A Whole Bunch of Holly!

2018-04Holly-Willoughby-Feet-3301051Fans say that Holly Willoughby’s success is due to her relaxed, unforced presenting manner while those who remain unconvinced prefer to claim that she has learned to make a little go a very long way. Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to switch on the TV these days without seeing her ‘exceptionally good-looking girl-next-door’ face. But who is she - and how did she manage to be one of the most omnipresent women on contemporary TV?

Born on the 10th of February 1981 to Brian, a sales manager for a double-glazing company and his wife Linda, a former air stewardess, Holly’s early life with her parents and her older sister Kelly was a comfortable, middle-class existence. West Sussex proved a happy, relaxed place and Holly’s schooling took place at the independent Burgess Hill Girls School and, later, at the College of Richard Collyer in Horsham.

At the age of 14 Holly was spotted by a talent scout working for The Clothes Show Live Exhibition and she was soon signed up by the internationally renowned Storm Model Management agency. Naturally, being signed this young by a company with such a sterling reputation meant that the young Holly soon found that she suddenly had a career to pursue alongside her school work. Appearances in teenage magazines such as Mizz, Just Seventeen, Shout and More! meant that the world began to be aware of the unique Willoughby charm. In 1998 she also started work as an underwear model for companies, including Pretty Polly and was seen on billboards all over Britain.

Her TV career took off in 2000 after she won an audition for S Club TV on ITV’s children’s network in which, along with some other youngsters, she represented an alternative version of the pop band S Club 7. She also played a character called Zoe in an offshoot, entitled S Club 7: Artistic Differences and, to prove that she was also prepared to work hard, found employment as a receptionist and a runner for a shopping channel.

Whatever your opinion of Holly Willoughby, one thing is certain – here is a woman who isn’t afraid of hard work. For a while she took on a series of unrewarding jobs to support herself financially while she undertook a psychotherapy course via the Open University but then opportunity finally knocked when a showbiz agent, impressed by a showreel she had made with the assistance of a friend, contacted the BBC on her behalf and petitioned for work.

By the end of 2000 (an especially auspicious year) Holly had landed the job of presenting Xchange, a factual entertainment programme aimed at youngsters and her easy, unforced style led BBC bosses to recommend her for further duties, including CBBC at the Fame Academy, an adolescent offshoot of Fame Academy, the BBC’s take on that popular Spanish staple, Operación Triunfo.   

In 2004 Holly returned to CITV in a new role as children’s entertainer; Ministry of Mayhem certainly served up what it promised and gave her a world of experience in managing a crowd of overexcited children. It also introduced her to her future husband, Dan Baldwin who was working as a producer on the same show. Holly and her co-presenter Stephen Mulhern proved so popular that, in 2006, the programme continued under the title, Holly & Stephen’s Saturday Showdown. By 2005 Holly had also presented Feel the Fear, another children’s entertainment show in which participants were set a series of eye-watering challenges and, in acknowledgement of her sterling work in children’s TV, she was awarded a BAFTA in 2006.

That same year saw Holly switching her focus to adult TV, when she was chosen to present ITV’s Dancing on Ice, a similar concept to Strictly Come Dancing, only the contestants were obliged to learn the basic principles of ice skating on top of the dance routines. This high-risk programme attracted solid viewing figures and was the point at which La Willoughby transformed from bubbly children’s presenter to a family entertainer that the mums and dads (and especially the dads!) all enjoyed as a friendly yet calming presence.

The presenting jobs kept coming; she teamed up with Davina McCall for Streetmate, a dating programme and formed a partnership with Radio 1 DJ Fearne Cotton for Holly & Fearne Go Dating. In 2008 she also became a team captain opposite Fearne Cotton on Leigh Francis’s alter-ego, Keith Lemon’s Celebrity Juice, the vehicle which probably most effectively showcased her talent for quick-witted responses and an innate ability to be a good sport.

However, it was another Fern that propelled Holly Willoughby’s career into overdrive. Having co-presented ITV’s popular magazine programme This Morning with housewives’ favourite Philip Schofield for 10 years, Fern Britton announced that she was leaving the show in 2009, leaving ITV with the task of finding a suitable replacement. Britton, who had an easy presenting manner and shared Schofield’s mildly smutty sense of humour and tendency to giggle, had always seemed a perfect fit, but it didn’t take Holly long to bed in with the show and viewers soon forgot that the line-up had ever been other than “Phil and Holly” and, at the time of writing, she and Schofield are still filling the 10:30 to 12:30 slot from Monday to Thursday every week. In fact, their ability to stay up all night at awards ceremonies has become a tabloid favourite, the red-tops featuring photos of their, often inadequate, attempts to deal with sleep deprivation and hangovers.

By this time Holly had married her boyfriend, Dan Baldwin and would go on to produce three children, her pregnancies and subsequent weight loss providing still more fuel for Britain’s famously intrusive tabloid newspapers. Her experience of motherhood obviously inspired her, since she went on to write two books about babies (Truly Happy Baby and Truly Scrumptious Baby) to accompany a book entitled The Best Friends’ Guide to Life that she had written in 2010 with her old friend, Fearne Cotton.

The presenting offers kept rolling in: she co-presented the first two series of The Voice UK with Reggie Yates and, in 2012 she received one of her most significant professional compliments when she was lined up to revive Surprise Surprise, a family programme which had originally been hosted by the hugely popular Cilla Black and specialised in reuniting estranged family members. With its unique mixture of comedy and schmaltz, Surprise Surprise was one of the most well-loved programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, so for Holly to be named as its new presenter was an enormous boost to a career that was already on a stratospheric trajectory.

In fact, such is the audience-pulling power of Holly Willoughby that last year she was able successfully to negotiate a pay rise and achieve economic parity with her co-presenter, Philip Schofield. In an era – and an industry - where women are famously paid less than their male counterparts, this was no mean feat.

Given her propensity for hard work she certainly deserves the money; she returned – again with Schofield – to co-host the revamped Dancing on Ice in January and still finds time to run Roxy Media, a TV production company she founded in 2014 and, as if this wasn’t enough for a mother of three, in 2016 she launched Truly Group LTD, an interior design company.

Whatever she chooses to do next you can be sure that this enterprising young woman will be putting plenty of effort into it.

Holly Quotes:

“The only time I ever got in trouble was when I threw my shoe across the classroom. Hardly sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.”

“There were times when we went straight from the hotel bar to going live on air at 6am. It doesn't help when you read the script and find you've got to drink anchovies in custard with some 8-year-old. That day I was sick live on TV.”

“I'd like our family to grow, and I'd like to spend more time at home with them...We had this pipe dream once where we'd move out of London and we'd have a mustard and jam factory! Dan would make mustard and I'd make jam, and then we'd be there with loads of kids and just have a lovely life.”

“I have a rule. My rule is that is that whenever I buy a pair of shoes, they should always be worn in the bedroom before they are worn anywhere else - during the sex act.”

“Everyone in children's TV drinks until 5am – it was like being at college, except with money. We didn't feel like grown-ups as we were just being so wild and naughty. There's very little pressure in kids' TV. No one's on your case – if you mess up, no one cares.”

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