When Phil unfollowed Holly: Why social media splits show how we really feel about each other

With the tap of a smartphone screen, Phillip Schofield has brought his 17-year friendship with Holly Willoughby to a decisive end. In May, the presenter stepped down from his role on This Morning, the show he had co-hosted with Willoughby since 2009, after admitting he had lied about an affair with a young colleague. Since then, British TV’s foremost presenting partnership (bar Ant and Dec, perhaps) has been estranged: Willoughby distanced herself from her one-time best pal in a curt statement describing his lie as “hurtful”.

But perhaps the biggest sign that things are irrevocably broken between the pair came on Tuesday, when it emerged that Schofield had – gasp! – unfollowed the woman he once described as his “rock”. He did so just before the National Television Awards, an event the pair attended together in happier times. Coincidence? I think not. When it comes to an unfollowing like this, everything is deliberate: Schofield has probably been pondering about when best to strike this blow for a while now (although there is still an outside chance he got fed up of Holly posting about crystals and plugging her lifestyle site, Wylde Moon).

For a pair whose friendship played out on Instagram and Snapchat, in beach selfies posted from joint family holidays, in videos of backstage antics and in messages of support shared online, this move feels particularly stark. Yes, it might seem trivial, but in the social media age, it’s big news when a celebrity hits “unfollow” – it sends a definite and deliberate sign to us mere mortals that something has gone seriously awry (stars and their agents will be well aware that pressing the fateful button guarantees some form of press coverage, so if they really wanted it to stay private, they’d arguably just leave things as they were).


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