Phillip Schofield was in such turmoil as he wrestled with his sexuality that he once dramatically refused to go on This Morning at the last minute.
In his incredible new memoir, the star tells how he instead fled to his London flat where he messaged Steph, his wife of 27 years, to tell her: “I couldn’t do the show.”
Instead co-host Holly Willoughby presented the ITV programme alone as viewers were told that Phillip had called in sick.
Philip says: “I sat alone in the flat, staring at the walls, as This Morning started on the other side of London.
“It was a very stupid thing to do… all my closest friends knew how ragged my head was but no one except Steph knew why.”
On another day he had to rush off set half way through a fashion item on to be sick.
“I now knew that I needed professional help,” he says.
The star, 58, tells how he was in an “extremely dark place” and was forced to take medication before making the brave decision to tell the world that he was gay.
In his new book, Life’s What You Make It, which is released today, he also tells how he his weight plummeted as he struggled to come to terms with being gay.
Phillip eventually revealed his sexuality to viewers on This Morning in February in a tearful joint interview with co-star Holly.
It followed a gut-wrenching few months including a Christmas and New Year where he “sobbed quietly in the dark” while watching the London fireworks on the TV.
He was in such turmoil he survived on just two hours’ sleep a night.
The star says: “It’s like being inside the blackest cloud and feeling consumed by crushing, desperate sadness. Nothing and no one can make it better.”
Such was his pain that he refused to eat, despite his wife’s desperate efforts to help him.
“My weight dropped,” he says, “and as it hit 9st 12lb the This Morning viewers started to notice. I was getting tweets from people asking if I was ill.
He says his overriding feeling was of huge guilt towards devoted wife Steph when he told her that he had feelings for men.
But he insists: “I didn’t know I was gay when I married Steph. If I had, I wouldn’t have got married.”
Phillip said that there was no “specific day or time” that he realised he was gay but that he had been “increasingly aware” for around the past five years.
The presenter hits out at those who accused him of “lying to her for 27 years”, adding: “When I eventually knew, so did she.”
In the months leading up to the tearful TV moment, Phillip says he could think of nothing else.
As colleagues came to work on a Monday morning and asked him how his weekend was, he would lie and say it was fine.
“The reality was that I would have stared silently into a fireplace watching the flames consume the logs and wishing they were consuming me,” he says.
While taking prescription pills “took away the hard edges”, he says he knew he had to come out.
“If not, the secret was going to give me a total breakdown… at best,” he says.
Steph, 56, reassured him she would always “unconditionally” love him, as would his daughters Molly, 27, and Ruby, 24.
Phillip admits the moment he told his children “almost made me sick”.
But he adds: “When things got really dark, [Steph] reminded me how much they all loved me and that there was nothing that the four of us couldn’t cope with.”
Eventually the time came to tell his friends he was gay – and he says none of them had any suspicions.
Holly, however, knew something was up and grew increasingly worried by Phillip’s stressed demeanour.
A number of times she had asked him if he was OK after sensing something was wrong.
Then the day came when Phillip finally struck up the courage to tell her of his torment.
“I asked her to come into my dressing room and I told her everything,” he says. “I
knew that she would be incredible.
“She was so much more than that.”
After their chat they saw a white feather on the floor outside the dressing room.
“She picked it up and gave it to me,” Phillip says. “‘See,’ she said. ‘It’s all going to be OK.’”
He adds: “The feather is in my wallet.”
Phillip and his team then decided the moment had come to tell his fans, and he started a WhatsApp group called The Event with a select group of people.
First he wrote an emotional post on Instagram saying that his sexuality had “become an issue in my head”.
He wrote: “With the strength and support of my wife and my daughters, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I am gay.”
Within minutes of publishing the statement, he was interviewed by Holly on live TV saying that he had been inspired by the “brave” guests who have appeared on the show and thought: “I have to be that person.”
But before he told the world, he decided to tell a small circle of friends at 9am on the same day.
They included Phillip’s former CBBC co-star Andi Peters, who texted back and asked if he was on the Michael McIntyre Show and if his message was the ‘Send to All’ prank.
“I texted back, saying no, it was real, and if it was ‘Send to All’, it was a pretty sh** joke,” he says.
Despite having come out, the star admits that his mental health is “still a work in progress”.
He says that he regularly speaks to therapists to try to get his head around the feelings of guilt towards his family.
“I’m finding it hard to pick my way through the debris,” he admits.
“Is there a way to reveal a secret like this to the world and not hurt your wife or your family?”
* Life’s What You Make It, by Phillip Schofield, is out now (Penguin Books)