PAUL Field wears his heart on his sleeve – literally.
The manager of the world’s most popular children’s entertainers, The Wiggles, has the name of his late daughter Bernadette tattooed on his arm along with his beloved Sacred Heart, an image he says typifies both his suffering and strength.
More than 30 years on, he admits his Catholic faith has helped him cope with the tragic loss of his daughter to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), one of the most painful experiences of his life.
The former lead singer with Aussie band The Cockroaches was on tour in Queensland with brothers and bandmates Anthony and John when his second child died suddenly in her sleep.
Only hours before, he heard his daughter mutter the words “ta ta” on the phone.
Ironically, the next day it ended up being her last words to him – perhaps her way of saying goodbye.
“You never, ever get over the loss of a child, it’s like an open wound that scars you and changes you forever,” he said with a tear in his eye.
“You feel like you actually can’t survive it, that you might actually die yourself the grief is so overwhelming.
“But I believe in the Communion of Saints and know that Bernadette is always with me.
“I still have bad Bernadette days, even weeks, but there is a real comfort growing up as a Catholic, I know there is life after death and that love goes on forever.
“My faith has allowed me to come to terms with her passing and know her spirit lives on.
“Prayer and faith has always been a part of my life and brings me back to the fact we just need to love one another, it really is what gives me hope.”
Growing up in a devout Catholic family, Paul and his six siblings attended St Bernadette’s Primary School at Lalor Park where both his parents were committed members of the school and parish community.
His dad coached the school footy team, his mum, who he describes as a “black-belt Catholic”, played the organ at Mass and together they ran the Parents and Friends Association.
It was also a house alive with music and where The Cockroaches and Wiggles were born.
Both his parents came from musical backgrounds with his mum often saying “learning to play music is as important as learning to read and write”.
He smiles as he thinks back to his primary school years and in particular Sr Dominic – his music teacher who he attributes for the existence of both The Cockroaches and The Wiggles.
“Sr Dominic was pretty tough but also instilled in all of us a real love of music,” he said.
“She used to say ‘I bet you’d rather be out kicking a footy rather than in here playing music’ which was probably true to a certain extent but she certainly gave us a love of music and without her I doubt The Cockroaches or The Wiggles would ever have existed.
“I look back at our time in primary school and it fills me with such happy memories, a time growing up in a beautiful and faith-filled family.”
After completing Year 12 at St Joseph’s Hunter’s Hill, Paul attended ACU where he met and formed The Cockroaches, which later morphed into The Wiggles featuring his brother and only remaining original member Anthony.
However, after the death of his daughter and a change in the music scene due to new regulations around venues, Paul stepped away from the industry and worked in a number of fields including teaching at St Joseph’s Hunters Hill before returning to The Wiggles as managing director more than 20 years ago.
Paul said growing up watching his parents volunteering around his local parish and school taught him to give back where you can and assist those in need.
Apart from the everyday charity “meet and greets” the band perform, they are also huge supporters of Red Nose Day in honour of Bernadette, UNICEF and Catholic agency Vinnies.
And it was during a fundraising concert for bushfire relief in January that original yellow Wiggle Greg Page suffered a cardiac arrest that set Paul’s prayers into overdrive.
Mr Page collapsed after sustaining a coronary occlusion – a blockage of one of the major blood vessels to the heart – at a reunion concert where he was performing with original Wiggles bandmates Murray Cook, Anthony Field and Jeff Fatt.
“None of us thought he would survive, it really was a miracle,” he said.
“He came off stage and collapsed, there was no pulse and there was no breathing, nothing.
“There was a nurse and a doctor in the audience and they really brought Greg back.
“I certainly said my share of prayers that night, as they say there’s no pagans on a battlefield.”
As one of the world’s most successful children’s entertainers, The Wiggles have sold a whopping 30 million cd/dvd’s, nine million books and 10 million live concert tickets yet his marriage to Pauline is the achievement he is most proud of.
Together for 41 years, married for 37, their relationship has endured their ups-and-downs yet is stronger today than ever. He said the bond they shared was unbreakable and admits the best times in his life are those spent together.
“I guess we were meant to be, my name is Paul, hers Pauline, we are both the middle child of seven, we both came from the Hunter Valley, both our dads had major medical episode’s in their 30s that they were lucky to survive and we both are people of great faith.
“We grew up in very Catholic families and have that common thread in both our lives that really has cemented us together.
“Around 75 per cent of couples separate after the death of a child and I can see why yet we both got counselling and got through it together.
“She has been at the centre of it all and I couldn’t have imagined going through it all without her.”
Today when Paul isn’t travelling the globe with The Wiggles you’ll find him on stage with his band, The Sacred Hearts, further testimony to the depth of his faith.
With former Wiggle Jeff Fatt, the rockabilly outfit plays regular gigs around the country to a band of dedicated fans mostly unaware of the origin of the band’s name.
“I have always loved the symbol of The Sacred Heart, it represents my faith and is so beautiful to look at,” he said. “To me it means both strength yet the struggle that we all face in life.
“The music we play gives me so much joy and the name is a real comfort.
“I am so blessed with everything I have and don’t ever take that for granted.
“Ours is such a worldwide faith that makes sense and has been a constant in my life even in the challenging times.”
This story first appeared in The Catholic Weekly from Sydney archdiocese