One cold day a few years ago, I stumbled through a kiddie show with four grown men in bright shirts, jumping around and singing songs like Hot Potato, Rock-a-bye Your Bear, and Uncle Noah’s Ark. Their genuine enthusiasm, catchy tunes, and bright smiles immediately made my household a Wiggles House.
The Wiggles, composed of Jeff Fatt (purple), Murray Cook (red), Anthony Field (blue), and Greg Page (yellow)–each Wiggle is distinguished by color– has been entertaining children (and parents) for the past fifteen years.
If you’re Wiggles challenged, think The Rolling Stones or The Beatles, but without the sex, drugs, or drama.
This fabulous foursome helps kids with their numbers, letters, manners, and simply learning about and embracing the multicultural world around them.
“When we first started The Wiggles,” father of three, blue Wiggle Anthony Field explains to HMC, “one our objectives was to reflect the society we live in. Australia is a very multi-cultural society as is the United States is as well. We wanted to reflect that in the music we play. There is great music all around the world.”
But how do four guys from different backgrounds form one of the most popular kids bands around?
Easy—they went back to school.
After working at the Australian Taxation Office and being a member of a band, Bang Shang a Lang , father of two, red Wiggle Murray Cook decided to “get a real job” and to head to school at Macquarie University in Syndey, Australia. “I thought teaching would be good and looked into different teaching degrees and I just thought early child hood sounded really interesting.” There, he met Anthony Field and Greg Page, both musicians and both in the Early Childhood Education Program.
When the guys were given a project in one of their classes the idea for The Wiggles began. “The Wiggles came about, as I had an idea to make a early childhood album using what we had learned at (Macquarie) University,” explains Anthony. “And using my experience as a rock and roll guitarist and member of The Cockroaches – a group I was in with my brothers in the 80’s in Australia.”
Because they didn’t have a keyboardist (Anthony plays the drums, guitar, bagpipes, violin; Greg the Guitar, and Murray “anything with strings”), they called on a friend and former Cockroach bandmate of Anthony’s, Jeff Fatt, to help them out.
Murray adds, “They (The Wiggles) didn’t just come from a project but we did a lot of early childhood music and drama and that’s how we became involved and The Wiggles started.” With all that work, did they get good grades? “Yes! We did get good grades,” Murray laughs. After their good grade and great reception (Murray gave their CD to a student and the parent returned it because the child kept listening to it constantly), the guys decided they were onto something and formed The Wiggles. Along with the four guys, they added characters Wags the Dog, Henry the Octopus, Dorothy the Dinosaur, and Captain Feathersword and his pirate crew.
They began to appear at events all over Australia and eventually were the intermission act for the Barney and Friends Tour starting in 1998. Their popularity grew and by 1999, they were headliners and caught the eye of Disney because of the Wiggles’ “strong pro-social messages”.
All the music and lyrics they perform are written by the guys and don’t expect your kids to just sit and listen. These tunes are catchy and fun to move to and that’s all part of the beauty of the shows. “(Our) songs do include a lot of activity and movement,” Anthony tells HMC, “and that’s because at University we learnt that children will own a song if you can marry actions to go with the music. They will feel a real part of that music experience and in fact they will own the song.” He adds, “if they can do Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, it’s their song and if they Can their Point your fingers and do the Twist, after they have received the challenge, it empowers them.”
Empowerment has to be great for the kids, but did being a member of one of the most popular kids bands to date do much for the social life of the guys?
I asked if either of them used “Hi, I’m the Red/Blue Wiggle” as a pick up line?”
Not so much as Anthony tells us. What won his wife over was lots of caffeine. “I met (wife) Mikki when she was working for our toy licensing company. The Wiggles were one of her clients and years later I met her at a café where she was selling coffee machines.” He adds, “and I kept going back for more coffee.”
Murray had a different love story. “I was already married before The Wiggles and I was set up on a blind date. I was at University when I met her and I was an older university student.” He adds that
“she has been very supportive through it all and she supported me for a while and she has been very supportive of The Wiggles.”
Even being the richest entertainers in Australia for the past few years, having adoring fans, and incredible travels around the world, the guys want you to know this cuts them no slack when it comes to parenting. They’ve had embarrassing moments, just like the rest of us, like dealing with temper tantrums.
“When my children were younger (they are 14 and 11 now),” Murray explains one of his embarrassing moments, “them throwing tantrums in the supermarket or something and people recognizing me as their father, because they sort of expect The Wiggles guys to know a bit more about kids. But you can’t stop a tantrum necessarily, so sometimes that was a little bit embarrassing but it’s all part of being a dad.”
