Paul Morley gets next to the girl next to the girl next door and asks some embarrassing questions about her private life. Colour photography by Pennie Smith.
After I arrive back home on Friday afternoon following an honourable interview with Ms Smith of Welwyn Garden City, the telephone rings.
It's Stephen Singleton of ABC calling from Sheffield to ask me if I'd like to hear a playback of his group's new single 'Tears are not enough' on suitably neutral territory. I ask him about little details concerning the record - is it potent? Where was it recorded? - and it transpired that for some of the recording ABC were in London's RAK studios.
"When we were there," Singleton tells me, "we were asking the technicians all about Hot Chocolate records, the levels on them and everything. They thought we were having them on until we named individual tracks from Hot Chocolate LPs. And we heard about the Kim Wilde story!"
The Kim Wilde Story is modest enough, but it has helped contribute something fascinatingly glamorous to the gluttonous pop culture. The Kim Wilde Story Singleton mentions refers to the beginnings, and helps introduce the ineffable team. Marty Wilde, mildly notorious greased '50s pop star lately demoted to the cabaret underworld, was booked to do some recording, accompanied by his son Ricky, failed child star and brand new studio prodigy.
M. Wilde couldn't make the session so R. Wilde used the time to get his sister K. Wilde to sing through a song he had composed with his dad, "Kids in America". People hanging around considered the song competent enough, but when Ricky played it to RAK duke Mickie Most - oddly edifying Malcom McLaren doppelganger - he pronounced it A Hit. Star quality - Ten! He pit the single out on his label.
Two singles and an LP later Kim Wilde - tactfully harnessed by Dad, brother and Most, enigmatically harnessing less reasonable forces - is as immovable as Sting, Adam, Stephenson, Sheena: and as embraceable and melleable for the deprecatory media. Kim Wilde is the kind of insinuating drama that brings into play a decently upsetting culture shock. Let's play.
At RAK's St John's Wood office - a few hundred yards from Lords cricket ground - Kim Wilde is considerably cautious for the day. She's worn out - just back from Berlin - and wary: perhaps I'll be an unblushing and graceless hack already committed to representing her as a dizzy and spiritless puppet. She's just read an interview she did with shabby Australian pop paper Ram: she's upset by it's needless corrective attitude.
"I got on really well with the guy who did it", she explains, without seeming to whine, "and he's just come out with this really awful interpretation of what we were talking about... he's made me out to be mindless! I don't know quite how he's done it. It hurts a bit because I think maybe some people do think I'm mindless; it's bound to happen because of who and what I am. But I know better, so that's OK."
She's also dismayed because she fears that she might not be able to articulate fully her own understanding of her role and so convince me, and yes, that she is deeply involved in her music, appreciative of its consequences, and not just the faint, limited pop lure. At one point early on the interview almost disintegrates; Wilde's natural languid state further depressed by her being so unrefreshed.
"I just thought we should stop the whole thing before one of us said something that we'd both regret. Then I thought, no, that would be pointless... There's someone I know who can talk the hind legs off a donkey, and he can make something that's totally absurd - like all this - so very real. I just can't do that. If I could maybe I could waffle my way through this and totally impress you. I just can't do that. I'm a very basic person, I've got very basic instincts, and I'm not into elaborating myself in any way at all. Which is a bit of a shame considering who I am and that possibly I do need to be slightly more articulate. But I am what I am!"
Adding to Wilde's Friday dilemma is the perculiar and perhaps unrigorous acceptance in certain circles of her op-art. The NME, for instance, voted the single 'Chequered love' into its Top Ten for the year so far, and gave her sensationally slight LP a good review.
"Do you call that a good review? Everything you said that was good you covered yourself with something snidy!"
Well... ABC continually and correctly cite the inspirational incandescent video-shower of "Chequered love" as a highlight of the pop decade. Howard Devoto conclusively announced that Kim Wilde was "irresistible". Kim is A and B mused.
"I just don't understand", she cries, alarmed at what could be deviousness. "There are so many strange things that are said about me. Like I read in the NME that Howard Devoto wanted to be my keyboard player! And I looked at it and I though bloody hell what is it? Is it because he wants to go out with me or is it because he really wants to play our music? I thought about it and decided in the end it was because he wanted to get off with me."
