When Kim Wilde's "Kids In America" went top 20 in February 1981 she lined up in that week's chart alongside some of the big names of the day: Adam & Ants, Ultravox, The Stray Cats, Toyah, Rainbow, Shaky and Madness. It was her first single, she was an overnight sensation and there were those who harboured suspicions that her career might prove to be as long and as illustrious as that of "Joe Dolce", perpetrator of that month's number 1, with "Shaddupa Your Face".
But Kim has outlived them all. Twelve years on she's releasing her ninth LP and her 26th single, with sales of over six million albums and 11 million singles under her belt and countless gold and platinum discs lining her walls. The "overnight sensation" of 1981 is now the most successful British female solo artist of all time.
Kim became a pop star pretty much by accident. The Wilde family had been in the music business for over 20 years. She grew up steeped in pop music and gained valuable studio experience in her teens singing on her father's sessions. After leaving Art College in 1980 her ambition was to work as a session singer. She figured there'd be more variety, and more actual singing. During her session singing she was spotted by Mickie Most who felt she had the looks of a star.
Her brother Ricky, was demoing tracks, so it was a natural progression for him to produce Kim. The first fruit of this recording was, "Kids In America", written by Marty and Ricky and Mickie Most loved it. So did everyone else! The single reached number two on the singles charts and captured the imagination of many millions of people throughout the world - both musically and in terms of the fresh young image Kim portrayed.
Many young girls would try to look like Kim - a great compliment. It was easy to relate to her and emulate her stylish simplicity, primarily because most ofher clothes came from Oxfam shops (Like St Vinnie's) and were therefore within the average girls spending capacity.
"It all happened very quickly and I didn't really have time to get really excited about it all", remembers Kim. "After "Kids" there was pressure to get another single done, get the album recorded, do lots of promotion all over the place. It never stopped, and it's never stropped since. really. But those first few years were some of the most fun I've ever had. I seemed to live on the road to and from Heathrow going to all these really wacky pop shows in Germany and it would always be with the same people - The Police, Tenpole Tudor, Sister Sledge. I'd hang around with Kirsty MacColl a lot because we were both dating people out of Tenpole Tudor and we'd have such a laugh. You'd get all these pop stars staying in the same hotel for two days causing absolute mayhem. ridiculous rock'n' roll behaviour. I wasn't really one of the lads but I did my fair share."
Any worries about Kim's staying power were banished by the top 20 success of a succession of singles - Chequered Love, Water On Glass, Cambodia, View From A Bridge, Love Blonde - her three RAK albums, Kim Wilde, Select and Catch As Catch Can. Two extensive European tours established Kim as a strong concert attraction throughout Europe. The crowning glory for this first phase of Kim's career came in 1983 when she won a BPI Award for best female vocalist, which represented an acceptance by her peers. In 1984 Kim signed a world-wide deal with MCA records. Her first LP for the new label "Teases & Dares" spawned the hit singles "The Second Time" and "Rage To Love", and 1986's "Another Step" included "You Keep Me Hanging On", a number one in Canada, Australia, and the US and a top five hit allover the world, along with the title track, a duet with Junior and the first of Kim's own compositions to be released as a single.
One important admirer of Kim's reworking of the Supremes' favourite was Michael Jackson and it was this, along with Kim's growing reputation and popularity after two more successful European tours in 1985 and 1986, that won her the support slot on Michael Jackson's 34 date European tour in the summer of 1988.
Her sixth LP, "Close", released that year yielded another five consecutive top 40 singles: Hey Mr Heartache, You Came, Never Trust A Stranger, Four Letter Word and Love In The Natural Way.
In 1990, following the release of the seventh album "Love Moves", Kim supported David Bowie in a string of European stadium dates. "The Michael Jackson and David Bowie tours were a great challenge for me and at first I wondered if it was beyond me to play in front of such enormous crowds. I had to learn a lot of things very quickly - about working the crowd, about working my voice, about pacing. But in the end it turned out to be amazing. We were doing basically a greatest hits package. It went down really well. The songs still sound really good, even the very early ones. There's so much pretentious, self-conscious, pompous pop music around. I'm actually really proud to get out there and sing songs like "Chequered Love", just simple fun enjoyable pop music.
"I think people have a healthier attitude these days towards shamelessly enjoying pop music. When I started at the beginning of the 80s punk music still had hold and there were all the style victims around, painfully desperate to be cool. Nowadays there seems to be a lot of bands saying 'we don't want to be hip and trendy, we just want to make great pop records'. That's my attitude. It's what I've always done, and what I'll always do in the future.
"A hit record is simply in the grooves - that's why people go out and buy it. You can forget the statements, forget what's hip and trendy and substitute it for what matters: a brilliant melody with good lyrics. Good pop music is where it's at, always has been, always will be."
33-year-old Kim Wilde was probably always destined to become a performer, and it wasn't just because of her movie star looks. It was also in the genes. Her father is journeyman rocker Marty Wilde. who belonged to the infamous Larry Parnes (of Parnes, Shillings and Pence fame) stable. Wilde and other imaginatively named gents like Billy Fury, Georgie Fame and Dickie Pride were to set the skies alight very briefly in the desperately rock staryed British Isles of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Wilde had been born with the much more common moniker of Smith, Marty and his son, and Kim's brother of course, Ricky came up with a bubbly, teen synth creation and had the blonde, who was at that time just leaving her teens herself, to sing the lead vocal. The girl with the heart-lifting pout lead us in chanting we were the kids in America, even if we most definitely weren't.
