Lesley-Ann Jones interviews Kim Wilde in a half hour special.
(Music video for 'Kids in America' shown.)
The British pop scene in the early Eighties was crying out for some homegrown talent that could compete with the likes of Blondie and Olivia Newton-John. 20 year old Kim Wilde, with her peroxide blonde hair, tomboy clothes and melancholic melodies captured the moment and overnight became the poster girl for the new wave.
So I decided to let you be the glamorous one and then we both walk up wearing black.
It's Rock and Roll, Lesley. You're a rock and roll woman, you know that.
'Kids in America' turned you into - I know you were twenty - turned you into a teenage icon. You were this kind of wild-looking image that people hadn't come across before that and you just took boys' bedrooms by storm. Were you aware of that?
I suppose I must have been because crowds would follow me and people would be waiting outside TV studios. I was aware, there was a lot of people, a lot of young people...
Did boys throw their boxer shorts on stage or something?
It was never like that. I mean, I was a bit of a tomboy and I wasn't really that comfortable with my own sexuality anyway. I was quite private from that point of view. I didn't do too much revealing. You won't find any topless photographs of me or any that saucy actually. Some were a little bit coquettish, but you're not gonna find anything really raunchy at all.
In your videos, though, especially lately, you come across as quite a woman in charge of your sensuality and in control, which is a very sexy thing to watch as well, but how did that evolve?
I think as I've got older these things just happen. You feel more comfortable with your own sexuality and the way that you express yourself and you develop a sense of humour about your sexuality, which I had none of when I started. I didn't think it was anything to have a sense of humour about particularly.
I don't think any of us did, though, we all took it far too seriously.
Far too seriously, but once you find the humour in it, then you can have so much fun and certainly as you get older, especially since I hit my fourties, if you don't have a sense of humour about your sexuality then you may just as well go home.
Of course Kim comes from Rock 'n' Roll royalty. her dad Marty Wilde was himself a teen hearthrob and among the first generation of British pop stars to emulate American rock 'n' roll.
Was it the kind of household where people danced in the kitchen and had a lot of parties?
Yeah, I think to a degree there was a load of fun and frolics. But it wasn't really very showbiz. I mean, we lived in Hertfordshire, a lot of people don't really want to go that far for fun. I do remember Billy Fury used to turn up quite a lot in the early days...
Sober or drunk?
He was always really sober, he was a great wildlife fanatic and he used to come and save deer and stuff and put them in our shed. He was such a... He was a country boy really.
And whose idea was it, for you. Because I know you went to art college at some point very serious into that scenario, you became a pop star and you were twenty when you signed your first record deal. Whose idea was it for you to become a pop singer?
I don't know who made me, actually... influenced me the most. I must have been my dad because I was watching him perform and sing and entertain people. So I think my first ambitions were really to sing and entertain rather than to be famous or a pop star.
So what I'm wondering is, why you went to art college. Why not stage school or singing school or any of those kind of outlets really. Why did you kind of take the safe route? And how did you get the record deal?
I wasn't very good at school. I was in a quite academic school, so the things that I shone in was arts and music. So it's not really surprising that I pursued them because every other subject it seemed to me, made me feel rather stupid. But the only subjects that made me feel like something of selfworth were the arts. So when it came to leaving school, which I was in no rush to do, so I stayed on and did 'A' level - arts - I thought, well, I don't want to train to be a secretary so I deliberately didn't learn to type. Type, can you imagine? I did actually do a course in car maintenance instead. I had a choice: you can do car maintenance or typing. Car maintenance! It wasn't that great actually, but it was better than typing. And I was determined not to get caught doing something that I didn't want to do. Art college seemed like a good option at the time. Because the options were pretty small.
So your very first single was a global hit. How did that feel? Was it all downhill from there? Did that go through your mind?
No it didn't at all. I was just relieved to have a job I loved, so... I always craved my independence, I was born an independent spirit and so when I had the means to be independent, and to do the thing I loved most of all, which was singing, and to emulate my heroines and heroes...
Who were they at the time?
They're a combination of people. From more considered songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King to people like Agnetha in Abba and Debbie Harry. I love when music and glamour come together. They were quite an eclectic bunch. I loved Joni Mitchell, most, any sane woman loves Joni Mitchell and it was lovely to love her as a child. I didn't really understand what the hell she was going on about half the time but I had my mum's vinyl and I used to put it on my record player. And I remember she had a copy of 'The hissing of summer lawns' which is just the most complicated album to listen to when you're a teenager, but at the same time I really loved 'Parallel lines' by Blondie and I just loved that look she gave to the camera...
Is that where you got the dark rooted blonde look from? A very iconic look on that album cover, wasn't it?
Yeah, it was.
When did you first dye your hair, if I dare ask that question?
