The flagship of the Wilde fleet

Is there a sexier singer than Kim Wilde? Our reporter retreated to a park in Rotterdam for an interview with Kim Wilde. There, amidst the housewifes and playing children, Kim told him that she doesn’t like her sexy image. It’s thrust upon her by managers and photographers! She even suffered because of it, but since she’s started writing songs herself, her self respect started to grow.

ROTTERDAM, Saturday. “Let’s go out”, says Kim Wilde. “I have been in the studio for eight months and now that I’m out promoting Schoolgirl I spend my time in airplanes and hotel rooms. I would like to see the sun for a change!”

The hotel where she’s staying, doesn’t have a terrace. It doesn’t have much anyway, but it’s not far from the Ahoy and the Feyenoord stadium, which ensures a certain popularity in the rock and roll industry. We decide to take a walk through the nearby park. We do this in the company of many families in Rotterdam, of which especially the children look closely at the blonde miss behind those sunglasses, who looks slightly familiar to them. Pop fame wanes quickly, especially during a career like Kim Wilde’s, despite the fact that the fourth album is on the way. In fact it’s not much more than a collection of hit singles: ‘Kids in America’, ‘Chequered love’, ‘Cambodia’, ‘View from a bridge’, ‘Love blonde’, ‘The second time’. She’s been making records for five years now, which is longer than the span of the first part of her father Marty Wilde’s career, one of the first British teenage idols of the Fifties. It took so long to release an American hit in Europe during those days, that local stars recorded them instead. Father Wilde did this a lot: ‘Teenager in love’, ‘Donna’, ‘Sea of love’.

“Five years, that’s already something”, Kim says pensively. ‘Somehow I managed to overcome the typical British career of one monster hit and a series of between five and eight ever weaker successors. The industry, the media and the audience long for fresh blood all the time, so you can only survive if you have significant talent. My previous record company (of British tycoon Mickie Most, who has been making hits for over 25 years) was fully prepared to keep on flying the machine until it was out of petrol, whether they were called Sweet, Racey, Mud or Smokie. They couldn’t develop into serious artists.

“I’m sure that I was considered a sexy child star when I started out at RAK, with the famous father as a gimmick. Mickie Most didn’t take the trouble to get to know me better anyway. He only did his best to have me sign on at RAK. He considered me as the umpteenth clown to play Hamlet, when I wanted to take hold of my career myself. Who do you think you are, he seemed to think, during the meetings Marty, Ricky and I had with him when we wanted to talk about my future.

My father was robbed and cheated at the beginning of his career. Working class children like him couldn’t believe they could earn their daily bread with their hobby. Let alone the fact that their weekly wage was higher than that of a working man. While they were constantly on tour, the capital of the company they worked for was growing, and also that of the promotors, if they weren’t that too themselves. “I wouldn’t have been that well prepared if my father had been a fisherman and my mum had been waiting for him in our house in Cornwall. My mum takes care of my business, like she did at the time for my father. There’s creativity in all the numbers for her. Ricky has a similar temperament. He can sit in the studio for hours, days and weeks to solve a certain problem in fifteen different ways. I would be bored to tears after just one hour, whether it’s the books or the studio.”

By the way, Kim has Mickie Most to thank for the fact that she became a star, not her brother. He is seen, also by Kim, as the genius who would finish what dad had ever only done halfway. “They were amazed that Mickie wanted me to take over”, Kim says. “They didn’t take the possibility into account, because when Most came to listen to the demos, I was only in the studio to sing backing vocals. Ricky was full of burning ambition at home, but when I saw him work with those guitars and amplifiers I always thought: ‘I am more ambitious than he is’. And it proved to be like that. Ricky settled easily into a position behind the scenes, whereas I was hooked to the adoration of the audience immediately.”

