Wiggling it one last time

Wiggling it one last time

If any more proof was needed that the Wiggles are held dear by generations of Australians, one need look no further than the funky Canberra night spot the Transit Bar on a certain night in December, 2007.

The Wiggles were in town and the red Wiggle, Murray Cook, was walking past the bar in Akuna Street, on his way to a restaurant, when some young women recognised him and asked him to go inside the bar to impress their friends.

After 21 years, the Wiggles play their final shows in Canberra on December 5.

After 21 years, the Wiggles play their final shows in Canberra on December 5.

Cook not only went in but got up on stage and sang karaoke to the Wiggles' hit Hot Potato to the delight of the twentysomething crowd.

''It was funny because our publicist rang me the next day and said, 'There's all these reports that you got up and sang karaoke is that true? Because I told them, 'Oh, that wouldn't be true.' And I said, 'Ah, yeah, actually, it was true.' It was just a fun night,'' Cook recalls, laughing.

New red Wiggle Simon Pryce.

New red Wiggle Simon Pryce.

''There's a lot of goodwill about the Wiggles, I think. With young adults, a lot of them grew up with us and look back on it fairly fondly. I get quite a lot of that, people yelling out 'Oh you're a legend' and things like that, which is really nice.''

The Wiggles announced in May that three of the original four Wiggles, Cook, Jeff Fatt and Greg Page would be leaving the group which formed 21 years ago.

The blue Wiggle, Anthony Field, would continue on stage, alongside newcomers Emma Watkins, Lachlan Gillespie, and Simon Pryce, who had been hand-picked by the group to become the yellow, purple, and red Wiggles.

(It seems the lyrics of some of their iconic tunes will be adapted to recognise the change - ''Wake Up Jeff'' becomes ''Wake Up Lachy'' because ''they have just discovered that it is the purple skivvy that makes you tired''.)

Emma Watkins is the first female Wiggle.

Emma Watkins is the first female Wiggle.

The Wiggles' farewell or ''celebration'' world tour with the original line-up has been in full swing since May with Singapore, Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Canada already waving goodbye to the departing three.

The Australian tour started on November 17. Two shows are being staged in Canberra on December 5, with the curtain finally falling on the toddler supergroup in its original form in Sydney on December 23.

New purple Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie.

New purple Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie.

(It's another opportunity, too, for more merchandising, with the Celebration Tour backpack - at $65 a pop - being sold with the concert tickets.)

''It's mostly a celebration but there have been a few tears,'' Cook says.

''It's been really lovely actually because we got out into the audience when we collect roses for Dorothy and things like that and so many people have said to us things like, 'Thanks for all that you've done for our children'. And that's really lovely. We set out really just to entertain and have an educational element but for a lot of people we've been a big part of their family life and that's a real honour.''

It's now part of showbiz legend that the Wiggles have grown from performing for a handful of kids at a Randwick childcare centre in 1991 to routinely playing before 1 million people a year, including in 2003 when they sold out 12 consecutive shows at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Cook, 52, says he still has mixed feelings about leaving the group.

''I'm looking forward to having more time with my family, which is the reason I'm retiring. But I'm going to really miss the audiences and the guys and the travel as well,'' he says.

Cook's family includes his 18-year-old daughter who is studying international and global studies at university and his 15-year-old son.

''My son's got two more years of school and I really wanted to be around for that,'' he says.

''I think it's really important especially for teenage boys to have their dad around as much as they can.''

So it must have been quite a trip to have a dad who was a Wiggle.

''They grew up with the Wiggles, they were Wiggles fans when they were little. My daughter used to come to the shows and dance like crazy. My son was the opposite. He loved the show but he'd just stand there and look.

''I think my daughter is quite proud of what I've done. I think my son might be a bit embarrassed.''

Cook says when he wasn't touring he would do a lot of the domestic duties such as dropping the kids off at school. Their primary school was small and everyone there got used to having a Wiggle in their midst. It was a little different for the children at high school.

''When they got to high school, which was a bit bigger, I saw my daughter outside the school and was talking to her and one of the other girls said, 'Do you know him?' and she said, 'Yes, he's my dad' and the other girl was like, 'Oh my god, he's a Wiggle.' It was so funny,'' he says.

While his guitar playing is his calling card with the Wiggles, Cook can also lay claim to the famous Wiggle finger waggle, sourced from the most unlikely place: ten pin bowlers.

''We were on tour and somewhere in the country and had a day off and didn't have much to do so we were watching ten pin bowling on TV and these fairly flamboyant bowlers would do the wiggle finger thing after they got a strike and we were laughing about it and I started to do it on stage and it stuck,'' he says.

Cook says of all the celebrities the Wiggles have met, Creedence Clearwater Revival legend John Fogerty, with whom they did some recordings, was among the most impressive.

''That was amazing because Creedence was one of the bands I grew up with, I'm a child of the '60s. He's in the rock'n'roll hall of fame and that was such an amazing thrill for me,'' he says.

''The other person who was so great, because it was so out-there, was Robert De Niro. I don't think any of us even knew he had a child and he had a four-year-old child, so meeting him was pretty surreal. He was very nice but very quiet. He wasn't scary though.''

Cook won't be putting down the guitars altogether. He plays with the band Bang Shang a Lang around Sydney.

True to form, Cook has a fairly humble take on the best part of his career.

''The impact we've had on children with special needs has been a highlight for me,'' he says.

''It's not something we set out to do, we didn't specifically target children with autism or whatever but we just have so many parents of children with autism saying we reached their child when nothing else did, or the Wiggles helped their child to speak, that's just immensely awarding and quite amazing.''

■ The Wiggles will be performing two shows at the AIS Arena on December 5. Tickets are through Ticketek.

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