The Holly Willoughy effect: what makes the tv star so widely revered?
Ask most people how they’d describe TV personality Holly Willoughby, and the word ‘nice’ gets used — a lot.
Holly has carved out a stellar career as the face of ITV’s hit breakfast show This Morning, which she presents alongside Phillip Schofield. Her outfit choices are snapped up the minute she posts them online every morning, and such is her influence, just a few days ago, her Facebook account was hacked to say she was leaving This Morning to focus on a bogus fitness line. So what is it about Holly that has made her one of the most popular broadcaster on our screens today?
Holly was in the right place at the right time at the age of 14, when she was spotted by talent scouts and began a short-lived modelling career for products such as Storm watches and Pretty Polly hosiery.
Hailing from Brighton, where she attended a salubrious all-girls school, the pretty blonde has spoken fondly about her childhood and family life.
In 2000, she won an audition to present children’s entertainment programmes and after a number of years working on CBeebies kids TV, her light-hearted and fun-loving personality also caught the eye of one of the main producers, her future spouse, Dan Baldwin.
Holly continued presenting popular programmes, including the children’s version of Stars in their Eyes and CD: UK, and in 2006, began co-presenting with Philip Schofield (Dancing on Ice) — a working relationship that has continued for 11 years and counting.
Holly married Dan in a star-studded ceremony in 2007 at St Michael’s church. She was just 26-years-old. By now, she was making massive waves on mainstream TV — but just two years later, came the big league. Fern Britton left This Morning after it was reported that she’d had a disagreement over pay, with rumours suggesting Fern and Phillip had grown apart (despite being the best of friends on the show). Holly stepped into her shoes and onto the couch and suddenly found herself broadcasting to Irish and English viewers over breakfast. The ratings rose by 20pc.
Two million-plus viewers were tuning in every morning. Industry insiders called it the Holly and Phil effect. Others simply called it the Holly Willoughby effect.
Much of her popularity is attributed to her interviewing ability, which has resonated deeply with viewers. Holly giggles just like we would when something slightly naughty is inferred or breaks down in tears during particularly emotional segments. She sobbed when Sky Sports presenter, Simon Thomas, spoke emotionally about how he told his son that his mum had died. She also got suitably outraged on our behalf when a mum-of-12 came on air (she claims £40,000 a year in state benefits) to say she is looking for a sperm donor for her 13th child. In acting as an extension of the viewer and wearing her heart on her sleeve, Holly projects an ‘I’m every woman’ persona that gives her an unusually human dimension, which fans seem to adore.
But not everybody agrees. Talent agent, Jon Roseman represented Jill Dando and Anne Diamond. He’s described Holly in the past as a ‘bimbo’ and dismissed her lucrative appeal, saying it is because men fancy her and women warm to her: “I’m sure some viewers may have found this display of emotion endearing but, in my book, it is quite the opposite. If an interviewer can’t keep their feelings in check, how can they expect the people they are talking to —
often the subjects of terrible trauma — to do so?”
The Celebrity Juice regular also fell foul of her neighbours when she flew a Union Jack flag above her £3m home, with some describing it as ‘lowering the tone’ of the area.
Then, in 2016, Holly and her family faced angry complaints about an ‘excessive’ wrap-around extension on their impressive London home, which was rejected by planners — hardly the PR nightmare associated with some celebrities. But the bad press stands out because it is so rare — and despite the predictable cohort of begrudgers who enjoy watching even the highest star crash to earth, Holly’s die-hard fans continue to be drawn to her every platform — including online.
The accessibility of her day-to-day wardrobe has become its own phenomenon when it comes to social media. Holly displays the best of the high street most mornings with quirky culottes or Warehouse wrap dresses which quickly get sold out. Given her dedication to privacy and an unlikely candidate for a personal vanity project, you have to imagine it is the show’s producers that are driving that agenda. A recent Kooples shirt worn by the unlikely fashion icon sold out just two hours after she showcased it in her #OOTD posts. With 2.8 million followers on Instagram, Holly’s status as an influencer isn’t to be taken lightly.
Her recent and relatively dramatic weight loss has also fuelled intense scrutiny when it comes to her looks and behaviour.
Holly refuses to be drawn on her physical appearance, but she did recently admit on the popular TV show, Lorraine, that she’s finally been able to work on her body now that her kids have grown up a little.
Everyone wants a little of what Ms Willoughby is having. Clickbait articles claim to have the secret to her dramatic appearance — apparently, it’s kick-
boxing. Apparently, it’s all down to Pilates. Apparently, Holly only eats mango and carrots. The mum of three famously told Prima magazine that by being in the public eye, she has a responsibility to her viewers. She explained why she doesn’t speak about her weight: “I don’t want to encourage eating disorders. I try not to focus too much on my appearance. As long as I’m being healthy, that’s good enough for me. I’m quite active and I try not to let the way I look be the main focus because it’s not the important thing.”
Perhaps it is Holly’s inherent sweetness that draws people towards her. Perhaps she oozes the kind of personality that makes other people want to be her very BFF. Women seem to want to look like her, know her secrets and covet the exact shade of her hair. This kind of influence is commercial gold — so much so, that a diet-pill company allegedly created a hoax account in Holly’s name last week.
A site named Cutting Edge Salon claimed that the 37-year-old had lost more than two stone with a Bio Slim Cleanse product. The bogus account uploaded the promotional material showing a before and after picture of Holly. The caption, attributed to Holly, capitalised on the presenter’s popularity. “I was so excited to tell my family and friends about my new ‘cleanse’ and now they can hardly recognise me. All I have done is taken this simple ingredient for a couple of weeks and I am thrilled at the results.”
Then, another hoax claimed that the star was leaving This Morning to pursue a career in the fitness industry. The fake screenshot pretending to be from Holly’s Instagram account stated: “It’s time to move on. I’m going to miss This Morning dearly, but it’s the next step in my career. I’d like to announce I’m starting my own line of health and wellness products! Be on the lookout! Thank you to all my fans for the support over the years!”
There is no doubt that Ms Willoughby is one of the most influential female leads on our screens. Millions continue to love and emulate her for her down-to-earth persona and honest depiction of family life. Despite her lavish lifestyle, the star gets thousands of likes when she posts very mundane, yet relatable posts on her social media account that resonate with other mums.
Women feel like her fashion is accessible and viewers delight in the fact that the questions she asks interviewees are ones they might have chosen themselves. She cries alongside viewers and giggles when she messes up.
Holly is the most human of the current popular TV presenters, and in a time when the general public is increasingly calling out celebrities for fake manipulation of photos and fake advertising, Holly Willoughby is a breath of fresh air.
You just have to wonder about the personal cost involved with this kind of attention, and how much oxygen can remain long-term with such pressure to be TV’s darling, especially as the intrusions on her privacy and family life threaten to overwhelm....