Date: 1 June 1985
Originally published in: Melody Maker (UK)
Written by: Carol Clerk
Back in the charts with ‘Rage to Love’, Kim Wilde wishes to make it known that she’s not just a puppet of the big bad music business.
To meet Kim Wilde is to be reminded that appearances – and first impressions – can be deceptive. And to discover just how easy it is to become blinkered by the concentrated power of one single memorable media portrait.
For me, Kim Wilde was always the eternal teenager, the happy-go-lucky, pert ‘n’ pretty little sweetheart who enchanted an entire nation with the bubbling naivety of “Kids in America”. In reality, of course, she’s nothing of the sort. Nobody’s fool and nobody’s puppet. Kim Wilde shows a comprehensive understanding of the music business and its machinations, holds a tight control over as many aspects of her career as is possible, is determined to be accepted for the qualiuty of her contributions to an industry that she could, if she wanted to, survive in by numerous other means.
Kim Wilde could have taken the “celebrity route”, done the done thing, gone to the right parties and kept Fleed Street well fed with a regular supply of appetising titbits. She could have kept her mouth shut except to sing whatever she was told to sing, smiling sunshine smiles as she gritted her teeth.
Instead, she opted to broaden her own experience as a singer, a performer and now, for the first time, as a writer. You’ll get no pie-in-the-sky talk of a glittering film star future from Kim Wilde. Her dreams are for writing for other artists and working with them in the studio – “not entirely on the production side, but leaning towards that”. This woman is admirably decisive, discreet and down to earth. I decided not to ask her for a game of hopscotch after all.
“I’ve learned some lessons since I first came into the business”, she remarked as we sat down at an oversized table in the director’s office at MCA Records. “At first, I had this idea that everyone had the answer. I used to think that if someone was a photographer, they’d be a photographer, and video makers, they’d make videos. You get to realise after a time that these people actually aren’t to be trusted to do exactly what their label says they’ll do. It’s like putting your trust in Margaret Thatcher to fulfil her manifesto.
“You have to beware of placing things that are important to you in other people’s care. You can’t just be nonchalant about it and say ‘I’m bloody busy, you do it’. Because a lot of these characters just don’t do the job properly, and you’re left with egg on your face. You learn very fast. You have to become independent, make a lot more decisions, look after as much as you can, from the smallest detail upwards. Naturally, I’m lucky because I’ve got my family involved, but even so, they’re not a shield against the sort of things that can happen.
“I like to be independent from the record company. We have our own family set-up and we go along in our own way, and we’ve got our own studio whcih we built in Knebworth, Hertfordshire. I think this gives us our own individuality, a kind of character. It’s not just another band signed to another record company, flash producers and wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”
Unlike some of the female singers of her early acquaintance, Kim was made aware of the particular traps that could lie ahead.
“My mum didn’t allow me to get ridiculously manipulated”, she recalled, pushing her fingers through ruffled hair. “And that has shown over the past few years. I’m still around and I’ve got a hit record, ‘Rage to love’. Plenty of the other girls got manipulated and got into awful trouble. They suffered a hell of a lot more than me.
“Hazel O’Connor had a terrible time. The people around her virtually stopped her from working for a long time. There have been occasions where things haven’t happened for me, but I’m still hanging in there.”
As proof of her growing self-confidence, Kim is no longer prepared to ponder to the whims of the image-makers. Far from the pouting sex kitten I’d expected to find, the one who was going to play the Lady to my Tramp, she was dressed in jeans and a baggy black coat, wearing only a casual scattering of make-up.
“I didn’t actually sit down and say ‘I’ll be the girl who wears the jeans and has scruffy hair and looks like she just got out of bed’. The way I look is a mixture of not really bothered too much about the image side of it and knowing at the same time that it looks good anyway. I wouldn’t walk into a record company looking as if I just got out of bed if I thought it looked awful. I just find my own way of doing things. I always got so bored with image every time I did it.
