Kim Wilde has a very full life these days. She’s a wife and mother, a songwriter, a radio DJ, an author, a TV show presenter, an award winning gardener…oh, and she is still touring and performing around the world, bringing her not inconsiderable roster of memorable chart hits to her fans, new and old, whenever she gets the chance.
The Upside News caught up with her in the days leading up to her departure from Britain for her journey down to our shores.
She was very forthcoming, and happy to chat about a diverse range of subjects.
Kim seems to be a very happy and contented person these days, grateful for her success and proud of her many achievements…but still always up for something new.
The Upside News: Thanks for chatting with The Upside News, and thanks for putting Adelaide on your tour itinerary once again – there are plenty of people getting excited about your visit.
Kim Wilde: That’s great news. Can’t wait to get there – we leave on Monday.
TUN: Australia has always been keen to hear your music right from the start of your career.
I can still remember you being interviewed on the TV show Countdown years ago, where you looked really, really shy and seemed a bit shocked and overawed by your sudden success.
When did you first become comfortable with the fact that you were a star?
KW: I kind of took to it like a duck to water. I was probably a bit jetlagged when you saw me that day!
I have to say that, as soon as Kids In America became a hit, I was there like a bear. You know, I was very aware of how lucky I was, and that I was getting to do what I had wanted to do all throughout my life.
All my life I had been preparing for that moment one way or another. I loved music. My whole world was about music – singing, going to concerts. I was just always preparing for it to start.
And when it did start, I was ready to run – and I did.
TUN: So was it a case then of you in front of the mirror, with your hairbrush, singing along to your mum and dad’s music when you were a kid, as part of that preparation?
KW: Well, there was so much music in the house, because my dad [fifties / sixties chart star, Marty Wilde] was always playing his guitar and writing songs, and of course, I grew up in the sixties which was an incredible decade for music, pop music. And then, in the seventies, turning into a teenager, the music just kept getting better and better, didn’t it?
And, you know, my dad was a voracious record buyer. We had a living room full of vinyl and a great big record player, and it was always playing. We just loved it.
And it was always the very best that was out there. He had really eclectic tastes. You know one minute he’d be listening to Tchaikovsky, and then the next minute he’d have Elvis Presley on, or the new Kraftwerk album, or Mike Oldfield, or Joni Mitchell…or my mum would be playing Dusty Springfield, Carly Simon and Carole King.
So we were brought up in a climate where music was central to what was going on in the house. Some people grow up in a house where the central focus is, maybe, religion – our religion became music.
TUN: The best religion there is!
KW: I think so.
TUN: Was it like a case of it being you in one room, and then someone yelling out ‘Kim! Turn down Eastenders – we’re writing a pop classic in here!’? Because all of your early hits were written in the family home weren’t they?
KW: Yeah, they were. But I was at art college, I wasn’t a great TV watcher. I mean TV was very different in those days – you only had a few channels.
You know I was just doing teenagery-type things. I was at art college. I was going to gigs. I was hanging out with my mates.
And Ricky’s [Kim’s songwriter / record producer brother] bedroom was next door to mine, and so yes, I did hear him writing Kids In America because he wrote it on a little portable synth called a Wasp, which was yellow and black and had a pulse on it. So it was kind of exciting because all this technology was in Ricky’s bedroom when a lot of technology at that time was hugely expensive and only in very expensive recording studios.
And Rick was already an accomplished musician, he’d learnt to play guitar very, very well. He was a natural musician. He could turn his hand to anything. It was that combination of his rock and roll heritage and a new wave sensibility – that synth music and new sound possibilities that they brought.
He was very influenced by records by Gary Numan, of course, and the early Human League stuff, and Heaven 17. We all were, you know. We were buying their records and it was music we loved.
Ricky took to being a record producer in a naturally brilliant way, for someone so young. He started to find his way around the studio in seconds, it was where he belonged. So the whole thing was very spontaneous in many ways.
TUN: And when you heard that song coming through the wall – did you know he was writing it for you? Or did you just march in there and say, ‘I want that!’
KW: No, I didn’t. I knew that he had a lot of interest from record labels. From Mickie Most’s record label in particular.
Mickie Most was a huge figure at that time. It was a bit like being involved with Simon Cowell, to a degree. Although Mickie was someone vastly more talented than Simon Cowell, I have to say. So we were involved with one of the best.
And I had just left art college, and I wanted to sing, and Ricky was writing…and as I said, it was very spontaneous.
