He’s sold three million books, transformed the lives of millions more, and is Britain’s number one health guru – all from showing us how to get fit and eat better in 15 minutes flat. Now, Joe Wicks is taking stock. Here, The Body Coach sits down with Happiful to talk new fatherhood, learning to believe in love, finding balance in a busy world and – for the very first time – how addiction shaped his childhood
Joe Wicks is at the far end of The Body Coach HQ in Richmond, Surrey, in a sofa booth, sipping water from a metallic flask, when he flings open the doors to his past.
“I grew up in a dysfunctional household, but ain’t they all?” he says, matter of factly. “I grew up on a council estate, but I still had a roof over my head, we still had food, I went on school trips. I wasn’t completely deprived. I had a great childhood. The only thing was my dad was in and out – that was difficult. My dad was in and out of rehab, so he wasn’t always there.”
I have been warned that Joe, 34, won’t talk in detail about his personal life before we meet to discuss his latest book, Veggie Lean in 15 – his seventh since his wellness empire took off like the clappers in 2014, catapulting Joe from a grafting personal trainer to Britain’s number one fitness phenomenon, thanks to his reknowned Instagram videos, and three little words – lean in 15.
In five years, he’s amassed 2.5 million Instagram followers, flogged three million books pushing his 15-minute recipes and workouts, secured a series on Channel 4, and even created his own Wicks-ionary – he cooks with ‘midget trees’ (broccoli), ‘midget sprouts’ (peas), and says everyone should chuck out ‘the sad step’ (scales).
He’s self-made, globally famous, and worth a reported £14.5 million, but Joe’s feet are firmly tethered to the ground, because he deliberately swerves the limelight. He’s never on a red carpet, can afford a car park of sports cars but still drives a Mini Cooper, and despite employing a 50-strong army of “support heroes” who could easily pick up the social media slack, he personally engages with his gazillions of fans who reach out via Instagram at all hours of the day and night – no mean feat for a new dad.
Crucially, beyond Joe’s shouty recipe demos, HIIT workouts, and occasional Instagram snapshots of family life with six-month-old Indie and fiancée, model Rosie Jones, Joe is more private than most in the spotlight. So when he volunteers never-before-revealed details of his childhood struggles, I am surprised, and half expect him to backtrack. Only he doesn’t.
“My dad was a drug addict from a very young age, so he was in and
out of rehab when I was a kid,” reveals Joe. “He’s been through the 12-step programme God knows how many times, but he’s clean today, which is the most important thing, and he’s doing the London Marathon this year.”
Joe tells me he “grew up around” Narcotics Anonymous, and frequently joined his father Gary, a roofer, on NA family days, where children would play while parents attended support groups. He says that at one family meeting, he spoke to a therapist, but insists he “didn’t really need it in the end”.
I wonder if Joe’s father’s troubles were the catalyst to his own hunger for good health?
I don’t live with judgement or resentment, I don’t have time for it
“Not health, but it definitely made me never want to get involved with drugs,” confirms Joe. “It made me understand how damaging drugs can be to a family and someone you love, so I learned through his mistakes.”
Joe and Gary are “really good friends”, and it was Gary who loaned Joe £1,000 to buy “kettle bells, boxing pads and stuff” when he was setting up his personal training business. Joe has huge respect for his father, who separated from is mum, Raquela, when Joe was 16.
“I love him because of the journey he’s been on. I don’t look back and go ‘oh, the trauma’ and ‘I was abandoned’.
“I don’t live with judgement or resentment, I don’t have time for it. My mum and dad have gone through therapy for so many years, and I always think: ‘If you keep looking back, what are you doing today? How are you going to feel good today?’
“I love my mum for raising us, and I love my dad for teaching me what to avoid. I really believe you need to have some challenges in life, because you come out of it, and are better for it.”
It’s this bright-side mentality, combined with sweet sincerity, that makes Joe perfectly suited to fulfil his ‘calling’ – helping others become the best possible version of themselves. After graduating from St Mary’s in Twickenham, with a degree in Sports Science, Joe hankered for a career in PE, until he quit his job as a teaching assistant to follow his heart into personal training. He started out running boxing boot camps in Richmond Park, then began posting recipes and workouts on Instagram, and the Lean in 15 idea was born. The rest is HIIT-tory.
Joe inherited his caring nature from Raquela, a social worker, and says he was a born extrovert who was passionate about fitness at school, always drumming up new recruits for sports clubs and the football team.
Although sporty, he was thin as a teenager, and battled insecurities about his appearance until the age of 16, when he took charge and bought his first gym membership.
“I got a job at Wilkinson’s in Epsom and was probably earning £80 a month, but I was spending £40 of that on my Holmes Place membership. I’d go home from school and straight to the gym for an hour, and it was definitely driven by a need to want to look different, to be bigger and not be skinny,” says Joe.
“I used to think: ‘I want abs because I want to go to Ibiza.’” He shakes his head in disbelief.
“I’m not driven by physical aesthetics like I used to be. Because I exercise, I feel the benefits and I’m using it as a narrative now. I don’t say ‘join my plan so you can burn fat and lose weight’, I don’t say on my Stories ‘you should exercise today so you can look good in your dress next month’, I always come back to ‘you should exercise today because you’re going to feel better’. Now, it’s about mental health.”
You’re going to feel better, have more energy, focus more, become smarter
It’s why he launched Schools Fitness Week in September 2017, with the principle goal of getting one million kids exercising. Rather than initiating change by petitioning the government à la Jamie Oliver, Joe went directly to schools, and urged teachers to encourage pupils to partake in daily morning workouts he live streamed from his YouTube channel. He believes that if kids buy into exercise, parents will naturally become more health conscious too.
“You’re going to feel better, have more energy, focus more, become smarter,” he says of the benefits, adding he would “love” to see all businesses contracting staff to exercise within working hours. At his offices overlooking Richmond station – the place he not long ago canvassed for clients as a jobbing PT – there’s a glass-walled gym where staff can go “anytime they want”.
“I notice that when people do a workout, when they come back they’re buzzing, as opposed to going into the kitchen and grabbing a chocolate bar or an energy drink,” informs Joe.
Does he actually stock his staff kitchen with sugary treats like chocolate bars? Joe glances over his shoulder to the table directly behind us and a half-eaten Thornton’s gateau.
“We have chocolate cake!” he smiles. Yesterday it was his elder brother and right-hand man Nikki’s birthday. Every other Friday, Joe pays for a lunch delivery, chosen by one nominated staff member. “Sometimes it’s a healthy wrap, other times it’s Nandos, some of them have pizzas delivered – anything they want,” he says. Balance, it’s clear, is key.
To read more of Joe's exclusive chat with us, pick up the April issue of Happiful in supermarkets from Thursday 21 March.
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Photography | Meyer Cookware