I think it was his girlfriend Laura that gave him ideas. Moral Kim, brought up ever so cleanly, is genuinly put off by this.
"Oh you're kidding!!! Oh dear!... How strange!... I think I do appeal to a lot of gay people, you know..." She ponders all the perverse aspect. "Maybe I'm just a bit of a novelty at the moment. I have noticed that I haven't been slagged off in all the places I should be. It'll come!"
Of course. But so what?
Kim Wilde is a classically principled pop power. The Kim Wilde - the Wilde trio and patron Most - is indisputably a reliably ambiguous manifestation of the frustrated pop extravaganza, a calculating and dependable homage to the source and conceit of pop music. Kim Wilde is a vague gloss over pop's standard strictness, the purist equivalent of McLaren's naked attempts to personify the dormant desires in pop, to symboliuse the beauty and banality of pop. Kim Wilde is such an obvious display!
On a low level her act is so accountable to rock'n'roll's grand guesses, so rascally traditional, God knows why I like it (perhaps).
"Well, I can't understand why I like 'Stupid Cupid' by Connie Francis!It's just something inside... you click with a record... I can click with a really heavy Lou Reed song, like 'Kids', but I can get just the same sensation in a different way from 'Stupid Cupid' by Connie Francis. Where's the explanation for that?'
On a hi-level Kim Wilde is a commending combination of the meticulously thought out, the timeless and the unexpressed. Insight and intuition,. Everything Chrissie Hynde could have been... Everything the pop idealists dream of... (straight in there with hits, TV, colour posters, no messing around with promises and moans about Radio One's lack of support.) The likes of ABC - prime pop theorists, remember - melting in the cold heat of the Wilde light is demonstration of the new lack of the old rock snobbery.
Previously it has taken a few years before cultural-critical favour fell on the splendid insular pleasures of say The Monkees or Marc Bolan. The arcane effort, the exotic concentration, the sublime transparency of it all was ultimately appreciated. The joy of The Monkees can be seen to be more of a life enhancing proposition than the pontification of Jethro Tull. The impeccable straightness and generous colour of Kim Wilde is immediately seen to be more vital than ELO or Phil Collins.
For Kim Wilde there has been none of this spoilt hanging around before it's sheepisly acknowledged that the high minded pop energy is more renovating than the so called serious rock energy: like, Hot Chocolate deserve to go to heaven, Moody Blues deserve damnation, and for the new pop idealists Kim Wilde is a masterpiece-mascot of sincerity, success and action.
The difference is: surprise! Maybe it's just cheap thrills stitched into some mythical enterprise. And maybe Kim Wilde could just be the ultimate in the face being the star being the object of... Or maybe it's just a cynical manipulation of the suggestion that what the youth of today loves as part of its leisure is a lot of skin and hints.
I eventually assure watchful Wilde that she isn't being patronised: that she is of the wishing whirl including Bow Wow Wow, Human League, Fire Engines and Depeche Mode rather than the withered world of Toyah, Easton, Nolan and Cliff.
"It amuses me all this..." she shakes her head.
"But it's the kind of ridiculous thing that pop is all about."
I tell her she's going to be on the cover. She slyly smiles. "The kind of people that you're apparently writing for, I would have though putting me on the cover would put them off. It's quite ironic really... people will see me on te cover and then they'll write in saying that they've just realised the political significance of "Chequered love", that it's all to do with the black and white forces in England joining together yet being pulled apart by racial tension. You'll get al that. People claiming that they've seen the light with Kim Wilde!"
Kim Smith was born in 1981: always going to be Wilde, perhaps. Today she's wearing green striped hipstars, a black shiny traddy hip, and the hair that she cuts herself indifferently opposes any current fashion. It's all a discreet hint at a partiality for sharp set '60s artificiality: Dusty Springfield, Ronnettes, Cilla.
"I haven't consciously modelled my look on anyone. Maybe sub-consciously on one or two people. The hair is blonde because I got bored with myself at college. I've got this horribly mousy colour... it had to be one extreme and my friends said black would make me look too hard. So it's a blonde."
