Holly Willoughby has emerged as the hot favourite to take over from Ant McPartlin after the star pulled out of hosting this year’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here, the Mirror can exclusively reveal.
The This Morning presenter, 37, is highly coveted by ITV bosses and insiders claim they could make an approach for her to co-host alongside Declan Donnelly.
It will be the first time Ant and Dec won’t front the show together in the 16 years since it launched.
"Holly is very close friends with Ant and Dec and both she and Phil have been backing Ant since his troubles," said an insider close to the show.
"Ant and Dec both love her and I am sure they’d be thrilled if she got the job. They share a management company so Holly already knows what being in the Jungle for weeks entails."
An ITV source told the Mirror said that no formal discussions with Dec about a potential co-host had taken place, with talks set to happen next month.
Other big names, like Stephen Mulhern and Queen of the Jungle Scarlett Moffatt, have been mooted, but telly bosses believe Holly may have the right ingredients to make the series sparkle.
"Stephen was one of the talents in the running for the job, but he would never do it," said the source.
"Producers feel like whoever replaces Ant needs to be a woman to make a difference to the show, otherwise it would just look like a like-for-like replacement. That would risk it falling short for viewers."
Just two days ago, the Geordie star pulled out of the upcoming I’m A Celeb series on the grounds that he still needed time to recover following his rehab battle.
He was convicted of drink-driving in April after an alcohol-fuelled car crash the previous month, and instructed to pay £86,000 in fines.
His and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway 2019 series has also been pulled from schedule with no show yet announced to replace it.
An ITV spokesman said lots of names have been floated but no official decision has been taken yet about the I’m A Celebrity hosting line-up.
"Ant is clearly making good progress and we wish him all the very best and look forward to him returning to ITV next year. An announcement on I’m A Celebrity plans will be made in due course," he said.
Ant yesterday said he was putting his recovery first.
He said: "My recovery is going very well and for that to continue having spoken to Dec and ITV, I have made the decision to take the rest of the year off. I’d like to thank both Dec and ITV for their continued support and I look forward to getting back to work in the new year."
Dec added: "Whilst I am obviously sad at the thought of being without my best friend in Australia this year, I am proud of the work Ant has been doing privately and I am fully supportive of his decision.
"I’m looking forward to us both being reunited on screen in 2019."
In November last year, Dec had even joked that Holly would replace Ant when the I’m A Celeb series returned.
In the introduction to the 2017 launch show, Dec quipped: "It’s me and the gorgeous Holly Willoughby!"
Ant then replied: "What? Sorry, what?"
An awkward-looking Dec told someone off-camera: "Guys, that is the wrong script. You have put the wrong script on the screen."
Turning to Ant, he said: "Nobody was sure if you would make it or not. We didn’t know if you would be here."
Ant shot back: "Unbelievable. I was always gonna make it. Come on, I’m back my friend."
The pair then hugged and Ant told his best mate: "It is good to be back, you’re still a nice cuddler ain’t ya?"
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