AS Australia's richest entertainers, The Wiggles made $50 million last financial year. It seems keeping kids amused is a serious business.
The President of the United States and his Vice President never travel on the same plane at the same time.
Just in case the unthinkable happens.
If disaster strikes, goes the theory, succession will be orderly. Democracy will survive.
During the late 1990s, The Wiggles did the same thing.
They flew around the world in two separate planes and drove between cities on two separate buses.
If the plane was hijacked or the bus crashed, The Wiggles – or at least half of them – would survive and carry on.
It was a decision made at a time when Murray Cook, Anthony Field, Jeff Fatt and Greg Page were riding an enormous wave of success in America and the UK, making The Wiggles an international phenomenon and an entertainment brand as big as Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin.
Each and every movement required meticulous planning.
“It was all a bit silly really,” says Cook, laughing off the self-aggrandising aspect of the exercise. “
It might have been sensible, but it wasn’t practical at all. We fly together now. But we still have separate buses.”
Those two buses tell us a lot about The Wiggles offstage, away from the screaming tots and star-struck mums and dads.
One is the Party Bus.
But we’re not talking booze, drugs and girls, girls, girls – far from it.
On the Party Bus, Cook, Sam Moran (the new Yellow Wiggle who replaced Greg Page after he retired due to illness) and Captain Feathersword (Paul Paddick) unwind after a show with a couple of quiet beers, listening to some gentle rock’n’roll.
The other bus is the Not-So-Party Bus and it’s home to Purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt, Blue Wiggle Anthony Field and most of the dancers.
This is the non-drinking bus.
The wildest thing on this bus is a few rounds of charades between stops.
“We’re pretty boring actually,” says Cook.
“By rock’n’roll standards neither of them are what you’d call party buses. We mostly watch DVDs. On one of the tours we watched 50 episodes of Lost in three weeks.”
The Wiggles seem untouched by their fame and largely unchanged by their megabucks.
Not one of them has bought a yacht, an island or even a house with a harbour view, despite being Australia’s richest entertainers, coining $50 million last financial year.
And the workload never slackens.
This year alone, they’ve released three new CDs and DVDs (Wiggledancing!, Getting Strong! and Pop Go The Wiggles!), toured the US three times and played sold-out gigs across the UK.
On the Gold Coast, they launched Wiggle Bay, part of the new White Water World theme park, and they’ve opened three Wiggly theme parks in the US.
Another dozen are planned to open over the next five years. And after 16 years together, none of it seems to have gone to their heads.
“They’re all knockabout blokes who don’t pretend to be anything special or world-famous,” says long-time friend and former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh.
“They’re like your best mate or your next-door neighbour.”
Another long-time friend and fan, Terri Irwin, agrees.
When The Wiggles went to Australia Zoo to film Wiggly Safari in January 2002, she didn’t see any rock-star behaviour.
“They spent all their downtime playing with Bindi. They were so great with her and she still really admires them. They’re just really great, regular guys.”
At our photo shoot, it’s easy to see how the four friends stay so grounded.
Between shots they rib each other about their hair, their suits and the size of their feet.
The wisecracks keep coming about who’s the tallest, the heaviest, the fittest and the best-looking. All four of them fall about laughing at the slightest thing.
“Making fun of each other is a great way to stay grounded,” says Cook.
“We make fun of Sam being the new guy, just like Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones.
"Even after 30 years, he’s still the new guy. And he thinks he knows everything, even though he can’t drive a manual car.”
“Murray thinks there’s nothing funny about him, but he’s a real stickler for words,” Moran counters.
“We call him Professor Higgins.”
“Jeff’s just old. He’s the oldest person in the history of the world!” says Cook and they all crack up (Fatt is 54.)
What about Anthony?
“We don’t call him anything. We’re all a bit scared of him,” jokes Cook.
“No really, Anthony brings himself down. He has a self-deprecating humour.”
If Moran is Ronnie Wood, Field is The Wiggles’ Mick Jagger: extroverted, funny and a little bit flash.
The Wiggles were his idea back in 1991, after his rock band The Cockroaches wound up, and he remains the ringleader of the group.
Today, he’s the only one displaying obvious signs of financial success.
He’s recently bought a new car – a Chrysler 300C sedan – but can’t understand the satellite navigation system.
