EXCLUSIVE: Emma ‘Wiggle’ Watkins on fame, her relationship with Lachy and the app helping deaf children

We were best friends all along.
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Emma Watkins (aka the Yellow Wiggle) is known to little ones and parents alike for her ballet skills and for being the girl with the bow in her hair.

Arguably she’s also the stand-out star of The Wiggles with a spin-off television series, The Emma Show, and a growing line of merchandise, including dolls, ballet equipment and clothing.

Even founder of The Wiggles, Anthony Field (The Blue Wiggle) has referred to Emma as the “Elvis” of the group, so how did Emma become the fan favourite?

“Early on, even before anyone knew who Simon, Lachy and I were, we would do a meet and greet and the children would come straight to me and be comfortable sitting next to me for a photo and we thought it could be to do with them thinking I was a mum,” Emma explains.

“That’s how we tended to see it in the beginning that it was just a female presence. Then, it became the whole experience of coming to a concert and dressing up. They would dress as Emma and so the bows became this thing and we would have boys with bowties, bows on the shoes, bows on belts and people started to get really creative with the bow aspect and it spiralled from there.”

“It’s weird to have dolls,” Emma admits. “It’s amazing and I don’t even look at it as me sometimes. I can’t even comprehend it.”

“I don’t even look at it as me sometimes,” says Emma about her Yellow Wiggle persona.

(Image: Instagram/ @Emma_Wiggle)

Following her marriage breakdown with Purple Wiggle, Lachlan Gillespie in late 2018, Emma says the two still remain close.

“It’s good. We are the best of friends. It’s not a normal situation where we break up and then don’t see each other. We actually work together every single day so it’s nice to work with your best friend. I think that’s what we realised, that we were best friends all along.”

“We had this crazy journey together which we didn’t experience with anyone else but each other – being Wiggly dancers and then we became Wiggles and we were like, ‘oh my god this is so exciting and then we got married and we’re separated but we’re still there’.”

“My life wouldn’t be my life without him as part of it. I honestly am so grateful. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve come out of it on the back end really appreciating each other, like more than we did before. We’ve grown up, and now it’s just a different time.”

While their marriage didn’t work, Emma and Lachy are still best friends.

(Image: Instagram/ @Emma_Wiggle)

Now, Emma is putting her full support behind an app that uses incredible technology to teach deaf children to read.

“The StorySign app helps deaf children learn to read by translating selected children’s books into sign language. The initiative aims to help the 34 million deaf children in the world learn to read, by using technology,” explains Emma.

“When I found out about the app, I thought this is amazing and of course I want to be a part of it. When you read the book and you hold the phone across it, it does this sparkle and then this avatar appears and signs whatever is on the page. It’s like a dream and you don’t think it’s real.”

Emma describes the technology behind the app as being “like a dream”.

(Image: Instagram/ @Emma_Wiggle)

Emma was first introduced to sign language in her childhood and often does sign language in The Wiggles television series and in concerts.

“My best friend from school had two brothers who were deaf. They went to a deaf school and they had some workshops for family members to come and learn sign language so they could communicate with siblings so I would go with their sister and begin to learn that way,” she explains.

“The StorySign initiative is close to my heart. I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact that it can have on a child’s life – right now, through access to story time with parents, but also long term as it aims to improve literacy in deaf children.”

Emma showing a young girl how the StorySign app works.

(Image: StorySign)

All about the ‘StorySign’ app

On 26 August, 2019 Huawei announced the expansion of the StorySign app, adding two new books in Auslan – the sign language of Australia’s deaf community.

The new books, Max the Brave by Ed Vere and All About Spot by Eric Hill, are now accessible on the StorySign app, which harnesses the power of Huawei AI to translate popular children’s books into sign language to make story time possible for deaf and hard of hearing children.

The announcement is supported by new research commissioned by Huawei, revealing the hidden deaf literacy problem in Australia along with the importance of story time when developing literacy skills.

According to the research, the vast majority of Australians believe reading bedtime stories has many benefits for children, particularly improving literacy skills (94%), encouraging imagination and creativity (94%), and helping parents to bond with their children (94%).

However, with no written form of sign language, over 34 million deaf children around the world – including the 400 children born deaf every year in Australia – are currently struggling to connect sign language with the written word. This creates reading challenges and ultimately impacts literacy levels, with an overwhelming number leaving school functionally illiterate.

Larking Huang, Managing Director of Huawei Consumer Business Group in Australia says the technology of the StorySign app can have a massive impact on deaf literacy.

“Right now, millions of deaf children are struggling to enjoy the wonderful world of books. Together with Deaf Australia, our mission is to raise awareness and help address the issue of deaf literacy by extending what is humanly possible through the use of Huawei technology.”

For more information visit Huawei StorySign.

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