You came, you saw, you conquered – the Kim Wilde interview

Four decades after her breakthrough hits, Kim Wilde’s stellar pop career is being celebrated through the release of a comprehensive new hits collection, available in special collectors’ five-CD and double-DVD boxset as well as double-CD format.

The Cherry Pop boxset includes additional singles, B-sides and an eclectic selection of remixes, several making their CD debut, plus a deluxe booklet with lyrics and a DVD collection featuring close to 50 tracks. And the two-CD edition features radio edits of many of Kim’s classic hits, including ‘Kids In America’, ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ and ‘You Came’, as well as a couple of new tracks, her recent duet with fellow early ‘80s pop survivor Boy George, ‘Shine On’, among them.

And after 20 UK top-40 singles and seven top-40 LPs, with more than 30 million records sales amassed globally for the most charted British female solo act of the ’80s, a Brit Award winner (in BPI-branded days) and two-time Smash Hits most fanciable female … well, those stats are none too shabby, are they, Kim?

“Erm … yeah, it’s pretty … I appreciate it all a lot more now. Those numbers I didn’t truly appreciate until recent years, and when I look at this latest Greatest Hits and see what we’ve achieved, there’s some great stuff in there I haven’t heard for years. And the fact that Cherry Red took so much time getting all the licences sorted …

“And this in my 60th year. That’s pretty overwhelming. I haven’t actually sat down and listened to it, but only because I haven’t got a copy myself yet!”

That’s been remedied since we spoke. In fact, only yesterday I spotted a pic of her proudly thumbing through. These days of course, we don’t just know her as a pop icon, but also an author, gardener, DJ, TV presenter … and proud mum. And how about that amazing career? Does Chiswick-born Kim still get those ‘pinch me’ moments where she’s doing something and it suddenly hits her – how a couple of head-turning top-five hits with her first two singles as a 20-year-old in 1981 led to so much more?

“It’s strange, ‘cos over the years there were so many times when we thought, ‘Maybe this is the last time we’re gonna do this,’ especially if an album didn’t do well. And there were many albums that didn’t do so well. So yeah, there were many moments on the rollercoaster of my career when I thought we’d reached the end of the ride … only for it to go back up again and for something else to come along.

“It took a lot of getting used to … emotionally. It took a lot of disappointments and lot s of sucking it up, overcoming all that, and then getting used to more success again. It really has chewed around with my emotions.”

Now, eight months after reaching the big six-oh, Kim, whose family moved from their London roots to Hertfordshire – where she’s still based – when she was nine, is finally getting the career anthology treatment. Of all those hits, I asked, is there one in particular she feels deserved much more? Or did the public pretty much get it right in her case?

“I think they absolutely did. To have a career over four decades and still get played on national radio … like we did in 2018 with our Here Come the Aliens album, and ‘Pop Don’t Stop’ and ‘Kandy Krush’. That was just amazing. I think I enjoyed the success of that just as much as I did with our very first album and ‘Kids in America’. I remember going across a field and having (BBC) Radio 2 on my iPhone, playing it while I walked the dog and hearing ‘Pop Don’t Stop’ come on the Breakfast Show. And it made me feel fantastic. These were different times. Back in 1981 there was one day when ‘Kids in America’ sold 60,000 copies, and that don’t happen anymore! But the thrill of hearing your record on national radio, that’s still a great feeling.”

I was looking at that piece you did, talking about the ‘Kids in America’ promo, seeing your reaction to the images on the screen – that’s something in itself, gauging your reaction to you all those years ago. You’ve probably heard a thousand stories from fans, telling you what that and other songs meant to them. Mine’s just another, a 13-year-old watching Top of the Pops in Mum and Dad’s council house in a little village outside Guildford, Surrey, where four older siblings gave me a wide grounding encompassing various tastes and genres, but big brother’s influence ensured I was already into punk and new wave. Yet this was something new and fresh … and remains so. A lot of songs from that era sound dated, but somehow that Minimoog sound on your early hits still stands the test of time for me.

“Oh, it really has! It’s a magnificent record, and (brother/bandmate) Ricky’s talent at that time was so precocious. He was only 18 or 19 years old but he was listening to Ultravox and Gary Numan, the Skids, the Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk, and The Stranglers – all of those great bands. And we were brought up with rock’n’roll. And somehow all of it came together. There’s even a bit of Abba in there, y’know.”