Arriving late, he gives an apologetic but immaculate smile – his teeth were very expensively fixed after a root-canal emergency – and he’s wearing a pricey-looking suit.
Field, 44, is a former Cleo Bachelor of the Year and is considered ‘the handsome one’ by mothers’ groups.
His wife, Miki, jokes that he’s looking more like his hero Julio Iglesias by the day.
“I listen to Julio non-stop,” laughs Field.
“My first date with Miki was a Julio concert and I loved it. It’s the music of romance. I love his tango album; it’s the best album ever made!”
Under the suit, Field has two large tattoos on his arms: one is a Virgin Mary with the words ‘My life is in your hands’ in Spanish; the other is a heart with the words “My love, my heart” in Spanish, and his wife’s name and those of his daughters Lucia, 3, and Maria, 2, and five-month-old son, Antonio.
Field, a devout Catholic who recently revealed he’s suffered from depression on long tours with The Wiggles, would love an even bigger family.
“But right now, three is a handful. Last night I was up with the baby with colic, one of the girls has bronchitis and the other one has an ear infection,” he says.
“People think that because we’re The Wiggles we know everything about children.
"But my kids still have tantrums, and we have all the same worries as any other parent. I love it, though. I get in the bath with them, read them stories and put them to bed. It’s the best.”
To blow off steam, Field gets up at 5am most days to kayak from his home in Sydney’s inner west to Cabarita Beach, a harbour inlet 30 minutes away.
“It’s dark and freezing and I’m wearing Speedos,” he says, laughing.
“But it’s great. It clears my head.”
Another head-clearer is letting rip at NRL footy games.
Field is a Wests Tigers tragic.
“I have a box there and I take Miki, Sam and his wife, Lyn,” he says.
“It’s a chance to really let loose and scream and enjoy the heartbreak. Sometimes I want to abuse the referee but I have to keep my mouth shut. As a Wiggle, I can’t be using bad language.”
At 29, Sam Moran, ‘the new guy’, is the youngest Wiggle by far.
Offstage, he’s a computer geek who harboured IT ambitions before he started singing professionally.
“I love gadgets,” he says in a quiet, deep voice.
“I could fiddle with computers all day.”
Moran landed his first gig with The Wiggles in 1998, hosting The Dorothy the Dinosaur Show across Australia and the US.
He was just 19 at the time.
In the US, he fell in love with Lyn Stuckey, the South Carolina dancer who has recurring roles in the show.
They married in October last year and hope to start a family soon.
“Lyn and I became best friends on tour and I eventually proposed to her on the bank of the River Seine in Paris,” he says.
“It was dusk and I went down on one knee. She was very surprised.”
Moran had been understudying for Greg Page for almost five years when Page became ill with postural orthostatic intolerance (a chronic condition that causes dizziness, fatigue and nausea) and left the group.
Now Moran has his own understudy and is slowly getting used to seeing his face as a cartoon character.
A Sam doll is on its way.
“It’s very bizarre,” he says.
“I’m not used to seeing my face everywhere, and now the kids are starting to call out my name, so that’s really nice.
"But it wasn’t an easy decision for me to take the job. There’s so much touring involved and the guys are away from their families so much.
"We’re newlyweds and we want to have a family; we had to weigh it all up. Luckily Lyn is in the show, too, so I’m the only one who gets to bring his partner along.”
Moran had to lose the vibrato in his opera-trained voice (so the kids could sing along easily) and learn the band’s code of conduct.
The Wiggles have a zero-tolerance attitude to drug use.
There’s no drinking, smoking or bad language for any employee while in costume or for crew when wearing a Wiggles T-shirt.
They’re required to be respectful of the children and parents and must aim to be positive at all times.
“We’re all clean-living anyway, so it’s not an issue. And it’s easy to be positive,” says Moran.
The cleanest of them all is Jeff Fatt.
He doesn’t smoke, drink, eat dairy products or saturated fats and stays away from fatty meats.
He takes a fold-up bike on tour to exercise, plus his own pillow.
“Hotels never have the right thickness of pillow for me and it can play havoc with my neck,” he explains.
Fatt is the Charlie Watts of the group.
Just like the mellow Rolling Stones drummer, he’s the oldest and is famous for his laidback personality.
