Previously tight-lipped about his private life, the birth of daughter Indie has made megastar fitness guru Joe Wicks get all emotional. He spills the beans for the first time about fatherhood and family to James Conrad Williams.
Joe Wicks, better known as The Body Coach, is crying. The founder of the eponymous fitness empire, renowned for his self-discipline, perma-happy grin and the relentless energy of a bouncing puppy, is having an out-of-character wobble.
On paper, Joe has everything to smile about. Last year the self-made working-class boy from an Epsom council estate – son of roofer Gary and social worker Raquela – earned £15,000 a day. (He has an estimated net worth of £14.5 million.) For those of you not among his devoted army of 2.2 million social media followers, let me explain.
What began with some small boot camps he ran out of Richmond Park has in the past five years become the Body Coach empire. Joe’s bankable philosophy combines high intensity interval training (HIIT – intensive 10-30-minute workouts) with healthy home-cooked meals whipped up in 15-30 minutes. His books – which include Lean in 15 and The Fat-Loss Plan – have sold more than two million copies and, together with his 90-Day Plan diet and exercise app, have earned him legions of disciples who swear he has transformed their lives. His own rock-hard six-pack would indicate his methods work, and those who follow his advice revel in posting ‘before and after’ pics on social media.
And if the career sounds sweet, his personal life is even more so, because he’s just become a dad. Joe’s girlfriend of two years, 27-year-old former glamour model Rosie Jones, had given birth to their first child – a daughter called Indie – just days before we meet. Until recently, Joe had been tight-lipped about Rosie, or any of his other rumoured paramours (who, despite strong denials, include popstar Ellie Goulding). You can still google a toe-curling exchange with Piers Morgan about his love life on Good Morning Britain last year. Rosie, too, seems keen to swerve the limelight.
Yet here he is in our interview, dropping his guard for the first time and literally spilling over with emotion. Is it the combined forces of a punishing work schedule coupled with the elation and exhaustion of new fatherhood that have brought his emotions to the surface? It turns out that the tears are about his younger brother George, whose name comes up because we’re talking about the importance of family.
‘I’m sorry, it’s just I haven’t seen him in a while because he’s been living in Thailand,’ admits Joe, eyes still wet. ‘I was ten when my mum had George, and I loved him to pieces. I’d run home from school to be with him. He was like my pet! I couldn’t hang out with him enough.’
When Joe was 16 and George just six, their parents split up. They never actually married, ‘And if they had,’ Joe says now, ‘they’d have been on the verge of divorce every month. So I don’t really have much faith in the whole marriage thing.’ But parenthood has a habit of making you re-evaluate everything and so now Joe says, ‘My feelings are evolving. I always thought that having a baby with Rosie would be the ultimate commitment.’
Perhaps this is why, with that commitment now so apparent, he’s suddenly more relaxed on the topic. The stonewalling on relationship questions is replaced with a man enthusing about his family life. He’s even OK with sleep deprivation. ‘Honestly, I love it. Being knackered is just part of the process. I would love Rosie to get pregnant again straight away,’ he says. ‘I love how close my brothers and I are [Joe’s elder brother Nikki is his right-hand man at Body Coach HQ]. I guess my relationship with George showed me I had real paternal instincts. I love the bond I have with my brothers and I want my kids to be close in age. I definitely want four kids before I’m 40. I’m 33 this month so four in seven years is doable.’
If his parents’ relationship has him unconvinced about marriage, it hasn’t dented his faith in family. ‘I’m the one who brings people together, the one saying, “Right, we’re going here for the weekend” or “My house for New Year’s Eve.” I want my friends and family around me, and I want them to enjoy my success.’
He credits his mother Raquela – who left school at 15 and had her first son, Nikki, at just 16 – with helping him find his calling. Joe had wanted to be a PE teacher and got as far as a brief stint as a teaching assistant after a sports science degree. Quickly realising that the education system wasn’t for him, his mum lent him the money to take a personal training course, which led to those boot camps in Richmond Park and everything that’s followed.
It may be this close-knit circle that has kept Joe’s feet on the ground in the face of success, fame and eye-watering wealth. His indulgences are few: besides a confessed obsession with his electric skateboard and robotic lawnmower, he barely gets time for flash holidays and most of his clothes are from Gap and H&M. Baby Indie will not be getting Kardashian’d. ‘I just don’t get it,’ he says about people who buy designer clothes for their kids. ‘My mate gets his kid Yeezy trainers at £200 a pair and she wears them once.’
So how will The Body Coach approach his child’s diet? While Joe happily admits he was brought up on ‘picnic dinners of things like sandwiches and Wagon Wheels’, it’s safe to say there won’t be too many Happy Meals on his daughter’s plate. He cites Jamie Oliver as a hero and, like him, Joe is evangelistic about children’s nutrition.
‘It’s a tragedy that people are more overweight than ever,’ Joe says. ‘We’ve got a generation of kids stuck to their electronic devices, and PE is being pushed out of the school curriculum to make way for academic subjects. Combined with the rise of cereal bars and energy drinks, it makes for a massive, scary problem.’