Kim Wilde often seems to be a study in insouclance: her personality is not evidently crushing, she cannot sell herself and her ambition like Toyah, her attitudes are unadorned. The only time she raises her voice is when her integrity or moral fibre is threatened. She's largely uninterested in picking through the closing details of her starlight, and is quietly acceptant of the etiquette of this new stardom.
"It feels like I've done it all before in a way... I think if everything had just hit me and I'd been totally taken by surprise I don't think I'd know where I was. Since January it's been non stop going everywhere, photo sessions, interviews, half the time you're just trying to keep yourself together. But at least I do know where I am. People seem terribly disappointed when they ask me if I'm surprised and excited and I say no and it sounds terribly big headed and blase. I just can't help feeling that way. But it's all good fun!"
Does she feel that she's a business toy?
"NO! No... I don't feel that at all. I don't think that in spirit I'm any different from so called aggressive or radical musicians... I have a great deal of faith in what I do."
I explain to Wilde where I think she fits into the dream of things, using extremely colourful language. When I finish she laughs.
"Oh God, oh dear, after all that you're going to be expecting a real arty quote or something."
Well, no, how about what you think of your backing group.
"What do you mean? They're very nice people. Of course they are. That's all I'm going to say about them!"
Well, how about saying something nasty about Sheena Easton? Kim is puzzled.
"I've never even met her! Well, I don't think that she should wear those shiny tight trousers. But I'm very pleased that she's got her success and I hope that she's very happy. I do! I wish a lot of happiness on everybody. I don't wish anyone anything wrong..."
Kim Wilde is the girl next door to the girl next door. Down to earth yet disconcertingly detached. She like to keep her secrets and she has a heart of gold. She's scared of a lot of money and she likes sucking mints.
"I don't watch television much anymore," she tells me, counting the risks. "Basically I'd rather play with my two year old sister Roxanne. I don't see her much now and rather than watch telly I like to have her on my lap and talk to her and watch her grow up. When you've got a million things to do the last thing you want to do is sit down and watch television. I enjoy seeing my friends and we get on very well. We don't talk much about what's happening to me. But they are joining my fan club!"
Was it inevitable that you would enter The Business: become a celebrity?
I don't know... it's a bit of a strange question to ask. I don't think it always follows that because your parents do something that you'll do what they do. Sometimes it does. It's just that I wanted to do it, always. I've just always loved singing, always loved music, and having been brought up with an entertainer I can appreciate how important entertaining is.
What about the incidentals of being a celebrity?
I'd have been a session singer if I hadn't been picked up by Mickie. That's what I was doing before anyway, I was doing a lot of session work - well, not a lot, as much as a schoolgirl could do, which isn't a great deal. My mum was really hot on harmonies and I expect that's where I get it from. She'd take one line and I'd take the higher one. We went on the road wIth my dad for a while.
Do you feel that there's been any manipulation of your fate?
I'm not too sure about fate. I beieved in it quit a lot once but I decide it was a bit... I didn't want to feel too out of control of my life and if I thought everything was fated I'd feel unsure. My dad's a bit of a fatalist.
Has your development been stunted or distorted in any way?
No. 1 had to grow up before my friends just because of who my dad was. That sounds really corny, but when you're living in a little village like I am and you've got a dad who's a celebrity, you know, it's novel and as you grow up you're treate as someone who's not quite your average girl next door but something a little bit above it. You have to develo your mind and your belief at a much earlier age, you have to be strong about yourself even if you're totally wrong. You have to work out who you are and what you're about. 1 thlnk that's helped me to cope with it now, because I did have to grow up a lot quicker then girlfriends of mIne. When did you first realise who your dad was? Are you more curious about life than you might have been?
Well, I am curious about life. I always have been, but especially music. I enjoy reading, and I tried to get interested in politics at school but I got really pissed off with that. I was interested in it but then they started going on about the judicial system and I don't know if you've done that at school but it's terrible. I mean, you want to get into politics because you want to know about the world and what goes on, but the way you're taught totally puts you off. But I'm still interested. I stayed at school to do art A level and then I went to St. Albans College Of Art. It didn't last long because I wanted to sing more than anything else. I knew that I could put my whole heart and soul into singing and make it my career. I'm lucky in that I've always known what I've wanted to do and everything I've done it's been aimed in that generaI direction. A lot of friends at school didn't know what they wanted to do.
