‘I’ve always looked up to my dad – he was my first pop idol!’

Singer Kim Wilde, 59, and her father Marty, 81, on their love of music, what makes their family special, and how they coped during lockdown…

When it comes to pick-me-ups (and after the year we’ve all had dealing with a global health pandemic, we could all do with one), pop star Kim Wilde says there’s only one thing for it.
‘Music,’ she says. ‘I put on Sheer Heart Attack by Queen and just get the family at it. It really helps to fill the house with positive joy.’

She’s not wrong, of course. Not only has Kim spent the past four decades in the pop charts, clocking up 30 million record sales and touring the world singing live to packed arenas, she is, of course, daughter of 1950s music legend Marty Wilde. Let’s just say, this pair know a thing or two about music. And here they are sat in the conservatory of their family home in Hertfordshire, where Kim grew up, telling us all about it over Zoom. ‘For me, the biggest mood changer is Ladies in Lavender’, Marty chips in. ‘Every time I hear it, I just want to burst into tears. What music can do to our emotions is mind-blowing. It can raise hairs on your arm, make you cry and make you happy.’

The Wilde family have music running through their veins. It’s not just Marty and Kim who are musos, mum Joyce was a session singer (with the Vernon Girls), and brother Ricky and sister Roxanne are also professional artists. ‘We’re very different to other families’, says Marty. ‘I can’t really explain it but we’re just different.’

At the impressive age of 81, Marty is about to release his new album ‘Running Together’, featuring a duet with Kim. They are also the faces of this year’s National Album Day, which honours the original album format. Kim says it’s ‘a dream’ to release a record with her dad. ‘I have always looked up to my dad. He doesn’t know this, but when I was at school, I had a fantastic old black and white publicity photograph of him and I put it in my desk and I’d flip up the top and take a look. He was my first pop idol!’

Little did she know then, he would later become her songwriter and catapult her to global stardom. Marty, together with [younger] brother Ricky, penned the lyrics and music to Kim’s first mega hit ‘Kids In America’ in 1981, when she was 20. Marty explains, ‘We wrote it in Ricky’s bedroom on his Wasp synthesizer. He created the melody first. Then I saw a programme about the youth of America, with young, hard-faced teenagers. It frightened the hell out of me. I had this in my head and said, ‘Right, we’re going to call it Kids in America’. It was about a tough girl who was in charge. You know, a new wave of young women rising up in the ranks of society. It suited Kim perfectly because she was that independent and strong girl.’

Kim adds, ‘I’d heard Ricky recording the song through my bedroom wall. That pulsating beat drove me insane. But when I head the finished song, there was no messing about, I threw myself into it. It was a gift. I had a door opened to me from an early age and I was able to walk straight in. To be a pop star at 20 was a privilege, so I knew I had to work really hard. I loved travelling around the world – all the performing, touring, interviews, TV shows. I remember going to Japan and sitting in a hotel room for days doing interviews, I was only let out to get lunch. But I loved it. Yeah, I did get a bit fed up sometimes but I’d soon have a word with myself – and if I didn’t, someone did!’

Kim says her parents were always very down to earth. Marty, who was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2017, says, ‘The mother-daughter link is very strong between Joyce and Kim. Joyce would warn Kim of the pitfalls of fame. The main one was, ‘Don’t play footsie with the press’. Don’t waffle, only say things that are true. And the other we used to say was, ‘Don’t act big time’. Singing is a job, like any other.’

Despite the gold discs hanging on the walls at their family home, Kim and her siblings went to the local village school and had a humble upbringing. Kim recalls there being more playdates with their mates than rock ‘n’ roll parties in their house. ‘I’m still friends with some of my school pals’, Kim says. ‘And then I’ve got my 80s pop mates like Carol Decker, we message from time to time. And Nik Kershaw, Clare Grogan and Rick Astley. We chatted a lot during lockdown, talking about how crazy we were all going not working!’

