Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood is a frank, honest and moving documentary that sees the dad of two open up about his troubled and at times traumatic childhood.
Joe, aka The Body Coach, became a national hero during the pandemic. Millions of children and adults tuned in to take part in his daily fitness workouts on Youtube, ‘PE with Joe'.
His infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy got the nation and people around the globe, star-jumping their way through lockdown. However, as a child of parents with severe mental health issues, Joe knows firsthand that mental health is just as important as physical health.
The NHS estimates that more than 3.7million children in the UK are living with a parent who has a moderate or severe mental health problem.
In the documentary, Joe opens up about his mother’s severe OCD and eating disorders and his father’s depression and heroin addiction.
He explores how his parents’ mental-health impacted him as a child and as an adult and examines how we can better support children and families going through similar struggles.
Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood release date
Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood will air on BBC One on Monday 16 May at 9pm.
Here Joe, who has announced he's expecting his third child with his wife, Rosie, tells us more...
Why did you decide to make this documentary?
Joe says, "I receive hundreds of letters and messages a day from people telling me about their mental health struggles and their worries for their children. I thought by making this and sharing my story, I could uplift and help other families going through similar situations.
"The first time I talked really openly about my childhood was on Desert Island Discs during lockdown (on Radio 4). I talked about my dad’s drug addiction and my mum’s mental health issues, her anxiety, her eating disorders, and OCD and the documentary came about from that."
Your mum, dad and older brother Nikki all talk frankly in the film. Was there anything you discovered about your childhood that you didn’t previously know?
"The biggest thing that sticks is speaking to my mum about when she went to rehab for her OCD and eating disorder", says Joe. "I was about 11. In my head, she was only away for two or three weeks but it was actually five months. We were left at home with my dad, a recovering drug addict. That was quite an emotional thing to discover. But she got the help she needed, otherwise things would have got worse and more destructive. I have a great relationship with both my parents these days."
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Was exercising your way of coping when you were growing up?
"Yes, it became really apparent to me during the documentary how much I’ve used exercise from a young age", says Joe. "I knew that if I didn’t go running or to the gym, I would have been overwhelmed by what was going on at home. It was so up and down in my house, there was no stability, so exercise was my therapy. Even now when I’m stressed and emotional, exercise is the quickest way for me to reset my mind."
Can you tell us about the charities and groups you met during filming?
Joe says, "We went to a primary school where they were holding mental health lessons and also visited a charity called Our Time, which offers group therapy for parents with mental health problems and their kids. They use role play and talk to the children about different illnesses and types of depression and it makes the kids feel like they aren’t alone.
"When I was younger I was ashamed that I was from a family of dysfunction and chaos, so I never talked about it. But it’s okay to say, ‘my Dad’s not doing great’. I’m sure there would have been other people in my school going through something similar. So, we should remove that stigma and understand that we all have mental health."
What do you think you learnt from making the documentary?
"We know that children overhear things, they sense everything, but they are often shielded from it by not being told the truth", says Joe, " What I’ve realised is that kids should be given the chance to understand their parents’ issues so they can communicate more effectively and understand that it’s not their fault, and they are not to blame. That could have really helped me as a kid. I might not have banged heads with my Mum as much."
What messages do you hope viewers take away from watching?
"Change is possible, things are temporary, your living situation, your relationships, your mood, your thoughts and feelings, but you need to be open and vulnerable about you you really feel", says Joe, "I hope people watch and feel it’s ok to have mental health issues, it’s ok to have a family that isn’t perfect. It’s quite a heavy subject to take on but I think at the end of the film there is an uplifting message that there’s hope and positivity."
Is there a trailer for Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood
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Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.