Hello Vera

Occasionally we like to surprise readers with a post.

Four months since Hal revealed the real story behind the jumpers for penguins on Phillip Island, an encounter with a Channel Nine personality has brought the Share Wars bear out of hibernation. This post documents only a small part of the encounter, one that reveals a kind-of-secret history of the Nine star in question, Richard Wilkins.

Share Wars has not been entirely asleep through winter. We have been working on a project with Sydney University that will, among other things, test and advance our theories and improve the Likeable Engine. Congratulations to Sydney Uni’s Tim Dwyer, Fiona Martin and team for securing the Australian Research Council Linkage grant. Thanks also to Mi9 for its contribution.

In other news, Dom has added a heap of sources to the Likeable Engine – which now tracks 120 news sites across the globe, including 31 Aussie mastheads (new entrants: Junkee, The Roar, The Global Mail, Ten News, New Daily and The Conversation).

We are also writing a Share Wars book, a chapter of which is dedicated to the social media backlash that followed The Wiggles’ replacement of lead singer Sam Moran with founding member Greg Page.

In 2012, Wilkins’s interview with The Wiggles on the Today show stoked a social media frenzy that yielded, at its height, 1000 comments per hour on the band’s Facebook page. Mums around the world were generally furious with Moran’s sacking. More on that in the book.

Two years later, Share Wars meets Wilkins in the middle of his own social media meltdown. Wilkins — like the Wiggles — has wounded himself, referring on national television to singer Aloe Blacc as “Aloe Vera”. And, as Buzzfeed would say, the Internet is losing its mind.

RW_AloWe meet Wilkins in his office which is full of fantastic memorabilia including a note from Julio Iglesias that reads: “Dear Richard, You are always the best and I love you for that … Julio”.

On his desk is a small samurai sword and three rocks marked “gratitude”, “surrender” and “peace”. When Wilkins enters his office he is summoning all three.

I ask him about the Wiggles interview from 2012 and, despite being in “Aloe Vera” triage mode, Wilkins is straight to the point.

“I think The Wiggles were underprepared and I told them as much,” he says, typing on his phone.

“Sorry I’m being rude”.

His producer Sarah asks if he wants the same message broadcast on Instagram as he wrote on Twitter.

“Yeah,” he says turning to his computer monitor. “I’ve got to do a voice for the weekend show’s Ozzy Osbourne interview too. (To me) I’m sorry mate, I’ve been worried about this immediate disaster. (To Sarah) Kasha’s pulled that meeting forward to 11.30am too.”

His phones are buzzing.

Today host Karl Stefanovic walks by.

“Karlos, the chairman wants to know about lunch,” Wilkins says.

Stefanovic sticks his head in, apologises to me for interrupting and engages in some charming banter. Wilkins also apologises, suggests I hang around and then disappears to do a quick spot on Mornings.

RW_Alo1“Are you having a crack at them?” he asks me when he returns, referring to The Wiggles. “I love the guys. I helped launch their first album.”

I suspected Wilkins, who was a pop singer in the early-1980s might have also known the Cockroaches, the band that spawned the Wiggles. Turns out he did. The discussion leads us into the kind-of-secret history of the big man.

Wilkins, a New Zealander, “came across” as a pop singer in 1980 to have a tilt at the Sydney pub rock scene, about the same time as the Cockroaches started gigging.

“We had a great guy called Gary Keady who became my best mate and manager and he worked really hard at getting us together as Wilde and Reckless,” Wilkins says, leaning back in his chair.

“He helped me buy a car and organise the gigs and get us a record deal. We had a lot of fun. Then the band fell to bits and I ended up having a crack as solo artist there for a while as (he raises his eyebrows) Richard Wilde.

“Split Enz had come across, Dragon had come across and Mi-Sex had come across and they all made it look pretty easy. Gee whiz … I’d sort of overlooked the fact they had incredible songs and were really well-constructed, well-organised outfits.

“Whereas I jumped on a plane and put the band together when I got here and we had nothing like the talent those guys had,” he says, laughing.

“I remember one of our shows. The Numbers were the headline act and then INXS were next on the bill. They’d just released their first single.

“We were there and The Choirboys who were called something else back then – Girl’s School or something like that – they were first. And I thought, geez, they were pretty good. Mark Gable had that great voice.

“Then we went on and did okay. I was feeling pretty good about that.

“Then INXS came on and I was like ‘Holy shit! Now we’re in real trouble.’ Coz they were so slick.”

Wilkins’ music career did not happen “in the spectacular style we were hoping for” but he had found his ultimate calling by the end of the 1980s fronting MTV, Channel Nine’s music show on Friday and Saturday nights. This is well before Foxtel arrived. Nine had licensed the cable TV brand from Viacom.

Now more than 25 years on, Wilkins is still going strong working the other end of the day. Referring to Aloe Blacc as “Aloe Vera” did not hurt ratings one little bit. In fact, Hal told me the ninemsn story about the Aloe Vera incident was in the top-five most-read stories for the day.

As I was writing this Wilkins called me to make sure I gave Gary Keady his due.

He was entirely uninterested about his own portrayl.

Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

Andrew Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Microsoft's MSN. Twitter: @Huntzie

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