Funny you should say that. It’s very much of its time but still fresh. In fact, it’s almost like you’re backed by The Attractions, and I know Elvis Costello tipped his hat to classic pop, specifically Abba a few times, as heard on ‘Oliver’s Army’, with its ‘Dancing Queen’ motif. So maybe it all makes more sense in retrospect.

“It does, yeah. I mean, pop music was influenced by Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump It Up’, and I’m a huge Elvis Costello fan. I had all his albums in my collection, and still have. I used to love the diversity and loved it when he moved into country music and introduced me to all the country artists I’d never heard before, like George Jones. And I fell in love with that music. Yeah, he was a really important inspiration for me personally and for Ricky, and I really enjoyed that amazing book he wrote, that tome.”

As a young lad with NHS specs at the time of those early Attractions hits, part of me shied away from professing an appreciation of Costello too soon, but he very quickly snared me with all those great songs. How could I not be swayed? As for you, you certainly held this boy’s interest. And that’s before we even get on to Brian Grant’s shower scene in the ‘Chequered Love’ shower scene. What’s more, those songs hold their power today, like all the great singles of those classic chart years. And again, that makes sense, coming from a family who understood pop down the years.

But I did say that some sounds – synths in particular – date quickly, and dare I say it – fast-forwarding to late 1986 – there’s some big ‘of its time’ synth on your version of Holland/Dozier/Holland ’60s soul classic ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, for example, that definitely places it in that particular timeframe. However, the energy you put into your vocal sees you through. I’m not a fan of covers for covers’ sake, but you added something to the original, and subsequently carried that off.

“Yeah, we made it our own, and we had an amazing message from Lamont Dozier, which I keep on my desk. I’m just having a look at it now. It was sent on the second of June 1987, and he said he loved this exciting version of the song and thanked us for making him look good again. He said it had been No.1 three times (in the US) – I guess it was Diana Ross (and The Supremes) then Vanilla Fudge – and that (third time) was a moment that changed the course of my career.”

“I think the diversity and the build-up of the singles that came out, first with ‘Hey Mister Heartache’ and then ‘You Came’, which I felt was one of the finest crafted pop songs in my career. Then there was ’Never Trust a Stranger’, one of my all-time favourites, and we finished it off with some ballads, ‘Love in a Natural Way’ and ‘Four Letter Word’, which was a huge hit. So it’s one of those complete albums. I think it showed everyone who thought of Kim Wilde as a singles artist … they realised I was actually crafting albums … and if that’s what they were into, that’s what they would get.”

Talking of career highlights, you said in Marcel Rijs’ newly-published, Kim Wilde – Pop Don’t Stop: A Biography, that 1988’s ‘You Came’ video was another big favourite, as ‘it captures a moment in my career when everything was just perfect’. That was around the time you were supporting Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. What was it about that whole Close album era that resonated with you?

On a personal note, I should add that when I first thumbed through my better half’s record collection when we first got to know each other in 1989, Close was there … and still is.

“Nice!”

I should also reveal that alongside my features and interviews I’m a music book editor, with one of my more recent assignments editing and revising Marcel Rijs’ book. Were you pleased with the outcome?

“Yeah, and there’s been amazing feedback, and fantastic reviews! I really wasn’t expecting that … simply because it was completely free of gossip. I thought these days people expect a bit of that … but there was none of it! It was just packed full of information and facts, and I helped edit it myself …”

Yes, you got there before me!

“Yeah … and I enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have had the time if it wasn’t for the pandemic and being at home. The timing was perfect, and I spent some time on each chapter. There were some things I didn’t feel needed to be out there, so I’m glad Marcel gave me a first look-in, and I’m really pleased to have my story told without any … what’s the word?”

Salaciousness?

“Yes, salacious gossip!”

I gather from speaking to This Day in Music Books leading light Neil Cossar that 1,200 of 1,500 copies have already flown off the shelf. And that’s clearly a big shelf.

“Yeah!”

