Singer Kim Wilde (56) about her career: ‘The camera loved me and I playbacked like the best of them’

Kim Wilde (56) was the most successful British pop artist between 1981 and 1988. She left the music business in the 1990’s and became a lauded gardener. She resumed performing and recording in 2001.

The brashness of youth is a luxury. As a teenager you grab hold of any chance you get, without thinking of possible dangers, and that’s what I did after my breakthrough with ‘Kids in America’. As the daughter of Marty Wilde, a rock ‘n’ roll artist in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I wanted to sing myself, and MTV had just started. Music videos and TV performances advertised new performers worldwide. That time was meant for me: the camera loved me and I playbacked like the best (laughs). The train took off with a bang. I didn’t care about the destination. I was glad to be on board.

Finding my own voice cost me some courage. I grew up with singers like Cilla Black and songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. I started writing songs on my fourth album. Around that time I could live with the fact that I was no Aretha Franklin. But a person doesn’t have to mimic their heroes. Being yourself is good enough.

Around my thirtieth my life felt like a merry go round. I’d travelled the world for years and lived from suitcases, and I didn’t get any happier or wiser. Thinking about the great things in life didn’t come with the tour schedules. Everyone I knew had a family and children, while I was alone. When I met my husband in the end and we got married in 1996, I felt like Elaine Robinson in ‘The Graduate’, in the scene where she flies off with Dustin Hoffman to God knows where. I was glad to be done with all the stuff. I didn’t know how hectic life with kids would be (laughs).

Gardening gave my head some balance. I started studying horticulture because I wanted to design a garden for my children, but it soon became a creative outlet that I couldn’t be without. In the garden it’s not about me, but about plants, living organisms that get you in contact with nature and give you a different outlook on the world. The TV programmes and books I made were insignificant in comparison with what I did before. Being a pop star 24 hours a day is a different kind of celebrity.

I have always had a big Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect. As a young popstar I returned to my parents and I was an ordinary girl who babysat the younger kids. Those two faces are still there. One moment I’m in the garden with my hands in the ground, the other moment I am in tight jeans, putting up red lipstick and black eyeliner, running around on stage. But the metamorphosis is less great than it was. Now I’m just doing what I like to do.

I have accepted the fleetingness of success. My whole career was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, from total adoration to total indifference from the audience. Not being invited for Live Aid for example, that stung (laughs). But I didn’t lay awake because of the charts. I just wanted to make the best possible pop songs, and it frustrated me when I didn’t. I am more than satisfied all in all. Many of my contemporaries did a lot better, but others didn’t. And some lost their freedom or mental health along the way.

I love the connection that I can make with the audience. It fascinated me when I was a child, when I watched the concerts of my dad in a corner of the hall. Even in the old theatres he filled the hall with life and pleasure. And what is better than bringing a mass of people together and find out that what they have in common is bigger than what divides them? For singers that experience is intense, because singing is so physical and emotional. Oh well, after a gig I can feel that I’m not twenty anymore. Chances are that I will keep performing until it kills me (laughs).

There was a time when I spit on the past. I thought: I am a grown woman, I have gained 20 kilos, I can’t singing ‘Kids in America’ or ‘Cambodia’ anymore. I wanted to forget about the old hits. Now I get that you have to cherish the jewels in your crown. When I see how much those songs still mean to people, how much enthusiasm and positive energy they unchain, I am very proud of that.