“I know how despair feels”

Kim Wilde sang one pop anthem after another in the Eighties. Hits like “Kids in America” and “You Keep Me Hangin ‘On” made her a star. But the singer felt like a prisoner. Now, at 51, she has thrown off all fetters. A conversation about education and new beginnings.

It’s like this, Kim Wilde, 51, comes to the interview directly from the Nymphenburg Palace Park. Watch out, because the British woman is not merely a pop star, but also graduated garden expert and as such very interested to see magnificent gardens. Unfortunately, this time there’s little time for sightseeing  and the park is just a backdrop for a photo shoot. In a short skirt and high heels, the blonde strutted around between confused looking Sunday strollers . Kim Wilde now sits in the Munich office of Plattenfi rma on a chair edge and worried whether her provocative appearance could have ruined the peaceful afternoon of some day trippers…

Ms Wilde, you have found again fun at the pop star’s existence after a break of many years. Did you miss the limelight?
I have not noticed that I’m missing something. My life was happy. But I sang “Kids in America” for the first time after a long while, the audience flipped. I realized how much joy this song and this Kim Wilde gave them. That was the point where I decided to leave this role as a pop star again in my life. Nena, with whom I had a comeback hit in 2003, has inspired me.  She has this amazing positive energy.

You seem to have an ambivalent attitude to the show business. What has driven you as a young girl to go on stage?
It was always about the singing for me. I loved it – it came so easily to me, even as a child with the hairbrush in front of the mirror. And, God, I stood there quite often … The walls of my room were plastered with musicians: Elton John, David Bowie. And now I am going to tour with them, it’s crazy.

How did you get into the business?
My father was a famous rock ‘n’ roller, everybody knew Marty Wilde. Mum sang with him in the background and also in a band, they were the first girl group in England. I already stood on stage at 15. And Ricky, my brother, has composed. Sometime he came in with a song, “Kids in America” was called. He asked me to sing on the demo tape. I thought: “Of course ,it’s easy money!”

Did you also sense partly, what would happen to you?
No. Suddenly it was all about just me. It was confusing, exhilarating. I felt invincible. At 20, you have this mistaken serving bravado. One lives by the motto: “Hey, why not?” It all seemed possible.

You were the sex symbol of the 80s, could choose any man you wanted. Who did you particularly rave about?
There was only one: Adam Ant, lead singer of Adam & the Ants. We knew each other through our videos and we were hot. I sat in hotel rooms in the evenings, thinking of him. Then our managers arranged a date. I’d never been so excited before one dinner. But not for long – we didn’t have much to say to one another. The best thing about the evening was actually the chocolate mousse, which Adam gave me.

How have you experienced this glamorous life as a young star?
It was great to me live on stage. Everything was easy, a lot of fun. I did not go much into the clubs, but I felt better with friends together. My girls were very important to me, just because I travelled a lot and sometimes I felt very lonely. Without Claire, my best friend I’ve known since I was eight, I would often be desperate – I need it like air to breathe. We still make regular small weekend trips: Claire and I and our children.

What do you mean: They would often desperate?
It simply became more and more difficult to motivate myself over the years. And at some point it was just a struggle. It was no longer just about standing on stage and sing, but above all to keep up with successful new artists. It also gave me made great fear that I was separated from reality.

Were you living in a parallel world?
Yes. I had to take care about anything, did not know how to issue a check, how much money I had in the account. I could not even check into a hotel. I lived in a bubble. But so it goes in this business to so many. Once I was on tour with Michael Jackson and thought: “God, if you have problems, then what problems does this man have”. He lacked any binding to normal life. Everyone could see that Michael was like a car heading for a wall. The question was not whether the crash would come, but just when.

Were you ever in danger of losing yourself – to drugs or something else?
This type of solution is not for me. Drugs, I always found boring. But around me there were several kids on the trip, I’ve witnessed up close, it was partially very hard. I think I already came into the world with an old soul and therefore I was immune to such temptations. But eventually I still had to pull the emergency brake.

What was the deciding factor?
When I lived alone for the first time, reality struck like a bombshell. I had to pay bills, get a grip on my life. And keep an eye on the competition. Well, the bubble had burst.

A hard time?
Very. Since then I know how despair feels. Around that time I began to wonder: Where exactly is the meaning of this life? I really want it all? And if so, for how long? These thoughts drove me around in my early thirties, it worked for me. I started thinking about life without Kim Wilde. And I hatched an escape plan.

And how did you free yourself?
I was offered a role in the musical “Tommy” at London’s West End. When the book was before me on the kitchen table, I cheered inwardly: “This is it – your discharge papers from the prison,” one of the most moving moments of my life. More than that, “Tommy” proved as fateful for my life.

In what way?
I got to know a colleague called Hal. Six months later we were married. Unbelievable, is not it? My life had taken a totally unexpected  turn. To marry and have children was a liberation that I felt almost physically. Before, I was circling around myself. To be there for someone else can make life much easier, instead of always having to think only of oneself.

