- PHILLIP Schofield was forced to come out as gay on ITV This Morning in order to “manage” a threatened Sun story on his private life
- THE VETERAN host met new Sun Editor-in-Chief Victoria Newton and reluctantly agreed to an exclusive interview instead
- PHONE hacking-linked Ms Newton used the tactics on Mr Schofield on the FIRST DAY of her new job… to impress boss Rebekah Brooks
- CONTROVERSIAL Sun man Dan Wootton confronted Mr Schofield about his sexuality, telling him a story could soon “out” him, before:
- A CRISIS team of ex-Murdoch employees acted for Mr Schofield to broker a deal, branded the product of “blackmail journalism”
- READ all about it here in detail in this deep, full-length, investigation…
By Dan Evans, Founding Editor
PHILLIP Schofield was effectively “outed” as gay by The Sun in the first major act of its new Editor-in-Chief Victoria Newton, Byline Investigates can report.
The 57-year-old presenter “reached an agreement” with Ms Newton allowing him to reveal his sexuality first, live on ITV’s This Morning programme, in return for giving the Murdoch-owned tabloid a tell-all “exclusive” story.
In what is being described as an example of “blackmail model” journalism, Mr Schofield was initially confronted by the Sun on Sunday’s Executive Editor Dan Wootton in the days leading to the dramatic on-air announcement on February 7.
Although Mr Schofield has insisted the decision to come out was “absolutely” his, Byline Investigates can now tell how a deal to manage the emergence of the news was in fact hammered out between the paper and his representatives in the days beforehand.
A source close to the matter told this website: “Dan Wootton spoke to Phillip Schofield and told him The Sun titles had information about his sexuality and that a story was highly likely to be published.
“The Sun’s position was that, because Phillip Schofield is a public figure, and a father of two daughters, and in a long marriage to a woman, then having a sexuality that did not fit with that image, made him guilty of some sort of hypocrisy.
“That, they believe, afforded them a public interest defence to writing about his private life, something that would usually be outlawed under human rights legislation [Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998].
“The guiding hand behind it all was Victoria Newton, who agreed the final form of the deal with Phillip Schofield’s management company, James Grant Management.”
Mr Schofield’s outcoming took the viewing public by surprise, and even the production floor staff on This Morning, when he made an unscheduled Friday morning appearance with co-host Holly Willoughby to announce his news.
Asked why he had chosen that moment to go public, he said: “The thing is you know this has been bothering me for a very long time, everybody does these things at their own speed, when they think the time is right. It has consumed my head, and has become an issue in my head.”
He added: “This is my decision. This is my decision. This is absolutely my decision. It was something I knew that I had to do.”
However, the reality was not quite so simple – and involved serious pressure from Victoria Newton who was announced as the new Editor-in-Chief of The Sun titles just a day earlier, on February 6, and who saw the story as a chance to make a mark in her new role.
The source added: “This was Victoria’s big entry moment and she wanted to make an impact with an agenda-setting story. The cost to Phillip Schofield was not a consideration; this was all about her career.”
And we can tell now how the hands of Ms Newton – and her boss News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks – were secretly pulling the strings behind the most shocking moment on British television this year so far.
The source went on: “Rebekah maintains a close watching brief on The Sun and has long helped steer Victoria Newton’s career.
“Victoria was desperate to get Phillip Schofield’s cooperation for three reasons; firstly, it dramatically reduced the risk of the paper getting sued; secondly, even in British tabloids, in 2020 it is rightly taboo to out someone as gay, and thirdly, the paper suffered a huge backlash over the way it tried recently to force (former Wales rugby star) Gareth Thomas to reveal his diagnosis with HIV.”
Ms Newton enacted her “iron fist in a velvet glove” plan after sending Dan Wootton to “front up” Mr Schofield with allegations that he had been in a relationship with a male member of ITV staff.
A source said: “Initially, James Grant Management thought about trying to squash the story by threatening to deny The Sun access to other celebrities it represents – and its roster is like a Who’s Who of the cream of British television. But in the end, that option was ruled out.”
Byline Investigates understands that Mr Schofield considered testing the strength of The Sun’s public interest defence by seeking a High Court intervention to “injunct” – block publication of – any story.
