Born to be Wilde

Kim Wilde combines burning ambition with a craving for anonymity. Francis Cottam sees the private side of a singer bred for stardom.

Way back in 1981 Kim Wilde first shot to pop fame sharing chart success with the likes of Adam and the Ants. In 1982 it was Kim Wilde and Haircut 100, 1983 was the year of Kid Creole… and Kim Wilde. In 1984 she shared the spotlight with Joboxers, Modern Romance, Howard Jones.

You get the idea. Pop lives are notoriously short. Careers flare into a brilliance that is all too cruelly brief. Kim Wilde provides the rare exception to that rule. After almost a decade at the top, her star shines more brightly than ever. Last year was her most successful so far, as she supported Michael Jackson on his world tour and released the critically and commercially successful album, Close. Close was Kim’s sixth album and she wrote a substantial part of it. Kim Wilde is not a Cliff Richard-type pop institution. The peroxide, pout and stage wardrobe are still much more sexually provocative than cosily safe. But she is at the stage where she can survive a flop single, two flop singles, without the plug being pulled and the spotlight going out.
One obvious reason for her sustained success is her looks. On a record sleeve, in a video or on stage, Kim Wilde is the identikit female pop star, blonde before the term “bimbo” was coined, dubbed “Britain’s Bardot” on the chart pages of the tabloid press.
And in the flesh?
Her face is framed by that familiar halo of pale hair and her full lips are painted that familiar red. She looks younger than her 28 years and it is the bright blue eyes that take the attention as she sits in tasselled jacket, mini skirt and the cowboy boots she bought in Denver, legs drawn up under her body, looking totally relaxed.
We are in a corner of Marc Lebon’s north London garage turned photographic studio. Steve Wonder is on the turntable and Kim is choosing the music. West Coast jazz gives way to Julie London, Marvin Gaye, the soundtrack album of Mary Poppins, vintage Frank Sinatra. After rummaging through the records heaped round the clapped-out stereo in the corner of the studio, Kim threatens to put on an album of Morecambe and Wise comedy routines. She wasn’t kidding when earlier she called her taste in rcords, “comprehensive”.

‘Kids in America’ was a long time ago. Did she expect to be doing this eight years on?
“I never thought about the future, ever. I think if I’d considered the future I wouldn’t have even begun. Pop can expire so easily. I could have gone the same way as Hazel O’Connor or Toyah Wilcox and just… disappeared.”

What prevented that?
“The success of Hanging On”. (You keep me hangin ‘on, an American number one single and worldwide chart hit for Kim two years ago), “It gave my career the kick up the backside it needed at that time. It was good for my credibility. So was the (Jackson) tour but I’m quite fatalistic about success.”
And grateful to her family, “I have a fabulous team around me, absolutely dedicated to me. My bother is its backbone.”

Kim now has a London flat but the Kim Wilde industry – recording, publishing, merchandising, tour planning and even fan club – is run from the Wilde family’s Hertforshire home. “I suppose the only thing we haven’t done is launch a record label.”

Kim’s father Marty Wilde was a pop star in the 1950’s when the music of the moment was called skiffle and her brother and producer Ricky was a teenybop idol of the early 1970s. Doing what she does, she says, “Was like going into the family business.”

But she may not have stuck at the family business.
“I don’t think I would still be here if I hadn’t started writing”, confesses Kim. “I was singing things that were written for me and I was finding that very hard to stomach, really. I love my family dearly, but I’m a very independent sort of person and those, ‘Marty Wilde’s Daughter’, stories really grated. That’s what pushed me into writing.”

Is she concerned about her image?
“I used to be. I’ve just done a show with Des O’Connor, actually did a duet with him. If you had asked me to do that four years ago I would have said come one! That’s absolutely not cool. Now I feel I can hold my own with Des O’Connor, on stage with Michael Jackson or in a restaurant where nobody knows who I am. I feel much more comfortable and confident about myself.”
Does Kim Wilde work hard?
“Yes I do, but I would find it harder to work in an office, in the same environment, with the same people every day.”
Does she have friends who work in offices?
“I know people who work in offices.”
Does she feel fortunate to be where she is?
“Very. But I envy my friends. None of them are famous, and I envy their anonymity.”
Is fame so intrusive?
“Yes but I was Marty Wilde’s daughter even before I was Kim Wilde. I was always singled out from the crowd. I don’t know anything better.”
Can she have a private life?
“I can… It isn’t easy.”
She’s essentially a career woman.
(A pause): “Yes”.
A very successful one.
What about the future; would the British Bardot like to make films?
“I don’t have any pretentions to being an actress at all, though the right script might provide a happy way to fill up six months. My ambitions now are musical.”
What does she do when she isn’t working?
“Go swimming to keep fit, hang out with the girls, go to cheap restaurants, and I go skiing once a year – the highlight of my year. I always thought that provided anonymity but lasy time I went skiing I walked into a little hut halfway up a mountainside for a glass of hit wine and two kids turned around and said, ‘It’s Kim Wilde!’ I mean, what is it? What could they recognise?
Those red lips.
Kim Wilde laughed, “I don’t wear lipstick on the slopes.”
Skiing, swimming and eating out cheaply with the girls all sounds very wholesome, but Kim Wilde has never exactly had a nightclubber’s reputation.
“I find nightclubs rather boring”, she says.
She doesn’t hang out with other celebrities?
“No. Though when I do get together with people for a TV special abroad or something, I really enjoy meeting them. Everybody gets on very well.”
So pop bitching and backbiting are press inventions.
“I’m not saying it isn’t there. I’ve been known to come up with the occasional one-liner about certain individuals myself. I’ve done it about people I haven’t even met and then meet hem and discovered that they are human after all. It’s a very unproductive thing to do.”

At which point we pause for refreshment. Kim has requested biscuits and Clothes Show magazine art editor Paul Hayes-Watkins has volunteered to fetch some, but, with the best will in the world, Hobnobs are difficult to find in Kensal Green, and Paul has not yet returned from his mission to Sainsburys. Kim shrugs, biscuitless, and sips her tea.
What were the Michael Jackson concerts like?
“Very exhilirating. I get off on communication, everybody smiling and waving at you, moving an audience. I like people liking me. I crave it. A lot of performers, historically, come from deprived backgrounds without much love. I grew up with a really loving family, which goes against all the conventions of why people want to be famous. But famous I definitely wanted to be. I thought for a long time it was just the music, but it isn’t, it’s the whole package: I love the fame, the glamour, the romance of it.”
Does she feel fulfilled, is she happy?
“Sometimes. Generally.”

What’s Michael Jackson like?
“God I don’t know. I met him very briefly. I have the feeling that he’s quite protected from reality. I think he knows exactly what’s going on with him and his career but I don’t think he knows too much about anything else.”
Kim Wilde, in contrast, is interested in a world outside the celebrity life that she admits is cocooned and cossetted. She always votes, is a member of Greenpeace and has written Stone, a strong song with an environmental theme.
“Sometimes I watch the news and think, what can I do about that flood in Bangladesh? But I give myself a prod, tell myself that I ought to know what’s going on, and I do feel very strongly about issues – like the environment.”
Is Kim Wilde ever annoyed at the public perception of her as a pouting blonde?
“I used to be, that’s why my stance in photographs was so aggressive but I really think that the ‘blonde’ image has liberated itself in the last eight years or so through people like Debbie Harry, Madonna, hopefully myself. Being blonde now doesn’t mean Marilyn Monroe vulnerability. Blonde in the Eighties means being in control.”