Meningitis is inflammation of the system of membranes that envelop the central nervous system. The disease is caused by bacteria or viral infections elsewhere in the body that have spread into the blood and into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Meningitis should be distinguished from the condition encephalitis, which is the inflammation of the brain itself. Meningitis can affect anyone in any age group, from the newborn to the elderly, although the specific cause may be different. Typical signs and symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, photophobia, or vomiting. Although the most common cause of meningitis is viral, bacterial meningitis can be very serious and indeed life-threatening, and therefore anyone suspected of having meningitis should have prompt medical evaluation.

Kim had meningitis when she was four or five. Her parents were touring, so a friend of Joyce was looking after Kim when she recognised the symptoms of the disease. She was brought into hospital. The doctors feared for her life. It is one of Kim’s earliest memories.

Kim about meningitis

One of my earliest memories is of being really ill when I was about three or four. I had meningitis – a kind of inflammation of the brain – which is those days was pretty dangerous. I remember being in great pain, being rushed to hospital in an ambulance and having lots of horrible tests done. My mother brought me this beautiful Mary Poppins doll whilst I was recovering, which she made me leave behind for the other kids when I left hospital. I was really pissed off about that. (1)

Joyce about meningitis

When Kim was three, she caught meningitis when Marty and I were away in Liverpool. She was very sick, and rny heartjust went into convulsions. They had to call a doctor to seclate me for the joumey to London. I had my full make-up on from the show and I was crying. I got to the hospital and threw my atms round her, and she said: ‘Oh, Mummy, you look beautiful.’ (2)

Marty about meningitis

She only once caused me real anxiety: at the age of five she became very ill with meningitis. Joyce and I were touring and Kim was at home in London, being cared for a by a friend of Joyce’s called Marian, to whom I’ll always be grafeful, because she recognised the symptoms and rushed Kim straight to hospital. After driving through the night from Liverpool to Kim’s bedside, we found she had passed the crisis. She opened her eyes, looked at Joyce, whose stage make-up was smudged with tears and whispered, ‘Mummy, you look beautiful’. Thankfully there were no after-effects. (3)

Interview sources

(1) Testament of youth In: Flexipop (UK), December 1981
(2) Relative values: Kim and Joyce Wilde In: Sunday Times Magazine (UK), 1 October 2000
(3) Father and daughter In: Woman’s Weekly (UK), 16 July 1996

Friedreich’s Ataxia

A friend of Kim’s called Ruth Shearman, whom she knew since she was eight years old, died from a hereditary disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia. This is a rare, inherited disease of the central nervous system first identified in the early 1860’s by Nikolaus Friedreich of Heidelberg, Germany.

Symptoms usually begin in childhood or youth, usually with unsteady walking or general clumsiness. Both arms and legs may become weak. Tasks requiring good co-ordination may become difficult. Writing may become impossible, and in time speech may become distorted and faint, and swallowing difficult. People with Friedreich’s ataxia may also experience curvature of the spine, diabetes, problems with vision and hearing, and with the heart. They usually need a wheelchair about 15 years after the symptoms start.

Friedreich’s Ataxia is caused when a person inherits a defective gene from both parents. This is called a recessive inheritance pattern. If only one parent contributes a defective gene, the child becomes a “carrier” of Friedreich’s Ataxia but never develops the disorder. Carriers often do not know they are carriers until one of their children develops Friedreich’s ataxia. There are tests which will show if someone has inherited the defective gene.

The normal gene expresses a protein called frataxin. The effect of the abnormality is to reduce the amount of that protein to a third or less of the levels found in unaffected people. Frataxin appears to be involved in energy production in the mitochondria, tiny bodies within each cell. They produce the energy that the cells need to function and, as a kind of by-product, free radicals. It seems that free radicals and/or excess iron may damage nerve and muscle cells in people with Friedreich’s ataxia.

This suggests that a therapy based on improving the way that the mitochondria work, and reducing the number of free radicals may help people with Friedreich’s ataxia, and there is research along these lines in the UK, the US and Europe.

Kim has repeatedly asked for help getting funds together to support the medical research needed to find a cure for Friedreich’s ataxia. One of these occasions was during the 1996 Fan meeting. The fact that it is one of the less well-known diseases makes it harder to raise money. But good quality research is expensive. In the UK, where Ataxia UK is funding both a clinical trial and research aimed at finding our more about the causes of Friedreich’s ataxia, it costs around ?50,000 (circa ?80,000 or $70,000) a year per project. If you would like to help find a cure for Friedreich’s ataxia, and to help people live with the condition in the meantime, please contact Ataxia UK.

For more information about the disease visit the American National Ataxia Foundation site. More information can be found there on joining the NAF.

UK residents can go to the Ataxia website, which contains information on membership and donations for the UK.

For the rest of Europe, check out Euro-Ataxia.


Short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, disease that renders the body’s immune system unable to resist invasion by several microorganisms that cause serious infections. It is usually characterized by severe weight loss and fatigue, and frequently by neurological complications due to damage of cells of the brain.

AIDS is transmitted by blood, through intimate sexual contact, from infected mothers to their babies in the uterus, and perhaps through infected mother’s milk. The virus usually remains dormant for some time in infected cells, and it may take up to 10 years for symptoms to develop.
Several strains of the AIDS virus have been isolated, and it appears to be continually changing in genetic makeup and, thus, its envelope, against which a person’s immune system can make antibodies. This makes development of a vaccine that is able to raise protective antibodies to all virus strains a very difficult task. Nevertheless, dramatic progress has been made in a very short time in identifying the molecular makeup of the AIDS virus, its modes of transmission, and the mechanisms by which it produces disease.

Much research centers on solving the problems of treating people who already have AIDS and those who have been infected with the virus but have not yet developed the syndrome. In 1990, the World Health Organization announced that 203,599 cases of AIDS were reported worldwide by the end of 1989, and estimated the actual number of cases to be 600,000.

Kim has done several charity appearances in order to raise money for research on AIDS. One of the most notable appearances was at the charity concert ‘Action for AIDS’ on April 1, 1987 at Wembley in London, during which she sang Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word together with Marty, with Ricky on keyboards.

Kim about AIDS

How do you think we can continue educating people without them getting bored with the subject?
Kim: I think that is going to be the problem. You know, people getting bored of hearing about AIDS, people getting so frightened about it that they wanna close their ears. And I think you just have to keep shouting about it all the time.
Do you know people who’ve had the problem?
How has that affected you?
Very badly.
In what way?
Well – it’s kindof… a bit personal really.

Interview source

Stand by me: benefit concert video