Date: 1 January 2022
Originally published in: Retropop (UK)
Written by: Christian Guiltenane
Ahead of her hotly-anticipated ‘Greatest Hits Tour’, ’80s icon Kim Wilde talks Madonna, touring with Michael Jackson and marking her impressive 40 year musical legacy.
Kim Wilde has never been enticed by the fame game
“I was never a mad popstar – I was the girl next door”, she asserts with a deadpan laugh. “One minute I’d be singing Kids in America on ‘Top of the Pops’ or on stage somewhere, the next I’d be home helping mum changing my kid sister’s nappies.”
The single took her around the world and made her an industry darling, but Kim remained humble and continued living at home with her mum, along with rock star dad Marty and brother Ricky, who co-wrote her breakthrough hit.
While her success meant performing to thousands of adoring fans and appearing on huge TV shows, she never lost sight of who she was or what she was doing. “Music was always the motivational factor”, she maintains. “It’s always been at the heart of who I am. Fame itself was never something that never really sat well with me. But it was fun.”
Whether she liked it or not, Kim admits she “had a public life,” but “felt comfortable that that was the bed
that I was in. was just grateful that my career was so exciting and enabled me and my brother to work on
our songwriting and see where it took us. It gave us the chance to do what we wanted to do. And having Ricky there with me made everything so much easier.”
Flash forward four decades and the pair’s bond is as strong as ever, as the siblings celebrate Kim’s latest career milestone. Coinciding with her 60th birthday, the pop icon marked 40 years of her chart-topping success by unleashing ‘Pop Don’t Stop — Greatest Hits’ — a comprehensive 5CD/2DVD box set featuring her singles, deep cuts, B-sides, remixes and music videos, plus exclusive new interview content. Among the highlights are delicious pop gems like You Came, Cambodia, Four Letter Word and You Keep Me
Hanging On, plus two new cuts — Shine On, a sublime ballad with Boy George, and You’re My Karma with
singer-songwriter Tom Aspaul.
This year, she’ll hit the road with ‘The Greatest Hits Tour’, promising a night of wall to wall hits and fan
favourites, like Can’t Get Enough (Of Your Love) and Million Miles Away.
Despite the ambitious retrospective project, Kim has a habit of downplaying her success, but it’s impossible to dismiss the impact she had at the time, with a string of hit albums including ‘Select’, ‘Teases & Dares’, ‘Another Step’ and ‘Close’ proving so successful that, by the end of the ‘80s, shed been named the most successful British female artist of the decade.
Kim took the accomplishments in her stride, but that’s not to say she didn’t happily throw herself into
the wild pop star party lifestyle. I got invited to so many parties and events,” she recalls with glee. “But the one that sticks out was a really fancy Elton John party that was just wonderful. I had always been such a huge fan of his so to be invited by him to one of his parties was just mind-blowing to me. I remember I bought him a vintage robot as a gift because he’d recorded a song called I Am Your Robot and I thought it was quite a clever idea. I remember he gave me a big hug and treated me like I was the star! It was an amazing party! Everyone was there — George Michael, Boy George, everyone you could imagine. It was such a starry night.”
At the height of success, Kim was branded a sex siren by the press and her stunning looks weren’t lost on her showbiz peers, who also took a shine to her.
“I had my fair share of offers from some celebrity men along the way,” she giggles. “I went on a few dates with Adam Ant. 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. Sadly there wasn’t that chemistry that has to happen between two people for it to be long lasting. I guess on paper Kim Wilde and Adam Ant looks good. But we just didn’t have that going for us.”
He wasn’t the only Prince Charming whose eye Kim had caught – she also attracted the attention of Highlander actor Christopher Lambert. She’d reached out to him via his people to ask him to appear in one of her videos then received a late-night phone call from the Hollywood hunk himself. “He called me up to say he didn’t want to be in it and explained why. But then he asked me to meet him in Paris for a date. Sadly that ever happened.”
