Date: 19 September 1987
Originally published in: Sounds (UK)
Once the sweet girl of pop KIM WILDE has now turned into a would-be sex siren. ANN SCANLON talks to her about the pressures, pain and pleasure of her new image and commercial success. Pin-up by PETER ANDERSON
Blessed with blonde hair, blue eyes, big lips and a famous father, Kim Wilde’s pop credentials couldn’t have been better when she burst into public view in the spring of ’81.
Radio One adored her, the tabloids followed and a hat-trick of hits ensued. By the end of the year, Kim Wilde was the damp dream of every honest, industrious, red-blooded male in the land.
Marty Wilde’s daughter was a ‘natural’ and consequently cared little for the finer details of image. Her clothes were an unstartling mixture of jeans, T-shirts and basement-bin bargains; her hair a careless mane which she cropped herself and re-bleached (when she remembered) with two quid’s worth of Boots’ best.
Six years and 14 singles later, Kim Wilde is airbrushed and hairsprayed into shape by Michi and Yoshi – a couple of stylists who she met on a recent video shoot and who are now of invaluable assistance. And, although she still favours jumble sale chic, her £1 outfits are now worn with considerably different effect.
Today, it’s a toss-up between a simple, black and white cotton dress and a tiny red velvet number, which clings and plunges in all the right places and has been record company recommended for “sexy” photo sessions.
Photographer and artiste quickly decide on the former.
After a couple of years in the hit-hungry wilderness, Kim Wilde shot back with the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, followed it with the self-penned ‘Another Step’, but recently feil wide of the mark with ‘Say you Really Want Me’.
The only remarkable thing about the latter – which had previously been included on the soundtrack for the duff movie Running Scared – was the accompanying video. ‘Say you Really Want Me’ was a soft focus sizzler featuring four barely-clad Ben Volperrier lookalikes, the Wilde one, a pearl necklace and a stream of less than subtie innuendoes.
Not surprisingly, ‘Say you Really Want Me’ was deemed unsuitable for teenies. But, although Kim had warned MCA that the single was not Top Ten material she still insists that the banned video was “a lot of fun…
“I sat and talked to the director before we made it,” she says, “and I said that I wanted to make something quite steamy, quite sensual and quite funny as weil. I can’t really take myself too seriously as a sex symbol cos I know that sex isn’t just what you look like, it’s about something a bit more invisible.
“So when I’m walking down the street and the guys on the building sites go, Whoa, Kim! and all that stuff, it’s very nice, but who could take it seriously?”
MCA are currently taking it very seriously indeed. As firm believers in the notion of Wilde As Sex Symbol they have re-packaged her ‘Another Step’ LP (originally released at the same time as ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’) in a series of black ‘n’ pearl close-ups from ‘Say you Really Want Me’. More recently still, Kim appeared on the TV tribute to Elvis, writhing around a double bed in half a leather dress and begging for ‘One Night With You’. Right now, Kim Wilde is Britain’s brightest Madonna hope by a number of miles.
Born a Scorpio in the Year Of The Rat, 1960, Kim Smith grew up in a showbiz family with a love of singing and dancing and a dream of joining Pan’s People.
“During my really formative years, I remember my dad doing pantomimes at places like Blackpool, Swansea and Yarmouth, and I’d hang out in the theatre and learn all the lines. But he was also a singer and a writer and that had a profound influence on what I wanted to do.”
On leaving school, she spent a year at art college and it was there – as “a huge fan” of Debbie Harry – that she decided to go blonde. “1 was talking to someone the other day, about having blonde hair and why I chose to go blonde. And, obviously, being a rounded sort of person with big lips and everything, dying my hair blonde was a disaster as far as people taking me seriously was concerned, or even just recognising me as an intelligent being.
“People in general have really preconceived ideas – not just about women with blonde hair, who have large lips and look pretty and are famous – but about race, religion, vegetarians, people who screw around, everything.
“So I decided – not consciously – to put myself into an obvious bag just so that it was somewhere I could develop from. It’s kind of a camouflage to sell – I know sex sells and I know blonde hair sells; so you know that you’re on to a winner. In a way, it’s quite calculated but I also think it suits me.”
This said, the idea of being a blonde, pouting sex kitten is not something that Wilde is always happy with. Particularly in front of the camera.
“To me there’s a big difference between an ordinary camera and a movie camera. You can have an affair with a movie camera but not with every photographer who takes your picture – which is why I don’t think I photograph very weil.
“I had to do some photographs for David Bailey a few months ago and it was just dreadful. He’s obviously used to working with really professional models who jump in the air with their mouths open and he was going. Come on. Kim, give it a bit of sass.
“So I was doing my very best, when he came up and said, How old are you? I told him 26 and he said. Weil, you know what I’m talking about then. and I just thought, F*** off you chauvinistic pig.
“And last week I was doing a photo session and was instructed, by the photographer, that these were to be sexy photos for Japan and I knew that that was pretty much the way the record company saw it too. Now I’ve been called sexy all my career even though I haven’t tried to do all that, but as soon as someone asks me to do it I get offended and I just froze and had to stop the photo-session.”
Unlike her fellow blondes who seem to be either in control (Madonna and Harry) or happy to be controlled Samantha Fox), Kim Wilde falls into an awkward no man’s land, somewhere between the two. Hence, her performances swing from the near-conviction of ‘Say you Really Want Me’ to the self-conscious embarrassment of ‘One Night With You’.
“Making videos aren’t a problem for me,” she insists, “otherwise I couldn’t have writhed around on a bed with four guys, having fun and being totally natural. But I don’t think I really cut it in photographs.
