He inspired countless families with his lockdown workouts. He’s sold over four million books that help people live a healthier lifestyle. And now he’s on a mission to raise awareness about the country’s mental health crisis. Some call him The Body Coach, others might think he’s superman, but when we catch up with Joe Wicks, he’s “just Joe”.
After a family holiday in Los Angeles, Joe is busy touring the UK to help inspire young people through his love of exercise. We managed to catch up with him for a chat to discuss his new BBC One documentary, Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood.
Joe, 36, tells us that the honest and raw film was “tough to make.” He admits it was originally meant to be about the relationship between mental health and exercise, but morphed into something “much more personal”.
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The hour-long film examines Joe’s “chaotic” childhood and looks at the ways his parents’ mental health problems and addictions affected him. Joe’s dad, Gary, was addicted to heroin while his mum, Raquela, lived with an eating disorder and OCD during his tough childhood.
“My mum and I argued a lot because it was so intense with her OCD. We couldn’t bring friends over, everything had to be clean, and we couldn’t make noise – it was like living in an IKEA showroom,” he tells us.
And he also reveals the extent of his Dad’s addictions, explaining, “Every time my dad said he was ‘popping to the shop for milk,’ I knew he was going to score heroin because he never came back with milk. I remember being really upset every time he relapsed. I hated how drugs took him away from me.”
Looking back at his time on the Epsom council estate he grew up on, he remembers, “There was no way on earth I ever thought I’d get out of that situation. When you’re in that world, you don’t ever think it’s going to change. I wasn’t ambitious. I didn’t have expectations of myself.”
“As a young kid I was really disruptive and I couldn’t concentrate. When I became a teenager I got really angry because I began to understand my dad’s addiction. That was the hardest part for me.”
However, in spite of the challenges he’s had to overcome, Joe tells us he holds nothing against his parents.
“Understanding what they’ve both been through has helped me move on. I’ve repaired my relationships with both of them and now we’re better than ever. Plus, I think everything my mum taught me, and even my dad’s mistakes, have helped me become a better husband and a better dad.”
Joe, 36, married model Rosie Jones, 31, in 2019 and they have two children, Indie who’s almost four, and Marley, two.
It’s clear when we talk to Joe that, despite his hectic work schedule and the responsibility he feels to those who follow him, his family are the most important thing.
“I want to be happy with Rosie and I want to be there for my kids,” he says.
Opening up about when he first met Rosie, Joe explains, “I grew up with parents who argued all the time and weren’t committed to each other, so it took me a really long time to feel like I wanted to commit to something.
“I never used to think I’d get married because I didn’t think people stuck together. But when I met Rosie, my mind started to change and I realised I could be committed to someone. That feeling became even stronger when the kids came along.”
Now, Joe is focused on making sure he “breaks the cycle” and gives his kids the stable environment he never had.
“I’m not always perfect. My default is to shout and wear because that’s what I grew up with. I still lose my temper, but on the whole I always strive to be kind, caring and patient with my family. It’s something I’m constantly working on.”
Reflecting on the differences between Indie and Marley’s upbringing and his own, Joe adds, “My kids have a very different life to me. They’re never going to know what it was like to live on a council estate and not have the heating on. But, I still want to teach them that not everyone lives the way we do.
“Rosie and I have conversations where we talk about the things we’re grateful for and we try to always be really appreciative.”
Joe and Rosie are also about to become parents again and are expecting a new addition to their family in September. Looking to the future, Joe tells us he’s eager to apply the same principles to all of his children.
“It’s going to be tough when there’s three because they’ll all be battling for attention, so I just want to make sure I’m making time for us as a family and for all the kids individually as well. It’s also really important to me that I don’t use my phone around them and give them my undivided attention.”
During the documentary, viewers will see Joe trying to balance his family life with the pressure he feels from social media. Since his lockdown PE classes got the conversation started about the benefits of exercise for our mental health, Joe has had thousands of messages every day from people who are struggling.
“I’m learning to realise that I can’t help everyone,” Joe tells us.
“I still deeply care about everyone who contacts me, but I’m learning to let go of the guilt I used to have if I hadn’t managed to reply to thousands of people in a day. Now, if I message 10 or even five of them, I try to tell myself ‘you’ve done enough today Joe, you can try again tomorrow.’”
Joe attributes his caring nature to his mum. “She never looked after herself, but she loved and cared for everybody else around her. My dad was up for doing the documentary straight away because he’s in recovery and can see the value of it. But my mum was quite reluctant to take part. However, she believed it was worth it if her story could help other people.”
“I really don’t want this to be a heavy documentary. I want it to show a positive outlook. Despite everything my family has been through, my dad is still here, he’s clean and my mum is in a much better place too.”
Joe tells us that although his mum and dad aren’t close to one another, they both care deeply about his children and he reveals that Indie and Marley have given Raquela a real sense of purpose.
“She cares for them so much. She’ll have them once or twice a week. My dad will come down and spend time with the kids as well. It’s so important to me that they see their grandparents. You can repair relationships and have an amazing family.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that Joe’s life now is worlds away from the one he had growing up. It’s been an emotional journey – so much so that Joe has to hold back tears when we ask him what he’d say to his younger self.
“You’re not trying to make me cry are you?” he laughs.
“It’s emotional for me to think about the boy I was and the man I’ve become. If I could go back, I’d tell myself, ‘You’re not a naughty kid, or a wrong’un, or the waste of space that people think you are. You’re a really good person and, when you get through this, you’re gonna do amazing things and light up millions of people’s lives.”
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As well as shedding light on Joe’s personal experiences, his documentary also holds a mirror up to the stark disparity between the amount of aid that’s needed to help families in similar situations, and the services available to them.
“Children with mental health disorders are nearly three times more likely to have a parent with poor mental health,” Joe explains.
After speaking to Our Time – the UK’s only charity dedicated to children growing up with a parent or carer with mental illness – Joe found out that there are more than three million children living with a parent with a mental illness. That’s about six children in every class.
By making the documentary and continuing to champion mental health through his workouts and podcasts, Joe hopes to raise awareness of the issues and become a catalyst for change.
“No matter how difficult your life is and how challenging your mental health might be, it’s just temporary,” says Joe. “The person you think you are, can change.”
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Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood is on Monday, 16 May at 9pm, on BBC one. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised, go to bbc.co.uk/actionline. For information on Our Time and their work supporting young people who have a parent with a mental illness, visit ourtime.org.uk