Interview with Eighties icon Kim Wilde
Music runs deeps in the blood of Kim Wilde’s family. The singer, who enjoyed major success in the 1980s with a string of hit singles and albums, grew up with a musician father, Marty, a backup singing mother, Joyce, a singing sister in Roxanne (who most recently has provided harmonies for Kylie Minogue), and brother Ricky (who wrote several hit songs for Kim herself).
Now it seems the music genes are being passed on even further, to Kim’s own kids, Rose and Harry, and her niece, Scarlett, who’ll be joining her soon on stage for an Australian tour (along with 80s stalwart Nik Kershaw).
Antonino Tati chats with Kim about “having music in the blood”, moving away from the music biz to discover the grand world of landscape design, and of the drama of being ‘sprung’ down at the shops without proper makeup on…
Hi Kim. Where are you based these days?
Your signature hit single was Kids In America; did you ever call America home after the success of that song?
No, I never did. I’m a true Brit.
You have a long line of music history in the family; your dad Marty being a musician, and your mum Joyce having been a singer.
Yes, my mum was in one of the first-ever girl bands in the UK, really. They were called The Vernons Girls and there was a pack of ’em. They used to sing and dance and back up all the big stars of the ’50s like Gene Vincent, Cliff Richard and my dad, Marty. That’s where they met: on one of the rock’n’roll shows.
So the blueprint for you to go into music was pretty much laid down from birth.
I think so now that we have our own kids. My husband and I have our own kids – a 13-year-old girl called Rose, and a 15-year-old son called Harry – and music is their life. It seems to be a genetic thing, and music in the family is becoming more saturated and not diluting at all.
And your niece performs on stage with you?
Yes, she’s my brother Ricky’s daughter [NB: Ricky wrote Kids In America], Scarlett Wilde.
So what’s it like working with family on tour; is there any domestic friction?
Not really. It’s more like a holiday atmosphere. Any pressures or stuff you might have going on at home, disappear as soon as you hit the airport. A kind of ‘going on a summer holiday’ mentality takes over. There’s a lot of laughing and a lot of fun. I have an amazing band and I have to say it’s sheer joy working with them too.
Great. You have an impressive discography. Ten million albums and 20 million singles sold worldwide at last count. They’re rather impressive figures. Are you fine if a track you’ve released that you’re quite proud of, hasn’t charted as well as previous singles?
Sure. Toward the end of the ’80s and at the beginning of the ’90s I was finding it hard to move on from Kids In America. A combination of factors actually had me thinking of getting out of the music industry. I just felt like I was going to be on a scratched record for a while. So I did get out. I was 36 at the time and I got married and had kids, and I had no intention of ever singing Kids In America again. I didn’t for years and I didn’t miss it, either. Then I went on a retro ’80s tour here in the UK and I was amazed at (a) how much I loved it, and (b) the reaction from the audience. I really wasn’t expecting that. So since then I’ve recorded several more albums and most have been of original material. I’m working all the time now, and have never been so busy!
So you’re happy to play the hits again, mixed in with some new music?
Yeah, yeah. They make good bed partners. We love the way people react to them after all these years. In fact it kind of gets better and better. The older I get and the more unlikely it seems that a 52-year-old Hertfordshire housewife will sing Kids In America, the more fun you can have with it.
The irony can set in.
Yeah, the irony sets in, but we really work it and we’re very serious about what we deliver on stage. I work with some of the best musicians, and we’re hardcore. We’re not up there for a joke. We can see the irony and the humour but we’re serious about delivering a hundred-percent rock’n’roll experience [laughs a little, just the same].
You’re still looking very glamorous. I’m wondering if you ever get stopped in the street?
Yeah, there are times when you really wanna die. Especially when you haven’t done your hair and you’ve got no makeup on and you just don’t want to be recognised. You’ll always get someone coming up to you and asking if you’re Kim Wilde, and you think about lying for a second because you don’t want to disappoint them. But you admit to it and they’re always so kind and gracious. I have a great relationship with the general public; it’s one of the great privileges of my life. There are times when it’s awkward but I always respect that that’s the bed I put myself in and I have to take what comes with it.
What do you think of today’s female artists? Are there some stand-out ones that deserve to be there in the long-run or is all just flash-in-the-pan?
I think artists like Emile Sandé, and Adele, and of course Beyoncé are magnificent. There’s enough out there – you know, Rihanna and Jessie J – these are all fantastic women who are very involved creatively and musically in their work. Put it this way; there’s a plethora of female artists out there to inspire my daughter. And it’s a great time for live music as well. Live music is on a real high, and so it should be.
Yes, artists are seeming to have to earn their keep by performing live more and more these days. With the price of single sales even being so low, they’ve got to get on the road to make a living.
Exactly. Back in the day, I remember we’d be selling 30, 40, sometimes 60 thousand records a day and you certainly can’t do that anymore. Things have changed dramatically, so for a lot of artists playing live has replaced that kind of income stream. At the same time, it’s really inspired music. Playing live got put on the backburner for a long time for these artists who kind rested on their laurels. Dare I say, maybe even myself. But now it’s very inspiring being live on stage, and a lot of work I’ve done on stage recently has inspired a new and original album.
You’ve got to be able to prove your worth and be able to sing and play when live. It can’t be covered up with tricks and remixing.
No, no, unless you wanna go out and mime!
Well we know of a few shockers in the ’80s who did that and got sprung.
Exactly, and it’s not a good thing. You do have to be able to cut it live.
You’ve also appeared regularly on television; tell us about that.
I’ve done loads. When I got out of the music business I went back to college to study horticulture and design, and it lead to television and I ended up presenting shows for the Beeb [the BBC]; doing garden makeovers and other physically exhausting stuff. I even ended up writing books – and that was a real trip. I thought that getting married and having kids would be a bit more peaceful but it turned out that I got on an even bigger rollercoaster than the one I had just got off! But it’s been a wonderful, other, parallel universe.
So it was good to get your hands dirty in a different field, so to speak?
Certainly. There are lots of similarities. Landscaping and gardening are very creative; beautiful, constantly challenging, and unpredictable. I’ve been involved with a lot of community gardens, too, so it ticks a huge amount of boxes that you might not think it would.
You started out studying in design. Did you ever imagine that you would go through music, then come full circle and go back to design – albeit in a landscape sense – while still be making music?
Yes, it always used to worry me:what happens to an unemployed pop star. Sometimes these careers can be finite. I thought, ‘How would you replace something that fantastic? How would you move on with your life having known that success and joy?’ and it did worry me. I thought I’d really have to find something to replace it, otherwise life is not going to be very satisfying, but never in a million years did I ever guess it would be gardening and the places it has taken me to, and continues to take me to. It’s just been incredible.
Well we can say that you’ve literally stopped to smell the roses.
Yeah, I certainly have!
Kim Wilde tours Australia with Nik Kershaw in October.
Dates and venues as follows:
Wednesday 16 October
Ticketing info: www.ticketek.com
Thursday 17 October
Chelsea Heights, Mornington, Victoria
Ticketing info: www.ticketmaster.com.au
Friday 18 October
The Palais, Melbourne
Ticketing info: www.ticketmaster.com.au
Saturday 19 October
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Ticketing info: www.ticketek.com
Sunday 20 October
Astor Theatre, Perth
Ticketing info: www.showticketing.com.au