Robert Rakete performing with The Wiggles. Photo / Supplied
The artist formerly known as ‘the brown Wiggle’ (he wears a green skivvy now) is touring with the band later this year – including an adults-only show. He tells Stewart Sowman-Lund about life as a member of the world’s biggest kids’ group.
“It’s like a full-on rock concert,” says Robert Rakete, the broadcaster and TV personality who seems to have done a bit of everything during his 40-year career. “It’s unbelievable.”
He’s been an actor, a broadcaster, had a stint on Dancing with the Stars and spent the better part of two decades as a host on The Breeze. To many New Zealanders, he’ll forever be Robbie Rakete, host of RTR Countdown, but to a whole new generation, he’s the green (né brown) Wiggle. And as he prepares to head out on the road later this year for two completely separate Wiggles tours – one with the “OG Wiggles” and the other with the band’s current iteration – he’s describing what it’s like to stand on stage in front of thousands of excited pre-schoolers – and sometimes even more excited adults.
The energy, he says, is like nothing else. “There are moments when I perform with The Wiggles when I just stand on stage like: ‘I’m singing Hot Potato with The Wiggles. This is crazy’,” he laughs. “They’re like The Beatles of children’s entertainment, they’ve been around for such a long time.”
The Australian group first played together in 1991; there was a film in the late 90s and they cracked the US a few years later. By the mid-2000s they were pulling in A$45 million a year in revenue. Since then, The Wiggles have gone through various lineups with just one original member – Anthony Field – still playing regular shows. Rakete jokes that it’s a bit like the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “The Wiggles universe is always getting bigger.”
The Wiggles will be touring NZ later this year. Photo / File
This year he’s touring New Zealand with the band – twice. One tour is with the new lineup of the band (Field, Lachlan Gillespie, Simon Pryce and Tsehay Hawkins) performing arena shows for children. The other tour, however, is an R15 performance featuring the original 90s Wiggle lineup of Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt and Greg Page. Yes, it’s just for grown-ups. On paper it might sound unbearable, but footage from the recent sell-out Australian tour shows audiences of thousands absolutely frothing it.
“It’s a nostalgia buzz,” says Rakete, who will be performing bass for the “OG” tour and in his full-blown Wiggle role for the kids. “You’ve got a whole generation of young people who watched The Wiggles growing up. My kids grew up watching The Wiggles. There are these wonderful memories that you have associated with those songs.”
And while an age-restricted concert may make you think the songs will be updated with edgier production and lyrics – there’s got to be some sort of rude pun on Hot Potato – Rakete assures me that, nope, even for the adults, these are the exact same songs we were dancing to before we could properly stand.
Having a good day on the Wiggles set are Green Wiggle Robert Rakete and Guardian contributor Damian Thorne. Photo / File
Rakete got his start with The Wiggles in 2014. Originally he was “the brown Wiggle”, which started after a joke he made on-air during an interview with Anthony Field. Someone designed him an authentic Wiggle skivvy and the joke became reality. After an on-stage cameo, he was asked to join the group for the filming of their latest television series. Despite some accusations that being the brown Wiggle had potentially offensive undertones, Rakete says it was entirely his decision. As was the decision to ditch the brown skivvy for a different colour for the forthcoming tours.
“I thought I’d like to do something a bit different with the skivvy. It was all up to me,” he says. Rakete’s now the green Wiggle, proudly wearing a “bespoke skivvy” designed by pupils at his former primary school Mayfield in Auckland’s East Tamaki. “There were things said about me being PC and woke and all that sort of stuff. That’s not it at all – I wanted to wear something that spoke to where I came from and would give these kids in South Auckland something to be really proud of,” says Rakete. “And I’m proud to wear their design.”
During the last Wiggles tour early last year, Rakete brought the class responsible for the design up on stage with him at Spark Arena. He says it was a truly heartwarming moment: “It was lovely having thousands of people applaud them for their work.”
Rakete says his Wiggle role takes on extra significance now that his own kids have all grown up. Last year, his whānau came and watched a show from the side of the stage. “I was looking at my boy who was 16 then, and I remember when he was 4 we saw The Wiggles at Spark Arena,” he says. “Here we are, 12 years later and his dad’s dressed up like a goldfish running around on stage with The Wiggles.”
The Wiggles are like rock stars for little kids, says Robert Rakete. Photo / File
For the next few months, Rakete says he’ll be learning lyrics, dance moves and basslines as he prepares to head out on the road. And he sounds more nervous about performing for the youngsters than a crowd of 20-somethings. “Kids are really honest so if they get bored they don’t hide it. You have to keep the energy level up,” he says.
“As a parent and as a grandparent, I see it as a real privilege to entertain these little ones. It’s just joy for me.”
The Wiggles Big Show Tour (for kids) is travelling the country in August. The OG Tour (R15) is hitting Auckland and Christchurch in the same month. Details for both available here.
– The Spinoff