Date: 1 December 2013
Originally published in: Choice (UK)
Written by: Nicki Household
Kim Wilde arrives at Soho’s Groucho Club looking glamorous in a figure-hugging black cocktail dress, her blonde hair fashionably messy-chic, her jewellery big and bold. It’s only a midweek afternoon, but she’s radiating her own brand of Christmas sparkle.
The sultry pop star of the Eighties has plenty to celebrate because she’s just released her first new album in the UK for over a decade. Wilde Winter Songbook includes seasonal classics as well as songs she’s written herself, and there are duets with fellow Eighties icons Rick Astley and Nik Kershaw – and even her dad, the legendary Marty Wilde.
She’s also very excited that Universal has just released a re-mastered, repackaged collectors’ edition of her biggest selling album Close, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. “I’ve had a huge input into that”, she says delightedly. “It includes photos from my personal collection and I’ve written a lot of the notes.”
To cap it all, Kim is performing her own live show, ‘Kim Wilde’s Christmas Party’, in Bristol, Birmingham and London’s Shepherds Bush Empire in the week before Christmas. Incredibly, the three concerts are her first UK solo dates since 1986, although she’s long een a favourite at Eighties-themed festivals and has a big following in Germany and Australia. “The UK shows won’t be as daunting as they sound because I’ve been touring nonstop with my band for the last ten years so we’re a really well-oiled machine”, she explains. “My brother Ricky is our musical director and rhythm guitarist and his daughter Scarlet is my backing vocalist – there’s a lot of us making music in my family!” Kim’s first hit single Kids in America was co-written by Ricky and Marty.
The shows will be as Christmassy as she can make them. “There’ll be snow, lots of snow, and I’ve persuaded some of my Eighties pals to take part with the promise of mince pies and sherry – and I’m certainly going to grab my dad and get him out there!”
With Marty for a father and Joyce Baker of the Vernons Girls for a mother (the couple have been married since 1959), Kim grew up immersed in the music business. Marty was still at the height of his fame when Kim was born in 1960, and during the early years of her life she didn’t see as much of him as she would have liked.
“He was away a lot, but I always knew he loved us unconditionally and that’s the most important thing. People say you have to put in a lot of time with your kids, but it’s even more important to make them feel they mean the world to you. I was never in any doubt that my dad worshipped us. He used to write us lullabies and playful songs which made us feel very special.”
Her brother Ricky arrived when Kim was just one, and then there was a 17-year gap (due to a heart-breaking succession of miscarriages) before her younger sister Roxanne came along in 1979, followed by Marty Junior in 1983.
Although born in Chiswick, Kim spnt most of her young childhood in Dulwich. Then, when she was eight or nine, the family moved to rural Hertforshire. “Naming no names, but a lot of the money Dad made as a rock ‘n roller disappeared into other people’s pockets”, she says. “It was actually his success as a songwriter, writing hits for Lulu, Status Quo and The Casuals, that allowed us to get out of London to this idyllic thatched cottage in Hertfordshire – and mum and dad are still there 40-odd years on!”
Kim always knew that she wanted to be a singer. As a little girl she used to watch her father from the wings and was overwhelmed with admiration. “It’s amazing to see your own dad bringing joy and laughter and even tears to the eyes of the people watching him. I was really impressed by my dad as a live artist.” As a teenager, she sometimes accompanied him on tour, singing backing vocals with her mother.
Yet she says Marty didn’t particularly encourage her to think of singing as a career. “He thought the business was a bit of a lonely place for a woman. He’d seen a few fall by the wayside and he didn’t want me to end up in some seedy nightclub. Remember, he was one of the first British pop stars and was surrounded by the first casualties. But by the time he and Ricky started writing songs for me, thing had changed dramatically for women.”
After leaving school, Kim went to art college for a year. “I still wanted a career in music”, she says, “But I really loved painting, too, and I thought that if I went to art school I’d meet other students who were musicians and we could form a band.”
The one thing she didn’t intend was to have a music career that involved her family. “I wanted to go out and be my own person… but destiny had a different plan!”
