After 18 weeks, one broken hand, and endless supplies of perky enthusiasm the fitness show that kept millions of Britons occupied during lockdown has come to an end.
Joe Wicks called time on his morning PE with Joe workouts on Wednesday, after raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for the NHS and establishing himself as the fitness guru for the pandemic era.
The fitness trainer – known as the Body Coach - began his daily YouTube livestream sessions on 23 March after a previously planned tour of schools had been cancelled, hours before Boris Johnson ordered the entire country into lockdown.
With schoolchildren stuck at home his 30 minute fitness sessions, livestreamed from Wicks’ curiously pristine living room, became part of daily life for many families – although they became less regular after he was left needing surgery at the start of May after his hand became infected following an operation.
“It’s a sad day but I’m so proud,” Wicks said on Wednesday, as he was joined by his wife and two young children for the final episode. “We’re fitter and stronger. We’re healthier and happier.”
After letting off party poppers, he said: “That’s the end of PE With Joe. Thank you so much for taking part. Thank you to everyone from the teaching assistants, parents, the fans, everyone that’s taken part. I’ve loved it so much and I’m going to miss you all.”
Wicks said he would “have a little break” but “will be doing more live work” later.
While the BBC turned to former daytime TV star Mr Motivator to get older viewers exercising, Wicks relied on YouTube’s infrastructure to launch his own rough-and-ready classes aimed at younger audiences.
Among those who were watching the final episode was Gordon Johnstone, a 41-year-old media analyst from Loanhead near Edinburgh who has been taking part since the beginning with his children Nico, seven, and Sandy, eight.
“At first I was cynical but it became part of our daily routine,” he said, saying Wicks’s upbeat persona helped his children when they were suddenly stuck at home in the spring.
“It started at the start of lockdown and it almost became as though he was their teacher or their friend. I don’t know if they would see him as a celebrity. They also laughed and said he was a skiver who wasn’t doing all of his moves. I feel that they could relate to him.”
Viewing figures peaked in the first week at 1 million concurrent viewers, a record number for a fitness stream on YouTube, although they began to decline as the months progressed and some of the initial enthusiasm wore off. The final episode was watched by around 100,000 viewers – still a substantial number for an online-only stream but well below the ratings seen on mainstream broadcast television channels.
Johnstone said that he’d miss working out as a family, even though it was squeeze to get him and his kids in front of the television. However, the relaxing of lockdown restrictions meant his children can get outside: “Now they can get to the park and play with their friends, compared to the start of lockdown when they needed something to do … It probably was more for me at the end really.”
Wicks, 33, initially made his name through Instagram and has built a highly successful publishing and social media business out of his exercise routines, recipe books and guides to weaning babies. Rather than bank the advertising revenue from the lockdown workouts he has donated £580,000 to NHS charities, leading to speculation he could be in line for an honour from the government.
However, not all children spent lockdown glued to fitness workouts, with surges in viewing on television and streaming platforms.
Requests for CBeebies and CBBC shows on iPlayer were up by 81% during the lockdown, according to figures released on Wednesday by the BBC, with an average of 38m requests a week for children’s shows during April to June – accounting for a quarter of all BBC streaming.
The most-watched BBC children’s show during the pandemic was Hey Duggee, with more than 67m iPlayer requests for episodes of the programme by parents desperate to keep their offspring occupied.