The Making of Joe Wicks: ‘A ten year overnight success’

At 9am on the second day of national lockdown Joe Wicks turned on a camera in his living room: ‘Fantastic, right: here we go!’

And set a new world record. Over 955,158 people tuned into episode two of ‘PE with Joe’ on YouTube, the biggest audience ever for a live online workout.

Over the Lockdown summer, Wicks streamed a further 68 workout sessions and clocked over 80 million views. 

For keeping the nation moving during lockdown, he also made it on the Queen’s 2020 honours list.

In Wicks’ own words he is a ‘ten-year-overnight-success’, going from training camps in south west London to collecting an MBE in Buckingham palace in a decade. 

How has he done this? Perhaps it is those he has worked with and inspired along the way that know best. 

In 2012, Ely Nikfar was new to Surbiton. One day, walking home, the 33-year-old saw people boxing in the park. Wicks came over and handed her a ‘Rumble in the Park’ leaflet for his training camp.

She soon realised that Wicks was an amazing trainer and persuaded her husband, BB, to come to session too. 

She said: “My first impression was that he just loved what he was doing and cared about everyone in the group.

“There could be 15 or 20 people and he would go to every person and make sure they were doing their exercise right.”

From her house, Ely could see the park and Wicks would always arrive 15-minutes early to set up the training. And often at 6am on her way to work, Wicks would be at the train station handing out fliers. 

She said: “He worked so hard. Both me and my husband always say that he has deserved his success.

“He would just have an idea and make it work.”

Hannah Rankine, 30, started doing ‘Rumble in the Park’ when she was 19. Although the training was difficult, Wicks made it special.

She said: “I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been doing those sessions but it was just really joyful at the same time.

“He was so passionate but warm and encouraged everyone.”

According to Rankine, Wicks was always easy in his own skin; something that did not change when he turned on the camera.

FROM PARK WORKOUT TO PODCAST: Hannah Rankine started a podcast and feels inspired by Wicks

She said: “We used to talk about how Joe had such a great, personable way on his Instagram and how fast his followers were growing. 

“We were all watching it with amazement because it was really new back then. We were all just like, wow, he’s naturally so good at this and it’s really showing.”

By early 2015 Joe had reached 75,000 social media followers and had come to the attention of Carole Tonkinson, a fellow Richmond resident and founder and publisher of Bluebird books.

BlueBird had recently launched and were looking for their first signing.

Carole said: “I believed in him from the first meeting.

“I loved his energy and enthusiasm. He’s got an infectious personality and he knows what he is talking about.”

FULL OF PRAISE: Carole Tonkinson says Wicks is a ‘can-do guy’

BlueBird and Joe Wicks published his first ‘Lean in 15’ book in December 2015, which contained 15 minute workouts and recipes.

At the time, few people had branched out from Instagram to print. But Tonkinson saw the opportunity because of the way Wicks demystified cooking and made it accessible.

She said: ‘There are middle aged men who had never cooked before, but now they regularly make healthy food.

And then they model that behaviour to their kids or families. So it has been really inspiring.’

The three ‘Lean in 15’ books went on to be the best selling diet plan in UK publishing history.

Tonkinson said: “It was a fantastic way to start BlueBird. It definitely changed my life.”

Joshua Da Costa, 29, set up his online personal training business in 2014. For him, Wicks has shown what it is possible for people in the industry to achieve. 

In May this year, Da Costa updated his name on social media to ‘The Black Body Coach’ in response to the Black Lives Matter protest.

He said: “Black people in the fitness industry can be viewed for their bodies, as a stereotype of athleticism.

“But they should be valued as genuine fitness professionals. That is how I see myself.”

After Da Costa went public with the name he got a message from Wicks on instagram. He said he was nervous to open the message in case it was about copyright. 

But Wicks had sent him a message to say he loved the name and wanted to know more about the issues surrounding race in the industry.

Da Costa said: “It was pleasing and it felt like I was getting some sort of recognition. It was just very uplifting.”

The way out of lockdown may look uncertain, and the fight against Coronavirus has only just begun. 

But Wicks jumps up and faces the camera: “Keep smiling and stay positive.”

Featured image credit: The Body Coach.

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Paul Cameron
Paul Cameron
29 December 2020 1:21 pm

I love the “Ten year overnight success” – shows we still haven’t lost our sense of humour in spite of those who would have it otherwise 😊

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