The girl with the bow in her hair dances into town

Tue, 20th Jun 2017
PREVIEW

Emma Watkins grew up watching The Wiggles, never dreaming she would one day become arguably the most popular Wiggle of them all. She speaks with My Weekly Preview about her rise to stardom and her marriage to purple Wiggle, Lachie Gillespie. 

The girl with the bow in her hair is set to perform on the Coast in another sell-out show with children’s entertainment powerhouse The Wiggles on July 1.

But Emma Watkins is much more than a sparkly blue-eyed performer with a wide smile. She is a seasoned dancer, budding musician and a role model to millions of adoring young fans around the world. 

At 27 years old, Watkins is just one year older than The Wiggles and is still in awe that she has managed to become such an integral figure in the show. 

 “I grew up watching The Wiggles and one of my earliest memories is the Irish dancing on the show and I asked mum if I could learn it when I was four years old,” Watkins tells My Weekly Preview.

Watkins went on to attend The McDonald College of Performing Arts and says while she fell in love with every style of dance she learned, she always had a strong affinity with Irish and ballet.

A true test of determination came for Watkins when she was in Year 8, when an injury prevented her from dancing en pointe for two years. 

“I was such a teacher’s pet and I really wanted to impress the teacher, so on the first day back in term two, we were doing a jumping turn from the corner and our teacher mentioned that if we were feeling confident, you could just try a double,” Watkins says.

“So I’d done a whole line down the room of singles and decided to try a double and I landed on the outside of my ankle and heard it snap. I had torn the ligament in my ankle and ended up on crutches. I still have a wonky ankle.”

Watkins missed her ballet exam and struggled emotionally with attending the school with such a heavy dance component while she was unable to participate fully, but she credits that moment for forcing her to “branch out” and give her the skills she needed to land work further down the track.

Watkins went on to dance on tour for Jessica Mauboy, John Paul Young, Marcia Hines and Adam Lambert and she also featured in Bollywood movie premieres, primarily for a woman she calls the Indian Madonna.

Watkins was just 16 years old when she first auditioned for The Wiggles as a dancer and while she made it through to the final round, she wasn’t given the job. Two years later, another audition came up, this time for Fairy Larissa in the Dorothy Show. 

“The ad just said ballet, but when I got in there, they asked for any extra skills and usually if you are an acrobat, it’s quite impressive, but I didn’t have those skills, so I did Irish dancing and they were really excited. The next day, I got the job,” she says.

Watkins began touring with The Wiggles and played characters including Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog, a Wiggly Dancer, musician and back-up singer.

“I met Lachie (Gillespie) on the Dorothy Show and soon after, I met Simon (Pryce) on The Wiggles show and the three of us became great friends,” she says.

“They taught me to sing harmonies, which were such a bizarre concept for me as I had always been so focused on dancing. It is challenging, I don’t hear music like Lachie hears it, he is a virtuoso.

“I dabbled in the violin, piano and the flute, but I didn’t focus on music until becoming a Wiggle. I now play the drums in the show and play the keyboard for certain numbers and the tambourine. Most of the musical stuff I’ve learned from being part of the group, and it’s a credit to Anthony (Field) that he lets you have a go at anything.”

Watkins says when she first heard the original Wiggles were retiring, she feared it would be the end of the renowned group and received the shock of her life when they were told a new line-up was being formed.

She admits she assumed the new crew would be all-male just like the originals and didn’t take Field seriously when he asked her to become the new yellow Wiggle.

Watkins says it is hard to believe that happened five years ago.

Watkins’ romance with Gillespie has been a source of joy for their young fans and the couple married on April 8 last year.

The constant questions over when a baby Wiggle will arrive is one Watkins is used to facing, and she offered an answer before the question could even be asked.

“We would like to have kids in the future. I have a new little niece and nephew that we are enjoying at the moment,” she says.

“We’re pretty busy, we tour for about nine months of the year and we are hardly home. When we are up on the Sunshine Coast, we try and see Lachie’s family in Brisbane.”

Watkins says it can be difficult to spend quality time with Gillespie when they are on the road, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re basically part of a big circus family at the moment and it is quite special to perform for children in what is often their first concert,” she says.

“You get so much feedback from the audience straight away and I get so excited to see the kids coming in dressed up.”

There is no doubt Watkins is an inspiration to her fans and says she does her best to inspire strength and determination in young boys and girls and to encourage them to follow their dreams. 

The Wiggles will perform at The Events Centre in Caloundra.