The second time

Date
Published in
Classic Pop (UK)
Written by
John Earls

A self-confessed "middle-aged housewife with two kids and a dog", Kim Wilde is the picture of domestic bliss. But, as she prepares for her first headline tour in 27 years, the Kids in America icon admits she wasn't always so contented.

Kim Wilde appears to have the perfect life. Since 1996, she's been happily married to theatre actor Hal Fowler, and the couple and their two teenage children live in the kind of countryside barn that all Eighties popsters should own. Secluded enough that the taxi driver gets lost on the way from the station, it also features a stunning garden - as you'd expect from a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal-winning horticulturalist (Kim, that is).

Despite the luxury (yes, the garden has a pool), it feels like a proper home - and there are no graces about its owner, either. Kim holds the record for the most Top 40 hits in a decade by a British female (17 in the Eighties), yet she doesn't take herself remotely seriously, giving the impression that this pop-star lark happened largely by accident. She's still got (un-Botoxed) girl-next-door beauty, even though she notes, "I'm not available to the boys who put posters on their wall any more, and I'm not a 21-year-old, size 10 any more, either". One thing is impossible to deny, though: Kim Wilde is nearly impossible not to have a laugh with.

As the equally friendly Hal busies himself in the kitchen, Kim chats in the garden, admitting, "I never had big dreams to be a star. I thought I'd be a backing singer, and I'd have been quite happy doing that. Despite Dad's success, the idea of being a pop star to me felt as difficult as it does to anyone."

"Dad" is Fifties rock 'n' roller Marty Wilde. "He's still the first to tell me to listen to Pendulum or Kasabian or whoever", grins his daughter. That Kim achieved stardom aged just 20, when Kids in America hit number two in the UK in 1981, was largely down to luck, at a time when her younger brother, Ricky, was attracting the attention of Mickie Most - the Animals/Lulu producer behind RAK Records.

"A few weeks before meeting Mickie, I went to see the Mo-Dettes", Kim recalls. "I thought I could persuade them to let me be their backing singer. Then Mickie basically went, 'Do you want a record deal?' and that was that. I took to the limelight like a duck to water. I realise now that I was far more ambitious than I gave myself credit for."

With Ricky content to write Kim's hits with their dad, "the Wilde mafia" were born - and they remained close-knit, despite external pressures.

"The label was always whispering in my ear, trying to force me to work with the latest big, hip name", Kim smiles. "I'd just say, 'No, we can do better than that.' They gave up trying to turn me into a flawless, shiny pop star in the end - that wasn't what I got into the industry for. My mum had just given birth to my sister, Roxanne, and I preferred to hang out with them than to try to crack America. I had a great career in Europeand I was happier waking up in Paris than Arizona. It's a lot closer and I can go home for tea!"

With her cover of The Supremes' You Keep Me Hangin' On hitting number one in the US in 1987, Kim is clearly speaking from experience. But this was one of her more straight-down-the-line hits. Other Wilde tracks weren't such obvious contenders for chart space - the suicide drame of View From A Bridge and the gunned-down RAF soldier in Cambodia weren't themes you'd catch on a typical Top Of The Pops.

"Oh, they were bonkers", hoots Kim. "The Eighties was a time when you could sing mad lyrics, and that suited me. I was so overwhelmed with travelling that I let Ricky and dad get on with songwriting: 'What do you think of this one?' 'It's bonkers - so let's try it!'"

Kim began writing in earnest around 1986's Another Step album, coming into her own on the following release, Close. "I didn't see any point in being a singer if I didn't at least try to contribute", she admits. "I'd love to write for other artists like Cathy Dennis - listen to The Saturdays sing a great song I'd written, while I set here in the garden and watch butterflies."

She learned to write pop by deconstructing Todd Rundgren's albums, and the craft would give Kim a place to vent about her unsettled love life. "I was quite lonely at times", she sighs. "I didn't fit into the London scene. I wasn't a great clubber or socialiser. But I had a sense of destiny, as I knew that singing isn't all there is. I'd mistake certain men and think, 'Perhaps you're the person it's going to happen with'. I got that wrong quite a few times!

"Singing was an escape from that", she continues. "There were many times hen I found it hard to sing for the tears, and I'm sure any female artist will admit the same. I never felt I had any privacy. But my mum said, 'You'll worry when the press aren't interested in what you're doing". That's how I tried to see it, but there were times as a 20-something whose heart was breaking when it was hard."

By 1995's Now & Forever, where Kim reinvented herself as an R&B diva, she was burnt out. "I couldn't connect with music", she states. "Oasis weren't as great as everyone said, and I didn't get the Spice Girls. I felt too old for it. I liked Now & Forever but the public didn't want me as an R&B singer, so I felt I should get out rather than be the last one at the party."

