Her 21st birthday was unforgettable for the beautiful Marika Tautz, a TV manager in New Zealand. It was the day her devoted friend, aspiring TV star Phillip Schofield, presented her with a promise ring last year.
"All of my family and friends went to a big party there," she recalls. “Phil gave me this big box wrapped up. There was nothing in it but a tiny box at the bottom, and inside was a promise ring – the promise to get engaged. "
The young couple kissed in front of their colleagues at the party in Auckland. They were the toast from TVNZ, where they both worked.
Marika Tautz, pictured on the right, worked alongside Phillip Schofield with the aspiring TV star in New Zealand – and even went on a romantic vacation to Tahiti. Frau Tautz was convinced that the handsome young man would marry her
Weekends were spent in each other's homes, with Phillip often driving over to spend time with Marika and her Russian family. They went on a romantic vacation to Tahiti together.
Her father toasted his health with vodka, and her mother beamed proudly of the young man who seemed interested in joining her family.
When he and Marika were apart, he would send her "delicate" love letters, which she kept.
Phillip later said, "I asked her because everyone else was into her and I wanted to stick all the other boys' noses out of the joint."
Phillip Schofield pictured worked on New Zealand television 37 years ago
That was 37 years ago. What a difference a couple of decades make.
Because Schofield, who came out gay this year after a 27-year marriage to Mrs. Steph, was never seen as a womanizer.
But the early days of his career tell a different story.
Today, Marika reflects with warm nostalgia on the "handsome guy" who wanted to be her husband.
By then he was "pretty famous" in New Zealand after moving there with his parents from Cornwall when he was 19.
"We were an object for a couple of years," she says. & # 39; We got on very well. He was a funny guy, nice, sensitive. He wrote me the most beautiful love letters.
"His only vice was smoking, but he was a considerate smoker and went outside or closed the windows in the car."
She adds, “He went from being an ordinary guy to being a celebrity. When we went to dinner people would ask for his autograph.
“He was very well groomed and maybe came across as a little gay. There was probably something underlying it, but when he was with me I never knew. We had a full physical relationship. He was a normal guy, I never suspected anything. "
In retrospect, Marika, who is now a nurse in America when he was working on a teen pop music show, says it probably would have been "impossible" for him to get out: "If he had done it, it could." put everything at risk. & # 39;
Of course, Schofield, now worth more than £ 9 million, did just that.
The This Morning and Dancing On Ice presenter, who has been married to Steph since 1993, came out gay in February – a topic he will address in a memoir he has written, Life’s What You Make It.
Confusing the expectations of those who thought he and Steph would break up, they were all together, spending the summers together as a family enjoying crime parties and barbecues in costume.
He has now moved into a new London home and there are plans to convert the garage of the family home in Henley, Oxfordshire into a bachelor annex for him. However, it is believed that neither Phillip nor Steph have consulted attorneys and the divorce is not on the way. He's still wearing his wedding ring and just had dinner with Steph this week.
So, what's up? Friends say he's still in love with Steph and can't even think of letting her go. Instead of planning a divorce – which neither of them seems to want – they work on how to "live apart but together."
Philip Schofield, left, pictured with Fenella Bathfield, fell in love with the dancer in 1983
Steph, of course, was "devastated" by the realization that her husband is gay but is happy to be married for as long as he wants and needs her. The feeling is that she will wait for him to settle into a new relationship before asking to formally dissolve her union.
In return, Phillip, 58, is happy to give her half of his money and the former marriage home when the time comes.
The former boss of Schofield, Dianne Nelmes, says they could be married for years. She says, “Whether he and Steph get a divorce is their private matter, but they will always be a strong couple. I am sure he will always be there for her and she will be there for him.
“Steph is an adorable person and Phillip obviously loves her. I think they were and are a very happy couple. "
What is the truth about Schofield and his love life?
In his youth, he certainly succeeded in conveying an impression of red-blooded heterosexuality – although his romantic protests have been suspected for decades.
His first major romance with Marika hit the buffers in 1983. Marika's mother said it came to an end after Phillip suggested marriage, and Marika said no because she was too young to take such a step.
Marika herself says the problem is that by then she had had another boyfriend – a sailor named Chris Vincent – and that the romance fell apart when she went to America to hang out with him.
Schofield, stung, made plans to return to Britain.
Whatever actually happened, it clearly hit him deeply. Schofield told an interviewer, "She ended up being a real cow, but while I was upset, it didn't affect my work."
“For the past few years I've played her a song on the radio – Missing You by John Waite. It was a really cheap jibe. "
Before he left New Zealand, however, he unexpectedly fell madly in love again. In November 1983 he met the dancer Fenella Bathfield.
He hosted a New Zealand Music Awards show and she performed. He said: "She was absolutely perfect and for the first and only time in my life I fell head over heels in love at first sight."
Although she was with a friend at the time, he got her number and within a few days they were a couple.
Schofield, pictured in the middle with his wife Stephanie and their daughters in November 2018, separated after more than two decades together
A friend from that time said they were a really hot item. . . always cuddle and kiss ”.
There were long journeys between Wellington, where she lived, and Auckland, where he was based. He would sing Barbra Streisand Showtunes for her in the car, and she admired his voice.
But despite the love affair – and their tears as they parted – he stuck to his plan to return to the UK, which he did in January 1984.
Why go? He felt like he had an opportunity he couldn't miss. When he was 17, he had become friends with Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell, who had a temporary job as a BBC radio booker. Powell stood up to say he was starting a talent agency and would Schofield be interested? So Fenella was left behind.
