Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary have paid tribute to Phillip Schofield on This Morning today, the first show since his departure after more than 20 years.

Opening the programme on Monday, Hammond said they could not start without mentioning the veteran presenter.

O’Leary added: “Everyone on and off screen at ITV and This Morning want to say a huge thank you to Phil for what he’s done to make the show such a success over the last 21 years.”

Hammond continued: “Quite simply, we all know he’s one of the best live television broadcasters this country has ever had, and we and all the team wish him all the best for the future.”

Schofield, who joined the show in 2002, said on Saturday that he was stepping back because the programme had “become the story” and “I want to do what I can to protect the show I love”.

It came following reports that his relationship with long-term co-presenter Holly Willoughby, who will remain on the show but is currently taking early half-term leave, had come under strain.

Hammond, 48, and O’Leary, 49, already host the show every Friday and are frontrunners to replace Schofield – with ITV yet to announce who will permanently get the role.

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Other contenders include The Saturdays singer Rochelle Humes and her husband, JLS star Marvin Humes, as well as familiar This Morning regulars such as Rylan Clark, Josie Gibson and Gino D’Acampo.

Schofield, 61, announced his exit at the weekend after presenting what turned out to be his final show on Thursday.

“I have always been proud to cover fascinating stories on This Morning,” he said in his statement. “But recently, This Morning itself has become the story.

“Throughout my career in TV – including the very difficult last days – I have always done my best to be honourable and kind.

“I understand that ITV has decided the current situation can’t go on, and I want to do what I can to protect the show that I love.”

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Phillip Schofield steps down from This Morning: His statement in full

Shortly afterwards, Willoughby shared her own statement, saying: “It’s been over 13 great years presenting This Morning with Phil and I want to take this opportunity to thank him for all of his knowledge, his experience and his humour.

“This sofa won’t feel the same without him.”

Previously, the pair have been open about their close friendship over the years, including sharing pictures on social media of joint holidays with their families.

Kevin Lygo, ITV’s managing director of media and entertainment, has said that ITV will continue its relationship with Schofield, despite his This Morning departure, “starting with The British Soap Awards in June and a brand new peak time series to come”.

Schofield has faced a difficult few months, including his brother’s sex abuse trial, and criticism over his visit to the late Queen’s lying in state, as well as his reported rift with Willoughby.

Former civilian police worker Timothy Schofield, 54, was jailed for 12 years on Friday after being convicted of 11 sexual offences involving a child between October 2016 and October 2019, including two of sexual activity with a child.