However, uncertainty over the prospects of legal success and a potential publicity backlash if it failed, alongside the difficulties of making any gagging order effective in the social-media age, meant that option was not considered for long.
A second source, speaking on condition of anonymity, added: “Phillip Schofield was right when he said the choice was his to speak out, as other legal options were available to him, but it is also correct to say he came under very significant pressure to publicly talk about his private life.
“If the test is whether Phillip Schofield would have chosen to make his announcement when he did without The Sun getting involved, then it is a certainty that his sexuality would remain a private matter today.”
Instead, Mr Schofield turned to ‘crisis management’ public relations specialists to manage the story.
And it can now be revealed that two of Fleet Street’s biggest power brokers in fact negotiated Mr Schofield’s “outing” in a secret crisis summit.
Ms Newton – who has been heavily linked to phone hacking and the unlawful use of private investigators by victims suing The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers for alleged illegal snooping – and former News of the World editor Phil Hall set up the deal.
The first source told Byline Investigates: “It’s what the ITV viewers didn’t know about the timing of this, that paints an entirely different picture of Phillip Schofield’s announcement.
“He was under a clear threat that his private life would be splashed across the pages of The Sun titles unless he played ball, outed himself, and then gave a big exclusive to the paper discussing invasive details of his private life. It was basically blackmail.”
THE DAY after breaking the news to This Morning’s million viewers, Mr Schofield did indeed grant “his only interview” to The Sun.
It splashed the story the following day (a Saturday) on its front page – headline: PHILLIP: I AM GAY… & PROUD – and across four inside pages.
Among the extensive and well-organised coverage, in which Mr Schofield expressed admiration for his wife Stephanie, were a string of celebrity endorsements praising the confession along with a comment piece in which Dan Wootton called the move the “bravest of his life”.
The next day, the Sun on Sunday again put the story on its front page and published further parts of the interview in which Mr Schofield this time talked about his mental health, contemplating suicide, and undergoing psychotherapy.
The second source went on: “The topics Phillip Schofield covered were of the most private possible nature. They are not the sorts of things anyone would necessarily choose to discuss in public voluntarily, or to have their family read in the pages of a national newspaper.
“But that was the price to pay for being allowed some degree of control over the way his news was to be broken.”
Mr Schofield has retained the services of Phil Hall, founder and Chairman of London-based PHA Group, to provide public relations “crisis management”, and other, advice, at a cost of some £30,000-per-month, according to our sources.
PHA’s Head of Media and Reputation, another former News of the World man, Phil Taylor, led the strategic “crisis team” tasked with countering The Sun’s threat to reveal Mr Schofield’s sexuality.
Byline Investigates understands that Mr Wootton “fronted up” Mr Schofield, claiming the Murdoch-owned tabloids thought he was guilty of hypocrisy in his private and professional lives, and that they were interested in running a story on that.
As a result, a meeting was arranged between Mr Schofield, Ms Newton, Mr Taylor, Mr Hall, and Martin Frizell, Editor of This Morning.
Managers from Mr Schofield’s talent agency James Grant were aware of the unfolding drama and it is not known whether they had direct input into the meeting but, unusually, Ms Newton was compelled to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before the discussions took place.
At the meeting, The Sun agreed to discontinue its investigations into Mr Schofield provided he gave them exclusive access in the days following his TV confession, upon which the NDA lapsed.
Byline Investigates understands that Mr Schofield’s agents at James Grant – known as YMU Group – and some executives at ITV, were unhappy with The Sun’s approach.
“Dan Wootton’s involvement has upset ITV as they have employed him regularly as a showbusiness pundit on Lorraine (another daytime show).
“That has given him access to inside industry information about Phillip Schofield, which he has then been instrumental in turning into a big news story for his other employer, Rupert Murdoch. There was a lot of anger over that.”
Another source told us: “James Grant (YMU Group) also represent Phillip Schofield’s This Morning co-host, Holly Willoughby and a list of big-name TV stars including Ant and Dec, Amanda Holden, Ben Shepherd, Davina McCall, Eamon Holmes and Emma Willis.
