Date: 7 November 2001
Originally published in: The Journal (UK)
Written by: Jane Hall
Jane Hall spoke to Kim Wilde who is taking to the road again as part of an 80s revival tour.
A breathless voice answers the phone. It’s Kim Wilde, panting after running in from the garden with her two young children in tow. Rose, 18 months old, and elder brother Harry, three (he turns four in January), are in no mood to allow their mother some time to herself. As they vie for her attention, Kim apologises and puts the phone down. There is a rustling and Kim’s voice is just discernible encouraging the pair to go and play by themselves.
‘Sorry’, she says again, ‘I’ve bribed them with some sweets’. She then reveals how she and her husband, the actor Hal Fowler whom she met in 1995 when sh made her West End debut in the musical Tommy, started off with such good intentions when Harry was born. ‘But that only lasted a few days’, she says in the world-weary way of all mothers of young children. ‘We soon sank to offering them sweets and before yo uknow it you have every single children’s video that there is and are bunging them on the TV at the earliest opportunity.’
Don’t get the impression Kim has no time for Harry and Rose. She is, she says, absurdly content and is revelling in motherhood – even if she is less than enomoured of what she calls her ‘wobbly bits’. Kim, the slightly tomboyish, peroxided and pouting pop star whose biggest hits ‘Kids in America’, ‘Chequered love’ and ‘You keep me hangin’ on’ had a whole generation dancing the night away in the early 80s, has now devoted herself to motherhood and horticulture.
She has appeared as a guest designer on ITV’s ‘Better Gardens’ and has worked for the BBC. These days she’s happier discussing slug control than record sales. Yet tomorrow will see her taking to the stage for the first time in seven years when the eagerly awaited 80s nostalgia Here and Now Tour 2001 kicks off at Newcastle’s Telewest Arena. Joining her on stage will be fellow 80s chart toppers Paul Young, Nick Heyward, T’Pau, Curiosity killed the cat, Go West and Heaven 17. Each act will play a selection of their best known hits – and, yes, ‘Kids in America’ is included in her repertoire.
The 40-year-old is excited, if a little nervous, about the prospect of performing live in front of thousands of people after so many years away from the music limelight. Not least, she admits, because she is older, wiser, and, after two children, weightier than when she wa sat the height of her singing success. In fact, her extra pounds (weight rather than money) are preoccupying her more than she would like, to such an extent that she had taken up jogging in a bid to slim down for a pair of leather trousers she hopes will form part of her touring wardrobe. ‘I read that Kate Winslet lost four stone so she could get into a pair of leather pants. I tried mine on and couldn’t get them past mid-thigh so I thought I had better do something about it. I’m getting there.’
Kim’s trademark dress was leather trousers and faded, ripped jeans worn with boxy jackets. She shrieks with laughter when it’s suggested she could perhaps try hiding her extra inches under the Eighties fashion disaster, the puffball skirt. ‘Definitely not. I was nver a puffball skirt person, I was always more of a tomboy. I still am, and I will be doing what I did in the 80s when I appear on stage and wearing trousers.’ If she can do the zip up.
Concerned as she is to appear trim, Kim isn’t as obsessed with her weight as current female pop stars seen to be. ‘I never have worried about my figure the way girls do these days and women now seem bent on becoming sticks. It appalls me. There’s always been pressure within the pop world for women to be glamorous and slim, but it has got to quite horrendous levels now. I’m not just saying that because I’m a bit wobbly. I think it’s ridiculous. There is a big difference between wanting to shed a few pounds and be healthy and the sort of diet and exercise regime many women seem to indulge in these days.’
One suspects if Kim wasn’t about to embark on a seven date tour, the thought of losing weight would never have entered her head. Instead she would have happily continued the horticultural studies she took up when pregnant with Harry, and pottering around the extensive gardens that surround the converted 16th centruy barn she shares with her family in Hertfordshire. She says the ‘move from a glamorous life to a quieter one where I can crry my baby pounds and wade around in mud in my wellies without anyone bothering’ was a ‘revelation’ and emancipating.
So why is she putting herself under pressure with a tour and a new album of her greatest hits, aptly called ‘The very best of Kim Wilde’? Because, she says frankly: ‘I’m going to have a laugh and get paid good moeny’. She isn’t interested in resurrecting her pop career. The money will enable her to continue carving a career in horticulture and spend more time with her children. Having turned down previous offers to tour, she also believes there is now genuine interest in the 80s.
‘Everything is right’, she says. ‘There seems to be a real enthusiasm for that era that hasn’t really been there until the last year and when I was approached I felt I wanted to be par tof that celebration and stamp my mark on it a bit’. Doesn’t she feel peeved though, that for many Kim wilde will always be the 21-year-old who gave the world the catchy ‘Kids in America’? ‘I would resent it if my life was just ‘Kids in America’. But my life is more interesting. I’ve moved on and I haven’t been held back by it.’
Neither is she worried about snide remarks that come her way, firstly because she is the daughter of famous parents – the Brylcreemed 50s heart-throb Marty wilde and Joyce Baker, alumna of the 1960s song-and-dance troupe the Vernon Girls – and secondly because she is a pop star turned garden designer. Her transformation from Top of the Pops stalwart to TV gardening expert has raised the hackles of some in the horticultural fraternity. What, they demand to know, can Kim possibly know about gardening? Horticultural sex goddess, Charlie Dimmock, it has been observed, at least owns a nursery.
Kim says: ‘People have a certain opinion of me and I have always had to face the ‘Who does Kim Wilde think she is?’ brigade. People have accused me of trying to step into Charlie Dimmock’s shoes. But the thing is, the chance to work on TV came to me, not the other way around. I was at college when I was first approached by a production team from Granada and offered the chance to work on Carol Vordermna’s Better Gardens show. I felt I couldn’t turn it down. I thought if it worked then it could be an interesting departure for me. But I don’t claim to be anything I’m not. I’m still studying at college and I have exams to take. My belief is that you never stop learning’.
Once her brief return to music is over she is thinking of opening her on garden-related business. ‘It’s not something I want to drop into too deply straight away because of the children. I want to concentrate on college and Rose and Harry. I’m aware how precious this time is.’
Mummy has obviously been on the phone long enough for there is the background sound of excited children moving nearer. Time to go. Kim has plans to do a spot of gardening with the pair. ‘I encourage them to help. And they love it.’ Perhaps another famous Wilde dynasty is about to emerge – but one which this time blossoms into gardening experts rather than pop stars.