Do you separate Kim Wilde from Kim Smith - is it two separate energies?
The one that's written about I don't identify with very strongly. The reviews, most of them - I mean you must have read them - they lust make me out to be the sex kitten and all that. That is not my doing, that's purely what people are seeing in me. I don't see that at all. I don't object to it, they can do what they want. I don't detach myself completely from what I am as Kim Wilde but there is a lot more to her than what it's reduced to when she's written about.
That sex kitten thing - the whole 'Chequered Love' routine compounded it, and you can't deny that particular energy.
Oh no, of course I don't deny it. I don't deny it but I just don't think it's the most important thIng. I don't say it's unimportant but 1 don't take that sexual side seriously, otherwise I'd be opening my shirt and doing the whole bit y'know, and it's all just basically what other people see into it. But... I must admit I know what's happening when l'm doing it, but at the same time I don't thlnk I'm dolng it in a cheap, smutty way. I quite like the way I do things! I enjoy doing the videos, I enjoy acting in the videos...
What do you think about?
Oh, God knows... wondering where the camera is most of the time. I just enjoy looking at the videos. I think the 'Chequered Love' video is very good!
Do you feel millions of men's eyes staring into you?
No! No... I don't think of that. I just thlnk of me all the time. I'm never too sure of what I'm trying to do. Well, I am sure but in a very strange way. Like when I'm doing it I know exactly how I want it to look, and I know exactly how I feel about the song and how I want to put it across.
How did you feel about the lyric to "Chequered Love?"
Yeah (giggle)... "touch me, do what you want to"... yes, we were having a laugh at that the other day. Yes, well, a good pop song, I think it's a good pop song, it has a lot of energy, it's good fun, good entertainment and I enjoy singng it... that's what it boils down to.
That's what it boils down to!
Oh, I'm not going to talk to you if you're going to take the piss out of me!
Who wrote the lyric?
He wrote that lyric for his daughter? That's a little perverse.
I know... he's very strange... actually he didn't choose the title. I chose the title! My one and only claim to writing a song! Like '25-6-80' off the LP, when my dad gave me the lyric for that I sort of looked at him and l thought my God - what is in his brain! There are parts of him I didn't even know about! But, you see, he's got this sense of humour.
So you don't think that, using your phrase, Kim Wilde boils down to sex?
Sex? No, not all. I'm just there and people can take from me what they want.
Do you consider 'feminism'?
Well... I'm not into any klnd of extreme movement at all, feminism being one of them, and although it's good to have thlngs around like that to point things out to people, I just feel that it's very important to sort yourself out about things like that, get your own feelings right. You can be a femlnist wearing a beautiful little dress or you can be a feminist wearing T-shirt and jeans. It's just what you feel inside about yourself that is important, whether you like yourself or not. Some male attitudes towards women do make me laugh, though. Like them being scared.
Are men scared of you?
Sort of. Some are intimidated maybe. I don't get any proposals of marriage from fans, no fan has ever tried to pick me up. The only person to person advance I had from any guy he were so insulting I ended up punching him. I don't usually do things like that!
You say that you're dismayed to be portrayed as a sex kitten - how do you wish to be considered?
I don't expect people to consider anything about me... If they want to consider me as a sex kitten they can. I don't care what they think.
Do you play on it?
I suppose sub-consciously I do... every girl in the pop business does. Whether or not they say they are aware of their sexuality comlng across or not, I'm sure about 99 per cent of them are very aware of it.
Do you feel that an intrinsic part of your success is sex?
It's all part of it ... but like I say if I'd have wanted to be a sex sybol I could have done it in a much better way from the start. I wouldn't have gone on TOTP in a jacket and jeans. I would have gone in somethlng more revealing. It's all part of it, you can't separate things easily.
Oh, I mean the sexual thing, I mean I just think that the sexual energy that comes from any woman i so powerful, and some women can achieve it better than others whether they're aware of it or not. Some women can be incredibly sexy - I say this all the time, it's a right cliche - and be an old sap, and some can be totally sexless wearing a little bra and knickers. It's just what you are, your personality.
But it doesn't bother you that success might just be based on cheap thrills?
