This Morning’s former presenter, Philip Schofield faces accusations of grooming, raising many questions on the definitions of the word.
Another day, another cancelled celebrity. In light of the newly emerged Philip Schofield affair and the concerns and ethical dilemmas it evoques, it is most important to untangle the true implications and revelations this case showcases regarding the inner mechanisms of the media industry. Schofield is currently facing allegations of grooming as it has been revealed that the TV-presenter has been having an affair with a younger colleague, whom he had known and mentored since the boy was very young. Schofield met the boy while he was a patron of the 2 Faced Theatre Company of which the boy was a part of. The two seemingly kept in contact and were photographed out together through the years until Schofield arranged for the boy to become a showrunner on his show, This Morning.
As these news took the UK’s newscycle by storm a mere few days ago, debates about power imbalance, grooming, pedophilia and complicity have been filling every gap in popular discourse, however, due to the high profile nature of this case, the matter at hand has been solely focused on Philip Schofield’s fall from grace, painting this story as yet another sensational media cash-grab with the potential of implicating the whole of ITV, if it comes down to it. Although, what the devastating reality of this case truly reveals is a web of disrupted narratives that serve to protect high-profile individuals and their wrong-doings, as such was the case in this affair.
The creative industry is undoubtedly one of the most competitive and sought after industries, especially for young people in a city as prominent as London. Although, as creatives and consumers of content, we must ask what this industry we cherish so much is truly built on. Moreover, the idolisation of our celebrities must come into question, for after all they are people outside of the screen, with as much margin for error and horror as anybody else. This affair, unfortunately, is not the first of its kind and certainly not the last.
In a recent interview with BBC, Schofield explicitly shared his belief that the magnitude of this scandal comes as a direct result of homophobia, stating ‘if it was male-female this wouldn’t be such a scandal’. For many, this strikes as a poor and unnerving attempt to victimise himself using the nature of his sexual orientation as the true reason for this outrage. By doing so, Schofield diminishes his wrong-doing in an attempt to portray these types of workplace affairs as somewhat normal for their commonality. Although, by doing so he also succeeds in diminishing the actual gravity of these types of affairs when the relationship is a heterosexual one, especially when statistically, women are most often victims in these power imbalanced affairs.Schofield positions himself as a victim in this interview, a poor attempt to distract the public from the facts which remain that he was the older, famous, wealthy, immensely powerful one in this ‘relationship’. The matter of his sexuality does not change this one bit.
There is no denying that an element of homophobia is most likely at play in this outrage, however, it would be disingenuous to boil down the gravity of this affair to a matter of sexual orientation. The reason for the extensive coverage of Schofield’s affair is first and foremost his fame. Schofield has entered the TV-rooms of every person living in the UK for over two decades with an air of joyous humour and trustworthiness that inspired many to the point where he became mentor and a person to aspire to. Schofield was trusted by the masses and by the many young people in the 2 Faced Theatre Company he was patron of and to see this affair come to light, is a parent and a pupil’s worst nightmare. Schofield was the adult they trusted to teach, guide and encourage their children in the passion, when instead, Schofield’s actions, regardless of his own perception, will forever change the life of a young man and taint his experience in the industry.
The disgraced TV presenter insists he did not groom the young boy but instead states ‘we’d become mates’, begging one to wonder, can there ever be a balanced friendship or relationship between a famous and rich older man and a regular child? Schofield’s version presented during the interview demonstrates the wider issue at hand regarding the accepted, blurred or downright forbidden boundaries between mentors and mentees.
The importance of mentors in creative fields is valuable and necessary as creativity is a virtue that is hard to teach in a classroom. Although, by having a successful person there to guide and inspire the likelihood of success is drastically higher. . .Though, perhaps for the wrong reasons. The power and influence given to Schofield alongside a sense of inflated confidence perhaps, had him believing that he did not groom the young man and that suddenly, as he became of age, an attraction sparked seemingly out of nowhere… It’s almost easy to believe how Schofield must have thought himself completely in the right when his behaviour had never been subjected to reprimand or even just stricter supervision.
There is an argument to be made in saying that art and creativity bonds people together, it has the power to create intimate and deep connections, though where the line is crossed, is when this innocent power for connection is stretched beyond the subject at hand and pulled into the hazy corners of imbalanced dynamics. It is perfectly natural to wish for our close ones to succeed and to help them to do so. In this sense, favouritism isn’t inherently an evil thing, however, it is hardly ever justified. Especially as it often appears hand in hand with other unethical practices, like grooming or offering special treatment. But when the terms of these practices are so ill-defined and the mishaps get swept under the rug so easily, as it appears to have been the case with Schofield’s affair, how is anyone meant to learn where to put boundaries and how to enforce them? How are people like Schofield meant to be kept in check when standard procedure dictates everything must be kept secret for the sake of putting on a show?
There emerges another problematic aspect of this affair, begging the question, how much abuse of power is concealed and accepted for the sake of creating art? Though, perhaps it should be corrected to, how much are we willing to cover up to keep making money? Schofield was bringing ITV fortunes through his fame, which contributed largely to the concealing of this affair allegedly. Unfortunately, the higher-ups of most media outlets like ITV seem to believe that talent can only be recognised and appreciated through fame. But this isn’t what the creative industry was ever meant to be built on, the vast majority of talent goes overlooked to protect few and give them uncontrolled power resulting in this storm of controversy. The creative industry must do better to protect its talent and install boundaries to ensure that mentorships can serve the purpose they were meant to and only that. There is hope that this affair could be the one-too-many the industry needed to stop this madness and reset.