Date: 3 February 1996
Originally published in: Daily Mail Weekend Magazine (UK)
Written by: Louise France
Kim Wilde, the one-time pouting poppet of easy listening, used to complain she was followed everywhere by men. But that was before her emotional crisis, her weight problem and her career collapse. She talks to Louise France.
Kim Wilde, pop star, sex kitten and teenage pin-up, has just told you that she plans to ditch the music industry and become a landscape gardener. This is like hearing that Virginia Bottomley is running away with the circus. Leather-clad, dry-iced, big-lipped Kim Wilde… wearing wellies? Repotting geraniums?
And then you listen to her latest album, brought out some 15 years after her first hit, Kids In America, and it’s so middle-of-the-road you think she might be driving down the central reservation. Maybe she’s on to something with this gardening lark.
Not that she’s about to do her Percy Thrower imitation quite yet. You’ve watched her posing for the photo shoot – ‘I’m having a good hair day on the left-hand side’ – and she’s still the Queen of Candyfloss Rock. It’s just that the daughter of Fifties pop star Marty Wilde has been doing ‘a lot of thinking’ lately. She’s been wondering about the point of it all. ‘When I was 20 I had all this confidence. And then it went. Disappeared. I’d been growing up in public and I was being beaten up in public, too. The stuffing was knocked out of me.’
She’s like the girl-next-door who also happens to be drop-dead sexy. She eats an iced bun and smears her sticky fingers on her leather jeans. The face, when you look at it closely, is gorgeous but strangely almost too perfect to be a head turner. She’s talking about her depression five years ago with a breezy, I’ve-just-read-a-self-help-book gush. ‘I didn’t realise how desperately sad and miserable I could be. And I couldn’t see any end to it. I thought, “God, is this what Kim Wilde’s life is going to be like from now on?”
She’d had a few hit singles. She’d been voted Newcomer Of The Year. She’d supported Michael Jackson on tour. Then, suddenly, she was resorting to appearances on celebrity quiz shows. Publicity people talked about her being ‘big in Europe’ – not a good sign. She had so many ‘comeback’ albums no one knew whether she was coming or going. She put on a stone and a half in weight. She can remember the day when the paparazzi ran towards her – and then straight past to snap someone else.
‘I realised how fickle everything is. And I knew that I had to start feeling good about my life without the fame. When my career was going fine it was great. But when it started to go badly I felt lost. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning and wish I wasn’t waking up.’
Getting used to being plain old Kim Smith – her real name – was like going through ‘cold turkey’, she says. Fame was a ‘fix’ which she had to learn to live without. ‘When I was at my wits’ end I went to a therapist a couple of times. He gave me a prescription for some pills. I don’t know what they were – Prozac probably. I remember thinking, “I don’t like this”, and I left the pills behind in the chemist’s. I never went back to the therapist again. But for a while I went through hell.’
She’s never had a relationship that has lasted longer than three years. For two years she stepped out with the musician Calvin Hayes. The son of her producer, Mickie Most, he was the drummer in Johnny Hates Jazz. Everyone thought they might marry. But no. Then there was a student, Rupert Kenyon, who was the son of a millionaire businessman and ten years her junior. He caught her eye when he sang a rendition of Kids In America on a skiing holiday. They lasted a year. In 1994 she dated Chris Evans, the Radio 1 Breakfast Show presenter. Caught in a clinch on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, they went out for about six weeks.
This is the woman who every pubescent boy in the early Eighties had fantasies about. The woman who once complained that men would follow her when jogging. Yet currently, she’s single. Her mother, she says, has sex more often than she does. ‘Your romantic life is painful enough as it is but the added attention I had to deal with made me feel like a freak. I remember going to a photo session after the end of one affair. I looked really great that day. Beautiful. My hair had just been blonded up. I had fantastic make-up. My clothes were lovely. I looked like the girl who had it all. But I was so sad about being on my own again. I just burst out crying.
‘It was like a scene from a movie. Looking at this girl in the mirror who supposedly everyone loves – but in reality didn’t have anyone to love her. I’ve had some really lovely boyfriends but I’ve never had somebody to help me through.’
