Kim Wilde, the pop odyssey

A few days before her concert in Bienne next Friday, we made a phone call to the pop star of the 80s, who does not betray her reputation for honesty and kindness. Irresistible Kim…

Just mention her name to see eyes light up and smiles appear on faces. Kim Wilde has had many hits, more than one can imagine. More than forty years after its debut, no one forgets it. Her serene voice on the phone, the English singer is enthusiastic about her many projects and remembers the beginnings of her career with tenderness. “My favorite song to sing live? Without hesitation, Kids in America, she confides. I never tire of feeling its increasingly strong energy. She puts the audience in a trance, I love that!”

Raised to the status of sex symbol in the media at just 21 years old at a time when the #MeToo movement was still far from seeing the light of day, she can count on her family who act as a shield against malicious showbiz sharks. Today, she recognizes her luck.

“Despite everything, I found myself in the right place and I was protected by a caring environment. Sonia Hardy at RAK Records, my first record label, was with me on every trip. She kept an eye on things, just like Maura Robinson when I signed with MCA Records a few years later.”

Where in the 1980s most aspiring pop stars were spotted in London clubs, Kim Wilde’s own mythology took root in her inner circle. Guided by her father, Marty Wilde – himself an English rock star in the 60s – she puts her voice on the lyrics he writes for her in the form of contemporary fables, both mysterious and tormented. Behind the mixing desk, her brother Ricky works on both composition and production, while between a recording session and two planes, her mother Joyce manages her daughter’s schedule. It is with her, a manager with an iron fist in a velvet glove, that contracts are negotiated. Kim Wilde is a family affair. And that hasn’t really changed. Today, her explosive energy on stage is increased tenfold by the presence of her brother and his niece Scarlett, who supports her as a backup vocalist.

A voice, a look, a pout

Kim Smith’s destiny changed on 26 January 1981. That day, in the eyes of the whole world, she became Kim Wilde by rising to the top of the best sellers with Kids in America. Ironically, she’d never set foot in the United States. With bleached hair and weightless highlights, she set the tone for the glorious decade that would invent the music video. Her signature: she never smiles in photos. Kim Wilde is the ideal poster girl. Her spooky look inspires teenagers who pin her to their bedroom walls.

“Besides, I wore one of my father’s tuxedos in the Kids in America video. Haute couture didn’t interest me, but I loved Jean Paul Gaultier. Music and image are a close relationship in which we decide to engage or not. Like Elvis Presley before me or Madonna after me, I was aware of the importance of this aspect. I grew up seeing David Bowie having fun with his hair and makeup in fantastic costumes. I knew this was what I wanted to do. Combining my music and my look was a real source of happiness.”

Throughout Europe, Kim Wilde enjoyed phenomenal success. In her native Great Britain, from Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet via Adam and the Ants, the post-punk New Romantics movement was essentially embodied by men who borrowed eyeliner and hairspray from their girlfriends. She stood out in the middle of this glamorous and decadent boy club. Elected singer of the year by the BPI, the British phonographic industry in 1983, the readership of the English magazine Smash Hits recognized her in the category “the most beautiful singer of the year” in 1984 and the teenage press acclaimed her as the favorite pop star in France and Germany. Gold records invade the walls of Select Sound Studio, the recording studio she co-founded with her father and brother. She strings together hits and despite her young age, success does not go to her head, the singer of You Keep Me Hangin’ On keeps her feet on the ground.

Dizzying highs and abysmal lows

If her career propelled her into the ranks of adored pop stars, she also quickly experienced disappointments and flops. But the singer is convinced, she is not there to be just a flash in the pan. “When I started, my father was an active musician, he still is today. I never considered my own career in the short term. My life has taken all kinds of turns that I didn’t expect, but professionally, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had told me at 20 that I would still be singing forty years later.”

After a slump, she returned to success with the album Close and its hits You Came and Never Trust A Stranger in 1988. The same year, she opened for concerts on Michael Jackson’s European tour. From then on, the media never stopped asking him questions about the king of pop. “If there’s one question I wish would never be asked again, it’s what he looked like. I met him briefly for a photo, so I didn’t know him. On the other hand, I remember the concert in Basel, the crowd went hysterical when I arrived on stage. Michael Jackson’s entourage had not appreciated my popularity, certainly somewhat jaded until then. The audience sang my songs so loudly that it annoyed the American team. They treated me differently afterwards,” she confesses, laughing.

In preparation for her 15th studio album, which is scheduled for release in fall 2024, Kim Wilde is also planning an Anti Tour during which she plans to perform only B-sides and lesser-known titles from her repertoire. This born optimist, as she defines herself, is convinced that music has the gift of healing the world. “I can’t explain it, but I have the deep conviction that music has the power to bring people together and connect, well beyond sport and religion. I have faith in music and I firmly believe that it is an invaluable bandage for our suffering planet.”