Holly Willoughby is facing the biggest quandary of her career

EXCLUSIVE Holly Willoughby is facing the biggest quandary of her career this Christmas after stepping down from This Morning

Eleven long months ago, it was business as usual for Holly Willoughby: ‘And so the story of Dancing On Ice 2023 begins … see you on @dancingonice at 6.30,’ she wrote to her 8.5 million Instagram followers.

Her excitement that the ITV skating show was back was there to see. If any further proof were needed, she posted a second picture accompanied by the prerequisite shot of her with ‘bestie’ and co-star, Phillip Schofield, beaming for the camera.

Holly always looked forward to January because it was her chance to get dolled up in fairytale dresses to host the show alongside Schofield, whom she adored so much.

‘As soon as Christmas went, Holly would get giddy about Dancing On Ice,’ says a friend of the star.

‘It was wonderful light relief for her, there was no grilling of MPs or doing reviews of the news, just the chance to have a laugh with Phil and wear the most stunning dresses while entertaining the British public. She loved it.’

The show’s return is just a matter of weeks away, but Holly is yet to make her mind up over whether she will sign up 

But, as events have shown, 11 months is an awfully long time in the world of Holly and Phil. Since then, Phil has left ITV under an almighty cloud following his admission he had an affair with a much younger colleague and later lied about it.

Then in October, Holly, stepped down as co-host of This Morning, after an alleged plot emerged to kidnap and murder her, by former security guard Gavin Plumb.

Now there’s every chance she won’t be coming back to Dancing On Ice either.

The show’s return is just a matter of weeks away — Sunday, January 7 is the launch night — but Holly is yet to make her mind up over whether she will sign up.

It has, friends tell me, become the biggest quandary of her career — and has left ITV on tenterhooks over who will take Holly’s place if the star decides she cannot resume her role alongside replacement male host Stephen Mulhern.

Television insiders fear a decision to pull out could potentially signal the end of Holly’s live broadcasting days.

‘Holly has got herself in a right state about it,’ says one friend. ‘She absolutely loves ITV, she is loyal to them and they have been extremely loyal to her, but she’s just not sure if she can do it.

‘Holly doesn’t want to let anyone down. It is literally the toughest decision for her. I mean, what do you do? It starts in a few weeks, she knows that. It’s a huge quandary.’

Holly Willoughby (L) & Phillip Schofield (R) began hosting ITVs ‘Dancing on Ice’ in 2006

I’m told that she has developed a fear of hosting live television after horrific threats were alleged to have been made towards her.

Holly was left so shaken that she decided to leave This Morning with immediate effect.

‘When you have that live feed in your ear and the cameras rolling, it’s pretty much impossible to think about anything else, or know anything else,’ says a well- placed source.

‘And with what Holly has been faced with in the past few months, that is a hard commitment to make. She’s worried, she’s terrified and it is absolutely awful for her.’

Her retreat from the limelight extends beyond her TV roles. Holly, 42, has even put her commitments with Marks & Spencer and L’Oreal on hold because she wants to be at home with her three young children. Over at ITV, I’m told, producers are trying to remain calm — despite the ticking clock.

‘With a show like Dancing On Ice there is very little prep that needs to go into it,’ an insider tells me. ‘It is a case of turning up and reading an autocue, but behind the scenes there is a lot to get sorted.’

Mulhern, who hosts ITV game shows Catchphrase and Deal Or No Deal, is a close friend of Holly and has agreed to step into Schofield’s shoes. They don’t have a stand-in for Holly waiting in the wings, however, meaning that all hopes are pinned on her.

To their credit, they have been extremely patient.

‘We love her,’ said an ITV executive. ‘She has been through the most torrid of times and we have tried to support her the best we can though there is very little that can make this better.’

What won’t be far from the front of Holly’s mind is that Dancing On Ice was one of her first big presenting jobs — alongside Phillip Schofield.

Often described as ITV’s answer to Strictly, it stars British skating sensations Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean who mentor celebrity contestants. Over the years the judging panel has featured Jason Gardiner, Karen Barber and most recently Oti Mabuse. Holly is said to ‘adore’ many of them and for much of its run, it has felt ‘like a family’.

Many television insiders say that if it weren’t for Dancing On Ice — and her rapport with Schofield — she might never have been promoted to the helm of This Morning.

Those who know Holly suggest that this could make it all the more of an emotional decision for her.

Holly is one of those who hasn’t forgotten where she came from, and who has helped her along the way,’ says an ITV insider.

‘Dancing On Ice was her first big chance. Millions tuned in to watch her.’

With such a dilemma on her hands, Holly has turned to her extremely loyal support network. Perhaps the most influential is her husband of 16 years, TV producer Dan Baldwin.

‘Dan knows the game but he also knows just how sensitive a time this is for Holly,’ says a friend of the star. ‘It’s one of those situations where people can give her as much advice as they want but ultimately it is her decision.’

Also part of Holly’s counsel are her parents Linda and Brian, with whom she is very close. Then there is older sister Kelly, a writer with whom she has collaborated to pen children’s books, and who is said to be the one to whom Holly turns in a crisis.

But it is Holly’s ‘girl gang’ who have been doing their very best to rally their friend since the kidnap plot threw her life into chaos.

Former All Saints singer Nicole Appleton has been a ‘rock’, as has Spice Girl Emma Bunton. Christine Lampard and her husband Frank have also been a huge support.

‘While nobody can understand what it actually feels like for Holly right now, there are people within the industry who at least understand the nuts and bolts of contracts and decision making,’ says a friend.

Just what that decision is, ITV will just have to wait and see.

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