A year later, Kim met Hal when they appeared together in a West End production of The Who's Tommy. "I noticed he had a photo of Kylie on his fridge, which got taken off after about our fourth date", she laughs. "He knew who I was, he just hadn't paid much attention. I joked that he didn't know if I was Kim Wilde or Kim Carnes!"

Married nine months after they met, Kim and Hal soon had Harry, now 15, and 13-year-old Rose. Turning to gardening, Kim was convinced her pop days were over, until she was persuaded to join the Hear and Now tour in 2001.

"The promoter kept calling, and I'd say, 'No one wants me to sing Kids in America these days, just drop it", she smiles. "But then he told me the line-up - ABC, The Human League, Clare Grogan, Heaven 17 - and I thought I'd be an idiot to pass up meeting those guys again. I saw it as a way to have fun, get into a smaller pair of jeans, take the money and run!"

Overwhelmed by the fans' reaction, Kim has performed live ever since, but her tour in December - to coincide with a Christmas album - will be er first solo run since 1986. "My voice has matured", she says. "I quit pop at 36, which is when female voices mature considerably. So when I got back on tour, I was belting out songs with a power I'd never had."

Kim's children are both showing signs of becoming the third generation of Wilde pop stars - "Harry is a natural rock god, but he told me he doesn't like my music. At all!" - and there are plans for a first new UK album since Now & Forever. "I don't know if the world is ready for another Kim Wilde anthem", she concludes. "But they're there for the taking."

Wilde about...

...Jacko and Bowie

"One of the reasons I left RAK is that Mickie Most didn't see me as a live act. A lot of songs in the Eighties were about production, and technology hadn't caught up in the live arena, which didn't help. So when I got the phone call to support Michael Jackson on the Bad tour in 1988, I didn't have the confidence to say yes. I hadn't done much touring, and I couldn't see me being able to stand on the same stage as the greatest pop performer on the planet. My mum managed me at the time, and she went into mum mode. She said, 'You can do this', and I listened to her as a mum, not a manager.

"It was the right decision, and Michael's fans were amazing to me. I learned from him that you have to respect the connection between you and the audience. He was almost superhuman, and that started from the moment he got on the plane for the first show. To be superhuman on stage and then be the bloke next door is a big leap. So, outside of the publicity shot of us, I didn't really get to meet Michael, but I respect how he needed to keep his distance from everyone.

"David Bowie was much more down-to-earth. He was just a bloke - he'd pop his head around the dressing room door and go, 'Hello Kim, how are you doing?' He's very good at entering the world of the entertainer and stepping straight back out as soon as he gets off stage."

...Gardening

"I had a summer job in a gardening nursery, funnily enough. I was in a greenhouse and I loved it. It must've left a big impression! I got back into horticulture when I oved to my current house. I told the guy who cut our grass that I wanted to turn it into a nice garden, but didn't know how. He recommended a course at a local collee. Being at the back of the class was a hallelujah moment - I felt I was totally where I should be. You don't get many of those in life. I had them when my career began, when I met Hal and when I found my house.

"I loved that I was learning again. I was 36, and that's a long time to have stopped learning. The last thing I'd learned was how to strut across the stage and make great pop records.

"I'd been at art college prior to my career, so colour and composition were things I already loved, and I relished creating that with the plants. Winning the Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2005 meant more to me than You Keep Me Hangin' On reaching number one in the US. It still makes me smile from ear to ear. I got to present 50 episodes of Garden Invaders for BBC1 as well, and that involved more learning. I'd been very happy just being around the kids, and I got very distracted by horticulture."

...that YouTube video

"Me and Ricky went to a Christmas party last year and got absolutely larruped. I sang Kids in America to a Tube full of pele coming back from the O2, which ended up getting two million views on YouTube. I've definitely taken the crown for being the party queen of Christmas, which is a nice crown to have. I don't want people to think I'm a sad old Eighties lush, but we had a great night!

"Mind you, there's no wa yof knowing what my kids think. It's probably a deeply disturbing episode for them, and I'll doubtless end up paying therapy bills for them in years to come! Kids don't tell you much when they're 13 and 15, but when they're 21 they'll probably say, 'Mum, that really was a problem. It ruined the whole of my teenage life.' In which case, I'll have to take it on the chin and say, 'Sorry!'

"I'm a huge fan of Christmas, anyway. I'm releasing a Christmas album, which came from hearing Tracey Thorn's one, Tinsel and Lights. I told her on Twitter how inspirational it was and, as soon as last Christmas was out of the way, I started writing on the piano. The album's got six original songs and six old favourites. I've kept away from religion, as I don't have strong religious views, and that took out a lot of choices for covers. Winter Wonderland is on there, and there's some stuff based on poems that Hal wrote."