ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall defended the network’s morning show anchors Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby over allegations that they skipped a five-mile long queue to see Queen Elizabeth II lying in state two weeks ago.
Ever since Schofield and Willoughby, who host “This Morning” were seen on the live-feed of the lying-in-state, walking through Westminster Hall via the VIP line, the duo have been the subject of much criticism, particularly on social media. A petition titled ‘Axe Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby from TV’ has amassed over 75,000 signatures.
Speaking at the Royal Television Society (RTS) annual convention in London on Tuesday afternoon, McCall defended Schofield and Willoughby and said that ITV had even contacted Domino’s Pizza U.K. to complain about a light-hearted tweet the pizza company had posted poking fun at the controversy.
“What exactly did Holly and Phil do wrong?” asked BBC journalist Amol Rajan, who was interviewing McCall on stage. “Well, honestly, nothing. Honestly. They did have accreditation. Lots of people saying they didn’t. They were sent by ‘This Morning’ to do a piece for September 20th, which ran. They were to interview people inside and outside. They didn’t displace anyone in the queue. And actually, they’ve been very misrepresented and that’s why we made a statement – unusually we made a statement to say all of those things – but it does show you how kinds of things spread and how misinformation just spreads and it is really horrible for them.”
“Do you think it’s an example of cancelled culture?” Rajan asked.
“Well, they’ve not been – well, I mean, they’ve not been cancelled, have they?” replied McCall. “I mean, I think they’re highly relevant and still very topical and I think the majority of their viewers love watching them. But there is a very shrill kind of voice against [them] and it will hurt.”
“How did that spiral out of control? Something about them and something about that story really hit a nerve. I mean, Domino’s Pizza tweeted apologies to ‘anyone waiting on their pizza, we’ve just received an order from Holly and Phil,'” Rajan continued, referring to a Domino’s U.K. tweet that received over 168,000 likes.
“I know but you know, we talked to [Domino’s],” McCall said. “They thought that was really funny because they didn’t realize. We just said to them ‘What are you doing?’ because we work with Domino’s, right. We were like, ‘What are you doing?’ And they said, ‘We think it’s really funny, don’t you?’ And we said ‘No.’ So I mean, they just thought that was funny. They didn’t think of the impact that would have on how people would pick that up and start meme-ing it and, you know, I think that’s what happens with these things – they did not do anything wrong. They were with loads of other broadcasters, many of whom who you know and they were with lots of press journalists, right.”
McCall also revealed she had texted both Schofield and Willoughby and said “I don’t think they’re feeling great, it’s hard” when Rajan asked how they were feeling. “I mean, you imagine yourself in the eye of a storm like this, when you’re trying to say you’ve done nothing wrong, and all the noise around you is saying that you have. It’s difficult to handle.”
The controversy began on Sept. 16 when the anchors were spotted walking through Westminster Hall in the VIP line. Outrage began to grow online as social media users claimed the duo had “queue-jumped,” in comparison to celebrities like David Beckham, James Blunt, Tilda Swinton and Schofield and Willoughby’s ITV stablemate Susanna Reid, all of whom spent hours waiting in line to pay their respects.
In particular, critics claimed that Schofield and Willoughby did not need to go inside the Hall to film a segment (since only the BBC’s live-feed cameras already stationed there were allowed inside) and that the segment was scheduled to air on Sept. 20, the day after the Queen’s funeral.
When asked whether the duo were secure in their posts, however, McCall was firm, replying: “Yeah. Of course.”