“Jeff really does fall asleep all the time, anywhere,” says Moran.
“He’s very quiet, but he’s a very funny man when he does say something.”
Cook says Fatt brings a “calming influence” to the group.
“Nothing rattles him. And he’s unchanged by fame. He’s still wearing the same T-shirts he had when he was 20 – and that’s a long time ago.”
Fatt was also a member of The Cockroaches before Field asked him to join The Wiggles.
“I just went along with it, thinking it was one of Anthony’s crazy ideas,” he says.
Now he’s the most recognised and popular Wiggle of the four.
Quietly, he has become one of the most popular Asian performers in the world although, he concedes, “Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan could be more famous than me.”
The son of Chinese parents who ran a large retail store in Casino, NSW, he hoped to become an architect.
Now he enjoys renovating as one of his hobbies.
“I love working with my hands,” he says, adding that he spends most weekends working on his home in Sydney’s Manly, where he lives alone.
He’s the only Wiggle without a long-term partner or children, something he’s relaxed about. “I enjoy my own space and I’m not lonely,” he says.
“I think I could be a good father. I’d like to have kids one day.”
He has one unusual hobby.
He never leaves home without his camera, and since 1990 has taken one photo a day of the most eventful thing that happens.
“It could be a person I meet, a meal I eat or something on TV,” he says.
“I’ve led an interesting life and I like to document it. I have the first 10 years in albums at home. I feel very lucky.”
And all those ‘old’ jokes don’t bother him.
“I look up to Rolf Harris. He’s a children’s performer and he’s still going at 77!”
The Wiggles plan to keep performing for as long as their legs will hold up.
They have other franchise groups, including the Spanish Wiggles and the Taiwanese Wiggles, and there’s talk of a Hong Kong group.
But the Australian group will continue writing, recording and performing.
They have 20 full-time employees in offices in Sydney and Dallas, Texas, and another 30 employees they take on the road.
ll decisions are made by a group vote, with Cook often acting as the mediator.
“Murray is the brains trust,” says Fatt.
“He’s very intelligent and very analytical. And he studied early childhood education with Anthony; together, they make sure everything we do is the right thing for the children.”
At 47, Cook is the Keith Richards of the group (minus the drug habit).
When he arrives at his favourite Newtown cafe, he’s sporting a shaggy rock haircut, aviator sunglasses and skinny denim jeans.
He orders an espresso from the waiter, who knows him well.
He comes here after walking his two children, aged 10 and 13, to the local public school every day.
"I come here with some of the other parents for a chat. I love my espressos. All The Wiggles do. We have an espresso machine for backstage. It’s one of the production manager’s duties to set it up,” he laughs.
Cook has a passion for rock music.
He has a collection of 30 vintage guitars on stands all around his almost gothic home in Sydney’s inner west.
“I can pick one up and play it in any room of the house. Some of them are precious, but I think they should all be played and not just looked at,” he explains.
One small room in his home – a turret – is lined with CDs, mostly rock, arranged in alphabetical order and stacked in custom-built shelves.
Recent purchases include new albums by The Fratellis, Wilco and Amy Winehouse.
Cook also spends hours downloading songs onto his iPod so he can travel with his collection at all times.
“I’m very anal,” he admits.
“Music is an escape for me. I love to play it loud when I’m alone. It’s very emotional; it takes me into another world.”
Cook is a regular guest on ABC TV’s music quiz show Spicks and Specks and has impressed host Adam Hills with his knowledge and positive attitude.
“I love Murray Cook,” says Hills.
“He came to my stand-up show this year, and we spent a lot of time afterwards discussing how important it is to be joyous on stage.
"We both agree cynicism is uncool, and that making people happy is a worthy cause and should be followed at all times.
“Three weeks later, I wound up in hospital after an ugly appendix operation and, lo and behold, I received a basket of flowers from Murray and The Wiggles. They don’t come much lovelier than that.”
Age will not weary Cook, either.
He hopes The Wiggles will continue for as long as the under-fives still like them.
“I think we’ll keep going because it’s still such a thrill," he says.
"It’s an amazing life we have; it’s such a blessing. I feel so fortunate because I didn’t set out to make this into a career. I really thought we’d just make one album. But look at us now.”
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