Famously, when Jeff Fatt got a call from his mate Anthony Field requesting he come into the studio to help record some children’s songs, the soon-to-be purple Wiggle asked: “How long will it take?” At the time he was up a ladder busy with home renovations.
Neither of them dreamt that those early recordings with Greg Page and Murray Cook would set them on the path to become the world’s number one preschool group, selling more than 23 million videos and DVDs. This era is about to come to an end as three original Wiggles hand over their skivvies to handpicked successors, leaving Blue Wiggle Anthony the last original man standing.
To mark the occasion, Foxtel’s Bio channel is screening Everybody Clap! Everybody Sing!, an affectionate look back at 21 years of The Wiggles.
“There were things I had forgotten, so making the documentary reminded me of the extent of the ground we had covered,” said Fatt, 59, via phone.
“We are in the middle of our final tour and I am fine at the moment, but I am sure it is really going to hit home at our last show in Sydney at the end of the month.”
The one-hour documentary traces the band’s history, from performing as the Cockroaches, university days and busking at Circular Quay to the years of touring Australia and global success.
Celebrity fans pay homage, with snippets of John Travolta singing Hot Potato and Coldplay’s Chris Martin performing Fruit Salad.
The Wiggles look back on key events such as the genesis of characters like Dorothy the Dinosaur, touring New York weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the departure and return of Greg and Sam Moran’s stint as the yellow Wiggle (the PR nightmare following his exit is not mentioned).
But controversial comings and goings aside, the doco is a reminder of just how ground-breaking the Wiggles were in kids’ entertainment, and it’s hard not to be fond of a group that has brought joy to so many children.
Fatt, whose recent heart problems led to his decision to retire, said the things he will miss most about being a Wiggle are the camaraderie and interaction with “all those beautiful children”.
“We seem to have a particular connection with children with autism, with parents telling us we help bridge that gap of communication, which is very touching.”
Recalling how he became known as the sleepy Wiggle, forever being demanded to “wake up!”, Fatt said the whole schtick was actually an escape hatch for him.
“Unlike the others, I don’t have a background in education, so it was a way of doing something on stage without having to say anything. Also, it was an extension of my true personality. I never tire of children yelling at me to wake up, but I could do without the teenagers doing drive-bys.”
Fatt’s replacement, Lachlan Gillespie, will now assume the role of the guy who can’t stay awake.
“We will probably change the words to the Wake Up, Jeff song. The whole thing will evolve naturally, as the Wiggles have always done.”
His future plans include, “fishing, surfing and home renovations”.
But what if he is up a ladder and Field phones with another bright idea?
“I am always open to any hare-brained schemes,” he laughed.
Everybody Clap! Everybody Sing! airs Monday, at 5.30pm on Foxtel’s Bio Channel.