“Not like Madonna, for instance, she looks fabulous and really feels good about the camera, but I feel at odds with it and at home with it at the same time: sometimes it’s friendly and something I can have fun with but other times it isolates me and acts as a barrier between me and the world.
“Sometimes I actually wonder if I’ve chosen the right thing to do”, she pauses. “But I’m much better in spontaneous situations, which is why I don’t think I’ve ever come across as a strong media personality. My strength is definitely inside me.”
Although she now lives alone, in a Norh London flat, Kim Wilde still derives much of her strength from her family. She is managed by her mother Joyce, writes songs with her father Marty, is produced by brother Ricky and still regards their Knebworth base as her home.
“A lot of women get their stability from a bloke but I’ve never really had that and it’s not something that I particularly wish to have now anyway. I know that I can always turn to my family and, over the years, they’ve really kept my act together. Without them I think I would self-destruct.”
It is this basic security that has allowed Kim to stand up to the press and – despite her sex symbol status – prevent them from rampaging through her private life.
“They don’t really have much of my private life in print that’s true. I never bullshit in interviews but there are lots of things that I don’t say, and really personal questions I just won’t answer.
“But I never take what’s written about me too personally, cos the people who write about me don’t really know me, and I can teil you categorically that those who do – such as ex-affairs and friends – would never write about me.”
Although she is ‘unattached’, Kim Wilde is still only an infrequent visitor to the gossip columns. Her most recent flings being a conversation with Julian Lennon at the Montreux Festival and a bunch of roses from Terence Trent D’Arby after a chance meeting on Top Of The Pops (Wilde declined Terry’s subsequent offer with a polite, Thanks a lot but thank you just the same, no, I won’t).
“I really keep out of the way of The Limelight and all those very obvious places to be seen. 1 get offered memberships to all those expensive establishments where famous, I suppose, people go and hobnob with other famous people, but I have a lot of contempt for that side of the business.
“I don’t want to sit here like some bitter pop star who hates everyone that goes down The Limelight, but my experience of that place was disastrous. I hated it.
“In fact, I went on a ski-ing holiday with some friends and this guy turned up who was the vilest, most nightmare person you can imagine. So we decided to give him my membership card to The Limelight – we could just imagine him getting drunk, eating glasses and generally causing chaos!”
She claims to have a similar disregard for most of the things that are written about her.
“I hardly read any of my press. If I start to read something that looks vaguely like it’s going to be horrible then I just put it down. I can’t handle criticism at all.
“One of the worst things that happened recently was when I had an innocuous meeting – which was nothing to do with the business – and I picked up a magazine that happened to have this dreadful review of my album.
“It finished off with, What’s the point of another Kim Wilde album anyway? And I sat there thinking, God what is the point of another Kim Wilde album? And I got very, very depressed about it. I’m not a wimp or anything but verbal aggression really upsets me, and there’s just no point in reading horrible, nasty remarks.”
Most of the verbal violence that Kim attracts comes, perhaps surprisingly, from men rather than women. “I get on weil with women, but a lot of men are bitchy cos they can’t handle the fact that I don’t fancy them. I’ve had a dreadful time just recently with men: I had a fight with one a few weeks ago because he offended a close girlfriend of mine. I can take any number of insults myself but not when they’re directed at someone that l really care about.
“So I just let fly and was dragged off down the street by my friend hurling abuse at this guy. He was shouting, I’11 never f****** buy another Kim Wilde record again, and I was going, Weil, see if I care when I’m Number One in America, you bastard!
“My friend was laughing and saying, I don’t believe you just said that, and afterwards I really hated myself for losing my temper and sinking to his level but I suppose it goes to show that I’m human too.”
Women have been known to make the odd bitchy remark too, of course, and – although Kim doesn’t suffer from the same kind of flak as Samantha Fox – she gets her fair share.
Muriel Gray, for instance, who despite the blonde hair is rarely regarded as a sex symbol herself, recently made a particularly vicious remark about Wilde’s luscious lips.
“She mush have some kind of hang up.” shrugs Kim. “At the beginning of this conversation I was talking about people judging others by the way they look, and if Muriel Gray has to make inane comments then I feel sorry for her. I also think she’s very good at her job and I really enjoyed watching her on TV.”
Despite the vacuous sound of ‘Say You Really Want Me’, and video that would have you believe otherwise, Kim Wilde is desperate to be taken seriously as a song-writer. She co-wrote eight of the 12 songs on ‘Another Step’ and is currently writing material for the next one.
“The best thing about the album is that I really got my writing act together. There’s a song called ‘How Do You Want My Love’ which I’m really proud of and I’ve just written another one with my dad called ‘You’ll Be The One Who’ll Lose’.
“Making ‘Another Step’ was a time of great insecurity for all of us. MCA were giving us a lot of hassle: they were putting a question mark over Ricky producing me and over every song we’d record. But its success has meant that Ricky, Dad and I are united as a team again, and we’ve resolved that we’re going to make another great album together.”
Kim Wilde might be reticent, but she remains honest and unaffected in a way that would put most pop stars to shame. And despite the jarring contradictions in her image (which she seems barely to have come to terms with herself) it’s impossible to dislike her.
“Sometimes I can be eloquent but very often the things that I feel are thick with emotion and are not the sort of thing that I can express. I love words but I’m not the most articulate of people.
“I suppose I’m always worried about people getting too close or knowing too much. So being mercurial – having blonde hair but being at odds with people’s preconceived ideas – is quite a good way of getting through life.”