Wiggly road to recovery
Happiness at last ... former Wiggle Greg Page. Photo: Simon Alekna
Greg Page is an unlikely candidate for the rumour mill. He is, after all, the original Yellow Wiggle, a former trainee teacher who rocked a primary-coloured skivvy all the way into entertainment history, as a member of the only children's band ever to parlay songs about fast food into a regular spot on the Australian BRW Rich List.
Indeed, Page is so squeaky clean that when he recounts - in his new memoir - about feeling freaked out while driving a massive truck full of equipment as a roadie for rock band the Cockroaches, he writes that he was ''absolutely you-know-what-ing myself''.
But, still, the gossip has flowed.
Most recently the headlines have been about him losing ''millions'' in bad development deals made during the global financial crisis.
A few years before that, blogs went into a frenzy about him having a so-called ''mystery'' illness that was apparently going to lead him to be ''boned'' from the band.
Before that, it was ''rumours of marital turmoil'' with his first wife.
Who knew that life for a man in a band that emitted the musical equivalent of sunshine and lollipops could be so stressful?
''I've been thinking of ways to express [what I've been through],'' Page says, sitting calmly in front of me at a pier-side restaurant. ''I feel like I've lived three life times in 39 years, I've crammed so much in.''
In between taking quiet bites of steak, he addresses all the rumours.
No, he hasn't had to sell his multimillion-dollar home on a three-hectare property at Dural as a result of his deals going sour. (Although he did lose a considerable amount of money and felt, in its wake, like a ''total failure''.)
Yes, his first marriage failed, after a long period of unhappiness.
And, yes, he had an illness that forced him to leave the Wiggles in 2006, after 15 years of touring the world with his best friends.
But he was not pushed.
His leaving the group far before he wanted to was the result of his suffering orthostatic intolerance, an often undiagnosed circulatory system disorder that affects blood flow. Sufferers of the condition lack a nervous system that adequately moves the blood around their body, so that when they sit or stand for any length of time, it instead pools in their pelvis or leg regions, causing them to faint.
For more than a decade, Page suffered embarrassing symptoms that had him worried others might think he was drunk. He often felt disoriented and vague, dizzy when standing upright for long periods and even slurred his words and sometimes walked into walls and missed his mouth when he went to eat dinner.
''I became almost a social recluse, incapable of communicating at any great level with anyone,'' he writes of how it affected him. ''It would exhaust me just to think, let alone talk or walk.''
And after making the decision to leave the group, things got worse. He felt ''totally vulnerable'' and shocked by his transition from global superstar to virtual recluse, feeling that he ''had no friends'' and was just stuck watching reruns of The Bourne Identity on TV, unable to leave his house.
It's this experience that initially inspired him to write Now and Then: The Life-Changing Journey of the Original Yellow Wiggle.
''I wanted to give more attention to this condition, to help people diagnose it and [deal with] the frustration that comes with being misdiagnosed.'' One of the worst parts of his experience, while doctors were skipping from diagnosing him with everything from epilepsy to SARS, was the judgment he faced from the others, ''the icy glare of people who doubt that we are really sick or that there is something really wrong with us''. Among them, one of his doctors.
Still, for Page - and the reader - it's another condition the musician suffered that's even more surprising: arrested development.
Because while Page moved from obscurity to fame - from recording a demo for ABC Music in 1991 with fellow Macquarie University students Anthony Field and Murray Cook and keyboardist Jeff Fatt, to becoming part of a global franchise that spawned a TV series, movies and a section of a Queensland theme park - the man remained more than a mystery to himself.
''What I learnt is that, being involved in the group from such a young age, I just never really got to know myself as a person before
I became Greg Wiggle,'' says Page, who was just 19 when they recorded their demo. ''It's funny. I'm still going through that process of getting to know myself.''
A punishing touring schedule that left time for few extracurricular activities - sometimes playing in 21 different towns in 21 days - facilitated this situation. As did pressure to ''uphold the kind of Wiggle image that was expected of me - the good guy'', which, he writes, often led him to not voicing his feelings on matters and becoming ''gullible, a pushover and easy to manipulate''.
But this tendency to ''squash'' his own desires and needs stems from his childhood, growing up in Northmead in Sydney's western suburbs. He writes of feeling racked with low self-esteem from as early as age eight, when the girls he fancied at Baulkham Hills Primary School didn't respond in kind. And the feeling was further compounded when, at age 16, he started going grey and wondered if ''no one will want me''.
Indeed, even when he was in the Wiggles, ''I wasn't this confident guy. I'd get on stage with the Wiggles and yeah I was confident, because
I knew what I was doing. But in my own life, I had my own personal struggles; I had major problems, growing up, with self-esteem and self-confidence.''
These admissions seem far more personal than any of the rumours that had previously circulated about him in the tabloids. Indeed, his parents, he says, ''probably won't know the depth of the whole self-confidence thing'' until they read the book.
So why reveal all this now?
Partly, Page says, it's to get closure on the uncomfortable experience of having been torn, for so long, between ''Greg Page and Greg Wiggle''.
''That's the thing, you have these people who have a connection to you but they're connected to a perception of who they think you are,'' he says. ''With the book, this is actually who I am. It's not an image on stage, not an image on a DVD; there's a person that actually wears the skivvy, a human being with faults and flaws.''
He also hopes the book might bring comfort to others.
''You know, when I wrote the book, there were all these cases of bullying in the media and people feeling this sense of needing to belong and changing who they were to be a part of the group. It would just be great if people could just be who they are and accept others for who they are as well.''
Now, five years since leaving the group, Page is finally happy, not just professionally - as was the case before - but in all areas of his life.
He remarried, last year, to Vanessa Reid, a nurse he had a crush on at school. They have a daughter, Lara, who is nearly two, and are due to have a son in a matter of weeks.
He is practising music again, having played cover songs at a few local charity concerts, and hopes to record a second solo album. He's also researching the possibility of ''becoming involved in a life-saving water safety product''.
And his financial losses? They have, he says, in a strange way made him a better person.
''It taught me a lot of things,'' he says. ''To be more grounded, to appreciate what we have, rather than look for what we don't to make us happy.
''I was looking for something to do to make me happy and I was looking to try to be successful again … rather than what was the beauty of the Wiggles, which is that it just happened. We weren't trying to create success.
''So it taught me to live in the moment.
''I also know myself better now; I'm more comfortable with the fact that I have faults and flaws.
''Whereas before I guess I wanted to believe that I was … not perfect but that I was somehow impervious to the real world. Now I'm a real person who lives in the real world.''
Now and Then, by Greg Page, is published by HarperCollins, $35.