That day she did what she was brought up to do and pulled herself together – ‘Like a real trouper I carried on with the show.’ The words sound a tad too earnest but she was brought up to put a professional gloss on everything. Even her birth was announced in newspaper headlines: ‘She’s Marty’s Latest Hit’.
Her father was famous for wearing crepe soles and rockabilly jackets and having hits like Rubber Ball and Donna. Her mother was Joyce Baker of the singing Vernons Girls. They met on the Oh Boy! Television show and married when they were just 20 and 18.
Surprisingly, the Wilde household wasn’t a glitzy one. The family lived in a semi-detached house in Greenwich, south-east London, where Kim and her brother, Ricky, one year younger, had an upbringing she calls ‘All very basic, beans-on-toast kind of stuff. The most showbiz thing that ever happened was when Justin Hayward from The Moody Blues came round a few times and Lulu phoned up once.’
Towards the end of the Sixties the family moved to a thatched cottage in Hertfordshire. Kim, who looked like ‘a young Patsy Kensit’, was timid and quiet. Her brother Ricky was the ‘confident, loud, cheeky one’. She went to the local comprehensive as a teenage. ‘It was very ordinary. I’d catch the coach to school and fancy the boys. If I was lucky I’d get to kiss one of them.’
The first record she bought was by Gary Glitter. She’d dance to Mud and Slade in the lunch hour. By this time she was, she says, going through her ugly-duckling stage. ‘I was taller than the cute girls. None of the fashions seemed to suit me. I turned into a jeans’n’T-shirt girl and that stayed with me until I got famous when I became the jeans’n’-T-shirt heart-throb. But for a long time I was this girl who no one noticed very much.’
Her mother was the strict one. Her father, more lenient. But then, he could afford to be – he was often away on tour while her mother stayed at home to look after the children. When Kim was 17, her mother – who was in her late 30s – started trying to have another baby. It was a long, anguished business, as time and time again she miscarried. Kim pinpoints it as the peiod when she suddenly had to grow up. ‘Before then I had been going through a very fighty time with my mum. Dad was away a lot and she would get it in the ear. Then, when she was losing the babies, it was really tough. I tried to be as helpful as I could – keeping the house for Ricky and Dad – and not worrying her too much.’
Then her mother gave birth to a daughter who, at the insistence of the teenage Kim, was called Roxanne after a record by The Police. A year later Marty Junior was born. And then, at the age of 20, Kim had her first hit. As a child she had told girls in the playground that she would be a famous singer when she grew up. But the single was practically an accident. She was just doing backing vocals on Kids In America when everyone realised she’d be better off being lead singer. Her mother became her agent, her brother her song-writer and the Wilde family bandwagon started up again.
On countless occasions she talks about how close she is to her family but you wonder what it must be like to be quite so on top of one another. She’ll have none of it. “There have been times when I thought, “Oh God I wish they were just ordinary; that they didn’t have anything to do with my life”. There have been rough times but never any major fall-outs.’
Kim Wilde talks like a born-again evangelist when she describes her life now. She uses words like ‘Sorted’ and ‘positive’ and she doesn’t have any faults which she’s not ‘working on’. In March she’ll be making her stage musical debut in Pete Townsend’s award-winning revival of Tommy at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London. She says she gets up every day and feels an adventure is about to begin.
These days she talks so much about her new, positive outlook on life, that it sounds rather unreal. Happiness, it seems, is being able to take time off to go bungee jumping or backpacking around Thailand. She says things like ‘I like myself, I’m content with myself, I accept myself’ – all in one sentence.
But when you ask her about having children she admits to a deep longing which surprises you after all the cheerleader talk. She says she’d be ‘devastated’ if she didn’t have any kids. After all, she’s 35 and there’s no husband on the horizon.
Today she’s in the middle of a recording of the tacky game show Talking Telephone Numers in a television studio in Wembley. You watch her giving her teeth a quick lick in case there’s any stray lipstick on them and adjusting the black bra underneath the velvet jacket. Next week she’ll be launching her new record in a shopping centre in Sheffield. It’s not your idea of glamourous pop stardom. It’s probably not hers either. But as her assistant says, ‘Kim’s a professional’ and she’ll get on with it.
You can’t help but think – someone, please, pass Kim Smith the gardening gloves.