May 14th 2022
Joe Wicks: Exploring My Childhood opens the door to conversations about mental health and family relationships amid struggles, following Joe’s own journey as a child with parents who both suffered from mental health issues.
The fitness instructor, who received an MBE after helping the nation stay fit with virtual PE lessons during lockdown, will attempt to come to terms with his childhood and spark open conversations about vulnerabilities in the new programme.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk ahead of the documentary airing, the Body Coach shared: ‘It’s got a lot of heavy content, but it’s done in a really lovely way, and at the end of it, it has a really positive, uplifting message.
‘We created it a year and a half ago, and it’s quite an intense, emotional thing to do, but now it’s exciting and I just can’t wait to share it with the world.’
Joe was brought up by parents who struggled with their mental health, with his mother suffering from acute OCD and his father battling heroin addiction, both of which he first discussed in detail on his BBC R4 Desert Island Discs appearance in June 2020.
Speaking about his parents’ reaction about the ‘heavy content’ regarding their family being shared in the documentary, Joe said: ‘At first, they weren’t completely sure what it was all about, and when I explained to them that this is about sharing our message, and if we share our storyline and show that we’ve been through these struggles, but we come out of it and we’re a really close family, and we’ve repaired those relationships that were quite difficult at times, it would be a positive thing.
‘My mum was more reluctant because she’s quite shy and she felt quite exposed, but after watching it she loved it. It’s really uplifting and she’s really proud that we’ve been able to share this because it’s going to help so many families.’
The documentary has been commissioned by the BBC with documentary maker Louis on board as the executive producer.
Speaking about creating the project with the journalist and presenter, who has previously labelled it a ‘dream project’, Joe shared: ‘Louis Theroux I found out was doing my PE with Joe workouts during lockdown, and I was so excited and so happy he was doing them, so I invited him on my podcast as a guest.
‘And he said, “If you ever want to share your story, and you want to do a documentary, let’s get together and have a chat.” Then the idea of a documentary on mental health was born, and he pitched it to the BBC.
‘And it’s just been an amazing journey and I really trusted Louis because I knew how much he cared about it and I knew how much he wanted to share my message and my story, and not just in a sensational, entertainment kind of way but in a real true, honest, and open, vulnerable expression of what we’ve been through as a family.’
Gushing over being able to work with Louis, Joe said: ‘There’s very few people in life I got more excited to meet than Louis Theroux. I’ve watched every single documentary, sometimes more than once. He’s amazing, I just knew that he cared about me and that he was going to do it really sensitively.
‘Who else do you want to trust with a documentary than Louis Theroux? Because he understands story telling. He came around and we did a work out together, and he came around and we got in my ice bath, and all these wacky things because we really get on, and he really does my workouts six days a week,’ Joe said, adding that Louis ‘understands’ what he’s about.
Joe continued: ‘[Louis] is exactly how you would imagine. He’s just himself, there’s no elements of “Oh he’s acting for the cameras,” you might meet a certain type of celebrity chef who on cameras are one thing and when you meet them they’re really different, but he’s just himself.
‘So sincere and humble and just fun, just a lovely guy. He’s got so many ideas and the topics he focuses on are meaningful and impactful, and I’ve always loved that about him so when he wanted to do a documentary I thought, “I trust this guy, let’s do it,” and he’s really proud of it.’
Now, having reflected on his experience as a child and his relationship with his own parents, Joe has two children, and is expecting a third with his wife Rosie Jones.
Speaking about how his childhood differs from what he wants to give his children, Joe told us: ‘I am consciously trying to be a better parent because when you’re a child in that environment and there’s a lot of shouting and a lot of impatience and it’s just up and down and quite a stressful environment, I try and create a calm home life, I don’t want to be a shouty dad and I don’t want to be slamming doors.
‘I saw that a lot as a kid. So yeah I’m constantly trying to check myself and ask “Can I be a calmer parent,” and “Can I be more stable and be present and be consistent,” because my mum and dad were so up and down that there was so much instability.
‘And I think for me as a husband and a dad, I want to be the person that can be relied on and when things get tough and things are difficult I don’t want to run away but just deal with it and get through it and be there.’
It’s not just his family that Joe has been there for however, as providing a fitness outlet during the lockdown led to many emotional responses from parents around the nation.
When asked whether he felt a certain pressure to maintain such a positive and motivational image as he did during his Youtube workouts everyday, Joe told us: ‘I didn’t feel pressure, I actually just felt like I was living my true purpose, I loved it, I was so alive and so happy I was doing those.
