In these dark days we need a beacon: someone who is like us, but also more than us. A figure in human form onto whom we can project our hopes and fears, somebody who will tell us it’s all going to be OK, and whom we will believe. Boris has had a go, blustering about fighting on with bleaches and lying within a few metres’ striking distance, but it’s no good. He wants it too much, and he’s hurt us too bad. What we needed, though we didn’t know it, was a 34-year-old fitness instructor from Surrey. And lo, he has appeared.
When word started spreading that Joe Wicks, the trainer and internet sensation known to some (who?!) as “The Body Coach”, was going to be doing “PE With Joe” – live daily 30-minute exercise sessions on his YouTube channel every morning at 9am sharpish – there was a flurry of excitement. It was felt most keenly among those of us at home with small kids. The schools had closed and we were entering pre-emptive freak-out mode; Whatsapp lists of online learning provisions with which to jam-pack the next however-many months were spreading like… well, you know. So we tuned into Wicks on Monday morning, eager and anxious. Could this be the leader we were looking for?
It began with an eerie stillness. A living room in Richmond; empty, shutters modestly closed, pale grey walls, pale grey carpet. Then a voice, reedy and kind, telling us that all would begin soon. While we waited, we marvelled at his home décor choices: the map hanging over the mantlepiece (so worldly!); the Tiffany-blue guitar on the wall (so multi-talented!); the recessed shelves with framed family photos (so loving!), empty vases (so decorative!), and small selections of houseplants (so green-fingered!). Someone had clearly been hoovering.
But before we had time to dwell for long on Joe Wicks The Man, there was Joe Wicks The Internet Sensation before us. Pre-Raphaelite curls, tight blue top showing off his celebrated pectorals, plimsolls a blinding white. We gasped and shaded our eyes for a moment; it was almost too beautiful.
And then we were off! “PE With Joe”, it turned out, was monastically simple; it was pure. No screen effects, just the occasional beep from Wicks’ timer as he swapped between the 20 different moves he demonstrates each morning. Running on the spot! Frog jumps! Climbing invisible ropes! We were kangaroos with baby joeys in our pouches jumping over a log! “Wooo! Boing!” went Wicks. “Oh my word, that was high!”
We found, to our surprise, that we didn’t mind that the sound was a bit echoey, or that there were awkward pauses while Wicks listened on an earpiece to the interjections of his older brother, Nikki, providing names for shout-outs: “Jay who’s 10 in Ealing’s taking part – thank you Jay, you know who you are!” “No, are you serious? We’ve got a Harry in Jamaica!” “Zane in Saudi Arabia! Thank you, Zane! Keep smiling, stay positive!”
Something strange was happening. Here we were, in our living rooms, doing star jumps in the direction of a tiny screening showing a stranger doing the same in his. It felt ridiculous. And it felt good. We were all alone, huffing and sweating in raggedy shorts and Planet Hollywood Tel Aviv T-shirts excised from the darkest recesses of our cupboards (just me?), but we felt just a little bit… together.
The next day, Tuesday – ooh, the ache in my under-used quads! – we tuned in again. Wicks seemed a little bit surprised himself by what was happening. He gasped in amazement at his numbers – up round the 900,000 mark! The ticker was going up, up, up…. Could he push it up to 1m? Yes, Joe! We replied, grunting our way through our side squats. Yes! If anyone can it’s you!
By Wednesday, we were well and truly his. We turned the sound up to 11. We bounded around our front rooms with zealous abandon. We did bouncing bunnies! We did shooting stars! We did that crane move from Karate Kid (“Amazing movie from the Eighties. Maybe the Nineties? I think it was the Eighties?”). By 9:30 it was all over, and we were warming down and panting, but we were pumped. We were ready. We were there with the Johnson family in Lancashire, with the Michael family in Canvey Island. Come on Wednesday, let’s do this.
Later that day, my neighbour, whose house faces the back of ours asked me (from well behind the garden fence of course), “Did I, er, see you doing Joe Wicks too this morning?” Yes, Ben. Yes you did. And you felt the ground reverberating with the heavy hoof-fall of a thousand other mad-eyed parents, busily taking one day at a time. And you’ll be seeing me doing Thursday's PE With Joe session, and Friday's, long after my children have lost interest and are busily searching the dark web. And then at the weekend, like Wicks, I shall rest.
“I decided when I was 15 that I was going to be a PE teacher,” Wicks told us on Day One, “and here I am, I’ve come full circle after all these years and now I’m actually becoming a PE teacher to millions of people all over the world.” You’re more than a PE teacher to us now, Joe, and we’re yours for life.
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