Far from his fame today, Phillip Schofield endured a long and arduous battle to the top. After making a name for himself on New Zealand TV show ‘Shazam!’, the future ITV This Morning star bagged his first British gig on the BBC. Despite a positive start, one high-up executive ordered that the “cringey wimp” should be taken off-air immediately. But Phillip’s redeeming moment, where his natural ability and talent shone through, occurred shortly after the NASA Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986. His sensitive handling of the crisis led management to finally recognise Phillip’s talent. Soon after, a partnership would form between himself and a cuddly puppet named ‘Gordon the Gopher’, which skyrocketed his career. His popularity soared among viewers, but rediscovered anecdotes reveal how the star almost lost it all as he tried to maintain a hold on his success.
The endearing account was explained in Robin McGibbon’s 1992 biography ‘Phillip Schofield: The Whole Amazing Story’.
After making the near-12,000-mile journey back from New Zealand, he faced new challenges – making a name for himself in the UK.
Phillip’s struggles led to an unintentionally cruel putdown, when an interviewer thought his viewing figures on ‘Shazam!’ were “low” compared to those of the BBC.
Peter Powell, a producer for the show ‘No Limits’, said: “He was proud about his work in Shazam! And told me the show had 800,000 viewers.
“I said something like, ‘Oh, hard luck – don’t worry about it.’ I had no idea 800,000 was great for New Zealand.
“Poor Phillip must have been deflated by my reaction, but took it well.”
Phillip did not get the job, but his big break would come on Children’s BBC (CBBC), after he introduced ‘Gordon the Gopher’ – an unruly puppet that would interrupt him during shows.
The comedic partnership of the pair – and impressive ad libbing from the future star – would lead to an even greater following for the show.
During one broadcast to more than nine million viewers in the UK, the presenter told them he would reply to every letter was sent in.
Biographer Mr McGibbon wrote: “In the beginning, he coped easily – there were only a dozen or so letters a day.
“But now, as he and Gordon went from strength to strength into the New Year, the letters poured in by the hundred.
“Phillip was still determined to reply personally, however, and things got out of hand.”
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Once letters began arriving by the “sack load”, CBBC producer Ian Stubbs knew the situation was getting “ridiculous”.
He said: “Phillip would sit in the office writing out replies whenever he got a spare moment during the day, then take whatever was left in the sack home with him.”
Mr Stubbs believes a full sack of letters would have around 600 in there – and the presenter was receiving multiple sacks each day.
He said: “Phillip didn’t want to send off just a signed photo – he wanted to write a proper reply because he said he had experiences of what it was like writing in as a child.”
But responding to each note began to take its toll on Phillip, who no longer looked as rested as he should do to be broadcasting to the nation.
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Mr Stubbs recalled: “He would come in the next day looking shattered because he had been up half the night writing to the kids.
“It got so bad that long hours and strain started affecting his work.”
The producer was concerned because the star was not looking “fresh” on screen and eventually confronted him about the situation.
He suggested bringing in some “clerical staff” to deal with fan mail but Phillip longed to give each viewer a unique, handwritten letter to show his appreciation of their support.
In the end, the star buckled, according to Mr Stubbs: “He had to admit it was the only answer.”
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