Kim Wilde talks to Alex Green about being a rock ‘n’ roll baby and an 80s pop princess.
The style and sounds of the 1980s are having a resurgence and singer Kim Wilde is not surprised. She made her mark on the decade with hit songs like Kids In America and her own version of the Supremes song You Keep Me Hanging On. She also toured with the likes of David Bowie and Michael Jackson.
“The 80s were an incredibly diverse time but it wasn’t just all shoulder pads and sharp haircuts,” she says with a warm laugh. “It was a really exuberant chaos of style. You would have ska, new wave, synth-pop or a bit of prog – some Genesis and good old rock and roll like Queen and U2. It was incredibly eclectic. The advent of synthesisers – the Fairlights, the Synclaviers, the Junos and all of those incredible new sounds. They were inspiring a whole bunch of new writers and producers, and one of those happened to be, thank God, my brother Ricky Wilde.”
Kim, of course, is part of British musical royalty. Her father, 83-yearold Marty, was among the first to embrace rock and roll and scored a string of hits in the 50s and 60s with songs such as Teenager In Love. Now, at 61, her bond with her family appears even stronger and she continues to write with her brother.
“We’re cut from the same cloth. We’re two peas in a pod,” says Kim. “I’ve written lots of songs without him and recorded them, and there are many songs out there without his co-writing presence. In fact, I’ve just written a song today on my piano. But I just love working with him. We don’t really have to say very much in the studio, we’re so totally in tune. His passion for music is so intense.”
Growing up in the Wilde household was a unique experience.
“I had lots of friends whose family environments were nothing like that, or whose parents were much older,” reflects Kim. “Their dads were going to bed when my dad was jumping in a car and going off to do a gig. I was very aware that we lived in a unique way compared to my mates and their families. But I was overjoyed by it because I love pop music and I have since I was a child.”
Kim was born in November 1960 and recalls the time as “an astonishing explosion of fantastic melodies and great sounds” – all experienced through her father’s record player or during long journeys up to Liverpool to see the grandparents.
“My dad appropriated it in the way that people appropriate religion – and that’s what it became,” she laughs. “But instead, our God was Elvis Presley, of course.”
Her musical education took in the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles’ White Album and Joni Mitchell as well as Tchaikovsky and other classical greats. When she shot to fame in 1981 with the release of Kids In America, Kim became an instant household name, her blow-dried blonde mullet copied by young girls across the UK.
It was the next year, when her follow-up hit Cambodia took off, that she met fellow 80s legend Boy George. The Culture Club frontman became a close friend and she remembers singing Cambodia on Top Of The Pops and looking down to see the colourful figure dancing at the front of the audience.
“In typical Boy George style, he had managed to talk him and all his mates into the studio to be part of the audience. They were this beautiful crowd of people dancing in front of me and I remember he stood out, of course, this beautiful form in front of me. I vividly remember thinking, ‘That person needs to be on stage, I don’t know what I’m doing here, that’s the person that needs to be on this stage’.”
The pair stayed close friends and have performed together a number of times over the years, including during a tribute to New Romantic pioneer Steve Strange, frontman of the band Visage, following his death aged 55 in 2015.
Kim also remembers a close encounter with David Bowie while supporting the late music legend on his 1990 Sound + Vision Tour.
“He was a very normal guy in an extraordinary situation,” she says. “He would say ‘hi’ and would pop in and would wish you luck with the show in a very down to earth way. “But one of the sweet memories I have is when I left the tour, we had done quite a few shows together, and I decided to take him a Marty Wilde T-shirt, which I thought would be fun. “I wanted to see if I could make him smile. I thought, ‘If I don’t do anything in this lifetime, if I bring a smile to David Bowie’s face I can die happy’."
When she entered his dressing room he was shirtless and having his make-up done. "I said ‘Oh, I’ve got a present for you’ and he picked it up and went, ‘Dad!’. It was so funny, so sweet. He was an absolutely charming, wonderful man, and a huge influence on me and my brother and all our family.”
She adds: “Bowie would have been a young, very young man, watching my dad and Cliff Richard and Billy Fury – all the pioneers of pop as it eventually turned out.”