Date: 5 December 2015
Originally published in: Herald Scotland (UK)
Written by: Teddy Jamieson
So Kim, I say, about those dates you went on with Adam Ant back in the days when you were both regularly on the cover of Smash Hits. Here’s what I want to know. Did he turn up in his pirate costume? Or did he go for the dandy highwayman look? Kim Wilde smiles at the notion. The answer – rather disappointingly, I have to say – is neither. “No. Suits or a leather jacket. I think we only had a handful of dates. There wasn’t that chemistry that has to happen between two people. I guess on paper Kim Wilde and Adam Ant looks hot, hot, hot. But we didn’t have that going for us.”
Anyway, if anything, she says, her mother was more excited about the idea of her going on dates with Adam way back when. “My mum was beside herself.” Oh, and Adam was very sweet. “He took great care of me. He took me to very expensive restaurants. I was still living at home at that point. He would always make sure chocolate mousse was on the menu even if it wasn’t, because he knew I liked it.”
Kim Wilde – 1980s pop star, 21st-century wife and mother and singer (and yes she’s still gardening, too) – is sitting opposite me in London’s Groucho Club. She is 55 now but looking good on it, all lipstick and blonde hair and friendly openness (at the beginning her fingers flutter nervously around her neck but by the end of her time together she’s showing me her breasts). She even calls herself Mrs Fowler these days. In my head though she is still living a pop star life where she’s hanging out with Adam and Phil Oakey and living out an eternal Top of the Pops party somewhere glamorous (or as glamorous as the BBC studios allow).
In reality she’s taking her new puppy for a walk or picking up after her teenage children Harry and Rose, while her husband Harold – a West End actor; you can catch him in Damon Albarn’s new musical wonder.land if you’re in London any time soon – walks around the house rehearsing his lines. But there’s the odd pop star moment. There are gigs and songs to sing. And journalists to talk to. The glow of her former stardom has not faded.
Once upon a time of course she was our own kitchen-sink Bardot, all pout, sulky good looks and No1 hits in America back in the 1980s. A second-generation pop star (dad Marty was, of course, one of the original British rockers), in her imperial years Wilde toured with Michael Jackson, went top 10 with her first two singles, Kids in America and Chequered Love, and, oh yes, went on dates with Mr Ant.
That was almost half a lifetime ago now. But even if she wanted to she can’t escape her past. The 1980s revival shows no signs of fading and she is a regular on the nostalgia circuit, singing old songs to fans who want to remember the thrill of the first time. She enjoys it too.
But she doesn’t live in the past. Next year will see the release of a new album which she is rather proud of and in the meantime there’s a new deluxe version of her Christmas album Wilde Winter Songbook, a seasonal mixture of hoary old traditionals (there’s a version of Rocking Around the Christmas Tree that replaces the late Mel Smith with Nik Kershaw) alongside some actually rather lovely new songs written by Wilde which highlight just how sweet a voice she has. She thinks there’s a place for both.
“Christmas for me is very much about the heart and about hope and love. But I wouldn’t want a Christmas without a mince pie. So there’s something for everyone. If you want proper heart it’s there but if you just want a mince pie, mulled wine and a Christmas tree it’s on there as well.”
When the album first came out back in 2013 the track that got all the attention was the Wilde family version of Fleet Foxes’ strange and beautiful White Winter Hymnal; Kim, her dad, brother Ricky and daughter Rose singing a beautifully chilly song that’s all about snow turning blood-red and kids’ heads tied on with scarves. She doesn’t seem to have any more idea of what the song is about than I do. “I love its darker aspects,” she does say. “I thought it would be really interesting for my father to sing some lyrics he doesn’t normally sing. I wasn’t that surprised when he said yes. He’s always had an extremely open mind.”
She credits her father with her musical education. He was a young dad and he’d always bring music home for the family to listen to. Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, the Carpenters, Mike Oldfield, Kraftwerk – all ended up on the family record player. When she started singing herself she didn’t really know what kind of singer she wanted to be. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be David Bowie or Lindsey de Paul. I loved all of it. I came into the music industry as a lover of music.”
It was a different time then, she says. Before social media. The worst that could happen was the odd bad picture turning up in the Daily Mirror. When she went to number two in the charts with Kids in America in 1981 she says it wasn’t a major upheaval. “I was living at home. My mum had just had a baby, my sister, so I’d be going home from Top of the Pops and changing her nappies. Nothing much changed really except I started travelling a lot and then growing up in public during my twenties.
“I was just glad I had a job that paid very well. I’ve never been averse to making decent money and I’ve always felt lucky being able to do a job that I loved so much. I know many people who don’t have a job at all or have a job they hate. So I’ve always been extremely grateful for the position I found myself in at such a young age. So I worked bloody hard.”
She had, she thinks, maybe a couple of weeks off in the entire 1980s, one spent with her brother and his wife Mandy in France and another with a boyfriend. “That wasn’t great,” she recalls. “So yeah it turned out I was having more fun being Kim Wilde running around the world than going on holiday. Of course by the time I got to 30 I was a bit stressed out, a bit burned out. I never knew there was this word called stress until I hit 30 and then I understood it all too well.”
The result was that she sank into depression. She can time it to the day. Her 30th birthday. “I had just moved to Hertfordshire to this big old barn I’d fell in love with and did up and I had a party on my birthday. But then I remember when everyone left, sitting in the kitchen on my own thinking: ‘Now what?’
