Blonde ambition: How new Jungle queen Holly Willoughby became British TV’s highest-paid woman (and her next move is taking on Gywneth Paltrow!)
Holly Willoughby has become the highest paid woman in British television
She claims her many successes are down to ‘pure luck’. But — with the announcement of her latest role standing in for Ant McPartlin on I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! — few will believe that Holly Willoughby has ever relied on chance.
Indeed, it feels as if landing this £500,000 month-long presenting gig is just another inevitable triumph in her takeover of British television.
For Holly, whose girl-next-door charms belie a fierce ambition, has now become the highest-paid woman on UK TV. Ever.
Consider her rivals. While in her Weakest Link prime, host Anne Robinson was on £1 million a year. Carol Vorderman used to earn £900,000 a year for Countdown. Daytime stalwart Lorraine Kelly, who has been at it for decades, is on £800,000.
Tess Daly earns around £400,000 and Claudia Winkleman around £500,000 for Strictly Come Dancing, while Sky News anchor Kay Burley is on about £300,000.
Holly Willoughby, though, trumps them all as TV’s £2.35 million-a-year queen. With I’m A Celebrity (£500,000), plus This Morning (£600,000), Dancing On Ice (£200,000) and Celebrity Juice (£150,000), she comfortably exceeds that — and that’s before you add in the huge amount she earns from endorsements, including Diet Coke, for which she is apparently paid £450,000, and Garnier, which pays a similar sum for her to promote its hair dye and BB cream.
A new partnership: Holly Willoughby and Ant McPartlin will host ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity’ together
How curious, then, that such a chorus of dismay greeted Holly’s latest announcement. ‘I’m sick of the sight of her,’ exclaimed one viewer. Another complained: ‘She is on everything. I fear her popularity is overestimated.’
But the naysayers had better brace themselves because, within weeks, she will also be launching her lifestyle brand, Truly.
Based, it seems, on the preposterously lucrative Goop site run by A-list actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Holly’s version will flog everything from face cream and T-shirts to toasters, cushions and baby wear.
Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby are one of the most adored TV duos in Britain today
Backed by Holly’s pal Peter Jones, of Dragons’ Den fame, its launch is being wildly anticipated by her 3.9 million Instagram fans.
It seems the era of Holly has dawned.
But it’s curious that she appears so keen to expand her empire when, back in January, she gave one of her carefully controlled interviews in which she stated she was about to step back from her formidable workload to spend more time with her three children — Harry, nine, Belle, seven, and Chester, three.
‘I don’t really want to do more, I just want to pause everything and keep everything as is,’ she said. ‘Work is in a really lovely place.’
So, how did this ‘girl-next-door’ become so powerful?
DEVOTED FANS IN HIGH PLACES
Holly, 37, who grew up near Brighton, has been attracted to celebrity since she was a teenager. At 14, she was on a school trip to the Clothes Show Live when she was spotted by Storm modelling agency. A career as a teen magazine model followed.
She then had a short-lived spell on S Club TV. Talent-spotted by Nigel Pickard, the former boss of CBBC who was running ITV, she was cast in the Saturday-morning show Ministry Of Mayhem opposite Stephen Mulhern in 2004.
After two years, Pickard asked her to move to prime time to present Dancing On Ice alongside Phillip Schofield. She said: ‘I will be grateful to [Nigel Pickard] forever and a day. Why he did it, I have no idea. Mornings I could do with my eyes shut, but in that prime time arena, I was like a rabbit in the headlights.’
A well-placed source said: ‘Nigel gave Holly her big break, though some people couldn’t see the point of her.
‘Simon Shaps, then director of television at ITV, was desperate for her, too.’
FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE BOSS
Holly says she has had only three boyfriends, and married the third. He is Dan Baldwin, five years her senior.
They met in 2004 when he was the producer on Ministry Of Mayhem and spent six months getting to know each other at work. She said: ‘We had six months of having such a laugh. We had this real friendship. There was this day — everyone was in the bar having a drink after the show and saying “cheers” to each other. ‘I looked at Dan, said: “Cheers” and, you know when you hold that eye contact a little bit too long? I got really embarrassed.
‘I thought: “That’s weird. I feel embarrassed over Dan.” That was it. The floodgates opened and I was totally in crush, totally fancied him.’
They were married in 2007 and held their reception at Amberley Castle, West Sussex. Holly walked down the aisle to the theme from Disney’s The Slipper And The Rose. She said: ‘I’d fantasised about being married since I was a little girl and dressed up in my mum’s wedding dress.’
Holly Willoughby and Dan Baldwin met at work and have gone on to have three children together
Holly Willoughby will be standing in for Ant McPartlin on I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here!
Holly idolises her father, Terry, a double-glazing salesman, who put her and her sister through private school while mum Lynne stayed at home. She hopes for a long-lasting marriage like them.
In an interview, she said: ‘Dan would say the same thing. No matter what happens to us now, I would say absolutely that we’ll stay together.’
She added she would not be able to forgive infidelity.
Dan was executive producer on Celebrity Juice and now produces Holly’s game show Play To The Whistle via his independent media company, Hungry Bear.
He will go to Australia with her for I’m A Celebrity. So will the children and tutors will help them catch up on a month of missed school. Presumably, Holly won’t be too troubled by the £60 fine for taking them out in term-time — recent accounts from her media company Roxy show she and Dan paid themselves £950,000 in 2017.
