Kim Wilde: ‘Staying cool is the secret’

Kim Wilde is surrounded by men when she gets into her hotel in Brussels. No fans, but a band put together for a TV performance. One of her boys is the British Corsican Henry Padovani, the man who was thrown out of the Police, just before the group raced to superstardom. The perfect contrast: you have winners and losers in this game of Monopoly, and sometimes the small things make the difference. The nerves of Padovani when the Police went into the studio for the first time, for instance, or the fact that Kim Wilde’s brother Ricky didn’t have anyone to do the backing vocals for his demos. While Padovani keeps alive doing session work, Kim Wilde has made her development to biggest female popstar of the eighties with refined youthful sensuality and hits like “Kids in America”, “Chequered love” and “Cambodia”. A cleaner reincarnation of Marianne Faithfull. Wilde is not a femme fatale, more the neighbour’s girl with a little more class and finesse than the rest and mostly very photogenic: a very important quality in this age of video.
To underline the nature of this business Kim drinks a Bloody Mary. She is tired, she says, of the travelling. Henry Padovani is gone, this is Kim Wilde.

How everything started? Well, it went very fast and by coincidence. I was still in art college, and my father Marty Wilde had booked some studio time for himself. But he had a more pressing engagement on the day, so he said to my brother Ricky: “You go and record some songs, then the money’s not thrown away.” I went along with Ricky to do some backing vocals and after that we went to RAK with the demos, where they were pleased with Ricky’s songs. But they had to be recorded once again, with a new producer, Steve Glenn, and that man noticed I was so wild about singing. I said: “If you ever have a job for me, please call me, there’s nothing I’d rather do than sing backing vocals”. It seemed like a good introduction in that world, I never dreamed I would record “Kids in America” one week later, a true worldwide hit. I have been lucky, very lucky. It’s too good to be true.

Kim Wilde is in fact a family business, run by your father and brother ,and of which you are the attractive advertisement. Do your family members think of you as a person when they write Kim Wilde songs?
Dad mostly writes the lyrics and he dos it from his own perspective, obviously. But the strange thing is that I, despite our difference in age, have no trouble singing his lyrics. I know my father very well, I know what he thinks about this world. I mostly share his opinons, so that helps.
Also the songs are usually a step into a fantasy world, stories which you can be drawn into. I am an actress in a play someone else has written.

Do you let yourself lead by your songwriting family members when you interpret their songs?
Dad lets me do what I want. He always sings the songs to me in the way they are in his head, but I don’t always take that into account. I want to be creative as well and he can’t help giving me directions: and I’m obliged to say to my dad that he has to shut his mouth (laughs).

Your father Marty Wilde was one of the first British rock stars, your brother Ricky had a hit when he was very young, and your mother did session work. Didn’t you want to prove yourself in a different line of work?
No, I got the chance to learn about this business when I was very young. It was obvious that I would try for myself. I have seen my father perform often when I was young, and I saw how he managed to deal with the pressure of that kind of life, how he dealt with people as a famous person. Iwas very well prepared to become famous, and even now I’ve got it under control. I never have the impression of being manipulated, while I know that artists of my age get that feeling sometimes. You hear that it’s an enormous pressure on your personality to have a famous father like that, but I never noticed that either.

Can you remember how your father reacted when his success faded and he lost his fame?
I really don’t remember anything from that time. And later I felt really frustrated, and not him, because I thought he didn’t get the popularity he rightly deserved. I couldn’t take that someone like Cliff Richard survived all those years, while my father had to stay behind. He is a very underestimated songwriter: at home he’s got a bunch of demos with classic songs he doesn’t even want to release. I couldn’t understand how he didn’t manage to stay on top despite his big talent. I only understood this later: his family came first, even his work was made less important. That’s the kind of values a popstar can’t afford.

Do you think it is scary you made it while you’re so young?
Age is a relative thing. I am only 21. But I do feel very adult. Otehr people my age might have gone under this kind of massive success, but it has only made me stronger. It’s a question of coping and not of age. And what I will do when I get older, I will see. I am not worried about that yet.
I don’t take it too seriously, that’s something I learned from my father as well. One day he played in a wornout workers club and the other day in the London Palladium. I stand with both feet firmly on the ground, fame or no fame. I only feel a big star when I come to Germany, they literally kiss the ground I walk on (laughs). I would want to feel like a star more often, really. No, really, I mean it.

But you are experiencing things that other people never do? Only the kick of seeing yourself on the cover of a magazine, for instance…
It depends whether it’s a good or bad photograph. I get very angry when they use bad photographs of me. I’m not surprised anymore, all the attention for my person, it all gets very normal after a while.

Some day you will have to miss it all.
I know it will happen someday, but it is too scary to think about it too much. It would tear me apart, I’m sure. There isn’t any other job I could do well: and I’m not interested if I can’t be the best of them all. I have done piano lessons for a while, but once I realised I wouldn’t ever be as good as Chopin, I quit. In this business I’ve got the talent to reach the tpo.

