The Wiggles give rare insight into rock star careers amid Prime Video documentary

The Wiggles have become one of Australia’s most iconic and bankable musical exports, but their big red car could’ve been tragically derailed by one “big money” deal.

It was the early-2000s and the rock star children’s group was at the height of its fame, with the four original skivvy-wearing members – Greg Page, Murray Cook, Anthony Field and Jeff Fatt – raking in more money than any locally grown stars, including Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. That’s when a lucrative offer fell into their laps – a potential deal with the devil that could’ve ignited the band’s first PR disaster.

“Murray actually was the guiding light years ago when the Wiggles were up [top], it was all happening for us,” Anthony tells news.com.au. “We got approached by a very famous fast-food company to sponsor our tour …”

The contract from the company, which they didn’t want to specify, was so enticing they almost forgot they were selling a fruit salad fantasy.

“I’m the stick in the mud,” Murray says. “I just had a certain concept in my head of what the Wiggles was and what we should do.

“And I think we all wanted to stay pure to our vision, but it was fairly early days in some respects, so we were still finding our way and thinking, well, what is allowable and what’s not?

“I had children and thought, ‘Well, it’s hard enough for parents to say no to lollies or whatever without the Wiggles saying, ‘Oh look at these, great!’”

Saying no to lollies was still a sweet pay-off. You only need to watch a few minutes of the boys in their new Prime Video documentary, Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles, to see why they’re arguably the greatest children’s act of all time.

The feature-length doco charts the group from their days studying early childhood at Sydney’s Macquarie University to, within a few short years, selling out the summit of all world-class venues, New York’s Madison Square Garden, a whopping 12 nights in a row in 2004 (that’s two more shows than Bruce Springsteen managed).

In an interview with news.com.au, the group gave rare insight into their life as rock stars on the road in a pre-iPhone era.

“In the early days, when we first went to America, except for Murray, he was married, but we were all single guys,” Anthony says.

“We weren’t doing anything outrageous. But we would go out and into clubs.”

Murray adds, “We are adults and we’d have a drink.”

Greg chimes in, “Just want to put it on the record, I was married at that point in time!”

Despite a decades-long reign in the entertainment business across the globe, there’s been not a single sordid story about any of the original Wiggles. No nightclub partying caught on camera. No reported DUIs. Certainly no infamous mugshots – not even after a night raving with Barney the purple dinosaur.

In a you-can’t-write-this crossover, Field recalls a night out with the cast and crew from Barney and Friends, who they toured with.

“The people from Barney would go out to clubs with us. And it was crazy,” Anthony says, without giving too much detail away.

There were also “occasional spats” between the bandmates, causing tension that never seemed to find its way onstage.

One incident, which they talk about in the documentary, was an argument over spilt water on the all-important yellow skivvy seconds before showtime.

“But [our spats] really got resolved an hour later,” Anthony adds with a smile.

Their first big controversy, by Wiggles standards, came when Greg returned to the band after a lengthy hiatus, which he had been forced to take because of ongoing health problems.

He was replaced by Sam Moran, who donned the yellow skivvy for five years until Greg found his way back to the fold in 2012.

While it was heavily reported at the time Sam was brutally ousted when Greg decided he wanted back in, the Wiggles promise this wasn’t the case.

They’re still not delving into the true story behind it, seemingly abiding by the royal family motto: “Don’t complain, don’t explain.”

“It’s a funny one because, for the life of me, a story went in about us and how we handled it all, and it wasn’t true,” Anthony says.

“I’ve never thought that we did anything wrong, and that’s why they say, ‘Don’t explain, don’t complain’. I’d rather just say that. For me, it was not what it was portrayed as.”

Jeff adds, “We’ve always wished Sam well.”

When they first got together in 1991, the Wiggles had to overcome uncomfortable setbacks as a group of four men wanting to educate and inspire children through song.

For their first TV pilot, they were told by powerful producers their sequences were “cringe”. They were even urged not to talk to children at all.

“You do go, ‘Well do they know more than you? And how much are you prepared to change and still keep your vision?’” Murray remembers of early criticism.

“One pilot was made where we weren’t allowed to talk. They were saying, ‘You can’t talk to children.’ So we were just lip synching the songs and it was kind of ridiculous.

“We just saw the finished result and said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’

“That was a fairly big moment where we went, look, we’ve got our own vision, let’s stick with it.”

Armed with songs like Hot Tomato, which would go on to form the soundtrack of many an Aussie kids’ youth, the Wiggles’ busking efforts and small shows swiftly went from attracting less than a dozen attendees, to 500.

In 1993, they quit their day jobs as teachers to give performing full time a go.

Two years later, they were setting records with music sales.

As a result of the failed pilot, the band then funded its own TV program and sold it to Disney Channel and Seven, a move which later helped them crack the lucrative US market.

By the early-2000s, they were generating up to $45 million per year (not adjusted for inflation) in revenue thanks to licensing deals, tours and an international distribution deal with Disney.

With such reach, it was inevitable some of the biggest names in showbiz wanted to experience Wiggles fever in situ, with Robert De Niro and Chuck Norris emerging as highlight encounters.

“Chuck Norris came to our show, and it was just fantastic, it was his birthday and we got Henry the Octopus to sing Happy Birthday to him,” Anthony remembers.

While fame and fortune has, of course, been a dream, at the heart of the Wiggles inception was a love for children. Perhaps that’s why staying on the straight and narrow came so easily.

“The beauty of what the Wiggles is about, it was about that organic beginning and friendship, but that underpinning of early childhood education that shone through,” Greg says.

Anthony, for his part, feels pride in “normalising representation”, with the unintentional inclusion of Jeff, who is Chinese Australian, at a time where diversity wasn’t so prominent.

“At our premiere the other day, these two Asian Australian journalists came up and said, ‘Jeff, you being on television meant so much to us.’ We were doing that then, but we didn’t even know it,” Anthony says.

Jeff agrees, saying he “never actually analysed anything about being Asian. We were just mates.”

Now Murray starts to get teary. Not because it’s all coming to an end. Quite the opposite.

“I’m most proud that it’s still going with different people, and the fact that it’s really diverse and reflecting Australian society,” he says.

“But mostly, this thing that we did start as this cottage industry has grown to be such an enduring part of the social fabric of Australia.”

Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles is now streaming on Prime Video

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