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TV: Eurovision and Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood

Benjie Goodhart / 12 May 2022

This week's TV includes the return of Eurovision and a starkly honest documentary where fitness expert Joe Wicks looks back at his difficult childhood.

Joe Wicks
Joe Wicks. BBC/Mindhouse/Phil Sharp

Eurovision Song Contest, 8pm, BBC One, 8pm

Let’s not beat about the bush here: the Eurovision Song Contest is awful. If you want to see a Latvian chanteuse dressed as a milkmaid butchering a folk song, or a German man dressed in a pink spandex suit leaping about and gurning insanely to a Europop nightmare, look no further. There is virtually no musical merit to the competition whatsoever. If you want to hear pleasing sounds, you’d be better off camping next to the M25.

BUT…

…Oh my, it is also completely wonderful. I absolutely love the Eurovision Song Contest (unlike my wife, who sits there looking at her phone with a face like thunder throughout proceedings). It is high camp, it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, and is a simple slice of nostalgia and televisual absurdity. Graham Norton’s gleefully acerbic commentary (tonally pretty much identical to that of the great Sir Terry) is a total joy, and the whole experience is a slice of unadulterated happiness. Unless you’re my wife. (Mind you, being my wife probably takes its toll in any number of ways…)

One of the greatest aspects of the contest is that you never know what you’re going to get next. In a world where identikit popstars take to the stage looking immaculate and performing their identikit vocal gymnastics, it’s a genuine delight to hold your breath and wonder whether the next act is going to be a death metal band assaulting your senses, a man with a superhuman moustache playing the balalaika, or a 7ft Portuguese amateur wrestler dressed as a chicken. Sometimes, very occasionally, you might even get a song that doesn’t make you want to rip off your own ears and stuff them in the blender after the opening bars.

In the past, I’ve attended (or hosted) Eurovision parties. Guests come dressed to represent a particular nation, and all the food and drink consumed must come from one of the countries performing. I’ve drunk more dodgy Eastern European spirits than I care to remember. Luckily, I can’t.

Last year, a friend and his two daughters joined us, and the seven of us sat down to watch proceedings. We did a sweepstake, and everyone was given three countries, with cash prizes for the winner, and for anyone who got nul points. It helped keep the kids interested, and my teenage son even looked up from his phone a couple of times. Even my wife started to crack the odd smile after a couple of fortifying glasses of Albanian brandy.

And so to this year. The contest is taking place in Turin, following Italy’s triumph last time around. The UK’s entry is Sam Ryder, who is fourth-favourite to win the competition with his song Space Man. Ryder came to prominence through the social media site TikTok after posting cover versions of songs during the pandemic.

But Ryder won’t win, of course. Because, let’s be honest here, we already know who the winner is going to be. The rap band Kalush Orchestra is going to walk it – with what I very much suspect will be the biggest proportion of votes in the competition’s history. Because Kalush Orchestra are from Ukraine.

Some people might be annoyed that politics is raising its ugly head in a musical competition. But the Eurovision Song Contest has always been political. Why else would Cyprus and Greece award each other maximum points every single year? Why would the UK consistently perform so shockingly badly post-Brexit? And, for goodness sake, who is really going to be fussed about the lack of musical merit of the winners of the Eurovision Song Contest?

Instead, this will be a triumphant and uplifting show of support for the people of Ukraine from their concerned brothers and sisters across the continent. More than a competition about music, this is a display of co-operation, solidarity and unity. And the fact that the six members of the Kalush Orchestra are dividing their time between fighting for their country and preparing for Eurovision means they are already worthy winners in my book.

And if (when) they win, how glorious would it be if, next year, the contest could take place in a free and peaceful Kyiv? If so, I will be there, in front of my telly, toasting the whole affair with some unspeakable Ukrainian whiskey.

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Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood, Monday 16th May, 9pm, BBC One

I’m aware that this is the third programme I have written about in recent weeks with regards to mental health. Two weeks ago, we had Paul Merson taking a walk through the Yorkshire Dales and discussing his issues with addiction. Last week, it was Fergal Keane, discussing his PTSD. And this week, it’s the turn of Joe Wicks, who is reflecting on his own complex childhood.

I make no apology for focussing on these programmes – which are being shown in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Week – because each one has been an impeccably sensitive and fascinating documentary, and because these issues are important, and deserve as much publicity as they can get. Added to which, if you watch all three films, you’re probably pretty much qualified as a psychiatrist (apart from, you know, the seven-year medical degree and then attendant rotations).

