As a parent, one of my favourite pastimes is to park my son on the couch, fire up a Wiggles DVD and get some sweet, sweet Me Time.
Sometimes, when the boy has asked me the same question I don’t know the answer to for the 5,839th time, I’ll say, “Let’s put on The Wiggles. They’ll know.” Occasionally, I’ll even refer to The Wiggles as his TV Daddies. “Ask your TV Daddies,” I’m fond of saying.
So at this point, The Wiggles can probably qualify as legal guardians. I hope to god they don’t file for custody because I’d have a serious fight on my hands.
But given the trust we place in them as surrogate parents, how well do we really know these Wiggles (if that is their real name [it is – it’s a showbiz name])? What lurks behind the songs and smiles? Is there a glowing ball of light inside each member that radiates happiness and love? Or is there a moat of darkness surrounding hearts hardened by sadness and regret?
What do The Wiggles do when the camera lights dim? Are they still happily whistling kiddie tunes? Or do they pour each other a whiskey, light up a cigarette and listen to Leonard Cohen in the dark?
I have no idea! Do you? No you don’t, stop it. None of us knows anything!
So when I had the chance to interview Emma Watkins, the Yellow Wiggle, I knew I had to try to peel off that smiley exterior and get to the inner wiggly cauldron of darkness…
As it turns out, Emma is actually as sweet and nice in person as she is on the television. And even though I asked her some weird questions, she was an incredible sport throughout. Maybe that’s why she has her own DVD, Emma’s Bowtiful Day!, in stores now, which features Emma’s top episodes from the latest series, four special feature dance lessons, as well as 50 Wiggles songs.
What inspired the DVD?
It’s basically a selection of episodes from the first series of Ready Steady Wiggle, which is on ABC at the moment. I think a lot of parents and children watch it or they miss it on ABC and they want to see it again. We just decided to handpick episodes that I really liked and put them all together on a DVD.
How did you determine what your favourites were?
There are a lot of Emma dance lessons on there that I really like. And we sing “Poesje Mauw”, which is a traditional Dutch song. Greg Wiggle, the original Yellow Wiggle, he was in the studio and he used to sing the song so we thought it might be nice if Greg and I sang it together.
You’ve been “the woman Wiggle” for a couple of years now. Have you noticed differences in your audience?
Absolutely. When we first started we noticed that a lot of the audience were younger. But now in the second year, as our audience has grown and the word has spread, we’ve seen a lot of girls between the ages of 6 and 8 at the shows all dressed like me. Yellow bow in the hair, big skirt. I don’t know if it’s the girl thing or if it’s dress up. Maybe because I do a lot of dancing and ballet, they feel inspired to start dancing and playing instruments.
At what age does being a Wiggles fan start to get a little bit creepy?
You’re never too old to Wiggle.
I’m American, but my son is Australian and we are constantly at odds, culturally. You’ve toured America… did you find that there’s a difference between a US audience and an Australian one?
The only thing we find different is that the American audience is a lot louder. Australians love the show but in America and Canada they’re very enthusiastic, very vocal and they always make a lot of signs.
Do you get recognised on the street a lot?
I think as soon as we got onto TV on the ABC it became apparent. And I guess particularly when you’re in a town that you’re touring… people are more aware that you’re going to be around.
Are the paparazzi becoming a huge problem?
I think that the good thing about Australia is that our paparazzi are pretty mild.
Do you invite celebrities to do shows with you as guest stars?
Do you know Lou Diamond Phillips?
From La Bamba?
He was in Australia doing The King and I. He’d been a longtime fan of The Wiggles and a good friend of Anthony’s. His daughter is six and watches the new Wiggles. Anthony thought it might be great if he came on board. He’s just lovely. Just wonderful. And such a great guy to be around and so enthusiastic. I had never met him before. Initially, Anthony was raving about Lou Diamond and I wasn’t even around when [La Bamba] was made, so I didn’t know who he was talking about.