I dyed my hair when I was at art college and I remember my arts tutor said it was the most creative thing I'd done while I was there. (Laughs) He didn't much care for me.
You've kept that look all these years. It's kind of your definitive look now, isn't it?
Yeah, I love the blonde thing. I'm just a sucker for blonde hair.
(Music video for 'You keep me hangin' on' shown.)
And then you signed your record deal and then your sitting there in London among all those great bands and artists...
I was at home for the first few years. I used to get quite famous DJ's coming up to the house trying to have a date with me. I won't say who. There would be a quite famous Radio 1 DJ tried mincing around on the phone obviously dying to ask me out on a date and mum would be aghast, she wouldn't believe it. She would be listening to his breakf... whoops gave it away - It was quite fun. I remember I had a party at my home once, I can't remember, it must have been for my 20th, I think I invited Steve Strange and a whole bunch of people and I'd gone to bed about 1 o'clock, in my room, on my own, nextdoor my brother Ricky had written 'Kids in America', in his room, all alone, and the door went - and I didn't know this until breakfast. Dad had opened it and Steve Strange had turned up with a whole bunch of people saying 'where's the party!'. My dad said 'Go home, it's too late. What are you doing, turning up at this hour?' He sent them off. They came all the way to Hertfordshire for this party. I really wasn't a very... I wasn't in the thick of all this partying and clubbing thing. I was a very slow starter. I was a very young 20-year-old.
Were your parents nervous? Because if you were a very young 20-year-old, quite naive and so on, weren't they frightened about letting you go on the road with these hard bitten music business people?
I'd signed to RAK Records, Mickie Most's record label, Mickie Most being the sort of Simon Cowell of his day, in pretty much every way, music mogul and very commanding presence... Did you know Mickie Most?
Of course, yeah, just an amazing man. Charismatic, clever, smart. He got me on the road doing lots of promotion all over the world. But he sent his right hand man or woman Sonia Hardy, she used to look after me. She would be in the dressing room. I'd have people like Lemmy from Motörhead come in with a great big cup of vodka trying to get me drunk. I remember the guy from Kiss, Gene Simmons, he tried it on with me a little bit, but Sonia was always there, making sure that these big hairy guys...
A surrogate mum. Were you frightened of them?
When you've got a crotchplate like Gene Simmons coming towards you anyone would be scared.
Any compromising situations? Did you escape a few times?
I think I escaped a few times but frankly I always travel with people who looked after me and made sure that... 'Lock your door Kim'. 'Yeah'.
It's quite difficult to have a normal life on the road especially when you're so young. You can't form normal relationships on the road, you can't fancy someone and go out for a meal with them and sort of build a normal relationship.
It did put in a cute angle at times. It did make it quite hard, which is probably why I didn't get married until I was 36, although I like to think it's because I hadn't met Hal until I was 36.
You didn't have loads of high profile boyfriends. You had a couple...
I was very ambitious, you know I really loved what I was doing.
Work came fast, really.
Work came first. I wasn't in any hurry to settle down. I'm so grateful that it happened at all and that it happened at that age was perfect. Enough time for us to have children, it has just been amazing. The timing was just perfect for me.
You had your kids really quickly as well.
Yeah, we didn't hang around.
And that was kindof deliberate?
There was just this overwhelming urge to have children. You know, it's falling in love, having children. It's beautiful, the whole energy all happened. There was no planning actually. I mean the whole getting married thing wasn't even planned. We just decided to get married one day and all of a sudden my mum had a nightmare: she had within six months to sort out the wedding of the century
Over the past 30 years, Kim Wilde have achieved what few popstars ever manage: to reinvent herself. Most recently she trained as a landscape gardener. A passion that saw her win a gold at the 2005 Chelsea Flower Show.
All this time, you've maintained your career and your profile across Europe. You've sort of put it to one side here and become a gardener. Where did that come from?
The big impact that nature had on me as a child is probably quite common for all children when they start going into the garden and mucking around with rose petals and picking apples. There's a very strong, natural connection, I think, with children and nature. But it really had a big impact on me when I was 8 because we moved out of London into the countryside. Then all of a sudden, we were living in a chocolate box house, a thatched cottage in the middle of a wood with bunny rabbits running around and it smelt great and it looked great. It was overwhelming, beautiful colour. All the kids at the village school, their dads were growing vegetables and stuff. And I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Plus, of course, as I was getting older I was watching 'The good life' with Felicity Kendal. I thought I wouldn't mind a few pigs in the back yard, that sounds like the best way to live life. They were clearly having much more fun than old Penelope next door.
It wasn't a hobby for you, it became a career and you became a sort of iconic, definitive authority on the subject. You were the kind of Nigella of soil.