How was it for your husband to fall in love with Kim Wilde?
I asked him that too. And his answer was: “Wonderful. Immediately upon our first meeting, I thought, “She’s so radiant, so positive,” “Funnily  enough, it happened to me with him as well!. I was blown away by the fearlessness with which he apparently went through life. I myself was full of complexes and thought: “If I stay, the man is not afraid of anything!” After the wedding, I then noticed that Hal has his weaknesses, and sometimes I must be strong for two. Something like this can destroy a relationship – or make it stronger. We have moved. From one day to the other from the pop star was a housewife. Kim Wilde was suddenly gone … and I wasn’t missing her one bit. It was wonderful to to take a break from it. I would even go so far to say: My life began really, when I was married and became a mother. It was more fulfilling to be Kim Fowler than to be Kim Wilde. I even stopped singing at the time.

Why not?
I suddenly had no more need for music. All I wanted to hear what I was, the breath of my babies. During pregnancy, I have also stopped coloring my hair. As a child I had beautiful blonde curls, which soon fell victim to the English weather. So I dyed for years. I Love Blonde – I’m born to be blonde! But for the children I was once like light brown.

Motherhood was a whole new lifestyle?
The children have just made me complete. Without them I would be much less, I draw my strength from them. It’s amazing how much personality from an early age children have. Especially in my daughter Rose, I recognize myself again: In her eleven year old body lives an old soul.

And your son Harry?
He is 13 and computer fixated teenager. With buddies he has a band, until recently they were called “ten volts.” But then she decided that ten is just not loud enough … I am lucky if he speaks three words with me. And cuddle with mom is no longer in the cards of course!

Doesn’t he think his mum is cool?
Far from it! Metallica are cool or Snoop Dogg. With him, we were recently at a concert. We had a lot of fun.

There you are!
Well, I hope that something Harry does not get confused. In the morning I say to him the chaos in his room has to be eliminated and wash your hair for heaven’s sake. And in the evening we go to Snoop Dogg and rock out… Many parents get tangled in it, to want to be friends with their children. I’m gladly a friend – but first of all I am her mother. I’ve since learned a lot from my parents.

Like what?
Well, they’ve always talked to me – and never passed me. I think if a mother often does, she has a problem.

In place of the music has come to your rescue another passion: you became a recognized expert in the garden. To whom do you owe your green thumb?
As a girl I had a strong connection to nature, I loved it, to dig into the earth. I think every child is a born gardener. When Hal and I started a family, the longing for a garden came up in me. I started to read books and make me my pretty little piece of land. To plant something and watch as it slowly grows, is fantastic. Such a garden teaches you patience, raise similar children. I was soon so thrilled that I am enrolled in a college for horticulture. A whole new world! It was as if a light went on above me.

What does your garden in London look like?
Beautiful: with fruit trees, willows, roses, vegetables. In between flower beds, bees, butterflies, our dog Jessica is raging around. It is a place that hums with fine feelings, heaven on earth!

How did your fellow students see you back then?
Some were just confused. But ultimately we combined all the same thing: a passion for plants. I had previously always been a rather poor student – and suddenly I got good grades. A great feeling!

You have discovered a whole new side to you?
Yes. I always thought I could not do it, no one would listen to me. And then I held presentations to people, even though my heart was pounding in my throat. After my diploma I even had a programme at the BBC in which we did makeovers of private gardens. Suddenly I was the chef of a team and I had to tell them where to go and what to do. And lo and behold: the gentle wife Kim had a stern headmaster in her! I’ve since learned a lot about myself.

Was your greatest success in music or in gardening?
When the garden I had designed with a friend at the famous “Chelsea Flower Show” was awarded prizes, it was one of the best days of my life! There are people who do gardening for ages and would do anything for this medal. And then in comes Madame Kim and just snaps the prize up… It has been my pleasure, to see some surprised faces there. Causing trouble was never my thing, I was always loving, maybe a little too sweet. But as of 50 one should be allowed to cause some turmoil.

Has this number marked a turning point?
I am no longer so critical to myself as in my thirties. Eventually, I have tried to lay aside this eternal doubt myself – and this has made my life much easier. I’ve accepted that I have more curves than Madonna, but am perhaps a more relaxed person. I’ve also decided that every single day in this roller coaster ride that life is to enjoy – even if it sometimes goes down. But best of all, I finally came to terms with Kim Wilde.

You talk about her as if she is a completely different person.
It occurred to me earlier. It was as if we were living in two different worlds, totally incompatible. But we have come at peace, Kim is a good friend for me now.

No worries that it could be as destructive as ever?
No. Because now I have control over my life, other than that was 20 years ago. Back then, she was the boss.

What do you do differently then?
I will no longer be taken over by Kim. But going on tour for two weeks – and then I’m again mother and wife. But these two weeks, I taste the full. I say to the children: “It’s all organized, the only thing what I ask you: take the laundry out of the dryer!” Then I’m going away and enjoy it to be the woman I once was too much. Two weeks in which I only have to put my ass on the stage must be fun and I have to worry about nothing. Someone else cooks, washes the dishes, I’m twittering in the evening hours from the hotel room. And then I come home, open the door of the dryer – well, and there is it then, the laundry. Nevertheless, that’s how it looks, my perfect life.