The Untold Truth Of The Wiggles

Generations of children have grown up listening to such preschool hits as “Fruit Salad” and “Hot Potato,” likely driving their parents batty as they dance and sing along to the music of The Wiggles. According to the beloved children’s entertainers’ official bio, Anthony Field, Murray Cook, and Greg Page were all studying early childhood education at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia when they were struck with the idea of releasing a CD of educational songs for preschoolers. Recruiting Jeff Fatt (who played in a band with Field), this new quartet called themselves The Wiggles. Their first CD was a surprise hit, leading to more albums, live stage shows, a TV series, DVDs, all manner of Wiggles-branded merchandise, and a meteoric rise that made them rock stars with the preschool set.

As that bio pointed out, The Wiggles’ fame has extended far beyond their native Australia, gaining international appeal “because the material they present continues to focus so precisely on children’s interests and needs.” But while The Wiggles have loomed large on the children’s entertainment landscape since the ’90s, there’s a lot about the group and its members that may prove surprising. Keep reading to discover the untold truth of The Wiggles. 

The Wiggles were originally a rock band called The Cockroaches

The Wiggles didn’t just emerge fully-formed. In fact, the group’s origins can be traced back to an Australian rock band called The Cockroaches. According to the band’s encyclopedia entry in the Worldwide Home of Australian Music and More Online, The Cockroaches were formed in 1979 by brothers Paul, Anthony, and John Field. The band’s self-titled debut, released in 1987, spawned the single “She’s the One,” which became the band’s biggest hit when it made it to No. 7 on the Australian charts. 

The Cockroaches put out four more albums, yet never matched the success of that first one, remaining more of a pub band than a group of recording artists. “Sometimes we did two gigs in a night,” Paul told fellow Cockroach Daniel Fallon in an article about the band the latter wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald. “In those days nearly every pub had bands… We rode the last wave of the pub rock era.”

According to Fallon, The Cockroaches came to a screeching halt after bandmates Anthony and Jeff Fatt took on a side gig aimed at entertaining children, joining Murray Cook and Greg Page to become The Wiggles.

The Wiggles were Australia's highest paid entertainers

Thanks to their live stage shows, TV series, and assorted merchandise, The Wiggles managed to rake in some serious cash as the group grew to become superstars to their pint-sized fans.

When Australia’s Business Weekly Review released its annual list of the nation’s highest-paid entertainers of 2008 (as reported by ABC News), The Wiggles officially held the title of Australia’s highest-paid entertainers. Their gross earnings for the 2007 to 2008 time period, in fact, were estimated to be $45 million. 

By 2013, The Wiggles’ popularity continued to soar. In BRW‘s list that year (via Tone Deaf), the group had dropped to runner-up status, second to actor Hugh Jackman. In 2015, according to SBS News, The Wiggles slipped to third place. Despite once again earning an estimated $45 million, which was on par with past years, The Wiggles weren’t as lucrative as the fortune raked in by pop star Kylie Minogue, whose $47 million earnings landed her in second place. In first place: iconic Aussie rockers AC/DC, whose massive stadium tour brought them a staggering $105 million that year. 

The Wiggles are the most popular children's entertainers in the world

As a 2015 press release bombastically declared, The Wiggles had become “the world’s most popular children’s entertainment act.” According to that release, by that point the group had sold seven million albums, eight million books and 23 million DVDs.

According to a 2011 interview in the Independent, the group compared its massive popularity to that of a beloved children’s TV series that first debuted in 1969. “Our main inspiration is Sesame Street,” said The Wiggles’ Anthony Field. “And it would be nice to think that, like Sesame Street, The Wiggles can continue forever.” Fellow Wiggle Murray Cook, in fact, admitted the group’s success had far outpaced their expectations. “The record label said we’d be lucky to sell 3,000 copies, but we shifted over 100,000,” he said of their debut. “We’ve not really looked back since.”

That success extended into the 2020s, evident in a Billboard report that The Wiggles signed the group’s “first exclusive, global publishing deal,” with Universal Music Group. “This is going to be such a monumental year for The Wiggles,” said Field in a statement, “and we couldn’t be happier to be celebrating it with Universal Music Publishing.”

There was a forgotten fifth Wiggle

Anyone familiar with The Wiggles knows the group has four core members, yet there was once a fifth. 

One-time fifth Wiggle Phillip Wilcher told the Sydney Morning Herald about his experience with The Wiggles when the group was still in its embryonic period during the early ’90s (he can be seen on the cover of the group’s 1991 debut album, The Wiggles). “I contributed the most musically to the debut album,” said Wilcher, who wrote most of the songs on the album. However, Wilcher saw himself as a musician, not necessarily a children’s performer; in September 1991 he told the other Wiggles he wanted to change the arrangement, working musically behind the scenes but no longer appearing onstage or in videos.

The following year, Wilcher returned from a trip to the U.S. and discovered the other four had recorded their second album without him; he was told he was out. A spokesperson for The Wiggles clarified, saying, “There’s no story. There was no fight, no fallout. He was just not so much into children’s music, he was more into classical music.” The last royalty check he received from his Wiggles work, he revealed, totaled $5.67.