“And I know it sounds appalling in the situation but I actually indulged in that for a while. I’m not very proud to say. Sitting in that beautiful house feeling that surely all that success, surely this house, surely that equation equals happiness. And of course it doesn’t. Some of the most unhappy people on the planet live in mansions and have Lamborghinis. So I had to learn that lesson. It didn’t take me long to learn, I have to say.”
Her thirties sound much more enjoyable actually. She took some time off, went travelling around the world, backpacked through Australia. “I did all the things people do in their twenties. I had all kinds of inappropriate boyfriends and fun. I had such fun.” More fun than even Adam Ant and chocolate mousse combined.
Then in 1996 she met her husband, got married, had kids (in one of those pop gestalt things, when she had her son Harry, fellow 1980s pop star Tracey Thorn was in the next hospital room with her newborn twins) and became a gardener. A new life.
“I remember when I first got married I loved that my chequebook had ‘Mrs Fowler’ on it. It was like having a new identity that allowed me to be someone else. And of course that’s exactly what happened. It allowed me to be a mother and it allowed me to become a gardener. My married name gave me a new lease of life. It allowed me to be the person I couldn’t until then.”
I have brought some pictures with me. Images from Kim Wilde’s gilded past and the more recent past for a show-and-tell session. She’s game, so here we go.
Item one: here’s a picture of her on the front cover of the Face magazine. March 1982. Kim is sitting legs up in a black and white checked shirt, skirt and tights. She is maybe 22, 23. “I remember at that time being pretty chuffed to be on the cover of the Face. It was all about style. I didn’t really feel I had a lot and in retrospect I didn’t. I was great at wearing jackets and jeans and being a tomboy which I was at school and to a degree still am; a 55-year-old woman’s version. I just wasn’t a very stylish person and that kind of shows it. Even the cover of the Face couldn’t make me look stylish.”
Item two: the cover of her 1987 hit Love Blonde on which she is, I believe the technical term is, smouldering. “That’s the red lipstick and whole glamour thing,” she says when I bring it out. Was she happy when the stylists brought that backless black leather dress out? “Well, you say that but I went out and bought that dress. I really liked it. And I wasn’t averse to making the most of my pout because I’d grown up hating my mouth. All the kids used to bully me and say I looked like Mick Jagger. Like that was a bad thing.
“But I was very self-conscious about my mouth and then as soon as I got famous everybody said: ‘Oh, your mouth’s great, it’s so big. You can put red lipstick all over it and it looks even better.’ And as soon as I discovered my lips were good … Well, the evidence is there, isn’t it? It’s still a trick that works today.”
Item three: a video grab image of a 53-year-old Kim on a tube train in London. She has antlers on her head and her mouth is open. You can tell she’s singing. Probably because you’re one of the couple of million people who have watched the YouTube clip captured by a passenger of Kim drunkenly singing Kids in America after a well-lubricated Christmas party. “That’s great,” she laughs. “That’s real life for you.”
What did she think when it suddenly turned up online? “I didn’t really care. I’ve got my husband and my kids and we’ve got a nice house and people aren’t going to stop coming to my gigs because I got drunk. There was nothing that anyone could take away from me. Even if they took away my career they couldn’t take away the important things. They weren’t going to go anywhere, universe willing.”
It possibly wasn’t your best performance, Kim. “The singing was all right. It was when I started talking that it gets embarrassing. I think it hasn’t done me any harm. It’s actually done me quite a few favours. And it was the catalyst to inspire me to get on and do the Christmas album. I thought, ‘If people associate me with Christmas now and I was wearing antlers, why don’t we just do this Christmas bloody album anyway?'”
After an afternoon with Kim Wilde, what do I know about her? I know she has a scar where her gallbladder was removed and a tattoo across her back which she designed for herself for her 50th birthday. I know when she was a teenager she had a bit of a thing for Bowie. And now? Well, she saw John Cusack in a movie not long ago and thought he was “a bit of all right”. And I know she got the level of fame she was happy with.
Does the teenage girl she once was feel very far away now? “Not that far away. I’ve still got a hard core of the same friends. I’ve just been on a girls’ holiday with four of them and they were kids I knocked about with when I was nine, 10, 11 and we still talk about those times.
“I can’t believe we’re all fiftysomething. None of us can. We all think we’re 35 instead of 55. We all go to bed earlier, we don’t drink as much and we don’t talk about our sex lives … at all.” She booms with laughter at this point.
Still, we get older and shadows appear. She is a mother. She worries. She worries about the darker side of social media and its impact on all our children. And she worries about family health.
A few years ago her sister-in-law Mandy, Ricky’s wife, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “She had a narrow escape,” Wilde says. To say thank you to the hospital where she had her treatment Mandy organised a ball which raised £50,000. Mandy’s doing the same thing this year. And Wilde is donating her breasts to the cause. Do I want to see them, she asks. Well, if you wouldn’t mind, Kim.
“Mandy asked me if I had anything to give to the auction. I had been clearing out and I found an old art portfolio and in it there was a nude self-portrait, a topless one I had done inspired by reading about Frida Kahlo. I did it when I was on holiday when I was 30 years old.”
She shows me the painting. “It’s not a bad bit of work,” she says looking at the image. “I was an art student so I was all right with my colours and stuff.”
“They don’t look much like that any more. Well, the right one does …”
It’s time to go. I hum Kids in America all the way home.
Wilde Winter Songbook is out on Wildeflower Records.