With her new album coming out this month, Kim Wilde sheds her 'pop star' image and reveals a new strength.
The last time Kim Wilde was on TV it was obvious something was wrong. She slouched over the Pop Quiz desk looking tired, untogether, unhappy '...and I thought I was managing to hide it so well', she laughs.
The truth was Kim, at 23, was going through the worst time of her professional life. For four years she had been presented as a punk nymphet, a girl blessed with a good voice and body - but luckier, blessed with a famous father and talented record-producing brother. Kim was also tied to RAK record company, 'a hit factory' where you're only as good as your last success, and Kim hadn't had a hit in over a year.
Her life in that past year had been going through important changes: she had bought and moved into her own flat in north London and, hope against hope, she discovered she could write songs. But this new material was not pop and as Kim was also learning to mix and produce records, it was obvious that the days of her being just a good voice and body were coming to an end. Kim had grown up and had to leave the company that had made her a star.
'It was like breaking up with a boyfriend', she said softly as we sat outside the studio where she was recording her first new album for MCA. 'RAK had done so much for me but I didn't think they were looking long term. They just weren't that interested in making albums and touring, which is so important to me.'
Kim stretched her legs to the sun. With a natty straw hat to protect her well-scrubbed face, she looked wholseome, so different from the princess who gave us 'Kids in America' and 'View from a bridge'.
'Those years as a "pop star" were a distraction for me', she said, sipping tea from a big blue mug. 'Oh, I loved it, learnt a lot, but they weren't real. It was as though I was on a merry-go-round. It was frustrating. People would sigh and say, "Okay Kim, we know you sing and your dad and brother write songs for you", as though I did nothing. It always hurt because I was giving musical input, even at that stage in the proceedings. It wasn't Dad or Ricky's fault - they would have loved me to have contributed more. It was me who wasn't taking the responsibility for what was going on - and now I am. Luckily my last two singles were flops. It sounds weird, I know, but it was a gift of time I've been able to put to good use.'
But surely she was disappointed at the time?
'No, not really. Dad was worried about it, but I turned it to my own use. Mickie Most [managing director of RAK] was a bit of a trouper about it'.
What did he think of your leaving RAK?
'I do't know - I haven't talked to him about it.'
We could understand why - Mickie did seem peeved at Kim's departure form the company.
'It isn't pleasant when someone you've worked hard with for four years leaves', he said later. 'But what I feel is immaterial - she simply went where she would be better fed.'
So it was a question of money?
'Well money had a lot to do with it. Let me just say I wouldn't spend ten thousand pounds on a Volkswagen Beetle, would I? It's no secret that her mum and I didn't get on - she wanted to prove they could make it without me. I have been in this business a long time and artists who get tempted away from RAK have never yet made it.'
No wonder Kim was worried. What would she be doing if her dad and brother were solicitors and mum, a former Vernon's Girl, a nurse?
'I would still write songs. At the age of three I can remember getting a tingle down my spine when I listened to Cilla Black and my parents still laugh at how I'd cry at the theme music to Coronation Street, I found it so sad.'
As a girl, Kim would lock herself away in her bedroom and sing along to Streisand and Aretha Franklin, 'painfully trying to get some vibrato into my voice', she remembers.
Were the first songs good?
'Oh no. I was like someone who has just got a new camera and goes off taking photos of insects, plants and Aunty Lil.'
But one day Kim knew she had captured something of value - a song called Fit In. 'I couldn't believe it when Ricky and dad suggested taking it to the studio. And now I know I can write, I can't give myself a break. There's no going back.'
When you started out did the sex kitten tags upset you?
'No', she laughs with a shrug. 'I wore jeans and a man's jacket for a photo session and the press made me out to be some sort of sex symbol. What did I have to wear not to be a sex symbol? If they didn't get a picture of my body they'd still go on about my 'pout' or mane of blonde hair. It was so stupid. Now I've started having my hair done professionally, because when you're a woman and getting older you start taking things like hair, skin and diet more seriously.'
So what does she think she'll be doing by the age of 30?
'Oh I think I'll have a kid by then - with marriage as part of the deal - but I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch', she said with a definite blush.
'I'd like to have had a lot of success writing and working with other people, and I'd like to have cracked America.'
Kim has a quiet authority about her this afternoon, and the diplomacy of a priest in getting what she wants. But the strain of making an album for a new company, the writing, and the imminent appearance at a pop festival in France begin to take their toll. The following week, at the photo session, Kim clocked up over 12 hours a day in the studio and rehearsal rooms, she was eating badly and her health was suffering (she had four mouth ulcers). A personality clash with a photographer and the session ended in tears.
'Sometimes I get so high and excited with what I'm doing, there are times when I come crashing down...', she explained later, her make-up still streaked from her tears. It was quite a shock after meeting the spirited woman outside in the sun last week - but there again, no one ever pretended learning to be an independent woman was going to be easy...