TV’S ANSWER TO FRED AND GINGER
The Hollywood pairing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire used to be explained thus: ‘He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal.’ This is a view held by some at ITV about the pairing of Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on This Morning.
The other important thing about Holly’s presenting style — lots of giggles and tears — is that it allows Phil, 56, to always take the lead.
Phil co-presented with Fern Britton from 2002 to 2009, but she left after learning he was paid vastly more than her. He said of Fern in 2013: ‘We’re not in touch now.’
Holly joined as ‘his hire’, having been his sidekick on Dancing On Ice. She said last year: ‘There’s no way I would even have been considered for This Morning if it hadn’t been for Phil. He pushed for me to get the job in the first place. I totally owe him everything.’ In the early days, she was very much the junior partner and was paid £200,000 a year less than him — rectified with a pay rise last August.
Holly Willoughby has a huge following on Instagram, going from being queen of the jungle to adored morning TV presenter
In 2016, they appeared on the show in the previous night’s outfits after winning a National Television Award.
Some feel ‘Scofe’, as he is known, is showing some signs of being rattled by Holly’s popularity. Certainly, there have been some desperate measures on his Instagram, where in April he was pictured flashing his naked derriere on holiday. He’s also recently stepped up his TV commercial work.
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But Holly has said: ‘We never have an argument and now we’ve got to the stage where we’ll say the same things at the same time on screen, in the same way. The only other person I’ve got that with is my sister.’
STAR AGENCY THAT’S LIKE A FAMILY
Holly is part of the ‘James Grant Family’, the same agency as Ant and Dec. Just like herself and Phillip, they joined the agency when they were kids’ TV stars, before being catapulted into prime time.
Other stablemates include Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, also of This Morning; Zoe Ball (Strictly Come Dancing); Tess Daly (Strictly) and her husband Vernon Kay (formerly Family Fortunes); Amanda Holden (Britain’s Got Talent); Davina McCall, Gabby Logan, Helen Skelton, Christine Lampard, Julia Bradbury and Clare Balding; plus Peter Jones (Dragons’ Den); Fearne Cotton (Celebrity Juice); Scarlett Moffatt and Stephen Mulhern (both of Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway).
They often socialise ‘in-house’. Last year, for instance, Holly posted an Instagram image of her, Ant and Dec and Peter Jones hanging out at Holly’s £3 million house in Barnes, West London.
And last summer, Holly joined Phillip Schofield at his holiday home in Portugal, with the ubiquitous Jones. The snow season saw Holly and her family spend a week skiing with him again.
When one James Grant star absents themselves from their TV show, their stand-in is usually a fellow member of the agency.
HEAD FOR BUSINESS AND A DRAGON PAL
Canny Holly has joined forces in business with Peter Jones, who is worth £475 million. She set up the Truly Group in September 2016 with Tara Capp, Jones’s partner, as one of her co-directors and Jones himself as company secretary.
(Jones is also in business with Holly’s husband Dan as chairman of Hungry Bear Media.)
Launching in September, Truly will be a lifestyle brand offering advice and items to buy in six categories: home, fashion, baby, wellness, living and travel. Holly has been shooting the range over the summer. The website reveals: ‘It’s about beautiful things that are of the highest quality, surprisingly affordable and designed to make your life easier.’
Her baby care book, Truly Happy Baby, was the bestselling parenting title of 2016 and is thought to have netted her £50,000. She has also co-written children’s fiction with her sister Kelly.
Previously, she had a clothing line at Very, a homeware range at Bhs and bedding at Dunelm.
POLISHING THAT ‘NICE-AS-PIE’ IMAGE
Taking over from Ant McPartlin on I’m A Celebrity, Holly has gone to great lengths to avoid any impression of ambition at someone else’s expense. She said: ‘I love Ant and want to send him my best wishes and support for a continued recovery. These are big shoes, not to fill, but just to keep warm for a little bit.
‘Honestly, I’m a huge fan of I’m A Celebrity and actually feel like I’ve won a competition to go and hang out on my favourite show.’
Holly Willoughby, pictured with friends including Nicole Appleton (second right), has become extremely popular with the public
Launched into a TV landscape ruled by ‘ladettes’, Holly was very much a lady. She told an early interviewer: ‘You always feel guilty saying “nice” because it is linked very closely to “boring”. But when I sit down with my children, or grandchildren, and get out the big box of my life, I can show them really lovely things and be really proud they’re going to watch Dancing On Ice.
‘Some of these other girls are going to go: “Oh, here’s my exposé of me sleeping with this footballer.” Or: “Here’s a picture of me getting out of a car with no knickers or getting wrecked.” It’s not a nice thing, is it?’
She will check with her publicist before confirming anything about contracts and figures. Interviewers tend to report that she is slightly less warm and confiding in person than on the This Morning sofa.
Publicity is handled by DawBell, which looks after Sir Paul McCartney and James Corden.
Her image is tended by super-stylist Angie Smith, thought to be paid by ITV to find her the right clothes to wear. Smith’s fees are allegedly around £100,000 a year. Holly posts Instagram pictures of her outfit every day — with the result that the clothes will often sell out within hours.
However, she is careful to keep her This Morning wardrobe deliberately accessible, choosing clothes from High Street retailers.
In a similar vein, her endorsements are all of affordable items — inexpensive face creams, cheap and cheerful bedding, and so on. After all, no one likes a girl-next-door to get too big for her well-paid boots.
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