“I don’t bake cakes”: pop singer Kim Wilde about combining child and career, gardening and rock ‘n’ roll

Mrs. Wilde, a famous German TV presenter recently stated that emancipation has failed, because child and career take too much toll on women…
That sounds familiar. What’s her name?

Eva Herman
Never heard of her. But the debate about the roles of women is currently being held in the UK too.

You are a mother of two, have retired from music for ten years, and now you are trying for a comeback. Do you agree that feminism didn’t bring you anything?
All these heated debates about the role of women go from one extreme to the other: either the woman should stay at home or she should be working. But there’s a lot of grey areas inbetween. And there’s not a lot of discussion about that. I don’t like to philosophise about women in general. There’s too much depending on personal circumstances.

What does that mean?
It means, that the modern marriages of the current day – taking care of childern and going to work – must be managed by both partners in a marriage. Only then can it work. The old credo ‘The woman stays at home, the man makes the money’ is really something of the past now. When I stopped being a pop singer and had children, I just found a different job, facilitating me to work from home.

You became a gardening expert, wrote columns for the Guardian and books about gardening.
It was a way for me to be there with my son and daughter. But it’s not a patented solution, other families sort it out their own way.

But in most families the woman still has to step down.
That’s too simple for me. It all comes down to how one defines oneself. A lot of women think they only become independent by having a career. That’s not right: you’re not characterised by what you do professionally, but also on how you balance job and family. It’s not bad to be ambitious, though. It’s great if you want more than just raising the kids. But you have to be prepared to pay a price – sometimes higher, sometimes lower. Child and career – that doesn’t always come easy.

When you sang “Kids in America” at 20, you were pretty sovereign when compared to other blondes like Samantha Fox. Were you really that self-aware?
Yes. My parents always gave me the feeling I could do anything. They have always supported me.

Your father was also successful as a popstar.
He knew what it’s all about. He taught me how to play the fame game. When you have a hit, it’s like having a joker in a cardgame. But somewhere you have to start all over again. I knew very early on, that I wouldn’t get a joker every time. I have encountered a lot of people in this business, that were broken by the fame. Some of them lost their minds, when no-one wanted to hear them anymore. I never broke down in showbusiness, because I could lock away the fame when I had it, keep it separated from my personality.

But when the success stopped in the 90s and your cd’s only sold minimally, you quit in your mid-30s.
Yes. After 16 years in the business it started to bore me. There were a lot of repeating movements, and I didn’t have as much fun anymore. I wanted to try something different, and did a part in “Tommy”. And there, in the theatre, I met my husband, an actor. Six months later we got married. He’s my twin spirit, someone with whom I can do anything. He changed me completely, and I left everything behind me. I took on his name, Fowler. In my passport it said Kim Fowler – I felt like a criminal.

A criminal?
Yes, like someone who took on a new identity, and leading a new life now. I wondered: who could this Kim Fowler be? I knew, who Kim Smith was, which is my real name, and I know Kim Wilde – everyone does. But this one?

You became a wife and mother.
I celebrate my tenth anniversary soon.

Congratulations! But wife and mother – that wasn’t enough for you obviously. You studied horticulture and became famous again. What attracted you to giving people tips about taking care of the lawn and rhodondendrons?
When I was pregnant with my son, I wanted to create a garden. I was always interested in plants, and so I started to study garden design. Then I wrote columns, books and got the offer to present programmes about the subject. Gardening was the new trend in the UK, it was like rock ‘n’ roll.

Gardening expert as full-time job. Did it complete you?
Surely it did. Because I wasn’t so much the focus of attention like the popstar Kim Wilde. The subject was more important than I was. That gave me some freedom: I was able to have brown hair, gain weight and take care of the children. A very normal existance.

How did you get family and work combined?
Because my husband supported me. He is an actor in musicals, and is home a lot. I couldn’t have done it without him. I know it’s a big luxury. My mother for instance got married at 19, and i was born the next year. She gave up her career to take care of her three children. She did like most of the women in her time. When my career started, she got in on it too. My mother took care of my publicity and concerts. But she sacrificed her youth for her family.

And you decided it would be different for yourself?
Yes. As a child I always noticed how frustrated my mother was, because she had more potential. My mother was worried about me. It’s too late to have children, she always said. At one point, she even proposed to have my eggs frozen for artificial insemination. I was stunned: “What do you mean? I’m only 36!” But then I worried myself: what would happen if I never found a man? But I never had any maternal instincts. I became a mother after I got tired of my career.

Now you sing again. In your new song ‘Perfect girl’ the lyric goes: ‘You need a perfect girl to live inside your perfect world. You know it’s not me.’
You see, I am a mother, was a gardener for ten years. But I don’t bake cakes or don’t do coffee with other mums. It’s not my thing. I am perfect for my husband – “imperfect” in a perfect way. I have my own mind and always turn up late for parents night in the school my kids go to. Often I don’t even have time for it, and then my husband has to go.

But you seemed to have gotten your previous job and family in order. So why return to the stress of the music business?
Because I feel like colouring my hair blonde again. I want to sing and have fun, I want to show the other side of me again. I can’t be boxed in. A few friends said: “Kim, you are 45, have two children, were a gardener for ten years and now you made a new version of ‘Kids in America’. What’s that about?” They seem to have a defined opinion of how I should be. It just isn’t me.

Isn’t it very hard, to go back to the youth-obsessed musicbusiness at 46, when you were out of it for ten years?
I admit: it is a bit surreal, to stand in “The Dome” next to 20 year old musicians. Strangely enough I didn’t feel out of place. With my experience you don’t feel the kind of pressure younger musicians feel, because they still have to prove themselves. Nena’s producer convinced me to try again. She had re-recorded her old songs with a lot of success. Our duet ‘Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime’ three years ago inspired me to try it for myself.

Is the pop business still dominated by men or has that changed?
I was surprised when I found out that the record company EMI in Germany is now led by a woman. That’s a big thing.

That’s not the rule, though, is it?
There are many women in the music industry. Not just the musicians, but also managers. Even your controversial TV presenter should know that a lot has changed in the sense of equal rights.

In all the articles about your comeback you are still described as a blonde sex bomb. Doesn’t that get on your nerves?
As a woman I can understand that we all have different faces. There is a book, which I read to my children, called ‘My multicoloured days’. Often I am brown and slow, it says in there, sometimes happy and pink, than I jump and think of nothing. Being a blonde popstar and a brown-haired gardener, that’s freedom for me. To quote Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way”.