Captain Feathersword once competed for a role with Hugh Jackman

While The Wiggles downsized from five to four, if there’s a single person who can rightfully claim the title of “the fifth Wiggle,” it’s actor and singer Paul Paddick. Paddick, noted a 2005 profile in the Sydney Morning Herald, had spent the past 11 years playing “friendly pirate” Captain Feathersword. Additionally, Paddick wasn’t the first person to portray the boisterous buccaneer; the character was originally played by blue Wiggle Anthony Field before the character was outsourced and given to Paddick. 

Paddick is clearly the right guy for the job, and he’s got some serious credentials under his pirate belt: not only is he a classically trained vocalist (“I wanted to be an opera singer,” he admitted), he also attended the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. As it happened, Hugh Jackman was also studying there at the time; in fact, Paddick recalled the future X-Men star beating him out for the role of Gaston in a production of Beauty and The Beast

Paddick recalled running into Jackman years later. After congratulating Jackman on his Melbourne performance of Sunset Boulevard, Jackman responded, “But what about you? You’re working with the Wiggles!”‘

A replacement Wiggle was brought in when one of the members fell seriously ill

The Wiggles were at the height of their fame when, in 2006, original group member Greg Page was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition that forced him to step away from the group. According to Australia’s The World Today, Page had been suffering mysterious symptoms for more than a decade. Those symptoms increased in severity during the group’s 2006 U.S. tour, leaving him unable to perform. Understudy Sam Moran took his place for the remainder of the tour, and was eventually made Page’s replacement. 

According to a subsequent story in the Daily Mail, Page had been diagnosed with orthostatic intolerance, described as “a rare and crippling nervous system condition” that puts his life at risk whenever he’s on his feet for too long. 

Interestingly, while it may have seemed as it Moran was a full-fledged Wiggle, that wasn’t technically the case. As Australia’s News.com reported, he was actually on salary, and didn’t reap the same rewards that the other Wiggles did. That became clear when Page subsequently returned to the group, sending Moran packing. “Sam was just doing a job,” said Page. “He was a hired hand.”

The Wiggles have loads of celebrity fans

The Wiggles have been revered by children for decades, and a surprising number of those children have celebrity parents. As People reported back in 2006, celebs who’ve requested tickets (and even backstage passes) for Wiggles shows have included such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow and then-spouse Chris Martin, and Matthew Broderick and wife Sarah Jessica Parker. 

A few years later, a feature in the Independent expanded that list of stars to include Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and strangely enough, members of head-banging rock band Metallica. Even Oscar-winning thespian Robert De Niro is a fan. According to Wiggle Anthony Field, the Raging Bull star had tickets to see them perform in New York City, but was running late. Just as they were about to go onstage, De Niro’s manager called to let them know that “Bobby” wasn’t going to be able to make it in time. Would it be possible, the manager asked, and if they could wait a half-hour before taking to the stage so he wouldn’t miss the opening of the show?  “And you know what? We actually contemplated it!” Field said with a laugh, adding that they ultimately refused De Niro’s request.

The red Wiggle is one of Australia's top guitar players

Murray Cook may not be a household name, but he’s known to millions of children as the guitar-playing red Wiggle. However, Cook’s fame actually extends far beyond The Wiggles; as Celebrity Net Worth pointed out, in 2008 he was named the “the sixth best guitarist in Australia,” and is the proud owner of 30 vintage guitars.

In addition to The Wiggles, other bands have been able to benefit from Cook’s fancy fretwork. As he explained in a 2004 interview with Preschool Entertainment, he was then moonlighting in Australian rock band Bangshangalang when he wasn’t tied up with his Wiggles work. “It’s sort of a social thing, and we do a few gigs here and there,” Cook explained. 

In a 2019 interview with The Echo, Cook — who had by then left the group — opened up about another non-Wiggles musical project he was embarking on: The Soul Movers, described as “a soul/R&B/classic-rock band.” In fact, Cook revealed he and The Soul Movers had even recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, “the one where Aretha Franklin recorded!” As Cook recalled, “It was amazing.”

The Wiggles sold out Madison Square Garden — for 12 days consecutive days

Given the immense popularity experienced by The Wiggles over the years, it shouldn’t be surprising that the group is the focus of a question in the board game Trivial Pursuit. What may prove surprising to some, however, is the actual question itself. As Australia’s Courier Mail reported, the question asks players to guess the only act in music history to have sold out New York City’s Madison Square Garden for 12 consecutive performances.

The Wiggles did indeed achieve that amazing feat, reported the The Washington Post, in fall 2003. As Wiggles member Anthony Field told the newspaper, he’s a firm believer that the secret of the band’s success stems from the fact that three of the original members had previously worked as early childhood educators. This base of knowledge, he explained, allowed them to know their audience, and keep their songs and dances simple. “We could have put a lot more words than “hot potato” in “Hot Potato,” he explained. “We would have put a guitar solo in there or something. We get straight to the point in our songs — there’s no time for mucking around.”

