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Child's play, The National, 08.06.2010

‘Wake up!’ the Wiggles are on their way to Dubai and Jo Wadham finds out what’s coming

They have played 12 sell-out shows at Madison Square Gardens in New York in 2003, they have had 17 gold, 12 platinum, three double platinum, and 10 multi-platinum awards for sales of over 23 million DVDs and seven million CDs worldwide and have recorded songs with Kylie Minogue and Mick Fleetwood. They perform to more than a million people each year and every mother has her favourite of this fab four. No, not the Beatles, but the Wiggles – and they are coming to Dubai this week to play three shows on June 11 and 12.

In fact, the origins of these immensly popular children’s entertainers actually lie in a pop rock band. Two of the founding members of the Wiggles met through music. Anthony Field (the Blue Wiggle, so called for the different coloured jerseys or ‘skivvies’ each of the Wiggles wear) was the lead guitarist and Jeff Fatt (the Purple Wiggle) played keyboards in a band called the Cockroaches that achieved top 10 chart success in Australia in the late 1980s.

Field then went on to study childhood education at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where he met Murray Cook (the Red Wiggle) and Greg Page (the former Yellow Wiggle). They discovered they had a knack for writing songs for children and soon set about recording their music. The Wiggles, named after the way children dance, were born. Speaking on the phone from Australia, Fatt explains how a bit of painting and decorating nearly got in the way of him joining the Wiggles. “I was renovating my house and was stood there, paintbrush in hand, when Anthony called. He asked me to come down to the studio and help them out with recording some songs. I asked him how long it would take and he said a couple of hours; it’s taken almost a couple of decades!”

The Wiggles shows are colourful, musical extravaganzas and the Dubai dates will be no exception. “There will be gymnasts, lots of tumbling and acrobatics and lots of singing, dancing and interaction. There are plenty of things for children to be involved in,” said Fatt. Also putting in appearances will be characters from the TV shows, including Wags the Dog, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Henry the Octopus and Captain Feathersword, the friendly pirate. “It will be a very exciting show,” says Fatt.

Their knowledge of early childhood education clearly underpins the format of the shows and, Fatt believes, plays a large part in their popularity with pre-schoolers. “It’s the way we engage with the children and speak on their level. We never talk down to them; we treat them with respect. That, combined with the music, seems to strike a chord. “This is why the Wiggles always perform for the camera, looking down the barrel of the lens, because children are egocentric, so we do this one-to-one thing and maintain eye contact. It carries over to the live performances. If we speak to another Wiggle, we speak facing out into the audience and not looking at the person we are supposed to be addressing.”

The show is very physical and, despite being the oldest Wiggle at 57, Fatt is still very fit thanks in part to his fondness for surfing when he gets some downtime. “If you’re a bit out of condition at the start of a run of shows, you’re certainly in condition by the end,” Fatt says. Part of the enduring appeal of the Wiggles is that they genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves. “We do get on with each other and do enjoy what we do on the stage. It would be very difficult to fake that,” Fatt says.

Sadly for the group, Greg Page, the original Yellow Wiggle, was forced to retire from the Wiggles due to ill health in 2006 after collapsing backstage on tour. He was later diagnosed with orthostatic intolerance, a condition related to high blood pressure, which meant his career as a Wiggle was over. Page’s understudy, Sam Moran, slipped on the yellow skivvy and has been performing with the Wiggles ever since.

When the group started out, they toured round in Fatt’s van. “It was a very cottage-style industry,” remembers Fatt. “We used to drive around in my van and a trailer and set up our own PA and sell music out of a suitcase. It’s nothing like now.” Now they are on the Far East leg of their tour, travelling to Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before arriving in Dubai for the shows at the Palladium, then on to the UK. In Australia alone, their annual end of year national tour sells over 120,000 tickets, which goes some way to explaining why they have been named previously as Australia’s highest earners in the entertainment field.

I had been hoping for a pause in the conversation so I could shout “wake up, Jeff!” the catchphrase aimed at Fatt in all the Wiggles’ shows, but opted instead to ask where this characterisation of him as sleepy had come from. Fatt explained: “I was the only one who was not a pre-school teacher, so it was a way of getting me involved on stage without me having to do anything. “Also, for a child to wake an adult up is very empowering. There’s a huge cause and effect and that is why we kept it in. It’s also an extension of my real personality; I’m very laid back.”

As to the origins of the trademark Wiggle move, the Wiggly Fingers (forefinger extended and thumb up, then waggled, or wiggled), Fatt explains: “When we were on tour with the Wiggles in the early 90s, we used to see 10-pin bowlers on local community TV and that’s what they did when they got a strike and it’s stuck.” With their huge commercial success, the Wiggles could have gone all out for making as much cash as they could by endorsing everything in sight. But as Fatt explains, they feel a great sense of responsibility towards their target audience. “We have always stuck to our core principle ‘what will the child get out of this?’. This has been the focus of our endeavours. We never get involved in endorsing confectionery, although that would be a very easy thing to do. We are sticking to our values of healthy eating and road safety and bringing up children in a healthy way.”

Two years ago, the Wiggles were made Unicef Goodwill Ambassadors, joining personalities such as Shakira, Nicole Kidman and David Beckham. “It’s wonderful to be involved in any way with children, especially children who do not get the opportunities many western children do,” says Fatt. As Ambassadors they are focusing on water and sanitation as well as literacy and numeracy. “It’s a marvellous opportunity to be able to help.” Says Fatt.

“The Wiggles were once described as being a cross between a Broadway show and a circus,” says Fatt. One thing is for sure, their catchy tunes and bounding energy will have everyone, parents and pre- schoolers alike, dancing in the aisles this weekend.The Wiggles are performing at The Palladium, Dubai Media City, on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th June. Tickets can be purchased fromĀ www.timeouttickets.com or by phoning 800 4669.


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