How I Got My Wiggle Back
If you’re over five, without children and live in a dark cave you probably don’t know that The Wiggles are the most successful pop band for preschool age children of all time.
While studying to be a preschool teacher in Australia, Anthony Field (the Blue Wiggle) recruited a couple of fellow early childhood education students— singer Greg Page (Yellow), guitarist Murray Cook (Red), and a mate from his old rock ‘n’ roll group, keyboardist Jeff Fatt (Purple)—to record a little music for children and the rest, as The Wiggles’ character Dorothy the Dinosaur might say, is pre-history.
But for the record, they have dominated children’s music in Australia for two decades and since the turn of the century have done a good job of making an Australian accent a common phenomenon in North American and British households with preschool age children.
In 2006 and 2009 they received honorary doctorates from two universities for their work with preschoolers and in 2010, the four original members of the group were awarded one of their country’s highest honors, the Order of Australia.
After 20 years on the road, The Wiggles play to more than a million paying customers a year and are still amongst the biggest live acts on the Australian, New Zealand, southeast Asian, British, and North American concert circuits. Touring North America several times every year since 2000, they frequently draw full-houses in some of the largest venues in the United States and Canada and hold numerous box office records, including selling out 12 consecutive shows over a few days in 2003 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Americans got to know the group through their mesmerizing music clips and top-rated cable television program, as well as regular appearances on network television programs such as NBC’s Today. The illness-induced departure of The Wiggles’ original lead singer, Greg Page, in late 2006 was front page news in The New York Times.
Their profile has been helped over the years by a stream of stars publicly professing their genuine admiration––from rock legend John Fogerty to members of Metallica and Fleetwood Mac and sports notables such as Shaquille O’Neal. Celebrities have kids too, so Robert De Niro, Cate Blanchett, John Travolta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld have all paid backstage homage to the band at the insistence of their children.
They have sold 27 million DVDs and CDs, more than a million children’s books, millions of educational toys, and have created several successful television series. The group’s production arm also has multiple “non-Wiggle” film and TV projects on screen and in development.
Consistently ranked amongst Australia’s highest paid entertainers, The Wiggles have won nine Australian Recording Industry Association awards; the most recent for best children’s recording in 2010.
In any entertainment genre––make that any business––The Wiggles register as a category one international success. The venture has brought the four original members of the group personal fortunes, a high level of creative satisfaction, expertise in a variety of performance disciplines, and a unique fame.
All this from what is essentially a cottage industry (gone mad). The grand notion of a wildly successful independent band is alive and well. The Wiggles was created by Field with a view to making music that didn’t speak down to children and from his desire to be in control of his own creative destiny.
Yet, at the same time, while The Wiggles were managing to outperform the corporate powerhouses in the lucrative global children’s entertainment market by making it their mission to be the best, developmentally-sound musical fun a three year old could have, Field was engaged in a daily struggle to maintain his health and well-being.
As a long-term collaborator with The Wiggles and life-long friend of Anthony Field, I was a proud spectator as the group blossomed into something truly magnificent—admired as much for what they have avoided becoming as for what they continue to achieve.
But my primary concern wasn’t for the commercial or creative fortunes of The Wiggles. I was transfixed on Field’s personal health struggles which at times were life-threatening. Over the years he conducted a global search for answers to his challenges only to be thwarted time and again. Eventually though, he found something extraordinary— not only solutions to his complex array of issues, but potential fixes for the ills millions of us deal with daily.
Fittingly, for the founder of a group that places special emphasis on simplicity and honesty in creative and business dealings, and that has battled to have their voice heard over the noise made by traditional industry heavyweights, the common sense, drug-free health innovations Field has embraced serve no one but the patient.
After 20 years, The Wiggles continue to thrive, but perhaps more astonishingly so does Anthony Field.