The whole gardening thing just exploded, all these garden makeover shows were going crazy on TV and I just loved it. It was so creative, it was so fresh, so much energy surrounding it and all that energy that I'd thrown at my career of being Kim Wilde now I threw at the kids and at this new subject. And the thing that really turned things around for me was going back to study it at college. And it was lovely to be a mature student, sitting in a classroom and being anonymous.
How do you go from being a rock chick, who's world famous, to sitting at a desk among a bunch of anonymous people and expecting to just blend in, how does that work?
The class was a mix of younger and more mature students and they were all a bit anoraky like me. They just loved plants and trees and... I mean I'd always loved that but I went through an amazing college, it was the Capel Manor horticultural college in Enfield, and they just had inspired tutors, an inspired way of teaching and no-one was remotely interested whether I was sitting in the class. They were far more interested in the latin names and the beautiful plants. That sounds a bit unlikely but it just blew me away.
It sounds a bit brave to me, to do something new when you're at the peak of your rock and roll career, really.
You have to remember, Lesley I wasn't really at the peak. I actually started to feel like it was a party I should have left a few hours ago. And I had this sense that I was a bit bored of myself anyway. I'd been Kim Wilde since I was 20 and I was 36. That's quite a long time to be on that particular rollercoaster. As wonderful as it was, you know, the highs and lows, but I have to say if I'm very honest with you when I managed to bow out gracefully I was not at the peak.
What about the single that you did for Comic Relief? How did that come about?
Well of course, I only got the gig because my name was Kim. Because they wanted Mel & Kim. Of course, Mel & Kim were lighting up the charts with their fantastic dance hits at the time. So yeah, I got the gig because my name was Kim.
And Mel Smith, of course, game for a laugh.
Bless him, I've never met a man with so much energy. I mean, he doesn't look like the most energetic person, but he's got more energy than 20 20-year-olds.
He was always the last one to leave at a party.
Always the last one, he's just an astonishing man. And such a sweetheart of course, and then Richard Curtis, of course, who's one of the most famous movie directors in the world, 'Notting hill' and 'Four weddings and a funeral'. He was directing it and I thought he was rather sweet. I had a bit of a crush on him.
You could have had him?
I don't think so, I think he needed a more cerebral woman. I don't think he was the blonde type.
What about the kids? How do they handle your profile and your fame?
It's not been in their face throughout their whole life. They're only 10 and 12, and for most of that I've been a gardener, or at home, and I've only just started being more the Kim Wilde that I was during the Eighties in the last few years. They've only seen me play live a couple of times, maybe three times in all. So it's not part of their life yet. It's becoming part of their life and of course they've discovered the internet so sometimes I go in there and see that my daughter is sort of sneaking around and spying on me.
Have a look, see what my mum was all about. It's no secret that you're almost 50. And women's looks change, we all have to deal with that. Is that an issue for you?
Well it hasn't been so far, but you know, if you ask me that in five years time when I'm flicking through the botox magazines...
You've never had any evasive procedures?
No, not yet but I really hope not to, because I'm a coward. And I also don't really want to be in hospital. I don't like those places. They're not really safe places to be, let's face it.
The songwriting seems to have gone berserk. You've suddenly really found some confidence there.
Yeah, songwriting is fantastic. I've always loved songwriting. I was influenced by all the greatest songwriters. I wrote songs for about 10 years, co-wrote with Ricky, quite a few of my big hits. And then when I got out of the music business I just thought well, 'You were a pretty good writer, Kim, but you really haven't set the world on fire, so you gave it ten years, good on you girl, and just go and do something different.' And I had no intention of going back into songwriting. But anyway I did, with some very good results, so we'll see.
(Music video for 'Lights down low' is shown.)
What happens now?
Now what happens is, I've just recorded a new album, I get to stand before 80,000 people like I did a few weeks ago in Vienna, having a ball and singing my hits. The audience going crazy. Of course they weren't all there to see me, they came for Billy Idol as well, but... um... yeah... I can't really remember what I'm saying now, I'm too blown away by Billy Idol.... God he's gorgeous isn't he?
He gets better. We went to school together actually.
Did you? Really? You know I went to a party, before I became very famous, and I walked into the room, and he had very blonde hair, and I had very blonde hair, we both looked at eachother, it was almost like, 'blonde hair at dawn'... So, yeah, back in the heart of music again. I'm really loving it.
Back to being the Brigitte Bardot of rock?
It's kind of fun to be 50 and muck around with that stuff. I mean... thank God for Madonna and all these lovely older icons to make us feel a lot more confident about being older and going out there. If I can contribute to that argument, the Helen Mirren factor, if I can sort of add to women feeling great about getting older, then I'll be very happy.
Older women I admire, apart from you, are all much older than me. You're a bit younger than me. I don't see why it's a big deal, people like us can go out there and say, 'it's okay'. You get older, but you're still a sexy bird.
I think so. (Laughs)