Anyone who thinks life begins to wind down past 50 need only look at the reinvention of Eighties pop star Kim Wilde, who is making a comeback after an unusual incident...
Last Christmas Kim Wilde made a bit of a spectacle of herself on a commuter train home from a festive party in London. Sporting reindeer antlers and rather unsteady on her feet, the Eighties pop legend serenaded fellow passengers with Kids in America, her hit single of 30-plus years ago. Accompanied by her brother on guitar and pausing only to adjust her antlers, she lurched into Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in a more-than-merry fashion.
That might have been merelya jolly scene on a train and a bit of local gossip, perhaps, but in the modern way one of her audience captured it on their phone and posted the ensuing video on YouTube. Watching it is hilarious and toe-curling at the same time, but for Kim it was an embarrassing nightmare. She was mortified.
‘I just thought, “Oh my God, I look like a tragic Hertfordshire housewife, an Eighties has-been,”’ she says. ‘Pathetic. I saw all the worst aspects of it.’ Kim, who was voted Best British Female Singer in 1983 and had huge international success selling millions of records, now has her own radio show every Sunday on Magic FM, and it was at its Christmas party that the damage was done: ‘Really innocent-looking lychee vodka cocktails,’ she admits.
But what she assumed would have a negative effect on her career – ‘not that it bothered me that much, my career isn’t as important as it used to be’ – in reality had exactly the opposite. She got a barrage of positive comments on Twitter about how fantastic it was: ‘So amazing. I thought, “Are we reading from the same book?” But I started to realise it might not be such a bad thing.’
Then the number of people watching the video on YouTube started to rocket. ‘I was in the bath and my husband was shouting out the numbers as they were going up, “200, 300, 400...” I thought, “You’re joking!”’ And two million hits later, Kim laughs: ‘I realised the public are a lovely lot. They seem to have a really nice place in their hearts for me.
‘My early career was about being single and glamorous, things that I associate with being young. I thought they only wanted me in that way. But they seem to accept that I’m 53 and married, with a couple of kids; I’m who I am now. The fact that they’ll take me at 53 as much as when I was 23 has done wonders for my confidence. It makes me very happy.’
Sitting in London’s Groucho Club dressed in black, randomly sprinkled with glitter from a German TV show the night before, Kim still looks like a member of pop royalty, despite the fact that she has carved out a new career as a gardening expert and author in the years since marrying actor Hal Fowler in 1996, even winning a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show nearly a decade later: ‘It still amazes me,’ she says.
But this groundswell of support has resulted in a new album: Wilde Winter Songbook is part original, part seasonal classic songs. She’s also announced three solo concerts in the UK, the first for more than 25 years: ‘I’ve done a lot of Eighties revival stuff alongside people such as ABC, Human League and Belinda Carlisle, but not something of my own.’ She has a big following in Europe and has just returned from Australia where she played gigs with Nik Kershaw.
‘But the train incident has given me confidence to say, “Here I am”. It’s a little scary, but I’ve decided to seize the moment.’ Kim, who is the daughter of Fifties pop star Marty Wilde, now 74, toured in her heyday with both David Bowie and Michael Jackson: ‘David was a lovely, down-to-earth London bloke, but Michael was in the proverbial ivory tower, which seemed like a lonely place. I remember thinking, “Gosh, if that’s what huge success and talent brings, is it worth it, to be so detached from reality and isolated?”
‘Being famous was never a big deal for me,’ she says. ‘I just loved having a career and singing and getting paid for it. When Madonna came along, I realised I didn’t have that same ruthless ambition. On the other hand she’s paid a huge price in her private life, like all really famous people.’ Kim stopped recording when, in the mid-nineties, she won a role in The Who musical Tommy.
‘I have no regrets. I’ve had a taste of everything that’s great about being a singer and a famous person without that. I think I got a really good deal.’
It was in Tommy that she met Hal. ‘Within six months we were married,’ she says. Two children followed: Harry, now 15, and Rose, 13. Living in rural Hertfordshire her interest in gardening flourished.
She found herself presenting gardening programmes on TV. ‘Everyone assumes that I got married, had kids, lived happily ever after and grew carrots,’ she says ruefully. ‘Yes, I did that, but it was far more turbulent than you could ever imagine. Two small children, a new career and expectations often beyond me. Exhausting. It took its toll on me physically. I didn’t look after myself very well, and put on weight. For two years I let it overwhelm me instead of taking control. Eventually I got a personal trainer and got my act together.’
Now Kim exudes the glamour of a classic Hollywood star (‘having Adele and Nigella around makes me feel a whole lot better about having a curvier, fuller figure’), and says she has never felt happier. ‘I’ve always accepted the ageing process,’ she says. ‘I like it. I like what it’s done to my brain. I’m really at peace with what’s going on in my head.
‘This is the best part of my life now. I could do without some of the physical symptoms of the process and I moan a bit, but I’m really healthy and emotionally I’m in a really great place. I love every day. Getting up, I look forward to it. I’m just really contented with our life.’
She credits Hal, who is currently in The Light Princess at the National Theatre. ‘It’s hugely down to him,’ she says, beaming. ‘He’s creative and funny; we spend a lot of time laughing. Life is always challenging and exciting around him.’ Hal writes poetry, and sings and duets with her on one album track. ‘He’s clever with words. And he can fix anything.’ She grins. ‘There’s something deeply sexy about someone who can fix things in the house. I find it a big turn-on!’ She giggles.‘I know that come the apocalypse he’d get us through.
‘I’m very lucky. It’s wonderful to go through life with someone else. Not everyone gets to do that, you realise, as years go by and people split up. People give up too quickly when they hit choppy waters. Everyone has them, and we got through them.
‘I knew when we married it was for life, it was a kind of done deal. I had thrown my lot in with him and he with me. So the times when you think, “Oh my God, you’re driving me crazy,” and he thinks the same, it’s inconceivable that we do anything other than get through it. We’ve never had anything really destructive, because at the end of the day we really love each other. The times that have tested us have proved that to us. And knowing that is comforting, it gives you a lot of strength. He’s given me wings, he really has.’
A lovely woman and very much a family girl, Kim still takes advice from her dad, with whom she also duets. ‘“Don’t cut your hair – it looks great long,” he told me recently! He spends a lot of time with the kids, playing music in his den.’ She adds proudly, ‘Rose writes great songs, sings like a bird and plays really good piano and guitar. And Harry is rocking out with his band. He’s a fantastic lead guitarist, better than any of us. Harry Fowler is going to be the rock god in the family.’ She beams: ‘Sorry, talking like a mum now!’
The family will be out in force to support her at her live gigs, which end in London the Saturday before Christmas: ‘I have such a passion for Christmas, I think I can bring a lot of joy to the stage. And share the love like we did on the train!’ She laughs. ‘Not quite, perhaps. I never drink before a gig.
‘Getting drunk in public is not something I would condone,’ she says. ‘It’s not the most dignified way to be. I know I got legless, but I didn’t mean any harm, I was just trying to share the Christmas spirit. And look what has come from it!’
How will she be travelling home after the Shepherd’s Bush gig? By train? She puts her head back and roars with laughter: ‘It’s tempting, really tempting,’ she says. And then there’s a mischievous smile. ‘Don’t think we’re not thinking about it!’