"Kids in America" was a hit world-wide and the start of a run that would find Kim 12 years later as Britain's biggest selling female artist. In that time. some of the more memorable successes that came from the family business (her mother, Joyce, a performer at one time herself, had become her manager) included Cambodia, View From A Bridge, Child Come Away, You Keep Me hanging On, You Came and Love Is Holy. She sits in the charts currently with a revival of Yvonne Elliman's disco delight, "If I Can't Have You".
After having spent so long in the public eye, it should come as no surprise that she is extremely confident in interview, displaying equal amounts of business savvy and natural charm. The night prior to this interview she had glided through an hour of inane, poorly researched questions at the hand of Jennifer Keyte, looking at ease, taking it all in her stride, and showing herself to be above all else professional.
You have many promotional tours to Australia, yet you've never toured here. Why?
I think it'sjust been a timing thing I probably should have toured more over the years. Promotional work has been the mainstay of my career and that's worked really well. Live gigs have been a relatively small part, but things like the Michael Jackson tour have been great.
You were on television last night, being asked more stupid questions that a person should have to bear, and yet you appeared to be very much at ease. You seem to have developed ways of sidestepping and avoiding personal questions, without the slightest hint of awkwardness.
That's true. I've developed talents in lots of other areas which see me through. I like working with the public and like the accessibility to the media. I like being in touch with what people have to say about me, I never wanted to be an arms length performer. And performing isn't all about standing up and singing, it is also about communicating like on the talk show last night.
What about singing to backing tapes on television?
Well I don't mind that. It's cost effective really. If I was as huge an artist as Madonna I'm sure my record company would be happy to pay for a live band to play with me.
When a compilation is released, it usually is a time for looking back. How do you view the last 13 years?
They've been turbulent. There have been times of extreme success and the opposite as well. See, I've had albums that were extremely successful and I've had albums that were extremely unsuccessful, but I have continued to make them, and that's been the most impol1ant thing. It's been a great learning process, and it's been hugely enjoyable, extremely rewarding and frequently very tough. It hasn't taken anything away from my life, it has greatly enriched it.
With both your father and your brother closely involved in your career, you appear to be the public face to a family business. Has there been any sibling rivalry?
No, not sibling rivalry. There have been moments for me when I have found it sornetimes I just felt the pressure of being the public face to a small corporation. At times I would resent their anonymity, when I was not able to have my own. There were times when I was envious that they were able to be involved in the whole thing. yet not have to carry it publicly.
Ricky has written, produced and played on nearly aU of your material, yet I don't imagine he'd get recognised anywhere.
That was his choice, and that's what has made him happy, and ultimately it was my choice to be a public personality. For the most part it has made me incredibly happy, but being a public personality is not as easy as it looks. You're constantly battling with your confidence, you're constantly being criticised. You do cop a fair bashing, but I'm no different from anyone in the public eye. People in the public eye get tom to shreds, it doesn't matter who they are or what they do.
I would have imagined that most of your press would be positive.
Most is. (There is a pause, as if she is reasoning with herself) Yeah, it is just a small part.
Was it a big decision to take on your father's stage name?
No, it was a real quick decision. Looking back, I thought it would have been a lot harder for me to make it. All the time there were no two ways about it It's a much better name than Smith, it has served my dad really well, and I was really proud to carry it forward. In many ways it was coming to terms with him as well. Up to that point, I'd been at school and to art college almost trying to deny he existed. In fact when I went to art college, I went to the Principal. who knew who I was and said. 'Look, I've been Marty Wilde's daughter all my life, and I want to have this one year at college as Kim Smith, and I don't want any reference made to who my dad is.' So for that year I was just an anonymous person. I didn't have anyone back to my home, and I didn't tell anyone who I was, and it was an interesting experience. But once I started making records, and because Marty was writing with Ricky. I just realized that there was no getting round it. And it is a great stage name. I wish it was our real name.
It would be pretty hard to find complaint with Smith wouldn't it?
I still write cheques as Smith and stuff. What I do like about it is that I can be a Smith when I get in the front door and put my bags down.
For songs that come from such a long period of time, The Singles Collection blends pretty well.
Yeah. They are all strong melodically, but obviously the earlier ones are very evocative of that time, the early 80s. Soundwise particularly, records have changed considerably. When I started making records, everyone was using the same sounds. Everyone was using synclavier and Fairlight. I think Ultravox, Visage, Duran Duran and me... Well we didn't sound terribly different. That's changed. Technology has expanded and acts now sound more individual, they can get a more unique sound for themselves.
Are there any of the old songs that are particularly important to you?
Kids in America, the first one because that started everything, and because it's a record that people still love. We did some gigs in Germany last year, and the crowds just went nuts when we played it.
It hasn't been your biggest hit but it is the one song most synonymous with you...
It is. People have a strong affection for the past, I know I do. You have a strong affection for songs that mark periods in your life. Kids in America seems to be a particularly poignant one for a lot of people.
Your biggest international success came with You Keep Me Hanging On. Was there much pressure on you to keep on doing covers?
Kind of. The Americans were very keen to get involved in my career at that time, but quite rightly, we were reluctant to let go of the reins, just in a bid to be successful there. We were happy with the way we were carrying on, and when they started telling us what to record and how to record it we backed off.
Well, how did you come to record 'If I can't have you'?
My sister-in-law, Mandy suggested it. She'd make a brilliant A&R girl. Rick and I had discussed the possibility of doing another cover to put on The Singles Collection, to help us get some profile for it, but we just couldn't find the right song.
We tried a diverse range. We tried one by Colin Blunstone called 'I don't believe in miracles', whcih sounded lovely, but not like a hit. We tried another Diana Ross song, but that sounded a little tired. There were some great songs but they just didn't suit my voice. That's the 'X' factor and it's a happy coincidence that this one did.
Selecting a cover is not as easy as it sounds, it's not just a matter of choosing a great song.