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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Tara Conlan

Holly Willoughby to make Netflix show in first major move since This Morning

Holly Willoughby
Holly Willoughby quit This Morning last year ‘for me and and my family’. Photograph: Netflix

Holly Willoughby has made her first major move since leaving This Morning, signing up to host a new Netflix show, Bear Hunt with Bear Grylls.

In October she announced she was quitting the ITV show after 14 years “for me and my family” after it emerged she was the target of an alleged kidnap and murder plot.

It followed a turbulent time for the presenter during which she and her co-host Phillip Schofield were criticised for alleged queue-jumping to see the queen lying in state, and Schofield departed after he admitted having an affair with a younger former colleague.

Although Willoughby subsequently returned to ITV to continue presenting Dancing On Ice, there has been speculation she was being courted by other broadcasters, particularly as in 2022 she presented the BBC show Freeze the Fear. Netflix offers an opportunity for her to go global.

In Bear Hunt she will front an action-packed competition show featuring an unlikely group of British celebrities trying to survive in a jungle and evade capture by Grylls.

The series forms part of the streaming company’s launch of its highest number of entertainment and factual shows in the UK.

Although Netflix is arguably most famous for the success of dramas, such as Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen and romantic adaptation One Day, it is increasing its range of programmes, and stars like Willoughby will probably help it appeal to more mainstream British audiences.

The Netflix UK content chief Anne Mensah told the Guardian she wanted the company’s output to be diverse and “well-loved [by] everybody, from your mum to your nextdoor neighbour”.

Unveiling the streamer’s new shows, Mensah said: “We are launching our biggest entertainment and factual slates from the UK ever.”

It will include a new drama about the Guinness dynasty from the Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight, a Guy Ritchie-produced documentary about the attempted theft of the Millennium Diamond, and a scripted drama called The Witness made with the husband and son of Rachel Nickell, who was murdered on Wimbledon Common.

“It’s about trying to make sure that everybody loves something. We’re not one tone or flavour. We’re not snobby about anybody. If you pay for Netflix there should be something for you,” Mensah said. “What we have to land is the quality and variety so that we sit at the heart of the UK industry.”

Netflix recently revealed that its global subscriber base had grown by 30 million to 260 million, helped partly by a new lower-cost advertising-funded package and a clampdown on password sharing. A move into more mainstream shows in the UK could help it expand further.

Many of the series are likely to have global appeal too, such as Knight’s House of Guinness. Set in 19th-century Dublin and New York, it tells the story of one of Europe’s most famous dynasties, which Knight said he had “always been fascinated by”.

He said: “The Guinness dynasty is known the world over – wealth, poverty, power, influence, and great tragedy are all intertwined to create a rich tapestry of material to draw from.”

One British film coming up on Netflix include the Oscar-winner Cillian Murphy starring as a headteacher in Steve, Suranne Jones in The Choice, while another – a documentary called Final: Attack on Wembley – is about the chaos at the stadium during the final of the European Championship in 2021.

Also on the cards are Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis in Newsnight’s Prince Andrew interview drama Scoop; Emma and Matt Willis presenting Love is Blind UK; Jamie Dornan starring in the new drama The Undertow; Benedict Cumberbatch in a new Abi Morgan drama, Eric; a film about IVF featuring Bill Nighy; Stephen Graham in a real-time crime drama by Jack Thorne called Adolescence; Rory Kinnear in Bank of Dave: The Sequel, and the spy thriller Black Doves, starring Sarah Lancashire, Keira Knightley and Ben Whishaw.

Mensah praised “vibrant” UK rivals such as the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV and acknowledged the challenge of appealing to British viewers. “We’re a big global company, trying to authentically speak to British audiences, but to do it in an intimate way. And nobody’s ever tried to do that before,” she said.

She argued “we can be distinctively British” and still be popular globally, pointing out that The Gentlemen “is number one in 90 countries” and “it doesn’t pull any punches in terms of language … colloquialism [or] jokes”.

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