THE irony wasn’t lost on anybody – just as Phillip Schofield came out, the rest of the world went back in.
Seven months after he publicly announced he was gay, any hopes that the This Morning host had of enjoying his new-found freedom were shattered, thanks to lockdown.
Instead, the 58-year-old telly favourite has remained hunkered down in the family home he has shared with his wife of 27 years, Stephanie Lowe — and recently applied to convert the garage at the bottom of their garden into an unlikely bachelor pad.
Whether Phillip will choose to live there long-term remains to be seen, but friends of the popular presenter say he and 56-year-old Steph, a former TV production assistant, have now discussed divorce.
Phillip is keen to make their separation as painless as possible, and has recently taken on more work to ensure she is generously provided for, telling pals she will get half of everything.
With his worth estimated to be around £9million, it means that devoted former BBC worker Steph is in line for a £4.5million settlement.
Tonight a source said: “Phillip and Steph have had a lot of hard, painful conversations over the past ten months but remain as tight and devoted to one another as ever.
“She has been so supportive, and he won’t skip off into the sunset now and abandon her.
“At the same time, he has no desire to become embroiled in a bitter and costly divorce battle.
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“Phillip is in no hurry to meet someone new, but obviously the D word has now been mooted, albeit in very loose and casual terms. His earning power is at an all-time high, and Steph is entitled to half.
“He is not disputing this — all he wants in return is her ongoing loyalty . . . and discretion.
“His family is his No1 priority and that will never change.”
Tellingly, Phillip is also keen to avoid a similar fallout to that of Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong, after seeing at first hand the cost to the I’m A Celebrity host, with whom he shares a management company, YMU.
Ant, 44, and make-up artist Lisa, 43, have been at loggerheads, including an increasingly toxic battle for their “son”, Labrador Hurley.
The pair have signed binding non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, meaning neither can speak publicly about their relationship.
However, it is understood that Phillip does not wish to go down this road, and no paperwork has been drawn up.
Although, given that he recently signed a £1.4million deal with publisher Michael Joseph for his eagerly awaited autobiography, Life’s What You Make It, arguably it would have been a tad rich to gag the mother of their grown-up daughters, Molly and Ruby.
The book, written entirely by Phillip from a collection of notes jotted down since the age of 14, is in chronological order, and details his decision to come out.
Everyone at the publishing company has been made to sign an NDA ahead of its publication next month.
Phillip also shuts down tawdry internet speculation about infidelity, with a source adding: “The gay stuff is all handled in a pretty matter-of-fact way. There is absolutely no sensationalism.
“Phillip makes it very clear he has been devoted to Steph, despite his inner conflict, and there is no suggestion of any cheating.
“It’s a great book, with loads of great showbiz anecdotes and funny tales. His sexuality really isn’t a major factor.”
Last week it emerged that the former children’s TV presenter — who fronted the CBBC Broom Cupboard continuity links alongside Gordon the Gopher for two years from 1985 — has seen his wealth grow by £800,000, according to latest records.
And as a director of his company Fistral Productions, Steph will share in the spoils too.
Phillip was also recently unveiled as the promotional “face” of a gin advent calendar, in a deal thought to be worth around £60,000.
He also boasts long-standing, money-spinning deals with Princess Cruises, Waitrose Wine and We Buy Any Car, and shows no sign of wanting to retire.
The couple’s £2.5million home in Henley, Oxfordshire, bought in 1993, is in Phillip’s name, and he also has a wine cellar worth around £100,000. Phillip, one of ITV’s highest-paid broadcasters, is also one of the industry’s most financially savvy stars.
In 2016 he reportedly signed a £2million deal with the network to continue hosting both This Morning and Dancing On Ice, both of which he fronts alongside best pal Holly Willoughby.
And after The Jeremy Kyle Show was axed last year, the pair netted a £150,000 bonus for working an additional 30 minutes a day to help fill the gap in the ITV schedule.
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Phillip also owns an £850,000 holiday home in Portugal, where he and Holly’s family regularly spend their summers, as well as a pad in South London where he often stays when filming long hours on This Morning.
A source added: “Phillip has been working incredibly hard of late and is determined to keep earning while he can.
“He’s one of television’s most in-demand stars and wants to provide for his daughters and wife in the eventuality of their divorce.
“Phillip wants to ensure they are well looked after, and obviously that he too has financial freedom.”
Phillip announced he was gay in February and released an emotional statement on Instagram in which he hinted at the pain his hitherto closeted sexuality had caused his wife.
In it he wrote: “With the strength and support of my wife and my daughters, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I am gay. This is something that has caused many heart-breaking conversations at home.
“Today, quite rightly, being gay is a reason to celebrate and be proud.
“Yes, I am feeling pain and confusion, but that comes only from the hurt that I am causing to my family.
“Steph has been incredible — I love her so very much. She is the kindest soul I have ever met.”
After making his name as a rising star of kids’ TV, in 1987 Phillip defected from the Broom Cupboard to cult Saturday morning show Going Live!, alongside Sarah Greene.
In 1991 he made his West End debut in the title role in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, taking over from Jason Donovan.
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Then in 2002 he landed the sofa spot on This Morning, replacing John Leslie.
One source close to Phillip insisted that the new planning application for the garage conversion shows the couple aim to stay in a “holding pattern” until the presenter meets a new partner.
The insider added: “At the moment there is no real urgency or movement on the divorce.
“Phillip and Stephanie are perfectly happy as they are, in this sort of limbo holding pattern.
“Phillip will now have his garden bachelor pad if he needs somewhere to retreat, and the idea is that until one of them meets someone new, there is no real need to make the separation formal. It’s just a case of watch this space.”