Scummy Mummies: The Unlikely Sporting Influencers
From wine in a mug to making it through a marathon, comedians Helen Thorn and Ellie Gibson do fitness in their own unique way, inspiring thousands in the process
By Amy Abrahams
Illustration by Kat Kon
“Just because I plod about Peckham Rye Park, I don’t set out thinking, ‘I’m inspiring hundreds of women today!’ I’m just sharing my day-to-day shit,” says Helen Thorn, one half of comedy duo Scummy Mummies, of her Instagram posts documenting her running. And yet, inspiring others is exactly what she’s doing. Because Helen, along with her comedy partner Ellie Gibson – both more often seen decked in metallic catsuits on stage than sweating in Lycra – have become unlikely fitness influencers, thanks to the pair taking on the London Marathon last October and sharing their unabashed joy in being active. That’s not to say Helen doesn’t feel self-conscious documenting her training online, most regularly on her personal account @itsmehelenthorn: “There are days when I feel like I’m being such a fucking show-off,” she adds, “but then I get all these messages from women who are bigger saying ‘I’ve started running because of you, I’ve seen that you can do it.’ So I’m actually quite heart-warmed by it.”
If you’re not too familiar with the Scummy Mummies, their ascension into the fitness arena might seem unexpected given they’re more likely to influence you to drink wine out of a mug or feed your children fish fingers four days in a row than go all out in the gym or track. But that’s exactly why they’re so inspiring. They’re the anti-smug solution to Insta-fied fitness. If you’re fed up of seeing tiny taut bodies and ring-light-lit chiselled abs or artfully taken shots of green juice, then you need the Scummy Mummies in your life. Fitness isn’t their MO – it’s just one aspect of their lives – so when it does pop up on their feed, when it’s just two women trying their best and having a good laugh, it’s genuinely motivational, as well as often entertaining.
“It’s really important for people to feel seen, or know that there’s someone like them out there that’s doing it,” says Helen, on the need for more body diversity in the fitness space, though she could just as well be talking about the parenting world too. Because making you feel like you’re not alone – making you feel seen – is something the Scummies excel at. Especially when it comes to the pressures of parenthood. Whether it’s their Scummy Mummies Podcast – downloaded more than five million times in 150 countries – book, sell-out stage shows or social media feeds with 165,000 followers, their comedy and honesty provide a potent antidote to ‘yummy mummy’ perfectionism – itself a toxic pedestalling of motherhood. Follow the Scummy Mummies and you’ll encounter much-needed reassurance for parents (and non-parents alike) that it’s OK to be a bit messy in life. That it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. That, ultimately, all you need to do is do you.
This extends to fitness. Neither particularly excelled at sport when they were younger, with the pair only truly discovering their enthusiasm for it in recent years. “Growing up in Australia, I used to swim every day, it’s a cultural thing. I’d do a different sport every night – netball, hockey, football,” says Helen. “But my relationship with it changed when I was a teenager and my body changed – I was classed as a ‘big girl’ and I became very conscious of my body. The only thing I used to come first in was shot put, which is a traditional big girl’s champion sport.”
“I was always the last to get picked at school,” adds Ellie. “I hated all of it, I hated netball, I hated PE, I pretended I had a verruca for about two years so I didn’t have to do it.” But as she got older, she realised she needed to do something for herself and to clear her head while working from home. “I remember just wanting to get out and get some fresh air – and then I discovered quite quickly that exercise was good mentally for clarity.” A fan of an app, she began with Couch to 5k, moved on to 5k to 10k, did 10K to half-marathon and then found herself at marathon distance. “I like to set myself goals, but I genuinely don’t give a shit what anyone else is doing,” she adds. “I’m far too self-absorbed and egotistical to give a fuck how far someone else is running. I will never be the fastest, but I’ll never be the slowest, so… it’s all about me, is what I’m saying!”
So what were the benefits of training for the marathon together? “It was nice just to have someone you didn’t bore to death!” says Helen. “Someone that you could talk shop with and say ‘This is where I’m going to run’, or ‘look at my new watch’ or ‘what gels are you using?’… Because as much as you’re excited about your new pursuit, it is a tiny bit boring talking about sport all day long.” Plus, she adds, “Having someone you can be open with when you’ve had a shit run – because you do have those shit days when you’re not feeling it – I found it awesome having Ellie there.”
