Date: 8 December 2015
Originally published in: OK! (UK)
Written by: Annabel Zammit
Kim Wilde opens up to OK!’s Annabel Zammit about her battle with depression, how marriage and gardening saved herand what she thinks of the music industry today…
Many musicians’ memorabilia takes pride of place in their bathroom – and the downstairs loo in Kim Wilde’s beautiful converted barn in Hertfordshire is no exception. Framed singles and albums, of both hers and her dad’s – Marty Wilde, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll singer and songwriter – adorn the walls. As does a poster from the 1996 production of The Who musical, Tommy, where Kim met co-star and now husband Hal Fowler. Kim was instantly smitten and the pair, who celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary next year, married within six months. On meeting 47-year-old Hal, Kim, 55, says: ‘I liked everything about him; the way he looked, dressed and everything he said. We knew very quickly we wanted to spend our lives together.’
With spikey blonde hair and lashings of eyeliner and attitude, a husky-voiced Kim Wilde burst onto the music scene in 1981 – hitting number two in the charts with Kids in America before a string of further hits. Kim was the biggest-selling British female solo artist of the ’80s; however, she retreated from the industry in the ’90s after suffering depression. ‘I’d expected that all my success and good fortune would equal happiness. It didn’t make any sense, so I had to examine what I was feeling and why,’ Kim tells us.
Gardening in the two acres of her four-bedroom home in the village of Codicote was the singer’s way of overcoming her problems. After settling into married life with Hal, who is currently starring in the Damon Albarn musical, wonder.land, Kim retrained as a landscape gardener, which saw her host TV gardening shows. Of her career change, Kim said: ‘It was very liberating. There was a sort of Groundhog Day scenario in my life at the time and I thought, I want to see what my life can be like without being Kim Wilde all the time.’
Kim re-entered the music industry in 2001 and still has the same passion she did when she was younger. A passion she shares with her son, Harry, 17 and daughter, Rose, 15, who are both carving out music careers. It’s no surprise her kids are musically minded. Kim’s dad’s career has spanned over 50 years and her mum, Joyce Baker, was a singer in early girl band The Vernons Girls. Brother Ricky, a ’70s teen heartthrob, co-wrote many of Kim’s hits with their dad, including Kids in America and Cambodia, and sister Roxanne is a backing singer for Kylie Minogue. ‘There’s a lot of singing!’ Kim says of Christmas at the home she shares with her family and their two Airedale terriers Jess, 12, and three-month-old pup, Beau.
Here, Kim, whose critically acclaimed Christmas album Wilde Winter Songbook is re-released next week, talks exclusively to OK! about music, why professional success didn’t bring her happiness and her festive family plans…
Your home is beautiful, how long have you lived here?
I bought this place when I was 30 years old and single. I always fancied living in a big, open-plan space. I went to see some barn conversions but when I found this place, which hadn’t been converted, I feel in love with it.
Not long after buying your home in the ’90s, you turned your back on the music industry. Why was that?
I was really busy in the ’80s so I didn’t really have time to think about how I felt about anything. Your twenties are tricky – you might be lucky enough to find the right person but you might end up having your heart torn apart and I was doing that while growing up in public. I got to the end of my twenties and my career had been a bit of a rollercoaster – it had dipped and then it went zooming back up again when I supported Michael Jackson on his 1988 Bad tour. To be on that tour for three months was a fantastic time in my career, although I saw how unhappy he clearly was.
Did you get to know Michael Jackson?
I didn’t. I imagine he was as reclusive on tour as he was at home. He was in heaven on stage, but the rest of his life, as I perceived it, seemed to be a really haunted place. It did make me think very hard. I was 28 and I started asking myself: ‘What’s the point of having all this success if it’s not going to bring you proper, lasting, real happiness?’
Was leaving the industry what you felt you needed in order to get a place of personal happiness?
Yes. Music was all I’d known since I was 20 and I did wonder what an unemployed pop star would do. But life has its way, you close one door and another opens, and the more firmly you close one door, the wider and quicker the next will open…
What did you feel was missing from your life?
I always wanted to be a family girl. At 30, I started thinking how nice it would be to find someone I could spend my life with and have children with. I’d expected all my success and good fortune would equal happiness. It didn’t make sense when I found myself sitting in this beautiful house, having had a very substantial career but not being happy. I had to examine what I was feeling and why. It took the form of depression for a while, it wasn’t extreme but it was enough to make me feel like I never wanted to go back there again.
Did you ever seek professional help?
My father suggested I might want to, so I took his advice and saw someone in London. I sat down and he said: ‘Tell me about your childhood’. We had a conversation and then my heart sank as he took out a pen and wrote a prescription. I thought, this isn’t what I came here for. I took the prescription to the chemist and they handed me a huge bag of stuff. I don’t know where it went, but by the time I got home from London, I’d lost it! I took it as a sign and didn’t go back for more tablets. I started gardening and it became the best therapy for me. It pulled me out of my malaise. Then, at 36, I met Hal and we married within six months. We both knew very quickly we just had to spend the rest of our lives together.
That’s a whirlwind – you must have felt very certain…
I didn’t have any doubts when we married and that’s how it’s got to be, so that when you hit bad times you can be strong for each other. If you have a cracked foundation you don’t stand a chance. At times, we drive each other bonkers but that’s just the nature of living with someone. But when I’m low he picks me up and vice versa. After we married, I went to study horticulture and my life totally flipped. Before I knew it, I was at the Chelsea Flower Show and on TV – it was ridiculous! After I met Hal, I never went back to that dark place.
Your family is all very musical – are your children?
My daughter’s a singer-songwriter. She’s been writing for three years and performs locally. My son plays lead guitar in a rock band he formed at school called Keid. He isn’t a big pop fan, though – he doesn’t get it yet, but I hope one day he’ll have the ear to enjoy some of what I’ve done.