Is that the characteristic that all artists have in common: the ambition to be the best of them all?
We all have a big ego, yes (laughs). The best popstars have it anyway, the urge to excel. It isn’t too far removed from professional pride you know. And you’ll probably want to know who I think are the best popstars: the very best was Elvis Presley: no-one moved quite like him, and he always knew how much to keep back to make his audience scream for more. A natural talent, Presley. A popstar has to hide part of his personality, it’s not good to give everything. Staying cool is the secret. It’s not easy to hold your tongue.

About what, for instance?
(laughs) No comment.

Moving, do you have to learn that as well?
You have to have a feeling of timing in your body, and intuition. When you have a natural basis, it does make sense to work on it, to make it better. I don’t move the way I would want to, but I have a feeling I can get very good at it. I have never done a live performance, so in fact I haven’t tapped into that well yet. But you learn a lot from TV work, even if you’re only doing lipsynch performances.

Do you sing for yourself in a TV studio, or for millions of viewers?
For myself, I look and listen to myself: I shouldn’t think about the audience because that would freak me out. And for the camera man: I always sing for the camera man. But soon I will have my big confrontation with the audience, otherwise people will think I can’t do it. I just finished my second album, and now I will form a band to go on tour with. We obviously start in Germany, I can’t do anything wrong there (laughs).

Was it hard to leave art college for a singing career?
Not at all. It was time for me to leave there. It was fun while it lasted, but you can’t spend your life in emptiness. I don’t regret it, I may not have learned a lot about art, but a lot about people. Even if I don’t like being raised by other people, I think you have to go into the world and learn your lessons.

I don’t understand that: as a popstar you have a very protected life and the world is shielded from you as well.
Protected maybe, but not shielded. I meet all sorts of people, no-one tells me whom I can see and I learn every day. I want to know what I can learn about this business. And it depends on the people you work with: circumstances don’t make you unhappy, people do.

Do you follow the chart placings of your singles? Do you walk to the record store every day to….
To buy my own singles? Of course, don’t we all do it? (laughs) With “Kids in America” and “Chequered love” I was too surprised, but with “Cambodia” I followed every step. And now I have realised how hard you have to work for such a chart placing, I would appreciate the potential success of “View from a bridge”, I think.

How does it feel to hang on the walls in many boys rooms as a poster?
I will probably have to disappoint you again, I’m afraid, but I love that as well. Although I’m not a sex symbol, but a symbol, someone whose personality is attractive to young audiences. That does involve some sex, but you can’t separate the one aspect: I’m not a sex kitten. No it doesn’t displease me and even though no-one seems to believe it, I am happy with what I have, with what I do and with who I am. I would be ungrateful if I felt differently.

Your private life has to suffer from your status. When you go anywhere with a man, it’s in the newspapers the next day and there’s a lot of speculation.
That’s a complaint that’s often heard from people who are in the limelight, but I don’t think it’s valid. When I go out with a man I don’t show myself in the kind of exclusive places some go to. When you go to Dingwalls with someone you must know what you’re doing. There’s masses of people seeking publicity, even if they will never admit to it. In interviews they say that the attention hinders them, but in fact they want nothing more than to see their picture in the press. It has happened to me that I was framed. I went out eating with a friend and the place turned out to be the hunting ground for British press. That happens when you’re naive, it won’t happen to me again. I learned the unwritten rules for famous people, and they will help me someday.

Was the friend Steve Strange, the painted marionette and front man of Visage?
Yes, and there’s nothing more than friendship between us. Friendship is a word that is unknown in the press: either I don’t know the man at all or I go to bed with him. There’s no middle ground.

What’s your opinion about the Royal Family? I get the impression that famous people in England are judged on the basis of their opinion about royalty.
That’s right. When you call the Queen a strange woman, you are a rightwing bastard, and when you call her superfluous luxury, you’re a leftwing bastard. Whatever you say, you’re still a bastard (laughs). And so I just shut my mouth, even here in Belgium. You never know.

You’ve had some criticism about being in South Africa for promotion.
You still want to make me say something I don’t want to say (laughs). But anyway, I went to South Africa because I have been in every other country around the world for promotion. I won’t say it was a mistake, but while I was there, I saw the bad things that were happening there. The problem is that so many people who haven’t been to South Africa want to talk about it. It affects the credibility of the anti-Apartheid movement. You don’t solve the problems in South Africa by staying away, contrary to that. When you look at the news at home: you say: ‘They killed another black person. Pass the cookies’. When you’re there, you feel there’s violence in the air, the atmosphere is very tense. When you go there to look how it is, they put you on the black list, I don’t get it. I hate dogmatic games like that.

When you would say there’s nothing wrong in South Africa, do you think that young people should take over your opinion like that? And are you planning to use your influence like that consciously?
If I have any power I will certainly not use it. I haven’t learned anything in this life from the newspapers and certainly not from popstars. Suppose young people would distill their world views from that: no, they’re not that dumb. Fundamental things are learned from family, read in books or learned from experience. I don’t think it’s my job to write policital manifests. Everything you say and do as a popstar involves politics, but you should avoid dogmatism and missionary work as much as possible. Social politics and healthy thinking, that’s worth engaging myself to. This world could use some of that.