You’ll doubtless know Joe Wicks. Everybody knows him, following his extraordinary PE with Joe scheme that ran through the first lockdown, helping people tackle their physical and mental health issues through exercise. We did it on the first day, I pulled a calf muscle, and we never did it again. But for many families, it was a lifeline.

It catapulted Wicks to a level of stratospheric stardom not just in the UK, but around the world. Since then, he receives hundreds of messages every day from people who are struggling with their mental health. He often spends an entire day just replying to people who are having a hard time. He, perhaps more than anyone, is aware of how many people out there are finding life tough at the moment. NHS England estimates that, over the next five years, ten million people in this country will need assistance with their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic.

Wicks is concerned about the impact this will have on the mental health of children all over the country. He knows, first-hand, how difficult that can be, having grown up with a mother with OCD, anxiety and an eating disorder, and a father addicted to heroin. In this revealing and deeply personal one-hour film, he looks back at his childhood, and how it affected him, and asks what more we can be doing to support our children through these choppy waters.

It's an issue well worth investigating. An estimated 3 million children have a parent with a mental illness. That works out at six children in every class. A child who has a parent with a mental health disorder is three times more likely to have their own mental health issues.

In a moving conversation with his mother, Wicks discovers that she went away into treatment for five months when he was a kid. He doesn’t remember it, having blocked it out. They were looked after by their dad, who was struggling with issues of his own. Wicks was a hyperactive kid, never able to sit still, anxious and unsettled, often getting into trouble.

Visiting his old school, he talks to the headmaster, who reveals that the number of vulnerable families on the school’s radar has doubled from 80 to 160 since the start of the pandemic. And he meets with families where parents are struggling with mental illness, to learn how to best tackle the issues. Not surprisingly, front and centre of any plan is the open discussion of mental health in the home, so that children understand that it is not their fault their parents are unhappy, and not their responsibility to fix it.

But nor is it Wicks’ responsibility to fix it, however hard he tries. And he really does try. He admits to a sense of addiction at helping people, often waking up at 2am and worrying that he could be doing more. It’s not difficult to trace his urgent need to help people back to a childhood where he desperately wanted his parents to get better. As Wicks’ wife Rosie says wistfully of his superhuman efforts: “You can’t save everyone, can you? All the time, all day, every day.” But Wicks seems intent on trying.

In an acutely emotional scene, he meets with his father, who is clean and healthy, to reflect back on the toll that addiction wreaked upon the family. Finally, Joe visits a school, where he is in his element, doing what he does best: Holding a PE session, chatting to kids, and helping people. If ever you felt an ounce of cynicism about his motivations for his Zoom PE sessions, and his subsequent stratospheric stardom, this moving and starkly honest documentary will disabuse you of them. This is a good man, doing good work, and helping to open up the conversation about mental health even further. We would all do well to listen.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 14th May

The FA Cup Final, 4pm, BBC One, 3:45pm, ITV (kick off 4:45pm): Gary Lineker, on BBC One, and Mark Pougatch, on ITV, introduce coverage of Liverpool v Chelsea from Wembley, with Liverpool still in the hunt for an unlikely quadruple, and Chelsea keen to rescue a disappointing season.

Sunday 15th May

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration, 8pm, ITV: Phillip Schofield and Julie Etchingham present live coverage of a theatrical event from Windsor Castle featuring 2,500 performers, including Helen Mirren, Damian Lewis, and the two titans of modern showbusiness, Tom Cruise and Alan Titchmarsh.

Monday 16th May

Elon Musk: Superhero or Villain, 9pm, Channel 4: Profile of the entrepreneur, world’s richest man, and new owner of Twitter.

Tuesday 17th May

Floodlights, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length drama, telling the story of professional footballer Andy Woodward who, in 2016, with revelations that he had been sexually abused as a youth player by coach Barry Bennell. Starring Gerard Kearns and Jonas Armstrong.

Wednesday 18th May

Location, Location, Location, 8pm, Channel 4: Kirstie and Phil return with series 37(!!!) of the property series. In the opening episode, they’re helping families looking to move from the south to the north east.

HMP Belmarsh: Maximum Security, 9pm, Channel 5: A feature-length look inside HMP Belmarsh prison, from the gangs that have dominated its corridors to the brave officers who serve there, and some of the prison's most infamous inmates.

Friday 20th May

Tractor World: Big, Bigger, Biggest, 1/3, 9pm, Channel 5: New series investigating the biggest, fastest and most powerful tractors on the planet. From epic vintage restorations to cutting-edge machines, the series travels from the beauty of Britain to the heat of Florida and the snows of Alaska to see everything that a tractor can do.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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