Anthony, a former member of the Australian Army, reveals that dressing kids can also be a challenge. One of his more challenging dad moments “would be trying to put little Antonio’s boy diapers on Maria. He was only 12 months and she was two and I was trying to fit these blue diapers onto her and she is the one is pointed out ‘Dada they are the wrong nappies’ (as we call them).”
Anthony and his wife Mikki have also faced other challenges to simply become parents. Diagnosed with endometriosis years ago, she underwent an operation “to clean out all he endometriosis (I’m not sure, I am not technical about that).” Anthony shares with HMC. “And the doctor said the best thing if she could fall pregnant to keep away the endometriosis and the miracle happened and we have three children (in less than five years) which is fantastic.”
They may have embarrassing dad moments and obstacles to become a parent, but they do say their education has helped them be better fathers.
“The education has helped me to understand the children a lot better and come from their prospective more than I would have – that children are ego eccentric and that the world revolves around them,” Anthony explains. “It has also helped me try and encourage them with language development and develop their creative sides–doing open ended activities, like setting up some paper and not asking them to do anything – just letting them create. It has been really helpful. The terrible twos are when the children learn the power of words and the effect they have – they are just exercising their power of learning about the word no and it makes it kind of fun.
Murray adds, “I guess that same as most parents but we do have a little bit more information about it, so we take into account their level of development.” He also says, “it’s still different when they are your own children to when you’re teaching, because I still revert to ‘because I’m the dad and I say so’ and that’s not always appropriate.”
Even with their schooling, these guys have discovered what you learn on paper doesn’t always apply in real life. “Before my education it did teach us a lot about how children think – and the world they belong to,” Anthony explains. “I suppose the biggest learning curve I’ve had is that we have three young children and that each child is really different – in terms of behavior, difference in temperament and what I learnt and in the class room. When you’re with your own children all day you learn what works with some children don’t work with others. I knew this was the case but to experience first hand at home was a really education for me.”
Like a lot of parents, I wanted to thank the guys for helping me through rainy day boredoms and simply helping to occupy the children so mommy can get a shower, but do they use their own shows to entertain their own children?
“They all do love The Wiggles,” answers Anthony, “and are partial to other shows. My eldest daughter Lucia (4y) and loves to watch Ballet as well as children’s shows. Maria loves The Wiggles and Dora The Explorer.”
Murray’s children are older, but when they were younger, “my children did watch The Wiggles, but they have moved on well and truly right now my daughter is 14 and she is right into That 70’s Show and other teenage shows and my son is into Japanese animated shows, but they were big Wiggles fans when they were young.”
So how does a Wiggle spend an average day at home?
Anthony answers, “I live on the water so I like to get down their on a big inflatable raft (with life jackets of course) and take the children out on the water in a little row boat, just spend time with them and Mikki.” Murray is more of a PTA Dad. “We live pretty normal lives the same as people who are not famous. I live in a regular suburb in Sydney – the children go to the local public school and I take them to school – everyone knows me there and I am involved in their fundraisers and all those sorts of things just like any other dad.” He adds, “Both my kids play basketball – my daughter has been playing for quite a long time – I love that – I played when I was a kid so I take them both to basketball – its great.”
The Wiggles family is truly a family affair. Anthony’s brother Paul, has been a producer of the show, and their father was one of the pirate crew members on the TV shows. Both of Murray’s children have been on the show as well and many of their backup dancers (Ben, Katarina, Lucia, and Ado just to name a few), called the red coat dancers and are part of Captain Feathersword’s Pirate Crew, have been with the group for years. Captain Feathersword himself, Paul Paddick has been with the guys since 1995.
Even with all of their success, everything changes and in late 2006, due to a medical condition called orthostatic intolerance, dad and yellow Wiggle Greg Page, had to step down and was replaced by one of the backup performers/Professor Singalotta, Sam Moran. Anthony told us, “Greg is doing well. I haven’t seen him for a long time. We tour so much that when we’re off the road we actually don’t see each other that much. Greg has moved on from The Wiggles and he is managing his health.”
Any chance that he’ll return to the group?
“No,” Murray says. “You wont see him again in Wiggles projects – he has retired completely from The Wiggles.”
(We wish Greg much health and give him our best.)
As for what keeps a Wiggle busy, this past summer, they toured the USA for a solid six weeks after a recent tour of the United Kingdom.
“This year,” Anthony explained, “we will have a beautiful castel set-lots of new costumes, new dances, and new songs and of course the old favorites as well.”
Murray added, “We are always changing the show, making it better and more fun–not we have acrobatics in the show (not from us) from our wonderful acrobatic dancers.”
Kids, wives, homelife, tours–those are some busy dads and we thank them for taking a moment to speak exclusively to HMC.
And if you haven’t had enough with the Wiggles, check out our interview with Paul Paddick, AKA Captain Feathersword. If you want more kid friendly music groups, check out our exclusive interview with Imagination Movers