Still ambitious for her new music after 40 years at top of the charts

Pop icon, author, gardener, DJ, TV presenter and proud mum Kim Wilde has a new boxset marking 40 years since her breakthrough hits. MALCOLM WYATT tried to calm his jealous 13-year-old self while speaking to the most charted UK female solo act of the ’80s.

Kim Wilde’s stellar pop career is being celebrated with a comprehensive hits collection – a two- CD edition with classic hits such as Kids In America, You Keep Me Hangin’ On and You Came and new tracks, including Shine On, featuring fellow ‘80s survivor Boy George; and a collectors’ five-CD/ double-DVD box set including more singles, B-sides and remixes, a deluxe booklet and close to 50 promo videos. It’s clearly about time – the ‘80s most charted UK female solo act, an early BPI (Brit) award-winner and two-time Smash Hits most fanciable female poll-winner, having managed 20 UK top-40 singles and seven top- 40 LPs, with more than 30 million records sold globally.

Kim says: “Yeah, I appreciate it all a lot more now. I didn’t truly until recent years.” She adds: “When I look at this, see what we achieved, there’s some great stuff I haven’t heard for years. And Cherry Red took so much time getting all the licences… and in my 60th year. Pretty overwhelming.”

Ever wonder how this amazing career came about and led to so much more?
Kim says: “It’s strange. Over the years, so many times we thought, ‘Maybe this is the last time we’re gonna do this,’ especially if an album didn’t do well. Many didn’t. “There were moments on the roller coaster of a career when I thought we’d reached the end of the ride… only for it to go back up again, something else coming along. It took a lot of getting used to, emotionally. A lot of disappointment, lots of sucking it up, overcoming all that, getting used to more success. It’s really chewed around with my emotions. To have a career over four decades and still get played on national radio, like we did in 2018 – that’s amazing. I enjoyed that as much as with our first album and Kids in America. I remember going across a field, Radio 2 on my iPhone as I walked the dog, hearing Pop Don’t Stop on the Breakfast Show. It made me feel fantastic. Back in ’81, one day Kids in America sold 60,000 copies. That don’t happen anymore! But the thrill of hearing your record on national radio, that’s still a great feeling.”

I was 13 when Kids in America’ charted, my tastes already more about punk and new wave, but this was new and fresh, and remains so. Many songs from that era sound dated, but that Minimoog sound somehow stands the test of time.
“Oh, it really has!” exclaims Kim. “A magnificent record, and (brother/bandmate) Ricky’s talent was so precocious. He was only 18 or 19 but listening to Ultravox, Gary Numan, the Skids, the Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk, The Stranglers, all those great bands. And we were brought up with rock’n’roll. Somehow all of it came together. There’s even a bit of Abba in there.”

Funny you should say that. It’s almost like you’re backed by The Attractions, and I know Elvis Costello tipped his hat to Abba.
“Yeah, I’m a huge fan, had all his albums, still have. And when he introduced me to country artists I’d never heard before, like George Jones, falling in love with that music. A really important inspiration for me and Ricky.”

Fast forward to late ’86, and there’s some ‘of its time’ synth on You Keep Me Hangin’ On. However, the energy put into your vocal sees you through, adding something to the original.
“We made it our own, and had an amazing message from Lamont Dozier, kept on my desk, sent June 2, 1987. He said he loved this exciting version, thanked us for making him look good again! And that (US No.1) changed the course of my career.”

In Marcel Rijs’ newly-published Kim Wilde – Pop Don’t Stop: A Biography, you said 1988 hit You Came ‘captures a moment … when everything was just perfect’. Back then you supported Michael Jackson and made the Close album. Why was that so special?
“I think the diversity and buildup of singles, Hey Mister Heartache then You Came, one of the finest crafted pop songs in my career. Then Never Trust a Stranger, one of my alltime favourites, then Love in a Natural Way and Four Letter Word. I think everyone who thought of Kim Wilde as a singles artist realised I was actually crafting albums.”

Healthy sales of the book suggests your hardcore following still love you, and so many people talk about – despite your success – down to earth qualities. Maybe your dad (Marty Wilde, now 82, had six top-10s and 11 top-40 singles between 1958/61) saw all the egos around him and was determined to shield you from the worst excesses?
Kim says: “Well, bless my dad and my mum. That’s how they were. We lived in a lovely house in the country, went to the village school, hung out with the locals, dad played a bit of golf and spent most of his time at home playing great albums. We were fed this solid diet of pop – and pop’s the umbrella word for all of it.”

Now the next generation’s stepped up, Ricky’s daughter Scarlett in the band, Kim and husband Hal’s children making their own way: Rose, 21, set to study psychology at university; Harry, 23, launching his own career as a singersongwriter. And how’s our prize-winning garden designer’s own garden looking after so long working from home?
“It’s looking amazing. When the pandemic began I had a sinking feeling we were in this for the long haul, thought I’m gonna make home count, sorted out the rubbish in my office, photographs and memorabilia, got rid of a load, then went straight into the garden, started growing vegetables, weeding the place … and it’s never looked more beautiful.”

Are there still career goals?
“I’m extremely ambitious about this album and touring it, celebrating 40 fantastic years. How blessed I’ve been, to work throughout with my brother and be able to get up and sing, see looks on people’s faces – such a privilege and an amazing experience.”