That also says something about the love the fans have for you and all involved at Wilde HQ.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah! I’ve got a hardcore following … and bless them, they would have all got that book! And I’m really glad it’s Marcel’s book – it’s not mine, it’s his in its entirety. He owns it, he remunerates from it, and it’s all his. And I really love that. He’s a great fan and a great worker of my website, and I knew he would tell the story brilliantly. There was only one person who could good it, and he did it perfectly.”

Not least when you consider English is not his first language, Marcel having first chanced upon Kim at the age of nine, an older brother and sister having introduced him to Dutch show Toppop, where he caught ‘Kids in America’, soon falling in love with ‘each and every song’, buying all her singles and albums, ultimately creating a website about her in 1998, a personal passion becoming so much more, leading to a friendship with his music hero and her father.

That love Marcel has for Kim and her work is clearly replicated by so many diehard fans. And what’s always come over is the lack of pretence from the artist herself. As the daughter of UK rock’n’roll legend Marty Wilde and The Vernon Girls’ Joyce Baker, and the sister of gifted player and songwriter Ricky, who seems to have been wary – at least initially – of taking his own place in the limelight, it seems that family’s always been extremely important to the story. Time and again people talk about the Wilde bunch’s down to earth qualities. Maybe, I suggested, Dad – Marty Wilde, now 82, who clocked up six top-10s and 11 top-40 singles between 1958/61 and has gone on to secure the rare feat of eight consecutive decades of official chart success as a performer and a songwriter saw all those egos and big star trappings around him in his early days and was determined to shield his own children from the worst excesses.

“Yeah … well, bless my Dad and bless my Mum. That’s how they were. We lived in a lovely house in the countryside and we went to the village school, we hung out with the locals, and Dad played a bit of golf and spent most of his time at home playing great albums. He had the most amazing record collection, he would get down his guitar or get us to listen to Tchaikovsky or sit down to listen to Elvis Presley or Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel,or Ladies of the Canyon by Joni Mitchell, or Tapestry by Carole King, or Dusty in Memphis. I mean, it just went on and on.

“It was an amazing collection and we were just inspired, y’know. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys, and obviously all The Beatles’ albums, then all their solo albums, like Imagine and Ram, and so it goes on … endlessly, and we were fed this solid diet of pop – and I call it pop because that’s the umbrella word for all of it.”

Meanwhile, the Wilde family is very much a family firm, although not in a ‘horses’ heads on pillows’ sense, as far as I can tell. And now the next generation’s stepped up, younger sister Roxanne having bridged the gap, age-wise, and these days Ricky’s daughter Scarlett is firmly established in the band. You clearly get on as a family unit.

“Yep – absolutely, and I worked on Dad’s lockdown album, Running Together, recording with him and making videos with him, ending up as his video director because there was no one else! And that was fun.

“We still talk about pop music, and I had dinner with them last week, and we’re still talking about what’s great and what’s not great. He’s still a huge fan, talking about very contemporary artists, and he knows more about a lot of them than I do. He says, ‘You know that girl – Olivia Rodrigo?’. We still have those contemporary conversations.”

It’s been very hard this past year and a half for all of us. How do you think your folks have coped?

“Well, right at the beginning of it all, Dad ended up being rushed to hospital. The NHS were brilliant though, and the paramedics came and saved his life. He’s been back and forwards from there a little, but he’s also been doing gigs. And each time he’s bounced back stronger than before – his will to live and his will to get out there and gig as strong as ever. So yeah, their lust for life is undiminished.”  

Was the last live gig for you the one guesting with Roxanne at your Dad’s LP launch show in Chard, Somerset, last October?

“That probably was the last one. I don’t even remember – it was such a long time ago!”

It’s been odd, hasn’t it. On one hand we’ve written off this last year or so as not happening, but at the same time it definitely did … and seemed to last around five years.

“Yes, and we’ve now got some gigs lined up for the end of the month and from August through to October, a few here and there, including a couple of festivals. I think they’re going to go ahead, and Dad’s got a few he’s thinking of doing. And I guess it will be a bit like riding a bike, and I really should start singing again, but … well, I’m sure it will be fine.”

Also a published author and a DJ – for digital station Magic Radio – There’s also the gardening career, Kim’s first pregnancy seeing an old interest resurface and a place taken up at college in North London to learn about horticulture, aiming to create a garden for her children. Then she was asked by Channel 4 to act as a designer for Better Gardens, leading to two series of Garden Invaders for the BBC.

