Holly Willoughby walked away from the spotlight – but her star is shining even brighter

Holly Willoughby at an event in September last year
Police have praised the courage of Holly Willoughby, pictured at an event in September last year, days before the plot was uncovered - Lucy North/PA Wire

When Holly Willoughby missed an appearance on This Morning last October, most viewers thought little of it.

While she had signed off from the previous day’s show with a cheery “see you tomorrow”, it was not uncommon for a fellow presenter - in this case Alison Hammond - to stand in, and the ITV daytime programme ran as smoothly as ever.

But there was a shocking reason for Willoughby’s absence. The night before, on Oct 4, detectives had visited her home to inform her they had arrested a man on suspicion of plotting to kidnap, rape and murder her.

When police raided Gavin Plumb’s address, following a tip-off from an undercover officer in the US, they found cable ties, handcuffs and chloroform.

Det Chief Insp Greg Wood, the lead investigating officer for Essex Police, said he could “only imagine” how hard it was for Willoughby to learn the news.

Willoughby ‘courageously supported this case’

“Colleagues from the Metropolitan Police spoke to Holly Willoughby and visited her on the night to make her aware of what was happening. We’ve supported her throughout as we would support any victim of such a horrible crime,” he said.

After Plumb was found guilty on Thursday of soliciting murder and inciting kidnap and rape, the senior officer paid tribute to Willoughby, 43, saying that she “has courageously supported this case throughout and bravely waived her anonymity”.

Willoughby could have been forgiven for walking away from the spotlight forever. But as Plumb faces many years in jail, she can now look ahead to a bright new chapter in her career.

Gavin Plumb is arrested at his home on Oct 4 last year
Gavin Plumb is arrested at his home on Oct 4 last year. Soon after, police broke the news of his sickening plot to Holly Willoughby - Essex Police/PA

Plumb’s arrest marked the last time that Willoughby appeared on This Morning, a programme she had hosted for 14 years and which had turned her into ITV’s golden girl.

He was charged on Oct 6. On Oct 10, Willoughby announced that she would not be returning. While she did not directly refer to the plot, she said that she was making the decision “for me and my family”.

In an Instagram post, she said: “I have let ITV know today that after 14 years, I will not be returning to This Morning.

“To everyone who has ever worked on the show over the years, thank you so, so much. This is such a difficult goodbye, you are incredible and I forever will be proud of what we’ve done together. Thank you everyone at ITV for being supportive. To every guest who has sat on our sofa, thank you.

“Most of all, thank you to the wonderful viewers. You’ve been so loyal, so supportive and the very best company every day.

“Richard and Judy said, ‘We only look after this show, it will always belong to the viewers.’ It’s been an honour to just be part of its story and I know this story has many chapters left to go. Sadly, however, I now feel I have to make this decision for me and my family.

Star had weathered Schofield storm

It would have been beyond any presenter to continue at such a time – the pressures of live television and the daily media exposure would have felt overwhelming.

And Willoughby had already weathered one This Morning storm, which had caused her to step away from the show temporarily. Phillip Schofield, her long-term co-presenter and close friend, resigned in May 2023 after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a male colleague decades his junior.

Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV's This Morning
Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV's This Morning

Some viewers turned on Willoughby, believing that she had been aware of the relationship. In fact, Schofield had lied to her.

After two weeks off air, she returned to the show and made a direct address to the audience, telling them she felt “shaken, troubled and let down”.

She promised a “new chapter” and said she hoped to “get back to a place of warmth and magic that this show holds for all of us”.

That was June 5, four months before Plumb’s depraved plan came to light.

After announcing her departure, Willoughby retreated from the public eye entirely and disappeared from Instagram. While she has always been careful about what she shares on social media – never allowing the faces of her three children to be pictured, and rarely featuring her husband, Dan Baldwin, a TV producer – she regularly made work-related posts for her 8.4 million followers.

A three-month silence followed. Then, on Jan 12, she made her return: posting an image of a script for ITV’s Dancing On Ice to confirm that she would be hosting the series once more.

Netflix jungle show marks change of direction

The show ran weekly until March. And when that ended, Willoughby announced her next step: hosting a Netflix show, Bear Hunt, in which a group of British celebrities are put through their paces by Bear Grylls, the survival expert and adventurer, in the Central American jungle.

It is a change of direction for Willoughby, and also for Netflix: bosses at the streaming service believe her wholesome appeal will help to bring in more mainstream British audiences, including those who miss her on This Morning.

Anne Mensah, the Netflix UK content chief, said the company wants to appeal to “everybody, from your mum to your next door neighbour”, and Willoughby is the perfect face for that.

In a statement released after the verdict on Plumb, Willoughby declared that she will “forever be grateful to the undercover police officer who understood the imminent threat” and to British police for their swift response.

In recent months, she has shared a handful of posts on social media featuring happy moments – the pet dog, a cake baked for Easter. She also resumed work on her lifestyle brand, Wylde Moon.

She appears determined to get back to normal; as she said in her statement: “As women, we should not be made to feel unsafe going about our daily lives and in our own homes.”