Parents also need to take responsibility, according to Joe, and I say it will be interesting to see if his feelings on this evolve, too. Kids can be annoyingly picky and stubborn about food, right? But this new dad isn’t worried. ‘My experience with kids who are fussy eaters is that their parents give them something once, the child doesn’t like it, so they give up. But my little nephew Oscar eats everything – salmon, broccoli, avocado – because Nikki and his wife Louise actively encouraged him to eat them. The earlier you start kids on different foods the better. You have to persevere and be creative. For most people, the barrier to healthy eating is time,’ he insists. ‘So with Lean in 15 and 30-Minute Meals it’s not an excuse.’
If you find the idea of someone being pious about their fitness and nutrition regime slightly irksome, even in the face of sleepless nights and 3am nappy changes, you might want to skip this bit. While most of us would be snatching every possible moment of sleep, last night Joe squeezed in an exercise video for his Instagram followers – a 20-minute routine on his stationary bike – just after midnight. The Body Coach is The Body Coach because, unlike you or me, problems such as exhaustion only make him double down.
‘Right now it would be easier to order Deliveroo and Uber Eats and sit in and do nothing,’ he laughs. ‘But if I eat that kind of food and don’t exercise, I feel more rundown. Fitness and nutrition are related to your mental health. Even if I’m tired, I know that putting good food in my body and doing just 20 minutes’ exercise will make me feel better. It’s about finding those 20 minutes.’
Joe insists it’s new mum Rosie who’s the true superhuman. ‘She was so calm during the birth,’ he enthuses. ‘She had been listening to hypnobirthing tapes in the build-up to help her manage her contractions, which sounds a bit weird and wacky but it worked. It made for such a calming experience. We didn’t know what we were having, and initially I saw the umbilical cord and thought it was a boy – so when we found out it was a girl, I was crying. And then laughing. Rosie was amazing. When you see what women go through, it’s incredible. Men have no idea. We get a toothache or an earache and we think that’s hell. I’m super-proud of her and the bond between us is now stronger than ever.’
Joe used to be adamant that you’d never see any evidence of his private life on his social media profiles. But amid the recipes for halloumi burgers, photos of him jet-boarding and a plug for his new cookware range, he recently broke cover with a sweet picture of him snuggling his baby daughter on his chest, captioned ‘Nothing beats morning cuddles with Indie.’ It’s a marked shift in Joe’s relationship with his fame but he’s still wary. He didn’t, he stresses, grow his social media profile to become famous. And despite persistent rumours, he’ll never sign on as a Strictly Come Dancing contestant. (‘My manager met with them once, they asked and I said no. Then someone leaked that I was doing it. I can categorically tell you, it’s not going to happen.’)
In fact, the idea of ‘fast fame’ makes him shudder. ‘Rosie and my mum were obsessed with Love Island,’ he says. ‘It’s crazy. People go on it for a month and come out with a million followers. Some people can cope with that instant fame, but others struggle. I’m not an extrovert, so I don’t think I’d have ever gone down that route. I’m just not one of these people who is desperate to be in the media 24/7,’ he insists. ‘I’m not going to events and parties. I’m very fortunate because my audience is so engaged.
‘People think I had this big plan and everything mapped out. But there was never any strategy. I just liked making videos and sharing them on my channel to motivate people. And it grew. Every opportunity has been organic. The book deal, the DVD, the TV shows, becoming a Unicef ambassador – these were all totally unplanned. I’ve achieved many things I’m super-proud of, but I look at someone like Jamie Oliver – he’s still so relevant and people still love his content. So in ten years’ time, I hope I’ll be the same.’
Planned or not, right now it looks like world domination is inevitable.
No average Joe
On your bedside table: Just a digital radio. I listen to Mellow Magic before bed, then all through the night on the lowest volume. I like how there’s a little bit of Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye playing if you wake.
Who makes you laugh? My brother Nikki. We have a shared sense of humour and he’s especially hilarious after he’s had a drink or two.
Perfect Saturday night: A few cocktails somewhere like Zuma or SushiSamba, followed by a nice dinner then more cocktails. No clubbing like I used to – I’d rather get home by midnight so I can enjoy the next day.
Perfect Sunday morning: A long lie-in until 10am or 11am, a nice breakfast with Rosie then maybe a cycle or walk around Richmond Park.
Favourite city: Barcelona. When I finished university I spent a month there and I loved it – the beaches, the restaurants, the fantastic nightlife.
starstruck moment Meeting Usain Bolt at Soccer Aid. He’s just so cool and I’m in awe of athletes anyway.
Favourite TV show: Grand Designs and The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, co-presented by Caroline Quentin. I love it – I’ve thought about building a new house myself.
Most treasured possession: It’s got to be Rosie, hasn’t it?
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? My mum, definitely. And someone ambitious who just wants to help people.
Joe’s 30-Minute Meals by Joe Wicks is published by Bluebird, price £20. To order a copy for £16 (a 20 per cent discount) until 23 September, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.