A Wiggle owns one of the world's largest collection of Elvis memorabilia

Being a founding member of The Wiggles has been a lucrative proposition for OG yellow Wiggle Greg Page. As it turned out, Page hasn’t been stingy about spending his money to pursue his passion for purchasing collectibles connected to the late Elvis Presley — to the point that he came to own one of the largest collections of memorabilia in the world. According to an interview with the Sunshine Coast Daily, Page’s obsession with the King began when he made a pilgrimage to Graceland in the mid-2000s. Just a few years later, Page could proudly boast of owning the planet’s fourth-largest collection of Presley memorabilia.

The rarest items in Page’s collection include the first contract Presley signed with Col. Tom Parker, the pre-construction blueprints for Graceland, Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s marriage certificate, and his absolute favorite, a leather suit worn by Presley onstage back in 1974.

Admitting it would be “a pretty selfish thing” to keep his collection all to himself, he put the items on display in a permanent exhibit called The King’s Castle in the Australian town of Parkes, which hosts an annual festival devoted to Presley.

The original Wiggles retired, and were replaced by new Wiggles

In a 2011 interview with the Independent, the original members of the Wiggles were asked about whether there were plans to pack it in and enjoy a well-earned retirement. Jeff Fatt, a.k.a. the purple Wiggle, said there were “no plans for us to retire just yet,” adding, “We may not be as young as we once were, but we do keep fit.”

The following year, however, Fatt and two of the other Wiggles were singing a different tune. According to a 2012 report from Australia’s ABC News, Fatt and fellow Wiggles Greg Page and Murray Cook announced they were indeed retiring. They also announced that The Wiggles would continue without them; Anthony Field would remain as the blue Wiggle, but the other slots in the group would be passed on to new, younger performers.

That same report also announced that newcomers Emma Watkins, Lachlan Gillespie, and Simon Pryce had been “handpicked by the group” to be, respectively, the new yellow, purple, and red Wiggles. 

A famous Australian pop star was made an honorary Pink Wiggle

The Wiggles’ membership may have fluctuated over the years, but there was one time when a big-name celebrity joined the group as an “honorary Wiggle.” As the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia noted, Aussie pop sensation Kylie Minogue joined the group as the pink Wiggle, appearing in a special song and accompanying video.

For that video, The Wiggles welcomed Minogue to take lead vocals on a high-energy cover version of Toots and the Maytals’ reggae hit “Monkey Man,” with Minogue sporting a distinctive pink Wiggles shirt.

That pink shirt, interestingly enough, may be part of the reason why future Wiggle Emma Watkins wound up wearing a yellow shirt instead of pink, which would have been her preference. “My favorite color actually has been pink but Kylie Minogue was an honorary Wiggle in pink and I could never replace that,” Watkins said in an interview with Hollywood Life. “But I think the colors red, yellow, purple, and blue definitely symbolize The Wiggles as a brand and it’s so iconic. I don’t think we could’ve gone without the yellow. Kids just recognize it.”

Two of the Wiggles married each other, then divorced

The Wiggles had never been known for behind-the-scenes drama, yet that changed thanks to two of the new additions: Emma “yellow Wiggle” Watkins and Lachlan “purple Wiggle” Gillespie. As Honey Celebrity reported, shortly after joining the group the two began dating, but managed to keep their relationship a secret — even from their fellow Wiggles — for two years. “I really fell in love with Lachy in the first moment… But it took him a long time!” Watkins subsequently told the Sydney Morning Herald, with Gillespie adding, “In 2012, we basically spent the entire year together, every single day.”

In 2015, the couple took to Instagram to announce they’d gotten engaged, and were married in May 2016. The marriage, however, did not last long; in 2018, the couple issued a joint statement via Instagram, revealing they’d been “navigating through a trial separation” for the past six months, and had “made the decision to separate as a couple.” They subsequently divorced, and by 2019 each had gone public to reveal they were dating other people.

Throughout it all, the exes continued to perform in their respective roles in The Wiggles, their preschool fans none the wiser.

One Wiggle has been the Phantom of the Opera, a Ninja Warrior, and a Masked Singer

Prior to singing about hot potatoes and fruit salad as the red Wiggle, Simon Pryce had built up an impressive reputation in musical theater. Among his many stage credits was a five-year stint as the titular Phantom in a touring production of The Phantom of the Opera.

In 2018, Pryce also showcased his extreme athleticism when he and wife, Lauren Hannaford, competed in Australian Ninja Warrior. “We thought it would be a really fun challenge to get involved in,” Hannaford told The Daily Telegraph (via Who Australia). “We love doing anything together that involves being active and being healthy; it’s how we like to spend our time,” continued Hannaford, a fitness trainer who previously played Wiggles fan favorite Dorothy the Dinosaur.

A couple years later, it was Pryce’s vocal skills and not his muscles at the forefront when he made a surprise appearance on Australia’s The Masked Singer, revealed to be the celebrity beneath the puppet mask. “I had such a great time — it’s been incredible,” Pryce said (via News.com) after his unmasking. “But these [songs] are a little trickier with a few more words than Wiggles songs.”

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