When Marty and Ricky wrote Kids in America for her in 1981, she loved the song straightaway. “It’s a really great pop song, but even I was amazed when it shot up the charts”, she admits. “After that, Dad and Ricky had the pressure of having to come up with more and more hits, but somehow did it, which was fantastic. They gave me a career on a plate – all I had to do was get on a plane and go around the world singing them on TV shows, which I think I did rather well!”
In those days, she says, a singing career was all about videos and TV appearances rather than live performances. “The Eighties wasn’t very much about live music – I just mimed and pouted a lot! I didn’t get to hone my skills as an onstage performer until I supported Michael Jackson on tour in 1988.”
Surprisingly, Kim was in charge of her own image in those early days. “I wasn’t being created by a record company so I had to do it all myself and really had no idea what I was doing. I styled myself, dyed my hair out of a box from Boots and didn’t even know whether you should put on powder first or foundation. Basically, I was growing up in public and I made quite a few mistakes.”
There followed more hit singles (Chequered Love, Water on Glass) and two best-selling albums, and in 1983 she was voted Best British Female Singer at the BPI (now the Brit) Awards. But, as a pop star’s daughter, Kim took success in her stride. “I was over the moon because I was doing what I wanted to do – singing, making my own money and becoming independent.”
In 1989, a year after the release of her massively successful album, Close, she splashed out on a 400 year-old barn in North Hertfordshire, the country house that she and her family still live in today.
“I found it and fell in love with it when I was 29, had builders renovating it for about a year and moved in on my 30th birthday. It was all pretty overwhelming”, she recalls. “There I was, aged 30, in this great big family house, but all alone and in some ways isolated. I remember wondering if I was ever going to meet someone I wanted to shar my life with. Little did I know it would take another six years”!
Kim met her husband, the actor Hal Fowler, in 1996 when they were both starring in Tommy in the West End. They married in September that year.
“I’ve always been attracted to men wo are a bit ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ and Hal has that side to him, but he also has a golden heart to go with it. It’s a cocktail you don’t come across very often so I thought ‘I’ll have that one, thank you’!”
She gave birth to their son, Harry, in 1998, their daughter, Rose, in 2000, and abandoned her singing career. “At the time I thought it was for ever”, she says. “I’d become exhausted doing eight shows a week in Tommy for a year and I didn’t ever want to sing again.”
She did a horticulture course at Capel Manor College and quickly became a ‘celebrity gardener’, appearing in Better Gardens on Channel 4 and the BBC’s Garden Invaders. “As far as I was concerned, one door closed and another one opened. It never occurred to me that the first one would open up again. I honestly didn’t miss singing at all.”
But in 2001, she was lured back to take part in an Eighties Revival Tour and then had a major hit singing Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime with German pop star Nena. After five years as a wife, mum and gardening expert, the toned-down brunette suddenly became a blonde bombshell again.
How did her husband Hal react? “Oh, he loved it”, she laughs. “What husband wouldn’t? After all, he met me when I was playing a glamorous role in Tommy, so he knew that side of me.” But she’s glad she took the break when she did. “It was the right thing from a personal point of view and i also think it made me more appreciated when I came back.”
Both Harry and Rose are showing considerable musical talent and Kim is incredibly proud of them. But they’ve have had to put up with her absences, just as she had to put up with Marty’s. “It was tough for them when they were younger – maybe they’ll send me the bill for therapy in a few years’ time! – but they seem OK with it now and Hal is a great house-husband when he has to be.”
These days Kim thinks of herself as having two families – her real family and her music family, “although my brother Ricky is in both”. She’s still very close to her father (he and Joyce live ten minutes away) and she also keeps up her gardening, both at home, where there are three acres to look after, and helping out at Wilde Ideas, her younger brother Marty’s landscaping business. And she hosts a weekly Eighties music show on London’s Magic Radio.
With her two families, renewed career and wonderful home, the bubbly Kim Wilde is a very busy, very happy woman.