Wiggles manager recounts the pain of losing baby daughter to SIDS

Baby Bernadette in 1988 and her father Paul Field, who is raising awareness about safe sleeping of babies for Red Nose Day.
Baby Bernadette in 1988 and her father Paul Field, who is raising awareness about safe sleeping of babies for Red Nose Day. Photo: Sunrise/9News

It's been nearly 30 years, but the date of September 2, 1988 will always be etched into Paul Field's memory.

On tour in Queensland with the band he and brothers Anthony (the blue Wiggle) and John founded - The Cockroaches - Paul received the devastating news that his eight-month-old daughter Bernadette had died of SIDS.

In the lead up to the 30th anniversary of Red Nose Day on June 29, The Wiggles managing director spoke with Today Extra hosts David Campbell and Sonia Kruger about the events of the day that forever changed his life. 

He had spoken to Bernadette, son Luke, then 2, and wife Pauline the evening before, his daughter saying "ta, ta" to her father over the phone. The trio were staying at Pauline's parents place in Cessnock NSW, while Paul was touring.

"In hindsight, I believe she was saying goodbye to me in that call. It's heartbreaking," he recounted, adding that Bernadette had just started to "to crawl and talk."

In a terrible coincidence, Pauline saw a TV news report about Red Nose that day and decided to check on her daughter. 

"Straight away she knew something was wrong," he recalls.

"She ran screaming from the room and said 'she's not breathing'."

Bernadette was rushed to hospital but could not be revived by medical staff.

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Photo: Paul Field

It fell to Paul's dad - who was on tour with his sons - to break the news to him that his apparently healthy baby had suddenly and inexplicably passed away.

"I was shaving at the time and my dad knocked on my door. He just sat with me and said 'I need to tell you something. Bernadette is dead.'"

"My brothers were in the next room and all they heard was this guttural wail."

He says that while his son Luke was undoubtedly affected, it was him who got the couple to eventually become engaged with life again.

"He saw us crying a lot and it affected him too. We had to explain in toddler terms what happened to his sister."

The couple had three more children after her death - Claire (Fairy Clare on The WIggles), Joseph and Dominic - and they have grown up with Bernadette's memory as a regular part of family life. Paul says they make a habit of talking about her but that he, "...still can't talk about her without tearing up."

Paul is working tirelessly in his role as Red Nose Day ambassador to raise awareness about safe sleeping among new parents. He says the lives of 10,000 babies have been saved thanks to the campaign, which The Wiggles have always supported, in memory of Bernadette.

"SIDS has been reduced by 85 per cent since the safe sleeping campaign was introduced," he said.

Of the grief counselling he and his family received in the years after Bernadette's death Paul said, "It helped that I could look at these people and think, if you survived so can I." 

With still so much work to do, supporting Red Nose Day is just as critical as it ever was. Nine children under the age of four still die unexpectedly every day - with causes including stillbirth, SIDS and fatal sleep accidents.

Red Nose would like to reduce this number to zero, so if you can donate, you can do so on the Red Nose Day website and also by buying merchandise from the site or Big W, Spotlight, and CUA.

New parents should also seek out the site's educational resources about safe sleeping and lifestyle factors that can contribute to incidences of SIDS.