Going Wilde in the garden

Date
Published in
Daily Mirror (UK)
Written by
Sally Brockway

How Kim Wilde turned her back on singing and found happiness being a mum and as TV's new gardening goddess.

She was the gorgeous, blonde pop sensation of the 1980s, but these days Kim Wilde  has turned her back on stiletto heels and figure-hugging black Lycra in favour of practical wellies and muddy jeans in her new role as a TV gardener.

"Glamour was a tool of the trade - I don't need it any more. It's not half as handy as a hoe is in this business," says Kim, 40, with a laugh. Not that she looks any less attractive these days. On the contrary, her curvier figure, mousy hair and more natural look suit her new Earth Mother image down to the ground. She's still got cheek bones to die for and fabulous skin. What's more, there's something that wasn't there in her pop heyday - a distinct glow of happiness.

"I'm more fulfilled now than I have ever been," beams Kim. "Don't get me wrong, being a popstar was great. All that globe-trotting, singing, writing songs, touring, the hotels - I loved it when it was happening to me, but there came a point where I thought, 'I need to do something a bit more challenging'."

That something turned out to be a flourishing career as a garden designer combined with motherhood. Last year, Kim worked on ITV's Better Gardens with Carol Vorderman and now she is one of the team on Garden Invaders. The latter is BBC1's new daytime show where a group of experts transform gardens against the clock while the owners battle to win extras such as favourite plants or pebbles. Kim will also be reporting from this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Meanwhile, away from the cameras, she is married to actor Hal Fowler and is mum to their children Harry, three, and 16-month-old Rose Elizabeth.

Kim's life started its amazing transformation when she met Hal in January 1996, at rehearsals for the West End musical, Tommy. The couple hit it off straight away and married in September after a whirlwind romance. In the past, she had dated Johnny Hates Jazz drummer Calvin Hayes for two years, millionaire's son Rupert Kenyon for a year, and Chris Evans for just six weeks, but Kim had begun to believe she would never find lasting happiness with someone special.

"For years, my relationships had gone wrong and I worried about whether I'd meet the right person," she says. "I knew something had to change. You have to ask, 'Is the situation I'm in something to do with my attitude?' I realised there was no point in worrying about things because all it did was make me live in grief. I knew I had to try something else and, just before I met Hal, I was feeling positive about my life. I was so ready to meet him."

Hal who, at 33, is seven years Kim's junior, was keen to settle down and have kids. They had their first child within 18 months of getting hitched.

"We both wanted the same things at the same time and in the same way," she says. "We realised very quickly that we wanted to spend our lives together. It was the most romantic thing that's ever happened to me and it's just got better ever since."

The gardening side of things was a hobby that just kept on growing. With Hal's help, Kim landscaped and redesigned the garden at their converted barn in Caldecote, Hertfordshire. She enjoyed the experience so much that she enrolled at the nearby Capel Manor Horticultural School to learn more about gardening skills and plants.

"It wasn't a new thing," she explains. "I've always been in love with the outdoors and when I was singing, gardening was my therapy. I felt so cut off from life, spending all my time in hotels and airport lounges, and gardening was my way of reconnecting.

"After doing our garden at home, I was hungry to learn more and decided to go to college. I was pregnant with Harry, so it was an ideal time to put my feet up and do some of the things I'd been meaning to do for years. I didn't know what it would lead to and I was both shocked and thrilled when Better Gardens took me on."

The timing couldn't have been better. Kim had planned to slow down once she had children, meanwhile Harry's arrival coincided with one of her favourite albums, Now And Forever, proving to be a commercial flop.

"I was open-minded and wanted to keep my options open, but I couldn't turn down the chance of plunging myself into gardening," she says. "Although I had no idea what would happen after Better Gardens - it was in the lap of the gods.

"At first it felt strange. Suddenly, I wasn't a recording artist any more, I was a mum who does a gardening programme and writes articles for magazines. It felt like a natural progression, though. As I always said, I didn't want to be reliant on my pop career in my forties and fifties. What I'm doing now is just as satisfying creatively and it's more compatible to family life, which is my priority now."

As well as wading through gardening books in her spare time, Kim is currently studying for a City & Guilds qualification in Planting And Plant Design and now sees gardening as a full-time career.

"What I'm doing now is paving my way for the future because once the children are at school, I can slot into the job full-time," says Kim. "At the moment, I work part-time and will continue to until the kids are at school because I don't want to miss out on their early years. I'm lucky because, being an actor, Hal can take time off to look after them when I'm filming. Fortunately, I've never been away from them for long - I'd hate that."

Hal stepped in when Kim filmed Garden Invaders and he had his hands full as the couple's daughter Rose was only six months old at the time.

"It was so hard leaving her and I felt incredibly tired," recalls Kim. "Not only that, I looked like a woman who had not long given birth. It was worth it though, as I really enjoyed the show. It was such a challenge, as most of the gardens we did were in a right state when we got there."

Although she sees her future in gardening, Kim still loves to sing and had a whale of a time recently when she performed some of her old hits at a concert in aid of a local charity.

"I was so overwhelmed by the warmth people had for me," she recalls with a smile. "I sang Kids In America and all the old favourites. It was great fun, but I found that I couldn't walk in high heels any more. I'm more used to wellies these days...

"Of course, I like to look cute and foxy for Hal, but I no longer spend half my time battling to stay at eight stone. I put on about two and a half stone during my pregnancy with Rose and I haven't lost as much of it as I'd like. I'm not that bothered about it as I figure I've had loads of great pictures taken of me in the past, so it all balances out.

"As for my hair, it was in a terrible mess after I had Harry, so I decided to go back to my natural colour, which is mouse. It's true what they say, blondes do have more fun, but it depends on what you call fun. My kind of fun, you can have with any colour hair!"

Garden Invaders, Monday-Friday, BBC1, 11am.