At the moment I don't expect a great deal of respect from anyone. I'm singlng pop songs and that's not generally respected. What is respected is if you're writing songs and observing things, which I think is great and something that I've always wanted to do. But I'm just terrible at writing songs! I've tried so many times and given up in despair.
I suppose it just boils down to having confidence in what you write. I met Kirsty (McColl) and she's just about one of the most confident people I've ever met. I don't know where she gets it from. I've no confidence when it comes to writng songs, but that's what I want to do. I wish...
The Kim Wilde has been moulded, for all your eventual contribution, out of other people's ideas what a pop star should be. You don't sing about what you feel about life. Words are put into your mouth.
Yeah, but what I'm doing is singing songs that are written by my dad and my brother and being a singer and loving singing that's OK by me. There must be an art to that somewhere! Kim Wilde really is us three combined. I don't mind what I sing about... at the moment. I'm 20 - I've got years yet. A lot of time to develop and do other things.
I don't mind what I'm doing at the moment at all. I enjoy it, it's fun, that's why l'm doing it. I don't take it that seriously. I'm just enjoying myself and enjoying singing, which is what I've always wanted to do. It seems to have taken such a long time to actually get down and do it. I've wanted to do it for such a long time and I'm just lapping it up at the moment. It's something you don't want to throw away! I just hope that things will evolve for me in a more creative way.
Do you think that it's shallow?
No, not at all, because I believe in what I'm doing at the moment. I'm not cheating anyone. I'm singing songs I like singing in a way that I want to sing them and I'm working with people that I want to work with. It works! We set ourselves very high standards.
I'm not interested in giving out,like, manifests to people. What I'd like to get across if anythig is just that people think more about what they really feel inside instead of just reading and hearing all this stuff. If they took a bit more responsibility about themselves instead of submitting to what they're bombarded with, if they rely more on what they really feel instead of what they think they should feel... that's what I really believe in.
Doesn't the Kim Wilde contribute to this fake feeling you're talking about?
I don't think it's particularly negative as it is now.
A Kim Wilde single is like eating a bar of chocolate?
Yeah, and really enjoying it. You don't try and analyse a bar of chocolate do you... I just hope that people are entertained and like what they hear, and at the moment I don't think you need to go beyond that. For me, I don't think that there's any point in doing that.
It's like listening to a Ronnettes' song. There are these great little chicks up there singing a beautiful song and they have these voices and that's enough. Maybe the way I project myself is... interesting to people because they get the feeling that I'm really into what I'm doing, in some vague way, and they believe in it because I believe in it. Perhaps that's why I'm distinguished from being fake or whatever.
Do you think that you're beautiful?
Inside or outside? Mmmmm... outside I don't think about that too much because I realise that's all very superficial. I'm more concerned about inside, and inside I think I'm alright... I'm OK inside. I don't think I'm perfect and I don't call myself beautiful but I'm definitely not ugly inside. I've got friends who aren't that so called pleasant to look at but inside I think they're beautiful.
Are you vain?
In a sort of detached way... yes. But... yes, I am. I think a lot of girls are. When I look good I feel good as well. Then again when I look bad I can feel good so... It's just whatever mood I'm in. Of course I worry whatI look like but beauty isn't at the top of the list of priorities.
An awareness of myself and what goes on around me. That's what I'd like to be represented through my music. I think it is simplicity... time will tell.
But you seem to be suggesting that it wouldn't bother you if you went back behind the scenes: the incidentals of being a celebrity, it's all in a year's work.
No. It wouldn't bother me. I'd go and be a session singer for someone like Joe Cocker or something. I went to see him once and he had these fantastic girl vocalists and they just mesmerized me through the whole gig and... I think I could handle something like that as much as anybody else.
I can get involved in other people's music, not just what I'm doing. Being a session singer would be very exciting because you'd be doing so many different things. Maybe I should have been just a session singer. Maybe I will be when I'm all forgotten and then I won't have to explain everything. You can just sing and love it.
But then look at me... I was a session singer but you just can't hold one thing down. If someone says to you do you want to put a record out with you singing on it and you love singing then what do you do? You don't say no, you just do it and you have to put out another one and then it all carries on. I didn't mind that at all! Then comes the complicated bits. The publicity and having to explain why you're singing and where it all fits in... it's like trying to explain why you're living!
Oh, well anyway...