As Kim was smashing up the charts, a new star was shocking her way to the top, with her own brand of pop coupled with a highly sexualised image. Her name was Madonna and, while the two couldn’t have been more different, Kim was impressed by the Material Girl’s burgeoning success. While Madonna was setting a sexual agenda that many popstrels would emulate in her wake, Kim was never encouraged by her record label to take her on at her own game. “I never felt the pressure to be anyone other than me,” she insists. “I was never the sexually explicit person that Madonna was. She had created this public persona that was very sexual. I would never have felt comfortable about putting it out there like she did. My sexuality was and is much more private. I would never have considered sharing it with the public. But I genuinely find her fascinating. I don’t know what motivates people to be that sexually explicit but I am most definitely a more of a cards-close-to-my-chest kind of person when it comes to sexuality.”
While she may not share her thoughts on sexual liberation, Kim is mighty impressed that, to this day, Madonna continues to reign over the charts and is ageing “disgracefully”.
“Madonna’s high calibre music was and still is really inspiring,” she says. “She has really raised the bar so high over the years and that was good for everyone. I think ageing disgracefully — as you put it — is actually inspirational. She’s doing what makes her happy, she’s still pushing herself and she doesn’t seem to care what people think about her regardless of her age.”
Kim’s record label may not have pressured her to sex up her image, but they were keen for her to break America – particularly after her cover of The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hangin’ On topped the charts Stateside.
“The label wanted me to do more there,” she recalls. “They thought I had a lot of potential in America, and wanted to pitch me as a second Blondie. There was a lot of discussion between the label and my own camp and it was hard as when you’re offered a carrot that big you want to bite it. But I was having big success in the UK and Europe and so I decided that that was more important for what I wanted to do musically. To be honest, I didn’t fancy going to America – it’s a long way to go. It would have been a big commitment to do promotion across the US, especially live. Touring the country in a bus is hard work. It worked for Depeche Mode. But I’d rather be performing in Munich or Berlin.”
While she opted out of a big US tour, that didn’t stop her label from continuing to push her in the direction of the US – a move Kim resisted.
“After You Keep Me Hangin’ On, | had a battle with MCA about the next single Say You Really Want Me,” she reveals. “It was a track that had been found by the label which I wasn’t feeling because it didn’t feel like me. It was obviously a track geared toward the American audience. We asked MCA to change their mind and told them we didn’t think it would work in the UK, but they went ahead with it. We were right in the end, but we had fun with it and even made a saucy video that was banned from kids TV.”
Looking back at that time and what could have been, Kim has no regrets that she “didn’t smash America” – she’s just glad to have an enduring fanbase in Europe and that she can “still pitch up to Berlin and have a great show”.
“I was never that ambitious,” she confesses, refreshingly. “I am when it comes to writing a song. I really want to write the best song. But I’m happy with my lot.”
Kim resisted international domination, however she didn’t turn down every lucrative offer that came her way and, when she was handpicked by Michael Jackson to join him on his ‘Bad’ tour, she packed her bags and hit the road – following a typical “Kim moment” of hesitation, that is…
“Touring with Michael happened at a great time for me as my album ‘Close’ had just been released and was doing really well,” she says. “Then when I got asked to join him on a 33-date tour — I just couldn’t believe it! I was like, ‘How could I possibly open for Michael Jackson? My confidence evaporated the minute my management told me. When iy I told my mum that I couldnt do it she gave me one of those mum talks every kid needs and said to me, “You’re just as good as he is’. I didn’t buy into it, of course.”
Despite trekking across Europe with Michael, she barely caught a glimpse of the megastar and, when she did manage some face-to-face time, it was fleeting and she was left flummoxed. “It was incredible to be able to hear his greatest hits every evening,” she recalls. “We met once and he was very sweet, very tall,
very down to earth and just a lovable, open guy. Unfortunately, I was just too impressed with him when I was around so I could never find the right words. He was a very private person.” But Kim reckons the superstar’s introverted nature was his way of “managing his safety” “Seeing the way the fans were around him, I was glad I didn’t have that kind of devotion. I liked the fact I didn’t need security to go to the local Tesco. I loved the down to earth nature of having a famous life, the best for my mental health. I would
have felt isolated.”