When I heard the song first of all, I just loved the energy of it. My dad had just written this crazy lyric about kids in America with a lot of attitude. It was just so crazy. I thought, yeah, I love this!
I don’t know why I love it – but I do. And I think a lot of people feel that way about Kids In America. They don’t really know why they love it, but they just do.
TUN: Yes, you always seem to find yourself responding to it with a big smile on your face.
KW: Yeah! It’s a real feel good song and fun, its got a great melody.
It’s got a lot of attitude – I think people love songs with a bit of attitude – and it had bucketloads of that. And my edgy vocals, you know…
I mean the whole thing, you couldn’t really make it up – it really was very spontaneous, as I said before.
TUN: I was telling some folks in the office today that I was going to chat with you this evening, and people around the room started calling out Kim Wilde hit song titles and everyone just started singing the choruses to all of them.
KW: That’s so sweet! That’s nice to know.
TUN: What’s it feel like knowing that you are such an important part of the soundtrack to so many peoples’ lives?
KW: It’s wonderful. A huge privilege. It really is. I derive a lot of happiness from it. It’s been an amazing thing. It’s been a huge part of my life, the fact that my music can connect with people – and people have been a big part of my career, its not just music.
There’s sort of an equation here, where people are hugely important. So that’s been the wonderful equation of my career and my life.
TUN: Now, you’re touring with Howard Jones this time around, and I believe you have been long-time friends. What song(s) will you be performing together on the night – will you be performing some of his, and / or some of yours?
KW: Well, it might be somebody else’s! We might go down a very different road. And it might be a combination, you know, we might do one of ours, or someone else’s that is completely unexpected and beautiful. We’ve got a few plans…
Yeah, we’ve got a few plans!
TUN: Tell us a little bit about how you both came to record new material for Fly, the Eddie The Eagle soundtrack record, along with so many of your 80s hit making peers.
KW: Well, I was approached by Glenn Gregory who had put together a track with Gary Barlow and I went to the studio and I loved the track – it had a lot going for it – so it came together really quickly in Glenn’s studio. I was in contact with Gary a little bit, and I was involved in the production element of it, which was really great. You know, he brought a lot to the table on that one, of course.
And then the film, well, it was really, really sweet! A really lovely, sweet film. It really worked, and I’m glad I was a part of it.
And you know its always lovely to have my name associated with those great artists from the eighties, it’s lovely that my name is alongside artists like Howard, or ABC, or Heaven 17. It’s wonderful.
TUN: Reading through the line-up of artists on the record is like looking back at one of the weekly charts from your heyday. They all seem to have come out for the project.
KW: Yeah, it just worked. It’s one of those soundtracks that really works. So hats off to Gary for masterminding the whole thing. I know he put a huge amount of love and energy into it.
Of course, he’s an eighties child! And that’s seen him have an amazing career inspired by that decade. You know we all have. I mean these were artists whose records I was buying at that time, as well.
TUN: At this stage of your career I guess you can pick and choose what you do. I was surprised to see you appeared with Lawnmower Death at this year’s Download Festival. How did that pairing come about?
KW: Well, I’m always up for something new. I like to keep things as edgy as I can from time to time, even at this advanced stage of my life! (Laughs)
People would always say to me, you know, ‘Lots of people have covered Kids In America – what’s your favourite version?’ And I would always say that is was Lawnmower Death, and people wouldn’t expect that because, you know, because they would like me to say something a little bit more accessible.
But I always liked the way they completely redefined the song in their thrash metal way, and they had so much fun with it!
So I would always answer people, ‘Lawnmower Death’, and then the band got into contact with me and they said, ‘Look, we hear that you know our version. Do you want to do Download with us?’ And it was a no-brainer really. I thought, well, if they want to offer an eighties housewife icon [a slot] at Download, well they’re welcome to her!
And it actually caused a real stir, and the audience absolutely loved it.
Social media went crazy, and their career has gone a bit crazy since as well…
TUN: And you looked like you were having a great time as well, so it was a win-win?
KW: Yeah, we were having so much fun!
TUN: How has your attitude to touring changed over the years?
KW: Well touring is hard work. You have to be very focused and have to look after yourself. It’s a big deal. It takes a lot out of you, and you give a lot.
And you receive a lot, of course, so it’s a good deal. Being around audiences, especially now, it’s incredible to receive all of that energy from people. I mean, it is hugely uplifting.
It’s very tangible, you know, you can feel it; and you can certainly see it. Something magical happens for me, these days. I’m just making the most of it while I can still do that.