“Ricky still feels that there is a lot of important work to be done behind the scenes, and he’s probably right. That’s why I started writing songs. It finally gave me the feeling that I have earned a position in music. Before I was writing, deep in my heart I didn’t feel I had. It’s also because of the false start: from a backing vocalist of my father and brother to being the flagship of the WIlde fleet. Now I respect myself, I am happy. The audience can feel that. My songs are lacking the female masochism apparent in Carole King, Carly Simon and Joni Michell’s work, even though they are my big role models. I guess my mind works differently. I don’t feel belittled in a male dominated world. The rock and roll is even more male dominated than ‘normal’ society. Marty and Ricky used to say that horrible “Honey, listen…”. As if they were talking to a child, or even worse, a pet. A pet that was loved, but still a pet.

“Photographers are also like that. The fact that I didn’t laugh on those early photographs is as much because of Mickie Most’s instructions as the sexism of the photographers. They always treated me in that part fatherly, part horny way men use to put you in your place, especially when you’re nineteen and starting out in this business. Now I’m more mild about that: sexism also comes from insecurity. No, I don’t believe that recently acquired mildness will get me into the cabaret circuit (halls, mostly in the northern cities, at the turn of the century, where old popstars can earn their keep). I always have people in mind I admire. You will never see Marianne Faithfull in the cabaret circuit. You won’t see her for very long anyway, but that’s more because of her way of life, which she’s chosen very deliberately and very publicly. Dusty Springfield is vindictive dyke, who wants back the fame she’s had in the past but doesn’t want to leave her private pool in LA for it.”

“Do you know whom I really admire? Sandie Shaw! She has been out of the business for over 10 years to start a family, but now that’s up and running, she’s back at it. Without pretences, but with class, and with young songwriters and musicians. She’s self assured enough to not walk away from her past and her old hits. I would love to be like that in fifteen years from now.”

Although her mother would like to see her get married with an Irish fisherman, taking care of a beach house full of children, Kim Wilde hopes to have developed her songwriting skills so well that she can see her name on the end credits in the local cinema, as a writer of the soundtrack. Some experience is already there, because she and her family already wrote ‘Cambodia’, a song on a crossroads between rock & roll and cinema. The epic song was inspired by Michael Herr’s Dispatches, one of many books about the war in Vietnam which Marty read at the time.

“We started very ambitious, but the video quickly became an excuse to show some flesh, preferably decoratively painted. At the time I didn’t protest enough against the old ‘Come on, get it off, we know what we’re doing.’ I’m not prudish, especially one on one if you know what I mean, but why would I go that far in front of strangers, even if they’re working for your career? And when the video is ready it is still between you and the viewer. Then you can’t hide behind: ‘That’s just Kim Wilde, the image, and only in this song. It doesn’t work like that.”

“Do you know what? The sexy Kim Wilde pose doesn’t come easy to me. I do have it in me, but it works best in the smallest of companies. I don’t feel like a fish in the water with erotically charged attention, like Debbie Harry did and Madonna does now. Maybe I’m too British for that. Hitchcock had a great sexistic opinion about British women: they are cool under all circumstances, but in the taxi they rip your trousers off. And in all honesty: that could be me.”

Kim has never been able to get rid, neither from her sexy, nor her gloomy image. “The latter is because of the fact that the British like to see their heroes be tragic. Comedians have to be manic depressive alcoholics, stage performers have to go in and out of psych wards, footballers need to end with an unemployment benefit and popstars need to die young from drugs, otherwise they haven’t lived life to the fullest. I do get that nagging feeling sometimes that I’m postponing my personal happiness because of my career. But marriage… I just can’t imagine it. It’s strange because I was born into a marriage that has survived the highest  highs and the lowest lows, it’s as safe as the Bank of England. Ricky is also happily married. He’s just had a son. I would love to have children myself, but with whom… It’s postponed all the time, and you can only hope it isn’t until it’s too late, when you’ve become so estranged from the world in the rock & roll business that you aren’t fit for the real world anymore. But I’m only 25. There’s still time.

“I can also appreciate that happiness doesn’t come from a career like mine, but from small things like sitting in the sun, having people over for dinner, reading a good book…”

We walk back to the hotel. “After a talk like this I get the feeling I need to grow up and be an adult quickly.”, she says. “But I can’t help it, I love the superficial, irresponsible rock & roll life. Although people would want to see me unhappy, locked inside a sexy image: I’m just happy, I can’t help it.”