For six years after that, when Schofield went live! and on the BBC Broom Cupboard, he told interviewers that he and Fenella were still in a long distance relationship.
He said in 1988 "I think I'm probably still in love with her" and said he would see her on a trip to New Zealand and wasn't sure how to play it.
In 1990 he spoke of annual trysts that kept them going. "When we're apart, the passion smoulders. Then one of us visits and pours a can of gasoline on it. It feels pretty naughty."
On the other side of the world, however, Fenella was furious. At this point, she was engaged to someone else and was fed up with Phillip saying they were still in a relationship.
She said, "It can improve his reputation and make him look like a great stallion in the UK, but I don't want to be the punching bag anymore." I don't think there is any excuse that we still see each other. I want him to put an end to that. There hasn't been anything wonderful between us for a long time. "
Fenella now lives in Sydney with her husband, Nigel Dobson, a successful banker.
Back in London, Schofield met a group of friends he called the Chiswick Mafia, led by Peter Powell and his girlfriend Anthea Turner. The other key members were Powell's business partner Russ Lindsay and Russ & # 39; girlfriend Caron Keating, who went live! 1987 with Schofield and 1994 with him Schofields Quest.
He and Caron were romantically linked for a moment, but Schofield said nothing had happened because he was still mad at the distant Fenella.
Peter Powell and Anthea Turner were married in 1990. In an interview, Schofield called this "the last straw".
He noted that Powell was "the very last bastion of the bachelorette party" and that he was now looking for a life partner himself.
Who would his wife be? Schofield didn't have to look far. It was introduced at a party in 1988 by TV presenter Andy Crane Steph Lowe, a production assistant two years older than him.
The romance blossomed in 1991 and they started living together that summer. Schofield had just started his lead role in the musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
A year later, Schofield said with satisfaction that his girlfriend "takes care of me on my day off." Steph offered: "He's really wonderful."
She wasn't the only one who believed that. At the time, he was receiving 500 letters a week from teenage girls in love and doing the cover of Smash Hits magazine.
He told an interviewer that he was happy with his girlfriend: “I never shared an apartment before living in London. I always ended up in bed alone and had to throw staircase parties because the room was too small to invite people. So it took a lot of time to get used to having someone in the house and their things close by.
“I like it now. I like having someone to come home to and discuss things with. I like coming home when the lights are on in the house, bread is baked and the garden is mowed. "
When asked if he was in love, he replied, “I think so, I think so. What does it mean to be in love? We get on well together. She is very close to me and we are good friends. Love is about trusting someone, letting them trust you, seeing them, and liking their company. "
At that time, there were rumors about his sexuality. His answer was, "I don't mind what people say, but I think my girlfriend (Steph) would say something about it."
He said he had never had a sexual relationship with a man. “I never felt like it – no, absolutely not. Lots of men I know, but not necessarily me. I would never sleep with a man, but I'm not homophobic. "
He and Steph were married in a private ceremony on March 29, 1993. Steph was five months pregnant. There were only 17 guests in the Great Hall of Ackergill Tower in Caithness, the groom in a kilt and the bride in a tartan and heather sash.
Attendees included pal Russ Lindsay, who called it "the most unusual wedding in history," and agent Peter Powell.
The wedding took place on a Monday – his day off before Joseph. Decades later, Schofield admitted that on his wedding day he realized he could be gay. "I'm not saying I didn't know," he said. "Whatever 'there" was, I thought, "OK, whatever that is, you're staying behind because I'm happy. "’
Daughter Molly was born at the age of 31, followed two years later by Ruby.
It was in 2002, when he was 40, that Schofield finally hit the big time as host of This Morning. He's been there longer than original host Richard Madeley and is paid £ 1 million annually by ITV.
He supplements this fortune with advertising contracts with Princess Cruises and We Buy Any Car. He has his own selection of wines with Waitrose and has just signed a lucrative contract to plug gin.
Some of the money goes to his company, Fistral Productions Ltd – recent accounts show assets of just over £ 2.5 million.
Stephanie is the co-director of Fistral and they recorded her marital address in Henley as their place of residence on documents filed in July this year.
As of November 2014, Steph has also been listed as the director of the company managing development in London, which Phillip uses as his undergraduate pad.
When he is filming This Morning, Phillip often lives in a London townhouse with underground parking and a roof terrace. It was reported that he moved into this house from Henley last spring, but in fact he has used it "for years" on weekday evenings.
In recent years, he has built close mentoring relationships with various young male colleagues, which in turn led to gossip.
Says a former colleague of This Morning: “There have been so many rumors about him and gay lovers. In recent years he has apparently started to express his identity through how he dresses and wears. Many people who know him thought he would never get out, he would just stay that way until he retired. "
Jon Roseman, once Schofield's co-host Fern Britton's agent, recalls that 20 years ago he was in Cornwall with Fern and her (now estranged) husband Phil Vickery, having dinner at Rick Stein's restaurant when the chef talked about Phil and his friends said & # 39 ;.
As Schofield himself suggested in a recent television interview, he "never had any secrets" from Steph, who was aware of years of struggling with his identity. He added, "It's difficult, but it didn't happen quickly."
Steph said in a brief statement in February that this was a "painful" time in their marriage, but added, "Everyone should be proud to live their own truth."
One colleague said, "I don't think there's a new romance on either side, but I can't be sure." As much as they claim to make all the decisions together, it seems that Steph really wants to start the new chapter and knows that no matter how much they still love each other, he cannot live in marriage. "
Additional coverage: Daniel Bates
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