Holly Willoughby was absent from her usual This Morning presenting slot on Thursday (5 October) due to an alleged kidnapping plot that was foiled by police, according to reports.
The ITV presenter is said to have been left “shocked and distraught” after learning that she was the subject of “sinister” messages that threatened to kidnap and harm the mum of three.
A 36-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday evening while a police guard has since been placed outside Willoughby’s £3m home in south-west London, where she lives with her husband and three children, as investigations continue, The Sun reports.
The Independent has contacted Willoughby’s representatives for comment.
An Essex Police spokesman told The Independent: “A 36-year-old man from Harlow has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to kidnap as part of an ongoing investigation.
“The arrest was made on Wednesday 4 October.
“He is currently in custody.”
The news comes after fans were left confused when Alison Hammond appeared as a last-minute replacement for the 42-year-old, joining co-host Josie Gibson.
Hammond did not refer to Willoughby’s absence during the programme or offer any reason for why she was standing in for her, prompting a number of viewers to question the last-minute swap.
Police reportedly alerted This Morning bosses to the alleged plot early on Thursday morning, when it was decided that Willoughby would not appear on the show.
A source told The Sun: “Investigations are continuing but police are treating this as a credible conspiracy to kidnap Holly.
“There were apparently some sinister and threatening messages found on electronic devices threatening to seriously harm her.”
Willoughby has endured a tumultuous past few months, following the scandal surrounding her former co-star Phillip Schofield after he admitted to an “unwise but not illegal” affair with a younger male employee.
Schofield, 61, resigned from ITV with immediate effect after confessing that he lied to producers, his colleagues and his agent about the relationship.
In an interview with the BBC’s Amol Rajan, Schofield said that he texted Willoughby to apologise for lying to her about the affair.
“The last time we had a conversation was when I texted Holly and said, ‘Don’t reply’ – this was after the statement last week – ‘Don’t reply, you’re probably not allowed to, but I am deeply deeply sorry that I lied to you,’” he said.
He also told The Sun that the affair “was the one secret in our sanctuary that was never mentioned”, adding that he has “lost my best friend”.
On Saturday (28 May), one day after Schofield shared his statement, Willoughby wrote on Instagram that it had “taken time to process [the] news.”
“When reports of this relationship first surfaced, I asked Phil directly if this was true and was told it was not. It’s been very hurtful to now find out that this was a lie,” she said.
Willoughby later returned to This Morning where she issued a second statement to viewers about the controversy, before going on a scheduled holiday then returning again in September.