The eighties popstrel is hanging up her trowel to go back on the road, says Simon Price
"What do unemployed pop stars do?" ponders Kim Wilde on an unseasonably sunny afternoon in Hertfordshire. "That question haunted me throughout the Eighties." She's lovingly tending to a basket of what, to my ignorant eyes, are giant dandelions but to Wilde are something far more exotic. And the answer to her question, in Wilde's case at least, is lovingly tending to baskets of giant dandelions. For money. On telly.
She knows her stuff, does Kim. She's studying Gardening History at the local college. Last year she designed 20 gardens, this year she's done 25, and her own, of course, is immaculate. To the outside observer, however, seeing Kim Wilde - once the bee-stung lipped, bottle blonde icon of New Wave pop - presenting Channel 4's Better Gardens in wellies and a sweatshirt was a surreal experience.
"I like that!" she cackles. "It was so emancipating. I was getting fat, and having babies, and not doing anything to my hair, and sweating a lot... I've walked into houses where it's obvious that the husband had a thing about me at some point in the Eighties. And I turn up looking like death warmed up, and end up looking a whole lot worse, and you can see all their illusions - the slim figure, the lips, the hair - going out of the window. It appeals to my sense of humour!"
It's just as well that she has one. Prior to the gardening shows, the last time most of us saw Kim Wilde on a TV screen was as one of Chris Morris's celebrity victims on The Day Today. He'd managed to convince her that the Metropolitan Police were putting car clamps on the homeless. (At the very mention of this, she dissolves into fits of giggles.)
For most of the last decade, Wilde has been happily retired from pop. "My career wasn't exactly steaming along," she admits. "It wasn't a brave decision to step out of pop music. It's not as if I'd just had a number one then said 'Bye, everybody!' There weren't many offers. I think people thought 'Kim's gone off to grow her onions'."
Twenty years ago, it's no exaggeration to say that Kim Wilde was the nation's sweetheart. "I never took it seriously," she claims. "It's a tool of the trade. My hair already looked like that - my art teacher said it was the most creative thing I'd done all year at college - so I was kind of ready-made."
Wilde's best singles - "View From A Bridge", "Chequered Love", "Cambodia" - were miniature melodramas, like Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected rendered into three-minute pop songs.
Eventually, she started writing her own songs. "I felt like I was a pop star by proxy, and I had to start earning laurels. I was a big admirer of the great songwriters - Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell - and it came as a great disappointment that I wasn't as good as them." She had mixed success. In 1983, Wilde was voted Best Female at the Brits, but her next single and album failed to make the top 40.
She was back in the top 10 with a run of hits in the late Eighties, but everyone's favourite remains her debut "Kids In America". Given that she was born plain Kim Smith in Chiswick, it was quite a feat of method acting. "I remember going to discos, and people having a go at me: 'You're not American!' I didn't question it much. But 'Kids In Birmingham' didn't have the same ring to it..."
Next week sees the start of an Eighties revival tour. Wilde can hardly wait. "I want to go out and look as foxy as I can. I'll do my damnedest to surprise them all. And surprise myself! I might even go to the hairdressers and have some blonde put in my hair. If there's time..."
'The Very Best of Kim Wilde' (EMI) is released tomorrow. Here & Now UK tour: Thurs to 1 Dec (020 7344 4040)