It’s hard to fathom that Kim will hit the big 6-0 next month. ‘Ageing doesn’t bother me. I’m not fearful of those big milestones. I’m actually looking forward to it. Every day feels like a birthday to me. I feel grateful. Each morning I wake up and look at the sky. And if it’s blue even better.’

She is one of the few celebrities of her time who has maintained her natural good looks (minues the 1980s DIY platinum-dyed mullet). ‘I did quite a bit of yoga with my sister over Zoom during lockdown’, she reveals. ‘It really helps me to stay strong. And of course, I had my garden. Being able to spend time in the garden was my saviour. It came to my rescue.’

In between being a 1980s pop phenomenon sharing the stage with Michael Jackson and George Michael, and touring the country with a comeback show in recent years, Kim stepped out of the limelight in her 40s to become a landscape gardener. And an award-winning one at that, picking up a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2005.

‘When I got tired of the rollercoaster, I got off. I didn’t stay on it longer than I wanted to,’ she says. After marrying actor Hal Fowler – who she met in the West End musical Tommy – in 1996, Kim fell pregnant the next year with her first child Harry, now 22 (she also has a 20-year-old daughter, Rose). It was at that point she studied horticulture at college. ‘Hal really supported me transitioning from music to mum to housewife, then gardener… and back to music again! I’ve got my greatest hits tour next year which I’m really looking forward to.’

Although it sounds like Marty might pip her to the post when it comes to performing a live date. ‘If this pandemic goes on for another seven months, I swear to God, I’m going to go out on the street and perform, I’m going to get my guitar and head to my local pub and I’m going to sing! I don’t want money and I don’t want praise. I just want to do it.’

There is definitely life left in this rocker. His memory is razor sharp – he quotes lyrics, lists album names and recalls artist names, and he regularly plays with his mates and walks his Airedale terrier dogs. ‘Dad’s got a lot to live for’, says Kim. ‘He’s got a 50-date tour next year and a new album. He says it’s his last but it won’t be!’

How do you spend your Sunday?

Lie-in or up with the lark?
I like to get up slowly, put my dressing gown on, go downstairs and get my cup of coffee. I know if I get dressed, I’ll just launch into the garden or something. So the dressing gown is key to a lazy Sunday.
Marty: I take my time getting up then I make a cup of tea for Joyce. Since Covid hit, I’ve become a changed man, I’m sure it’s the same for otyher men out there. I do more domestic chores like washing up and dusting now.

Describe a typical Sunday…
Kim: I usually end up gardening in my dressing gown before I tell myself off. I like to walk my two dogs. I lost one, Raine, during lockdown. It was heartbreaking. But we’ve just got a new puppy – it’s actually Raine’s sister’s baby. So we’re keeping it in the family! And we have Beau too, an Airedale terrier.
Marty: I like to play a few holes of golf on a Sunday. And then when I get back, if it’s summer, the golf finals are nearly always on the telly. So I get a double dose. Nice and relaxing.

Sunday roast in the pub or at home?
Kim: All the best roast dinners happen at my house. My husband really knows how to cook a great roast. And last night I discovered that our son Harry is great in the kitchen too. I’m the lucky one who gets to clear it all up afterwards! But I love a good roast dinner with all the trimmings. It’s all about the gravy, isn’t it, Dad?
Marty: Oh yeah. Beef is my favourite or maybe pork with apple sauce. Joyce is a brilliant cook – northern girls make great cooks! Sometimes we’ll head to our local, The Grandison in Bramfield, for a change.

Sunday papers or Sunday telly?
Kim: Sunday is a really good day for me to get in the garden, I try to avoid the news because it’s so overwhelming at the moment. I do very little ready actually.
Marty: Sunday papers are important. In fact, my Sunday paper can last me all week. I’m not interested in trvia, I’m more interested in what’s happening politically or what’s happening in the wider world.