This will probably come as a surprise to many – including the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr who is always interested in soft diplomacy – but children in Saudi Arabia see The Wiggles.
The reason Blue Wiggle, Anthony Field, knows this is because his young nephew, who lives in Saudi Arabia, asked his uncle at a recent Wiggles concert series in Dubai when did he learn to speak Arabic.
“’But I don’t speak Arabic,’ I told him, and then he mentioned that he sees me on TV. Obviously, they show the programs from the Disney Channel and dub them into Arabic,” Anthony laughs.
Being seen on Saudi TV is probably as good a sign as any of just how far The Wiggles’ Big Red Car has travelled in the 22 years of the Australian children’s entertainment phenomenon.
“Our recent concert in Dubai was packed,” Anthony says. “We played at a concert hall which held 3,000 people and it was a full house. And mostly local children.”
It’s little wonder then that, if The Wiggles can transcend cultural and language divides to be popular in the Middle East, Italy, Japan, elsewhere in Asia that they’re also a hit in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the USA – not to mention at home in Australia.
On their recent tour to the US they performed at two big baseball matches in New York and Philadelphia, and the Americans were particularly taken with the new Yellow Wiggle, Emma.
“Emma was featured in Time and People magazine,” he says proudly – happy for her sake rather than the group.
Anthony says that introducing Emma Watkins as the new Yellow Wiggle has been the best part of the new look Wiggles.
“Having all three of the new Wiggles – Emma, Simon and Lachy – has brought fresh energy to me personally, but it’s been particularly rewarding for The Wiggles as a whole to have a young woman join us.
“The girls in the audience particularly love the idea of ‘one of their own’ to look up to,” he says.
Purple Wiggle, Lachlan Gillespie, is enjoying every minute of his new role.
“It’s been a seamless transition from the original team to the new team,” he says, despite nerves at the start. “We were in training for six months. We were introduced to the audience with the former Wiggles, and our audience has just accepted us.”
Lachy says one of the things he enjoys most about being a Wiggle is the honesty of the audience.
“If they’re not engaging in what you’re doing, they’ll turn away, talk to their mum or dad, get fidgety. It gives you immediate feedback which is fantastic for a performer because you can do something about it.”
He says he has also had to learn not to use words or concepts that they might not be familiar with, such as ‘questions’.
“It’s no good asking children if they have any questions, because they don’t know what a question is. But if we ask them if there is anything they’d like to say to Dorothy (the Dinosaur), then they’re usually very forthcoming,” Lachy explains.
It’s this aspect that Anthony says is one of the core values of The Wiggles – respecting the audience and respecting children.
“From the outset when we started, we knew from our university studies that children don’t like surprises,” says Anthony.
“They might come along to a concert and it might be the first time they’ve been to one; they’re fascinated and excited about what’s going on; and it’s more than likely the first time they’ve seen a dinosaur (Dorothy), so we make sure we introduce people, characters and ideas to them before springing a surprise. We talk about what’s going to happen – and it happens.”
Anthony says that The Wiggles are good quality entertainment where everyone can have a great time.
“That’s what we set out to do in the first place, and we’re still doing it,” he says.
The Wiggles have just released their latest album, Furry Tales, containing 25 songs about their favourite animals. They’ll be performing some of the songs as well as their old favourites at their concerts in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT over the next month – and starting tomorrow in Bunbury. Check out the details here.