, they have two beautiful daughters and from reports, they are tackling this life-event with love and support for each other. In this day and age, most marriages fail. But most marriages end in destruction with families broken and all communication severed. I hope that this couple continue as one of our most modern families. A gay dad, a beautiful mum who still has every opportunity to find love again, and daughters with fine parents to look up to and shape their lives.
But, I think we must be kidding ourselves if we believe that this decision to come out is out of the blue. I cannot see how a successful, good looking and connected man such as Philip Schofield could possibly arrive at this juncture without exploring his sexuality without another man. Those who are not gay have an entire adolescence to find out what relationships are like with the opposite sex. Whether that be holding someone’s hand on the way to assembly, to the first kiss at the school Prom, to a drunken fumble in a car-park. As gay people we simply don’t get the same opportunities to develop, and if we are brave enough to experiment, it’s often in secret and in darkness.
I am of the generation where the internet was new, and thankfully due to gay chatrooms – I was able to communicate with other people who were like me. But as I chatted with various other gay men on my computer, I made sure that every conversation was deleted and expunged so that no-one could ever find out my dirty little secret. Sure, I told people I was straight, but I had a secret life that was exciting and fulfilling my true nature as a gay man. In many ways, those gay chat rooms saved my life. Without them, there would have been no hope of me ever connecting with someone I was sexually attracted to.
For years there were rumours in my own social circles that Philip had been seeing various men, including a young male runner and production assistant. To be clear, I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to substantiate these rumours (I also don’t want to), but I mention this allegation not to damn him, but because I’ve seen it happen so many times to so many families with parents who have found themselves in similar situations, where a loving family simply cannot fulfil the needs of a gay person (how could they?), regardless of the intensity and authenticity of their love and kindness. Of course they eventually seek out a physical connection as I did as a teenager. And if he has had affairs either with or without Stephanie’s knowledge, it’s vital you understand that from the day he was born, society has presumed that everyone is heterosexual, and perhaps if we understood the damaging conditioning prescribed to our children in school and in the media, we could help future generations to explore their own sexual identities rather than trapping them for decades in fears as Philip has. He has spent years under spotlights and in view of a camera. Can any of us blame him for needing the dark to survive sometimes?
We are at a time where LGBT people have more protection and empathy than we have ever had before, but still the nations bubbling homophobia is killing and scaring our children. Our education system needs to step up and acknowledge there is so much more to be done. But, some of social media’s most surprising critics have been young gay men, damning him for not coming out sooner. Some even mocking those who couldn’t see that he was gay. Which makes me realise there is an overwhelming generational gap and ignorance toward gay men of a similar age to Philip (aged 57).
Philip Schofield’s entire time on this planet has been under an atmosphere of shame. Every decade of his life has included armies of LGBTQ+ people having to fight with blood and tears to have the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts. You only need Google Section 28, the fight for the same UK age of consent for gay men, the AIDS crisis, the relentless attacks on gay people in the tabloid press, comments about gay people in parliament, Stonewall, marriage equality (the list goes on and on and on). Take an hour to look at what we have forever been fighting and try to imagine what it’s like for an LGBTQ+ person not only to feel – but to actually be treated as a lesser citizen in this country.
We’ve put LGBTQ+ people in prison, and when we stopped doing that, some took measures into their own hands to ensure the moment they heard the words or encountered someone who was gay, a poof or faggot, that they made sure they shared their opinion (with talk or violence) that gay people was should be greeted with fear and hatred. Throughout my own and Philip Schofield’s lives, we have been taught that gay people should be ashamed of who we are. And any gay person who decides to come out, regardless of circumstance, has every right to be called brave – even to this day.
It’s understandable that Philip did not join those other, historic, brave men and women during the early marches and Pride events. If he had, the tabloid press would have pursued him as they did other LGBTQ+ people. One only need look at how the UK responded to the first gay kiss on EastEnders to find the next day that journalists such as Piers Morgan were calling us, “yuppie poofs” and quoting Tory MPs attacking the ‘“revolting scene” and “perverted practices”. How on earth could a young children’s television presenter even hope to have a job, let alone a career with such printed venom landing through letterboxes every day? And the UK has always had a beige ambition that brand and broadcaster audiences will only really like, feel safe and buy things so long as they are sold or presented by white, married, heterosexual types.
Our televisions, papers and media have taught the nation that homosexual men should either be camp, victims, sexual deviants or old arts and academic types. Hardly those you might want your children to spend time with, let alone wake up with in the morning. Philip and Stephanie will have known for him to be true to himself, it would have been possible, but it’s unlikely he would occupy the throne as the golden boy of ITV that he is today, and he is unlikely to have been able to support his family in the way he has.
Philip Schofield is gay. And his decision to reveal his sexuality finally adds his name to the rosta of new soldiers for gay people in the entertainment industry and beyond. But whatever has or is happening behind the scenes is his business, but the Faustian pact that has been bargained, is that the public will continue to fervently tug and peep to see what’s behind the curtain. Many will be disgusted by what they don’t understand. Others will be inspired because they do. Some might begin to have essential conversations.
I am sure many married and closeted homosexuals sat down with their families at dinner-time and began to consider if now is the time to finally come out. Some children may have asked their parents what they think of gay people – some parents may have been kind to mention to their children that being gay is okay. And by having this great broadcaster in our homes for decades reveals that things are not as technicolour as they may have thought for Philip Schofield. This week the nation might show this man some compassion and empathy, because for decades he’s looked just like, one of them.
By Andrew Keates