By 2001 she’d co-created a Best Show Garden award-winner for the Tatton Flower Show, four years later winning a Gold award for a courtyard garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, going on to design and create numerous gardens through her TV roles, commissioned by individuals and organisations. But dare I ask how good her own garden looks today? Is it a case of putting heart and soul into her professional commissions while letting her own slip? Or is it in good nick?

“Mine is looking amazing! I did realise pretty quickly when the pandemic began that this wasn’t going to go away very quickly. I had a sinking feeling that we were in this for the long haul, so I thought, if I’m going to be stuck at home, I’m gonna make home count, and sorted out all my rubbish in my office, all my photographs and memorabilia, all the stuff next door, got rid of a load, then went straight into the garden and started growing vegetables, weeding the whole place … and it’s never looked more beautiful.”     

There have been many personal milestones along the way, including – when Kim turned 30 – a 16th century barn conversion project at the home she’d bought in the Hertfordshire countryside, a big step for her towards setting up on her own, away from the safety blanket of the family. Then five years later came a successful audition for what turned out to be an 11-month stage adaptation of Pete Townshend’s rock musical Tommy, fresh from Broadway, at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End, playing Mrs Walker. And it was there that she just happened to meet the love of her life, Hal Fowler, the pair soon marrying and starting their own family.

And now she’s reached that next big birthday, has that changed anything? Are there fresh career goals, burning ambitions, and things she still feels the need to get ticked off her bucket-list?

“Well, I’m extremely ambitious about this particular album and going out and touring it next year, the Greatest Hits tour, celebrating 40 fantastic years. How blessed I’ve been, especially to be able to get to work throughout that time, working with my brother, even today. So yeah, to be able to get up, sing that song and see the looks on people’s faces … it’s such a privilege and such an amazing experience.”

For the first three years, Kim was signed to record producer and hit-maker Mickie Most’s RAK Records label, and it’s 40 years this summer since her debut self-titled LP landed. When did she last return to RAK Studios in St John’s Wood, and does she have clear memories of those first visits?

“Oh yeah, and it hasn’t changed at all there. Everything’s the same – the décor, the paintings on the wall, a signed picture of Elvis Costello – ’Never work with you again’, it says! Even a poster of The Most Brothers (Mickie’s brief late-50s act with Alex Murray/Wharton) with Marty Wilde. And I recorded the whole of my Christmas album there (2013’s Wilde Winter Songbook), so I spent a lot of time there again, and it was very moving a lot of the time. A lump would often come in my throat, wandering through the halls and talking to people there – because even the staff are the same.”

Talking of precious memories, how about that BPI/Brit Award win as Best British Female Solo Artist in 1983 at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, getting to meet the likes of Paul and Linda McCartney, while holding hands under the table with your brother for courage? Is that still pretty clear to you?

“Oh, it really is. And I realised how lucky I was to be sitting only a few feet away from Paul and Linda. Weirdly, one of my lockdown albums – again, walking the dog through the fields – has been Ram, newly reissued after 50 years. I just love that album so much and particularly love Linda McCartney. She was the reason I went and had my hair cut into a mullet style. She was a massive style icon who influenced me, and I love all the backing vocals and her voice. I remember at the time she got a lot of flak – they were really mean to her, mostly her but Yoko too, for splitting The Beatles up. But she made that amazing album with PauI, and I think it stands today as one of his finest.”

And finally, your son and daughter are now in their early 20s, if I’ve got my maths right. Are they following in your footsteps, or Hal’s, or both of you?

“Rose is 21 and she’s soon to study psychology at university, and Harry’s 23, a singer-songwriter and an amazing musician – a great guitarist and piano player – in the process of putting an album together and launching his career as we come out of the pandemic.”

So the next generation is coming through.

“Yep, they are!”

Excellent, and long may the pop not stop, so to speak.

For more on how to order a copy of Kim Wilde’s Pop Don’t Stop: Greatest Hits – 5CD/2DVD deluxe expanded collectors’ and double-CD editions – and Pop Don’t Stop: A Biography, plus details of live dates, including her summer 2021 dates and those lined up for 2022, head here.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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