TUN: In your heyday you toured as support with people like Michael Jackson and David Bowie. Were you an awestruck fan girl? Or did those tours provide an important learning experience for you?
KW: I learnt a lot from both of them. Mostly from Michael Jackson because I did 30 shows with him.
I did slightly less with Bowie, but obviously when you are around two of the most incredible artists of our times you don’t walk away unaffected by that.
It was amazing to be on both of those tours for lots of different reasons. You know, when you are around people who are so inspiring, it rubs off on you. You go away rejuvenated and wanting to do things slightly better than you did them before, if not a hell of a lot better.
As a performer, I really cut my teeth on that Michael Jackson tour. I had to raise my own personal bar, especially in terms of singing technique and having to get songs out – I had never done so much touring before.
Being on that Michael Jackson tour taught me a lot about the physical techniques of getting melodies out there.
A lot of that has changed these days. The way we can make music on stage now, you know, with the use of in your ears, that helps a lot to hear what’s on stage. You are not assaulted by great big speakers that are far too loud, and lead guitarists who keep turning themselves up, and all that kind of stuff.
So it’s much easier to hear what’s on stage now and to enjoy the art of singing. So, for me, the last fifteen years or so, using in your ears and using new technology to create music, I’m having a much easier, much more rewarding experience.
TUN: You wrote a reflection on your website earlier this year about the impact of Bowie’s death on you and your daughter. Your daughter is obviously someone who has inherited a love for music too, and feels engaged and involved with it?
KW: Yeah, absolutely. She has Hunky Dory on her record player every week! She’s becoming a singer-songwriter, and she’s hugely inspired by Bowie, and so is our son. He’s a guitar player, and a songwriter himself.
TUN: How is his band, Blighty Inc. doing?
KW: No he’s changed it now. His new band is called Keid. K-E-I-D. They have just reformed after they broke up for a bit. He’s still only eighteen and they’ve already got an almost eight year history! (Laughs) …because they all met at school. Anyway, he’s very excited, and we’re excited to support him.
TUN: And now that you are working on the radio, as you have been for a few years, you should be able to give his band’s music a fair push?
KW: Well, you know, I have to be careful with how all of that is. I think Harry is very sensitive to that. He’s very focused on his rock band, and he’s not very keen to take advantage of his family rock credentials and his pop credentials. In fact, I think he’s a bit embarrassed about them at the moment. Like all eighteen year olds, who are embarrassed about their mums – especially if they’re running around on stage singing Kids In America when they’re fifty five!
TUN: I’m sure there will come a time when he feels very, very proud of his mother.
You have obviously struck a balance between your music career and your other life as a keen gardener – an award winning landscape gardener, at that – and you’re an author and TV gardening show presenter. How did you achieve this balance?
KW: Well I have had a lot of support.
I’ve had an amazing manager who has kept my professional life from overwhelming me, and I’ve had a lot of support from my husband and our kids. Especially our kids.
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of support. None of us are an island, and we all get through this life with a lot of support but when you’re famous, that often gets overlooked.
I’ve got some great friends, and I’ve got a great family, and that goes a long way to keeping me sane – and a little insane…
TUN: You told a Netherlands Home & Garden magazine that ‘if you want to see real rock and roll you only have to look at plants.’ What did you mean by that?
KW: (Laughs) Well it’s true! You know, they’re hard core! They’re glamorous and beautiful. They inspire.
They’ve a lot in common for me.
There’s the inspiration looking out into the garden and seeing a plant thrive, and it’s the same inspiration I get when I hear a great song.
And there’s something sort of unknown about the beauty of nature, and the beauty of music – there’s something magical that happens. And they both share that. There’s always the magic part to the equation between nature and the music. They go hand in hand together.
TUN: So winning a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show is the equal to earning a gold record for your music?
KW: Oh yeah – absolutely!
I have only got two certificates on my wall. One of them is the Gold Single for Kids In America in the U.K., and the other one is the Gold Certificate from the RHS [Royal Horticultural Society] for my Chelsea Flower Show garden.
TUN: That’s fantastic. It’s been great catching up with you, Kim. I hope your Australian shows go well, and, if I can just be a little bit forward here – any chance you can slip ‘Cambodia’ and ‘Love Is Holy’ into your setlist in Adelaide?
KW: Aww, I think you might have to be disappointed! But I’ll see you there!
I don’t think anyone will be disappointed! Kim Wilde and Howard Jones will play The Gov on November 12. Grab your tickets through Metropolis Touring.
Read Ken’s chat with Howard Jones HERE.
By Ken Grady