So it’s definitely “Lou Diamond” and not just “Lou”?
No. “Lou Diamond”.
Do you still live at home with your parents when you’re in town?
Is your favourite colour yellow?
It is because I used to wear it as my school uniform.
Since becoming a Wiggle, what’s the worst pickup line you’ve heard?
Oh! A lot of people sing that Redfoo song to me in the street – wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle… I’m not related to that whatsoever but people do think that it’s got something to do with me.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Oh dear. I used to be a suit character as a big giant orange, which was really hot. It was a great job but I just remember being really hot.
You played Dorothy the Dinosaur – is it hot in there?
Wags is the hottest. He has a lot of fur.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
I mean, I’d love to play me.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
That’s a good one. I. Love. Goats.
I know that sounds really weird but I love goats. I love pygmy goats. [Ed. Note: I think that’s what she said. And pygmy goats do exist. I checked.] I love mountain goats. They’re just beautiful. I love goats. One of the songs on our very first album that I wrote is called “I Love Goats”.
What is your greatest fear?
Being stuck in an elevator. I was stuck in an elevator when I was little. Every since then it’s not good. I’d rather take the stairs.
Do you think about it when you step into an elevator?
Every single time. But I don’t let anyone know.
What’s your favourite movie?
I like Amelie, the French film. I really like Spellbound, which is a documentary about the American spelling bee. And I love the movie FairyTale: A True Story about the two girls from Britain that convince the world that they took pictures of fairies.
What’s your favourite TV show?
I really like Offspring. The Australian series. I think it’s not on anymore. I’ve been watching the aspiring ballerinas of the Paris Opera Ballet [Ed. Note: She might be referring to the Australian series, Budding Stars of the Paris Opera Ballet, but I’m not 100% sure. I’m not a ballerina. Yet.] It’s a documentary about European ballerinas. I just like to watch anything to do with dancing really.
So you’re a trained ballerina right?
Yeah. And all different styles – Irish, tap, hip-hop, jazz, contemporary.
Did you see the movie Black Swan?
I did. I though Natalie Portman did an amazing job.
Do you feel like you’ve lived some version of that?
I’m probably a little bit happier than she was in the film.
At a show, do you ever get people screaming for you to play the hits?
Absolutely. Yeah, if a child comes up to the front of the stage or if they yell out and they say that they really want “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, we have to stop the show and follow along with that request. That’s the great thing about our show. It’s not set. It can be changed with just one question.
What is the secret to The Wiggles popularity?
I think it’s a combination of things… So many children are watching lots of shows that are animated. And we’re [real people] engaging. They can see our eyes. A lot of children connect if they can see someone’s eyes. The music is live too. It’s not digitized or synthesized. All the instruments are played live. We play live in the show and on the TV… So I think that is really important – that there is a quality that is tactile, something that they can see or that they can recognise that’s real.
Right, because other than The Wiggles, my son isn’t interested unless it’s animated.
The original Wiggles were obviously trained in early childhood development and I think that’s definitely the big key. And from the word go The Wiggles have always respected their audience. I mean, children are the most valuable people in the world. And it’s amazing that we’re able to interact with them and entertain them in this short period of their life where they don’t worry about everything else.
I sometimes imagine that The Wiggles cool down after a show by hitting the scotch, smoking and throwing a lot of profanity around. Does that happen?
I think we’re probably eating fruit salad and cleaning up… Our shows are in the morning. I have to be up at 5 or 6am to do my hair and make-up. By the end of the day, 4 or 5 o’clock, I’m so tired. I’m a grandma. I’m going to bed. You just don’t have any room to do any of that stuff.
Last question: Have you ever injured yourself doing The Propeller?
You have to make sure that you’ve got enough space. You can’t be doing it next to the couch in the living room. Get outside and do The Propeller in the park because we don’t want people injuring themselves inside.
That’s good advice. Thank you very much.