However the pair were never competitive when training and even if Ellie thought Helen had it in her to go faster one day, she wasn’t going to pressure her: “It might just make her feel bad, and I’m not running alongside her shouting – it’s not Rocky! For us, it’s not about pushing each other so much as it’s respecting where the other person is, and how they’re choosing to get to where they want to go. And maybe that’s different to your strategies and your goals, and who gives a fuck? Maybe that’s alright. We don’t always have to compete or head for the same target, right?”
Running the London Marathon – which they did for charity, Helen raising money for Women’s Aid and Ellie for premature birth charity Borne – was a life-changing experience for both. “At the end of the marathon last year I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not doing it again’, but… now I’m doing it again,” says Helen. Having run her first marathon in six hours, she’s set herself the goal of doing it in five. “It’s a pretty big fucking leap, but I thought, do you know what? No, I’m going to be really bold. I’m going to set myself a really difficult challenge because, I think I always used to set myself quite safe goals and I think the marathon changed me in that I can do much harder things.”
“Losing weight and getting faster has been rewarding but it’s been addictive,” she adds. “I did that incredibly cliché thing of turning 40 and that’s when I started to run,” she says. Two years later and 20 kilos lighter, she’s seen her 5k time drop from 55 minutes to sub-30. “Before, I was frightened of setting goals because I was frightened of failing. I think that came from lots of years of having really poor self worth and people telling me I couldn’t do things,” she says. “But I think something that’s quite magical about sport is that it’s just for you. It’s your own personal goals and you get little rewards along the way.”
For Ellie, however, she’s had to think outside the box to get her fitness fix after a knee injury called time on her running days. “I missed the feeling you get after a run. I found that if I don’t do any other exercise I start to feel a bit sluggish in my brain, so I had to think, well, what else can I do?” Cue trying a little bit of everything. “I’ve been doing HIIT class, yoga, and I’ve just started a new barre class. Which is really hardcore because I knew it was like ballet, so I thought it would be poncing about, perhaps in a tutu, waving your legs in the air. But it’s a proper workout. I did it [five days ago] and my calves are still hurting. I’m loving it.”
Trying new things is all part of the fun. Last year the two went skiing in Austria – but they didn’t actually go skiing. “No, I hate it, it’s very expensive, it’s dangerous, people actually literally die during it. But I love mountains, I love fresh air, I obviously love the whole apres-ski thing,” says Ellie. “But there was someone putting pressure on me on the trip – she kept saying ‘Why don’t you go skiing?’ And I said ‘because I don’t want to!’ And at one point she said, ‘But I really want you to,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t work for you, so I don’t have to!’ The older I get, the more I just want to do what I want. And Helen and I did go on a proper 10-12 mile hike through the snow, chatting the whole way. Iit was delightful, it was beautiful, serene, and there was hardly anyone else around.”
This year, they’ll be taking on another walk – a significantly longer one – exploring Lady Anne’s Way, a 100-mile route through Yorkshire. It was inspired by the Coast To Coast Walk Ellie did with her dad ten years ago. “It was basically a 200-mile pub crawl,” she says. “There were a lot of scones and cream teas and pints – bed by 8pm, up in the morning, sandwiches in the rucksack – it was lovely, and so much fun.” And then in 2023, they’ll be taken on an even more adventurous challenge – trekking to Everest base camp. “I’m really excited because not many people die – and that’s the kinda thing I’m looking for in a sporting activity,” says Helen. Plus, she adds, “As a parent, the silence, the absolute serenity, of being up and away… Also, there’s something about being a woman in your forties, knowing what you want, and having these sorts of experiences – actually having some time away for yourself is really significant.”
As it happens, the trip will also coincide with marking a decade since they first met. “It’s a weird way to celebrate 10 years of friendship, but actually, it’s not weird but triumphant!” says Helen. Because for the Scummy Mummies, they’ll be literally on top of the world – and really, that’s exactly where these two women deserve to be.