Kim Wilde: ‘Madonna pays a high price’

Once one of the most successful popsingers in the world, the now horticultural expert Kim Wilde recently gave a radio concert in Zürich, as a warm-up for her German tour which begins in Munich this Sunday. We met the sympathetic British woman, who has found peace with her life and career.

Kim Wilde sits in her dressing room, explains her manager, while he leads me through the already filled stage – filled with her musicians – on the Kaufleuten in Zurich. We find her there, on a chair before a great mirror, where all the make-up is also piled. Kim Wilde is already done with her make-up but doesn’t feel like hiding what a 46-year old popsinger brings with her in her luggage. She wears a t-shirt, which is swapped for a blouse and stage jacket later on, and black leather pants with the name ‘Wilde’ on the side. In 1981 she delivered “Kids in America” as a 20-year old, born in Chiswick, West-London. Even today Kim shares the stage with her brother Ricky, who wrote the song and still enjoys being cheered for his guitar work. Now Kim is a happy mother, she likes the music of Elliott Smith and Rufus Wainwright and from time to time she is back on the big stage herself.

Kim, I grew up with your music and that from Samantha Fox, and also the posters in ‘Bravo’ magazine. What are your recollections of that time?
Those were turbulent times, lots of travelling, also in Germany, France and Switzerland. I was 20 at the time and grew up in public while having very successful records. I was spending a lot of my time trying to stay sane in this crazy business. It wasn’t so hard because I had my family with me. It was great, I have great recollections of that time.

Didn’t it irritate you, that the press threw you in the same basket as postergirls like Samantha Fox?
Not really, we both did our own thing. I had to live with such comparisons at the time, but it didn’t bother me. It’s the nature of journalism, just to have a story (laughs). People did have their own view of things, bought millions of my records and that was great.

When Samantha Fox started boxing in the nineties, you learned about gardening and presented a TV series named ‘Garden Invaders’. How do you look at that turn in your career now?
I started with music when I was 20 and I started that when I was 36, when I got married and wanted to start my own family. I always felt that the music industry and raising a family would be quite incompatible with one another. Also I was quite fed up with the music industry, I had grown out of it and I had to do something new. We didn’t have a garden for our children, so we wanted to make something for them. I went back to college and studied horticulture. When I got into that it interested me deeply and when the TV-series also came through, I thought “Hey, maybe I’ve got a new job now!”. I felt that was important. I didn’t just want to retire, have children and do nothing more. So I found gardening. Many people turn to God, I turned to plants (laughs).

Did you force this TV thing?
No, they came to me and they didn’t pay very badly either. It simply fitted well. Also it kept me in shape. When you make a gardening programme, you really have to know what you are talking about. I was forced to get into the theme and find out about it. At the end the TV thing wasn’t much fun anymore and I began to write and to do more design.

You mentioned evenly the money as additional incentive for the TV-show. At the end of the 90’s, you were surely not dependent on it.
Now I was raised with a strict work moral, which cannot be agreed wirh resting yourself on your laurels and to put the feet up. It’s still like that up until today. I want to make money, in order to be able to pay things. That makes me contented, like probably most people.

In 2005 you won a gold medal with a garden you designed yourself from the Royal Horticultural Society. Is it more fun to win a medal or to perform live on a smoking stage?
Hmmm, it is both a lot of fun. How to compare? The day I won the medal is surely one of the most beautiful of my life. But life is not about gold medals and there are not just beautiful days, it’s all about what happens in between. The smoke on stage can be irritating, but besides that it’s great to stand before lots of people who are happy to see you. That gives a lot of energy. I have lived very well without the pop circus for some years and I would be able to do that for another ten years. At the moment I enjoy it.

Okay. Will you offer your book ‘Gartnern mit Kindern’ in the merchandise stand of your concerts?
(laughs) No, no merchandise. You can get it from good book stores and

On your new album is a new version of ‘Kids in America’ with Charlotte Hatherley. Is it a tribute to your own Punkrock roots?
Absolutely, but it’s also a tribute to her, because I’m a great fan of Charlotte. It was great to meet her. Originally she came to the studio to play guitar on the track, but then I surprised her by asking her to sing the track with me. I wasn’t very sure at the beginning if it would be a good idea to do this song again myself and also to do it alone. Together with Charlotte it made sense because she plays the song during her concerts. She once tried to write a “Kids in America” herself, and ended up recording a song called “Kim Wilde”, which was the reason for us to meet. I think our voices sound great together.

Are there more coincidence between the two of you?
I don’t think there are, but we get along great with one another. She is primarily guitarist and songwriter. I see her more as my little sister, because she is exactly the same age as Roxanne, my little sister.

The new songs “Forgive me” and “View from a bridge” are made with the modern ‘four-to-the-floor’-beats. Is it a sound you like personally, or was this the influence of the producer?
I love the song ‘Forgive me’, otherwise I wouldn’t have recorded it.

I wanted to ask about the German dance beats, which marks these two songs compared with the others.
Now, I think, I can take the liberty to take up also such Songs no? I find, at my age and in my position may take the liberty in everything.

The contact to Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, the producer of your record, happened through Nena, didn’t it?
Yes, I met him, as I promoted Nenas single. We conversed, understood us at first attempt and had then a long discussion whether and why there should be a new Kim Wilde album. First I was very sceptical, but gradually also I found that it would be a good idea. But I am very grateful. He did a fantastic job. I do not know whether I could have found anyone else with such form and passion.

Bananarama also tried a comeback last year. Are you still in contact with your old colleagues from way back when?
I don’t know the Bananas very well, we were never friends. Often we just didn’t meet one another. The last time was during an eighties concert (ca. 2001, ed.), they came to my dressing room and they were very drunk. Not that I mind, I have been in such a situation myself, mind you. But like I said, we were never friends. I like their music though.

In 1988 you had a highlight in your career when you supported Michael Jackson and performed in front of 100.000 people. What do you feel at such a moment?
It was overwhelming, but also very unsettling. There were moments when I thought I was in over my head. I know that shortly before the tour I spoke to my mother about not doing it at all. I was unsure, whether I could do it, if I would get out of it in one piece. In retrospect it was one of the highlights of my career and a lesson to overcome my anxieties. That has helped me several times since. When you do a comeback at 46, the same fears come into play.

Were you able to talk to Michael Jackson about it?
No. He was already too removed from real life at the time. And since then things have gone downhill for him. I can count myself lucky to have come out of this healthily.

Billboard Magazine recently stated that Madonna’s “Confessions on a dance floor” tour was the most successful tour of a solo female artist ever. You are among Madonna’s rolemodels and with that have also affected her career. Do you sometimes wish your career would have run still somewhat longer or still more successfully?
No. I am really very happy that it has turned out the way it has. It wouldn’t have fit my person. I am glad to go on the streets without bodyguards. I bring my children to school like any other parent, I get them back and I go to parents night. It is a high price, Madonna has to pay for her success and that I don’t like at all.

What would you be doing now if you had sold as many records in the nineties as in the eighties?
I have never thought about that. I think I would have liked it. It was great at the time and it still is now. Now I know that I can live without it as well anyway. Life goes on and there is still such a lot to do. I have no fear of anything these days.

Doesn’t sound like you’re planning your next album.
No, I don’t. I can imagine doing another one, but maybe things will head in a totally different direction entirely, like it has once already. But I do enjoy wearing leather pants with my name on them. It’s great.