Following her massive success, Kim sensed her career was beginning to slow down at the start of the ‘90s and doubts about the future entered her mind. “I’d gone through times when I’d been chased by paps
and then there were times when no-one was remotely interested in me,” she laughs. “I had endured the ups and downs every popstar experiences. I came out of the chaotic success with an ambivalent approach to
perceived success or failure. We all come to terms with our own life. I felt that I didn’t have any more challenges to overcome.”
It was when she turned 30 that Kim realised she wasn’t happy with her lot and, following the release of her ninth album ‘Now & Forever’ in ‘95, she decided to retreat from the world of music to focus on herself. But away from the limelight, Kim experienced a deep low as she came to terms with a life no longer ruled by
her usual showbiz itinerary and, just six months later, she signed up for a run in the West End production
of Tommy. “Doing a musical meant I could be in one place for a year,” she explains. “I took time to look at my life to see who else I could be.” And she did just that as, during her spell in the show, she met and fell for Hal Fowler, whom she married six months later.
Looking back, she considers her decision to move away from music a canny one. “If you have the courage to close the door on something you’ve outgrown, you’ll be surprised to see how many doors suddenly open,” she muses, adding that she had never really considered fame to be the be-all-and-end-all of life. “Having been around intensely famous people like Michael Jackson, I was never under any illusions that fame would answer all of life’s questions. If I was to grow as a person I would take myself away from it and see who else I could be.”
Kim resurfaced in the early ‘00s to join the ‘Here and Now’ tours and found inspiration to record again with ‘Never Say Never’ – her first album in over a decade – dropping in ‘06, featuring new tracks and re-recordings of her classic hits. Four years later she released ‘Come Out and Play’ and the following year dropped the covers album ‘Snapshot’.
Kim focussed on the European market for years, but it was a viral video of an impromptu drunken performance aboard a packed train at Christmas that pushed her back into the limelight in the UK and inspired her festive album, while her next LP, ‘Here Come The Aliens’, became her highest-charting
in 25 years and was inspired by a close encounter she had with a UFO in her garden.
“I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but actually it made a huge impact on me and the people who saw it with me and also on the local community,” she explains. “It made the local newspaper and a lot of people around here also saw something extraordinary in the sky that night too. So yeah, I’m a firm believer that they’re here, that they’re visiting, they’re around, they’re not sure whether to give us some more time here to mess things up or maybe they’ll just come and take matters into their own hands.”
While keen to make extraterrestrial contact in the future, Kim’s immediate focus is to reunite with fans, when she finally gets out on the road with ‘The Greatest Hits Tour’ this spring. “When we started planning the show, we plunged into the back catalogue, so we had fun putting as many of the songs into the set as we could,” she teases. “It’s going be the best of the best. I have had costumes made which are waiting in the wardrobe.”
Kim’s passion for her career is infectious and, as she looks to her contemporaries like Boy George, Duran Duran and Bananarama, she applauds them for still producing fresh material and looking as chipper as ever.
“Time has served us old ‘80s stars well,” she smirks. “It’s proved to everyone the enduring commitment we
gave to pop music back then. We weren’t just playing around with it, it came from deep inside. That energy
is endless. That energy is not going anywhere. It’s powerful, which is why I am left a quivering wreck when | hear that song in the new John Lewis advert as I tuck into my fish finger sandwich with tomato sauce. It’s lovely to hear a song that was a hit when [ was around doing so well now. These songs last forever.”
Who did your favourite cover version of Kids Of America?
I was chuffed when Nirvana and the Foo Fighters covered Kids In America. Dave Grohl really does seem to like pop music. He was eulogising ABBA recently. So far he hasn’t been in touch with me to perform together, but he did that performance with Rick Astley a while back, so who knows? I’m lucky! Kids in America is an incredible song to have in your arsenal!