Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Ms Watkins has been described as one of the most popular cast members of the Wiggles

Popular Australian children's music group The Wiggles has announced that key cast member Emma Watkins, better known as the Yellow Wiggle, is leaving.

Watkins became the first female Wiggle nine years ago.

She will be replaced by Ethiopian-Australian teen Tsehay Hawkins, as the group revamps to become more gender-balanced and diverse.

Created in 1991, the Wiggles have become an international phenomenon among young children.

Known for their entertaining song and dance segments and hits like Fruit Salad and Hot Potato, the four-person act have fronted TV shows and have sold tens of millions of CDs and DVDs around the world.

'Elvis of the Wiggles'

In a video statement posted on The Wiggles' Instagram page, Watkins said she would leave at the end of the year to devote more time to her family, hobbies and her studies.

"The pandemic has given me time to reflect on what is important in life, and for me, that means spending a little more time at home," she said.

She added she was "looking forward to devoting more time and energy to completing my PhD… and to have more time to work with the deaf community."

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A post shared by Emma Watkins (@emmawatkinsofficial)

Watkins is known for her passion for sign language, which she incorporated into the show, and also for speaking openly about her health problems.

In previous interviews with Australian media, Watkins mentioned that she had struggled with endometriosis while performing with the Wiggles for many years. Endometriosis is a painful disorder where tissue similar to womb lining grows outside the uterus.

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Watkins first joined the group in 2009 playing smaller roles before making headlines when she became the Yellow Wiggle in 2013. Up to that point, the Wiggles had all been played by men.

Since then she has been hugely popular and had her own spinoff show. Her brief marriage to fellow Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie, which ended amicably in 2018, also attracted media attention.

Founding member Anthony Field, also known as the Blue Wiggle, has described her as "the Elvis of the Wiggles".

In a video posted online he thanked Watkins for her work with the group, while former Yellow Wiggle Sam Moran congratulated her on "a very successful Yellow era."

But the news was also received with some disappointment from parents and caregivers, who contemplated how to break the news to the show's younger fans.

My 9 month old granddaughter will be devastated to learn that Emma has left The Wiggles. 😢😢
We won’t tell her till after breakfast.

— valentinaem (@jean15849180) October 18, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Watkins will be replaced by newcomer 15-year-old Tsehay Hawkins, who was born in Ethiopia and adopted by Australian parents as a baby.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ms Hawkins, who grew up watching the show, said Watkins was an "inspiration" and that she hoped to build on the show's multiculturalism.

In August, to celebrate their 30th anniversary, the Wiggles announced new additions that included Indigenous and Asian cast members.

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Teenager Tsehay Hawkins will replace Ms Watkins as the Yellow Wiggle