Only one of the original members remains in the new-look Wiggles that will take to the stage in Invercargill tomorrow, but newbie Emma Watkins is actually an old hand, writes Mike Mather.
When she was a little girl, Emma Watkins danced and danced to the music of The Wiggles.
She still is.
Watkins, who joined the core quartet of the long-running Australian children's group last year, was even caught on camera dancing at a Wiggles show in Sydney in 1996.
"It's pretty amazing to think about it now, " the 24-year-old says.
"They were filming it for a TV special. They did cutaway shots to the audience and in one of those shots there was my sister and I, dancing in the aisle in matching dresses."
That experience fuelled her life- long love of dance, spurring a career that not only brought her on stage alongside her idols - it made her one of them.
Along with Simon Pryce and Lachlan Gillespie, Watkins is one of three new members of the long- running group who "came up through the ranks" to don the red, purple and yellow skivvies respectively.
The group, which formed in 1991, had already been through a series of changes, with original member Greg Page retiring in 2006 due to ill health. His replacement, Sam Moran, was then laid off in early 2012 to make way for Page's temporary return to the group for a final tour of the original lineup. Then Page and fellow founding members Jeff Fatt and Murray Cook announced that they were permanently retiring.
The three new Wiggles had already been involved on stage and behind the scenes for at least a few years. Watkins had performed stints as the fairy Larissa and as a Wiggle dancer, before assuming temporary on-stage anonymity inside the suits of Wags the Dog and Dorothy the Dinosaur.
The offer of official Wiggledom came literally "out of the blue" for Watkins - out of the mouth of the blue Wiggle, Anthony Field.
"When Greg came back and we all went on tour we kind of all knew this was the last hurrah for The Wiggles.
"Anthony pulled me aside backstage and told me that Greg, Jeff and Murray were retiring from the band, but the new Wiggles would be carrying on.
"It never, ever crossed my mind that I would one day be a Wiggle.
"Becoming a Wiggle is pretty much the best thing that has ever happened to me."
Since becoming the Wiggles, the quartet have spent most of their time on the road. They have visited "just about" every town in Australia as part of a grassroots tour, followed by tours to the United States and Canada. "It has been a pretty intense time on the road. We are away from home for nine months of the year."
Each of the new Wiggles were au fait with the stresses of being a constantly-gigging band.
"We all already knew each other from our previous roles. We are young and full of energy - and Anthony is still full of energy. We love being on tour."
An accomplished drummer, Watkins is now performing many of the songs she has known since childhood, such as Hot Potato and Rock A Bye Your Bear; as well as new songs such as Do the Propeller and Emma is the Girl With the Bow in Her Hair.
Watkins' signature look has struck a chord with some of the younger female fans, with "mini- Emma armies" sporting plenty of their own homemade bows turning up at the shows.
"My costume was completely my choice. I've never liked wearing pants. I've always worn skirts and dresses.
"And I have always worn bows and flowers in my hair."
The Wiggles perform two shows at Invercargill's Civic Theatre tomorrow, 10am and 1pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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