Born to survive

After 12 years in the precarious world of rock and roll, Kim Wilde is still something of a while child. But she works as hard as she plays.

Lying back on a couch in her Melbourne hotel room, Kim Wilde destroyed any suggestion that rock stars mellow out when they reach their 30s. At 32, it seems the only thing mellow about Wilde is her voice. She kept it to a hushed whisper, fearing a loud outburst may turn her fragile headache into a full-blown hangover. The previous night she was guest of honor to more than 100 hangers-on who celebrated her Melbourne visit and new record at Prahran’s trendy Continental Cafe. The champagne flowed, the talk got blurrier and everyone partied ’til dawn.
“The wild days are not gone”, she said, laughing. “You’ve got to be joking. I was in Sydney the other night getting whipped before I went to some club that is supposedly a prerequisite for everybody. We stayed up all night and drank champagne and indulged in some rock’n’roll behaviour. You can do that and still be healthy. Most people I know who aren’t in rock’n’roll indulge in the greatest rock’n’roll behavior. They are the naughtiest people in the world.”
Wilde did not elaborate on what precisely constituted “rock’n’roll behavior”, but you get her drift.
“I have to worry about the way I look, so I have to temper my activities. But I still have the streak in me that lets loose now and again. Thank God,” she said. Despite her cute, almost baby-doll looks, Wilde, born with the rather more prosaic moniker Kim Smith, built her career on a tough image. The daughter of ’60s singing star Marty Wilde, it was natural that she followed in his footsteps and got into showbusiness. She kicked off her career in 1981 singing ‘Kids in America’, a catchy little pop number which topped the charts around the world. Those fullsome lips and doe-eyes were almost at odds with the raunchy spiked hair, ripped jeans and leather jackets that were de rigeur at the time. But unlike the hundreds of pop starlets before her and since, Wilde was not being manipulated by some commercial Svengali looking to cash in. Behind Wilde were her by then veteran entertainer father, and brother Rick.
They wrote her songs and helped her make the right career decisions. She was a huge success in no time. An indication of just how succesful she became was her lack of live concerts. In 18 months, she had three big hits, became an international celebrity and bought a BMW without ever stepping foot on a concert stage. At a time when the music video was king, she simply didn’t need to. But when she finally performed live, she did so to rave reviews.
Such promotion and savvy business sense ensured she left all her post-punk peers behind. Remember Adam and the Ants, Tenpole Tudor, The Thompson Twins?
“I stuck to it and most of those groups just didn’t”, she said, simply. Wilde was also pretty much playing herself. “It was coincidental that I evolved at the same time as those artists. I never really felt part of them anyway”, she said.
“Their hearts weren’t really into it and they ended up wanting to be actors or actresses. So much was a vehicle for self-exposure. A lot of the bands were also surrounded by people who didn’t know what they wer doing. That has never been the case with me. I have always been surrounded by my family and advisers who have been very talented in their own right. I think, ultimately, I love doing rock’n’roll, so it’s an attitude and energy that comes through. You can’t fake when it comes to music.”
Wilde said she was born to be in the business. Her father, Marty, who had hits with Sea of love, Bad Boy and Endless Sleep, instilled a love of music in his offspring, and mother Joyce provided the entree into the world of glamor.
“My mother would take me to the Biba house of fashion to buy clothes”, she said. “That is where I fell in love with the concept of glamor. It was like walking into Prince’s dressing room, because there were feather boas everywhere and glass-cut balls, and it was all dark and there was all this satin and leopard skin everywhere. As a child, walking into that environment blew my mind. Fashion is one of my pet hobbies.”
But a few years ago Wilde’s career levelled out. Although still selling respectably, her songs were less urgent and dynamic than in the early ’80s. Her weight went up and she seemed to have lost direction. She spoke recently about a conscious decision to get herself and her career back into shape. While still living the rock lifestyle, she substantially cut down on alcohol. She tightened her act musically as well. In here greatest-hits collection, which has just been released, it was decided to exclude some of the more grandiose ballads of that time.
“The criteria for this album was the most successfull singles from 1980 to 1993”, she said. “There are a lot more singles I would have prefered to be on the collection, but this is an album the public dictated and the public will get the best out of it.”
The first single off the collection is the Yvonne Elliman classic ‘If I can’t have you’. The clips shows Wilde, strutting about in leather pants, full of attitude.
The new-found attitude has much to do with 22-year-old university student Rupert Kenyon, who is Wilde’s current love. She has mostly kept the affair a secret, but admitted there are times when she can’t resist talking about him.
“I talk about him in a general sense”, she said. “I don’t tell the media about personal details like our first date. They are memories I have for me.”
Still, she enjoyed talking of the classic eyes-across-a-crowded-room way in which they met, which was also at a particularly happy point in her life.
“I was on a ski holiday with my very best friends from school. We used to do it years ago, whole groups of us, where we would hire a place and get outrageously drunk and attempt to ski very badly the next day”, she said. “Last year someone suggested we do it all again and I doubted whether we could get this old ghost going again. It did and I was so happy. One night we went to a nightclub and I met him. He picked up on my energy because I picked up on his. He was an open, happy person. Actually he was very obnoxious but in a sweet way. He was loud and loutish and taking the p…. very gently. I could tell it was front and then I knew he was a good person. In a split second. I trusted him right away. It’s always in the eyes and I just remember his eyes. That was it. It is a great thing. It’s always good to find a soulmate.”
And Australian tour is now being planned but in the interim, fans will be treated to a new clip for the single ‘In my life’.
“It’s a mad video”, Wilde said. “I’ve always wanted to be a guitar hero so I play one in the clip, with the strap really low. It’s really cool, like the way my dad does it. That is really what it is all about. Even though there is no guitar on the song, I don’t give a toss.”