“Initially, while The Sun was saying it was armed with indisputable evidence to support its story, executives from YMU and the top of ITV reacted by threatening to withdraw access to their other stars if the paper pressed ahead with the story.
“But in the end, Phillip Schofield’s handlers at the agency decided to come to the table with The Sun as a means of protecting his reputation.
“The upshot was that a high-level negotiation happened with The Sun, in the presence of Phillip Schofield himself, to take control of the manner of publication.
“Following prolonged talks, it was agreed that Phillip Schofield would issue a personal statement on This Morning, and hold back other exclusive revelations and other details to be revealed in The Sun over a series of days.
Observers of Murdoch tabloid behaviour say the episode follows a tried and tested format, in which a celebrity is confronted with a story – possibly an incomplete one – in the hope they will confirm the allegation in return for favourable treatment.
Dan Wootton, who presented on Lorraine for more than 10 years – and is presently being sued personally, along with The Sun-on-Sunday, for libel by Hollywood actor Johnny Depp at the High Court in London – himself told recently how subjects of big stories who elect not to “brief” him are left at the mercy of his paper’s coverage.
Discussing stories about Prince Harry, and being excluded by Buckingham Palace from official sources of Royal information, he said in an interview: “That doesn’t stop me breaking stories… I’m, like, more fool you if you don’t want to brief me.
“Then you don’t have an opportunity to try to get the story shaped in a way that works for you.”
Controversy surrounding Victoria Newton’s journalistic conduct is not new.
Just last week we reported from the High Court in London on Ms Newton and persistent allegations that she both hacked phones and regularly used private investigators to unlawfully steal people’s private information.
She is presently the subject of a disclosure process whereby alleged victims of her hacking at The Sun – which does not admit the detailed claims – will scrutinise her hand-written expenses claims between January 2004 and January 2007 for evidence of involvement in illegal newsgathering.
Phil Taylor, Mr Schofield’s crisis PR manager is also facing unrelated claims of involvement in ‘unlawful information gathering’ relating to his 15 years working at the News of the World prior to his public relations career, during which he specialised in stories about another entertainer who was similarly forced out of the closet – Michael Barrymore.
In fact, the Murdoch “blackmail model” was pioneered by serving News UK Chief Executive Officer Rebekah Brooks – of whom Ms Newton and Mr Wootton are proteges – when she became editor of the now-closed News of the World in the year 2000.
According to Greg Miskiw, the paper’s former News Editor (and convicted phone hacker-turned-whistleblower) who worked under both Ms Brooks and her predecessor Phil Hall (founder of PHA Group, which advises Mr Schofield), it became Ms Brook’s stock-in-trade.
Mr Miskiw told Byline Investigates how Ms Brooks – nee Wade – first used the “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach on Sophie Wessex and Prince Edward in April 2001, in an episode with clear parallels to the approach used on Mr Schofield.
Following an undercover sting by the News of the World’s former Investigations Editor Mazher Mahmood – who lied at the Old Bailey about evidence tampering on one of his stories and was jailed for 15 months in 2016, casting serious doubt on his methods at the paper – Rebekah Brooks offered a similar deal to the Countess of Wessex.
The sting centred on claims the Countess has relied on the Royal name for commercial reasons, in contravention of Royal conventions, and was presented to Buckingham Palace as a major scandal for which the paper had solid evidence.
Mr Miskiw said: “Buckingham Palace were told if Sophie gave a no holds barred face-to-face interview with the paper Wade (Brooks) would ditch the scandal story.
“With their arms firmly twisted behind their backs Palace officials agreed. The tapes were delivered to the Queen’s lawyers Farrer & Co, coincidentally News International’s lawyers as well.
“Dutifully Sophie gave a no holds barred interview about wanting a baby, as she had been trying for years.
“What happened to Phillip Schofield, 19 years later, is in principle exactly the same method. They go to him and say publication is inevitable. He agrees to work with them, but has no real choice in the matter. It is blackmail journalism”
- This story was put in its entirety to The Sun’s publishers News UK, Victoria Newton, Rebekah Brooks, ITV, Mr Schofield’s agent at YMU Group, and PHA Group, a day before publication with an invitation to make comment. None was received as we published. We will update this article if that changes.