‘It was a shame it was during lockdown but my dream was to get young kids exercising so it was my dream manifested in that pandemic. What I found harder that’s touched on in the documentary is how many people started reaching out to me regarding their mental health.
‘I’ve realised I’m not just a trainer, I’m doing more than that, I’m lifting people out of a dark place and a low sense of self-worth sometimes, or they’re depressed or anxious and those workouts gave them a little bit of a spark to change their mind and to try and see a positive place.
‘I get a lot of letters and DMs and messages and that is overwhelming at times, the documentary really shows that because it was an intense period. But I’m learning now to let go and understand and accept that I can’t reply to everyone, I can’t physically help every single person who reaches out.
‘So it’s not a pressure, it’s more of having an ability to connect to people, and I want to help people if I can and that stems from my childhood. I care for people, I’m not selfish, if someone around me is struggling, I want them to do better, I want to help them out, and that can have a positive and negative effect on my mindset because I’m so obsessed with it and I’m in it all the time and on my phone all the time. I’m trying to learn to let go and have more boundaries about that.’
The documentary opens up conversations around mental health struggles, as Joe visits charities and hears from others’ personal experiences.
The fitness guru said: ‘We have to remember that we all have mental health. We have physical health, and if you’re unhealthy and maybe you’re physically sick we can see if someone’s unhealthy but mentally you can’t often see it.’
He added that during the lockdown, with people like Stephen Fry, Tyson Fury and even Stormzy speaking about their mental health and having a cultural impact on people, the door to mental health discussions and sharing vulnerabilities opened even more.
While Joe’s lockdown workouts revealed an image of him as motivational and positive, the documentary shows a new side of him, he shared.
‘As someone who is usually very happy, and really upbeat and really positive, you can look and say “Oh what a lovely life he’s got,” but it’s a journey and a story behind it. So I think there’s a lot of power in that.
‘I’m crying all the way through it, I’m emotional. Being sensitive and being vulnerable I think is going to let a lot of people talk, to open up and to not be ashamed. Talk about it because then you can work through it.
‘The minute you internalise all that, you have shame around addiction, your relationship with your family, it just gets worse and worse and worse. So I hope this is a conversation starter for millions of people, that’s really what the aim is.’
Discussing whether there are misconceptions of him in the public eye, he said: ‘I suppose I think unless you really followed me from the start, you’d think I’ve always had this wonderful house and big garden and motorbike and this kind of life.
‘But I lived in a really tiny council flat with my mum and brothers, and we were on benefits and we didn’t have a lot of money, my mum was in and out of treatment and therapy, my dad was in and out of rehab. I had a really unstable upbringing but I’m very stable now as an adult, so I think it’s just thinking that there’s more to this guy and that you can break the cycle and not just follow in your parents’ footsteps.’
With the aim of the documentary to have a ‘positive impact’ on people’s lives, and opening conversations surrounding mental health, Joe admitted the project was one of the proudest things he’s achieved.
He said: ‘I just hope I can have a positive impact on not just people’s fitness, I’ve done that and I’m really proud of that, but I’d love to say I got millions of people talking about their mental health, out of depression and I got them repairing relationships with their children because they were addicts or had abusive relationships.
‘I think of the two things I achieve in life, number one was PE with Joe, and this documentary I think is going to be something I’m proud of forever because it’s going to be there and it’s a story that’s been told and can really help. I think it’s going to be really powerful, yeah.’
While Joe may be proudest of his lockdown workouts and now this documentary, there’s more on his radar he plans for, he told us.
‘I think there’s so many more topics I’m really passionate about, like the importance of sleep on our mental health, the addiction to distraction, to phones and technologies, I think there’s more content and more conversations need to be started.
‘I do put it on social media but sometimes I think it needs to be bigger and I think I’d love to do more documentaries. I’m not a presenter but when I get with real people and I’m just talking, I can have conversations, really human, understanding conversations.
‘I’ll see how this one goes and then maybe there’s potential to do another one and to keep building that,’ he said.
‘When I’m not able to do the physical stuff maybe I can still be an amazing advocate for mental health in the future, and campaign and get people to really talk about it and educate kids.’
He continued: ‘I just hope [the documentary] has a knock-on effect, rather than just an hour of TV and everyone’s like “Wow, can it really have an impact? Can it really hit the needle on mental health?” And I really think it’s going to.’
Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood airs Monday, May 16 at 9pm on BBC One.
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