How do you feel about your children going into the music industry now?
I’m over the moon as it’s a great industry economically. It’s had to transform a bit because of the internet, but it’s still an expanding business and there’s always room for another great song.
When did they realise their mum was a star?
I was vacuuming when Top of the pops came on, and Harry, who was about six at the time, went straight up to the TV and said: ‘That’s Mummy.’ I remember my daughter sitting there, eyes like saucers, I’d never seen such wide eyes! She couldn’t believe it!
You know Boy George, who’ll be on The Voice – what’s your take on TV talent shows?
George is just the sort of person they should have. He’s very honest, funny and clever. These shows have provided a platform for several talented artists. I’d have auditioned myself if they’d been around when I was younger. But I think you sell your soul to the devil with shows like that and you have to be prepared for that.
You were lucky that your career was a family affair…
Yes, it was an amazing start. My brother Ricky, my dad Marty and I wrote songs together, songs I’m still performing today. As my songwriting developed, Dad stepped back a bit more and I was mainly writing with my brother. But it’s still Kids in America that everyone wants to hear and there’s no getting away from that!
Do you mind that?
I thought I wouldn’t miss Kids in America. It had been following me around since I was 20. Then I had a break for several years and I started falling back in love with it. I guess it’s like falling bacdk in love with an old boyfriend!
Noel Gallagher recently said: ‘Fame is wasted’ on a lot of musicians today. What’s your take?
I agree with him in that we do want our rock and roll stars to be gobby and inappropriate. I’ve always been a sucker for lairy rockers like Chrissie Hynde, Sid Vicious or John Lydon. We could do with a few more lairy musicians.
Adele has had phenomenal success but has managed, like you, to retreat from the public eye. Do you think that’s important?
You have to listen to yourself. I imagine Adele’s phenomenal success really overwhelmed her. I think she’s done the right thing to step away from the circus and find something real. She’s had a child and is now making beautiful music again, so she’s done the right thing. She’s down to earth and I think she had a pretty strong sense that she needed to take a big step out when she did.
Younger singers are often criticised for sexualising pop. Did you feel any pressure?
I was recently looking back at old pictures and I thought to myself, did I really feel comfortable doing that? But actually, I think I did. I’ve always loved the more superficial aspects of life like lipstick, hair and clothes. It doesn’t mean they’re the most important things, it’s just that you can love them, too, and I like to look good.
You look great…
My husband and I tend take a dip in our unheated plunge pool every day, whatever the weather, and that’s fantastic for the circulation. My mates laugh at me but I definitely think it’s helped keep me in good shape. I also walk the dogs and garden, which is exhausting!
You once said: ‘In my face there will be no Botox, I want to grow old gracefully.’ Do you still stand by that?
I’ll never have Botox. It scares me. I’m worried about the long-term effects of putting poison into your face. I’m blessed with very malleable, good skin and I don’t mind the wrinkles that I’ve got!
You studied art college when you were younger – does your home feature your work?
Yes. In my study, I’ve painted the four seasons on the wall. You’ll laugh, but I added two circles to the painting to represent UFOs I saw in my garden.
When did you witness these?
I was in my garden with a friend, the day after Michael Jackson died (June 25, 2009) and we saw two bright lights in the sky. They were about 20 times the size of an aeroplane. They were hovering and then zig-zagging really quickly for about ten minutes. It was in the local paper as we weren’t the only ones who saw it. It changed my life.
In what way?
I feel connected to the universe and it’s made me really inspired, full of wonder and hope. I believe it’s similar to when someone says they’ve seen God.
Are you religious?
I’m not. I don’t have much time for organised religion, only the good bits. But I do have a joyful outlook on the human species and I do think there’s something amazing about the human heart and mind, and that inspires me.
Do you believe in an after life?
Yeah. I feel I’m eternal, that’s all I know but that’s a big thing to know. I had a sense of it before but now I know. I had a sense of it before but now I know. I think my husband and I are on the same page about it, both of us think that we will be making that journey together.
What are you and Hal doing for Christmas?
We have family and friends coming on Christmas day. Hal will be cooking. He cooks a great roast dinner. I’ll be clearing up after him and indulging in my usual passion for decorating the house!
Your critically acclaimed album Wilde Winter Songbook is a family affair, isn’t it?
Yes, my husband and I have written a song on the album called Burn Gold and there’s a four-part harmony with my brother, dad and niece Scarlett. My favourite track is a song I wrote called Deck the halls (Angels sing). I’m also writing a new album, due out next year, so I’m busy at the moment.
Does your family have singsongs when you all get together?
Yes, we do. My dad is never far from a guitar – he’s got guitars all over his house and we’ve got them all over ours, so there’s a lot of singing that goes on when we all meet up!
A brilliant video of you wearing antlers while singing Kids in America on a tube at Christmas from a few years ago got over two million views. Were you quite drunk?
[Laughs] I was in a right old state! To be honest, I can’t watch it. My daughter sometimes puts it on at home and I can hear it. I haven’t quite found the funny side, but I appreciate everyone else has. Thank goodness I was wearing those antlers, I think they got me out of trouble, as did the fact that I was on a train with my brother and not some bloke in my band or someone who wasn’t my husband! So I think the Christmas gods were shinning down on me [laughs]!
How would you describe your style?
I’d like to say it was shabby chic.
What’s your favourite room?
The main living space – it’s fantastic and we spend all our time here.
Have you done anything to the house since renovating it from a barn in the ’90s?
We haven’t really. We did have a slight renovation at one end of it to create one big room out of two smaller rooms. But it’s stood the test of time.
Would you ever move from here?
I don’t think so. I can’t leave this place because of the garden. I planted every single tree and bulb – the garden has a strong pull.