Anthony Field talks Elvis, The Wiggles and the time Robert De Niro tried to hold a sold-out show in this piece from the archives.
I had six brothers and sisters and we had a great time; there wasn’t a care in the world. I don’t know how my mum did it. She had seven kids under six. This was the 1960s. We piled into a Mini Minor with no seatbelts. I don’t know how we even fit! Dad worked as a pharmacist, so we didn’t really see him that much. He worked from 10 till 10 every night, basically. He had a big heart attack in 1969 and wasn’t expected to live, but he did, which was amazing. He was a big smoker and then he gave up cigarettes.
One time I got myself into some trouble when I was in my early twenties, and Dad said, “You’re only human; don’t be hard on yourself and don’t tell your mother” – absolutely brilliant. He was happy to own it when he made a mistake, and that took a lot of pressure off him and a lot of pressure off us to be perfect.
I loved Elvis Presley. I was an absolute fanatic and in 1977, when I was 13, he passed away. I cried when he died. That was a sad moment. My obsession besides music was sport. I loved sport and still do. I played rugby league because I’m a Sydneysider, and cricket. I love cricket too.
Sixteen-year-old Anthony was a bit of a scaredy cat. He was at boarding school and it wasn’t the most pleasant place to be. Life was probably a little harder than it should have been at 16 – it wasn’t like The Brady Bunch for me there, but that shaped me for years to come anyway. Honestly, I don’t think I was mature enough to be there without my parents – you only saw them once a month, so it was a real culture shock for me. There was really just one way to think there, and if you didn’t think like that, that was it. I was very unhappy there. I wanted to play music – I actually wanted to play violin and I got scared, got stirred so much that I didn’t play. I played guitar instead, just to fit in. There was a lot of that stuff going on where you had to fit into the group or you were ostracised. If I had the knowledge I have now, I would use it to know what and who to avoid. And how to be a little bit more forceful; you know, put myself first rather than trying to fit in.
If I bumped into my 16-year-old self today, I would say that there’s a lot of life ahead of you, young fella! The road’s not always going to be what you think, and where it will take you will not always be pleasant, but there are good times as well.
I left school and I was in the regular army as a full-time soldier for three years. I was in the infantry, and there was no thought of being an entertainer then. I just delved into it; I don’t even know how. [My band] The Cockroaches were happening, but I went to uni for a year and then they started happening big-time so I deferred for another three years. Then I came back and finished uni and became a preschool teacher.
I think I surprised myself that I completed my time in the army. I did things in the army that I didn’t think I’d be able to do – like climbing up high ropes, because I have a fear of heights. That was a big achievement. It’s a bit crazy, but the reason I signed up relates to Elvis. I was unemployed and I was watching GI Blues, one of his movies, and look, he’s The King! And he looked like he was having a great time, so I said, Oh man, I’m going to do that. Day one, I realised it wasn’t Hollywood. It really wasn’t.
I’ve got three children, so they make me proud all the time, but I think when I got my defence medal in the mail it was the proudest moment of my life. I also got the Order of Australia [in 2010], but I’m more proud of the defence medal because I didn’t expect to get through, but I did.
I taught preschool for two years, then The Wiggles took off. I loved teaching. I loved having a class and seeing the children develop as the year went on. I loved to see the children’s view of the world and watch them get all excited about things that you’re not excited about – like vacuums! I brought in a vacuum cleaner once to show them how it works. They were so into it! It just showed me that everything’s new to children and everything’s exciting, you know?
The biggest surprise of my life was The Wiggles playing Madison Square Garden – we sold it out 12 times [in 2003]. It was quite incredible. And we had Robert De Niro come backstage, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick. Growing up in Lalor Park in Western Sydney and piling into the Mini, I don’t think I would have ever thought that would happen. We were on the Disney Channel, which had some ridiculous number of subscribers, and we ran four times a day, so we were just massive at that time in America. It was all surreal, just an adventure and so much fun. That was what it was. To add to the unbelievableness of it all, De Niro’s manager called us and said, “Bobby’s running late; could you hold the show?” That actually happened. We didn’t hold the show. It was still amazing.
I think holding it together – family, and relationships before family – with being on the road nine or 10 months a year, that’s been the hardest thing. Leading a balanced existence – that’s very hard when you’re in a travelling circus show like The Wiggles. I learned the link between eating healthily, exercising and keeping yourself fit and healthy. It keeps the depression away – the endorphins go and all that sort of thing. That’s helped me a lot.
If I were to run into my 16-year-old self today, he’d say, don’t make a TikTok video! He’d probably say take it easy on the alcohol. Keep yourself fit and healthy. That’s what my kids say to me all the time.
I like to not sweat the small stuff, you know? Don’t be petty about things and try not to take things too seriously. And I think also if you’re with someone or talking to someone, try to help them get a smile on their face – try to get everybody happy around you.
I think I’m still very fragile, like I was when I was 16. Hence why I love the world that I’m in, The Wiggles, which is a very positive world of music and entertaining families and children. So I’d say that to my 16-year-old self: keep the passion for music, because music opens doors and makes people smile. That’s what I’d say.
By Melissa Fulton, The Big Issue Deputy Editor.
First published in ed#611.
Photo supplied via The Wiggles.