They went from student project to global fame, out-selling Kylie Minogue, but Australian children’s band The Wiggles say they’re amazed by their success as they prepare to celebrate 20 years.
“All we wanted was to [make] really great theater for children, great music for children,” Blue Wiggle Anthony Field said. “But it wasn’t a career, we didn’t want to make money from it, we had no vision to travel.”
The colorful quartet, dressed in their trademark blue, red, yellow and purple high-necked shirts, are so beloved by children they can fill Madison Square Garden and reap tens of millions of US dollars in annual sales.
Their success made them Australia’s most profitable entertainers for four years in a row, outstripping Minogue, Keith Urban and rockers AC/DC, and made household names of characters Dorothy the Dinosaur and Wags the Dog.
“It’s all been a great surprise for us, how it’s gone and where it’s gone — all over the world now. It’s amazing for us,” Field told reporters.
The simple formula of catchy children’s tunes with sing-along lyrics and entertaining dances was born in 1991, when Field, Murray Cook and Greg Page were studying to become pre-school teachers.
Among just a handful of men in their Macquarie University course of about 500 women, the trio bonded over their love of music and decided to record an album for a class project.
Field was in an established rock band called “The Cockroaches,” and asked bandmate Jeff Fatt if he’d mind helping with the home-recorded album, which cost A$4,000 (US$3,700) to make, but sold 100,000 copies.
“How long will it take?” asked Fatt, who was renovating his house at the time.
Twenty years later, and Fatt is still turning out as the famously sleepy Purple Wiggle, who has excitable young audiences screaming, “Wake up Jeff!” and laughing at his headstands.
The keen surfer and cyclist, now graying at the temples and just past his 57th birthday, said “staying fit and healthy” was the secret to keeping up with the boisterous young audiences.
“Just doing the shows is enough, because they’re very physical and very demanding. You do have to watch what you eat,” he said.
Field knew they had stumbled on something special when he lent their first recording to parents at a pre-school and one mother returned it the next day because her son was playing it non-stop.
“We’ve always tried to speak to children in a language that they understand and that they can relate to, we sing about things that are in their world, not the world of adults,” said Field, 47. “Children really do think differently to adults and we’ve tried to accommodate that; we haven’t tried to make them think like us.”
Field, a one-time soldier and army medic, also has a strong following among mothers and was named Australia’s 1999 Bachelor of the Year by Cleo Magazine.
He named the band after a Cockroaches song, Mr Wiggle’s Back in Town, and dedicated their self-titled first album to his niece whose sudden cot-death in 1988 prompted his pre-school studies.
The Wiggles are now a global cultural force with CD, DVD, ticket and merchandise sales to match, and will be the subject of an exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum to celebrate their 20th year next year.
The success is hard-earned: The Wiggles spend between seven and eight months a year on the road. Cook, 50, said the time away from their partners and children was not easy, but the rewards were worth it.