From pop stardom to potting plants: meet the female artist with the most 80s chart hits : Kim Wilde

The most successful British female solo artist of the 1980s got her breakthrough hit early, went on to support Michael Jackson on his Bad tour, and then disappeared for a while to do people’s gardens. Just a few of the reasons why there’s only one Kim Wilde…

Since the 1980s, it’s fair to say that Kim Wilde has had one of the more unusual career progressions. While she’s still recording and performing music to both a new generation of followers and a solid international fanbase, she’s just as famous now for her passion for gardening. If you’d told that to the teenage crowd yelling the words to ‘Kids in America’ at the top of thei lungs some 25 years previously, they’d have thought you were completely mad.

But then, unlike someone such as Shakin’ Stevens, who had to wait for their break, Kim Wilde got her musical moment very early on. She was just 20 years old when she inked a deal with RAK Records, and her first hit single would follow the year after. Its name? ‘Kids in America’, a song that still feels as popular now as it was when it shot its way up to number two in the UK back then (as well as breaking into the top fives of equivalent charts in many other countries). To many, it’s the headline song of Wilde’s career, although it would, many years later, be a cover version of a different song that finally brought her American success.

Hit Machine

Before that, though, the 80s would serve up so many more hits. In the same year as ‘Kids in America’, ‘Water on glass’ hit number four, ‘Chequered Love’ reached 11 and Cambodia got to the 12th spot. The latter would, however, hit number one across Europe, where Wilde retains a strong following to this day. ‘View From A Bridge’, which came out the following year, followed a similar pattern: it peaked at number 16 in the UK charts, but was a top ten hit in many other places. A Brit Award also followed for Kim Wilde in 1983.

All the time while her singles were selling, Wilde was enjoying album successes as well. Her first two LPs, ‘Kim Wilde’ (1981) and ‘Select’ (1982) both shifted over a million copies, although sales of her two follow-ups, ‘Catch As Catch Can’ (1983) and ‘Teases & Dares’ (1984) both stuttered. In fact, after the release of the former she switches record companies. It’d still be a few years before she hit big again, though, yet it proved to be worth the wait.

‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, in 1986, stormed its way to number two in the UK charts, and, crucially, gave her a coveted number-one spot on the American billboard chart – one of the small number of female British artists who’s achieve the feat in the past few decades. A cover of the Supremes hit, it remains one of Wilde’s most popular tracks.

The following year, she united with Mel Smith for the Christmas record ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’, which peaked at number three (and, as is the norm with 80s Christmas songs, can be found on a loop on umpteen music channels seemingly from the star tof November every year), and in 1988 her album ‘Close’ ratcheted up two million sales. She hadn’t even hit 30 by this point.

Three further top-ten hits followed (including the international success ‘You Came’) yet while she’d be recording for most of the 90s, she never hit the sae chart heights again. Incredibly, for an artist who sold so many records in the 1980s, she never topped the UK charts, although a fine indicator of her popularity was when she was chosen to open concerts for Michael Jackson (1988) and David Bowie (1990).

Family Ties

Wilde’s success though isn’t all that surprising when you consider her family heritage. Her father, Marty, had an assortment of top ten hits himself in the 1950s and early 60s, and is still a regular performer to this day (he released a greatest hits album of his own in 2007, and in recent times had a slot on Radio 2). He also penned some of his daughter’s hits, and has always been involved in her musical career. Kim’s brother Ricki was releasing singles before his sister, and it’s believed that this eventually led to the discovery of Kim’s musical talent, as she was contributing backing voclas to his music (she originally, it was reported, had planned to follow her interest in paint and design!). Ricki’s releases never enjoyed he level of success Kim had, and instead he started writing and producing music for her (a role he still fulfills). Her mother too joined in the family business, as she became Kim’s manager.

It was in 1996 when Kim Wilde stopped recording material for family ties of her own. She had met her husband-to-be while co-starring in a West End production o the musical ‘Tommy’, and the pair soon married. Subsequent to that, she married and started a family of her own, and eventually picked up her famed interest in horticulture that has led to television work and a couple of books.

Thirsting For Music

Yet after she performed on stage again in 2001 as part of an Abba tribute act, it seems that Kim Wilde got the performing bug all over again. She joined the Here And Now tours (more on those on the far left of the page), and started recording new music. That said, most of her more recent musical work has been on the European market, with UK releases thin on the ground.

And yet Kim Wilde remains, rightly, one of the most popular musical acts that the 80s produced. What’s more, because she’s proven to be a success in moer than one discipline, her career – and remember, she’s not even 50 – still has many turns to go. Will she crack the UK charts in quite the same way ever again? Probably not. But as she said when she was interviewed right at the start of her musical journey, “I haven’t got that driving force which makes a lot of pop stars successful: a deprived background. But my own driving force is just as potent.”
So it has proved to be.

Did you know?

Kim Wilde has joined forces with several other artists for joint projects. She’s doing backing vocals for Johnny Hates Jazz, dueted with Johnny Hallyday and scored a huge European hit in 2003 when she sang with Nena, of ’99 Red balloons’ fame.

In 1998, Kim Wilde finished off an album that, for reasons that at the time of writing still weren’t entirely clear, is yet to see the light of day. It’s believed that disagreements over who wants what may form part of the problem.

In France, Kim Wilde is known as the Brigitte Bardot of rock.

Kim holds a world record – but in the field of gardening! It’s for replanting a large tree from one place to another. Sadly, the tree has since blown down.

The winner of 1986’s Eurovision Song Contest, Sandra Caldarone, reportedly switched her surname to Kim in tribute to Kim Wilde.

‘The Kids in America’ has turned up in a few places. It’s made it into a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ videogame, for instance, and also to the soundtrack for, er, ‘Digimon’.

Kim Wilde picked up her love for gardening when she was pregnant with her first child. She presented a couple of series of ‘Garden invaders’ for BBC, on top of the books that she wrote on the subject.

‘Kids in America’ reportedly took Ricki Wilde around half an hour to write.

Here And Now

Kim Wilde is one of a series of artists who has enjoyed a second wind of sorts as part of the Here And Now 80s revival concerts that have been touring in recent years. She’s joined acts such as T’Pau’s Carol Decker, Paul Young, Heaven 17 (with their legendary 80s track ‘Temptation’), Belinda Carlisle, Five Star, Howard Jones and many more in playing once more in front of packed houses. She’s done several of these tours, and subsequently picked her music recording career back up.