“I usually did it out of some kind of idea you had to make an effort for the public – ‘Maybe they want me to do something different’. The second time, we did this very stylised presentation and I really enjoyed it at the time. But it just takes so much of your time taking care of an image like that, nurturing it, guarding it and dusting it down. I was more interested in getting involved with my life.
“I never wanted to get into the situation I could see Toyah and Hazel getting into, like a dead end as far as looks were concerned. I’ve always strived to be in a situation where no one expects too much of one thing from me all the time.”
Kim, nevertheless, would be the first to agree that her good looks were an instrumental in the original success story.
“My sex has never been a hindrance to me”, she agreed. “I’ve taken advantage of it. I’ve never felt discriminated against. I never felt I didn’t have equal rights.”
Kim Wilde is certainly no crusading feminist, though she’s careful in her appraisal of the subject. “I have a lot of respect for the initial women’s movement that got the vote. But I can’t get angry on behalf of the feminist cause because I never felt I had any less opportunity than the next man. You should fight from personal experience.
“I’ve never felt interested in fighting somebody else’s war. But I’m all for women making more of a mark. I’d like to see more women sitting in that chair over there.” She pointed at the director’s desk.
“I’d hate a situation where a woman got a job just because she was a woman, or a man didn’t get a job because he wasn’t a woman. I’m very aware of the strength of women, though. My mother’s a very strong person and her strength is something to be admired.”
For quite some time, between her first spate of chart singles and her recent return to “Top Of The Pops”, we heard very little from or about Kim Wilde. She was disappointed, during that period, that her popularity in the UK was apparently on the decline, but looks back on it now more positively.
“It made everyone take a few steps back and look at what was happening”, she said. “We decided we’d have to be a bit more singleminded about the things that we wanted, me in particular. I started writing. Two of my songs are on the current album. And there should be more on the next one which should be out in September.”
On the subject of songwriting, Kim became unusually animated, enthusing about the “fulfilment” it gives and the possibilities it opens up.
“I don’t want to look as if I’m bunging on the naff song that goes on the B side”, she insisted. “I’m not doing it just to get a few pats on the back or ackers in the can. In the end, it wasn’t enough for me to just sit around and look good and make really good pop records although I enjoyed all that at the time.
“I’m aiming to write complete compositions. I don’t want to cop out and write lyrics like ‘I love you and the flames grow higher and higher’. At the same time I don’t have the attitude of someone like Morrissey – much though I love his music – who is very socially conscious and is forever going on about meat is murder and being like a walking newspaper. He wants to provide information for everybody to help you all, like a public service, rather like a latrine.
“My lyrics are very personal, but not embarrassingly so. I used to listen to Carole King and Joni Mitchell who were so revealing, and I’d go ‘poor girl, she’s probably going through her hell.’ I’ve always been very reticent about revealing much of my private life. I steer away from talking about my latest boyfriend or personal politics. I’m not likely to reveal all in the latest Kim Wilde epic.”
It’s almost suprising that she can so consistently deflect the continuing inquiries of the professional muck-rakers in the national press. In Kim’s case, they forced her to make do with what little they’ve got.
“I wish I could do deals with those papers”, she sighed, her face registering only slight annoyance. “It’s not a big problem for me, people have much bigger problems in their day-to-day lives, but it does get a little irritating, especially when you read things which distort who you are but still come across as being quite believable. I can take a lot, though. You become resilient. You toughen up.”
Kim Wilde and her band will be touring Britain later this year. Already established abroad as a sensational live attraction, she’s philosophical about the fact that she has yet to conquer the audiences of her home country.
“It doesn’t really bother me”, she smiled. “An awful lot of British acts are popular in Europe, and I’m one of the most popular. They really go a bundle on me. Here, it’s a completely different kettle of fish.
“It’s just quite funny to think about being famous in a country where you don’t speak the language, people buying your records, writing you letters and supporting you madly. It’s a very odd thing, and it’s a great thing to be a member of the world and not just a member of your own country. It’s a nice feeling to know that you’re a little part of other countries too.”