Kim Wilde returns: “I was inspired by photos of Lauren Bacall” | Music
Born in 1960 to rock ‘n’ roll star Marty Wilde and Joyce Baker of the Vernons Girls, Kim Wilde’s pop career spans 40 years, 20 Top 40 hits and 20 million singles sales. Wilde was 20 when she released her first hit, Children in America: a track co-written by her father and brother Ricky which laid the foundations for her to become one of Britain’s most successful female solo artists of the 1980s. In 1998 Wilde left the network, retraining as a landscape gardener before presenting horticultural shows on the BBC and Channel 4, winning a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show and publishing two gardening books. She returned to the stage in 2001 and Kim Wilde: the Greatest Hits Tour is in theaters across the UK from September 10.
The very magnificent Anton Corbijn took this photo of me at 25 in front of Rak Records, Mickie Most’s label. I opted for a 60s look – striped trousers and a white belt from Kings Road in London, where I sourced most of my clothes. I was very inspired by Lauren Bacall’s Hollywood photos and loved the absolutely terrifying images of her. I thought, “That’s a great pose to do on camera.”
I was having a great time back then. Even though I spent a lot of time in airport queues and checking in to hotels, or hanging out backstage at TV studios and doing a lot of mime, I was living the dream. I wanted to be on Top of the Pops from the first moment I watched it, and meeting these enigmatic pop stars, my idols, and the people I bought records from, like Heaven 17 and ABC, was fabulous. However, no matter how successful I was, I never felt part of the scene. In fact, I felt a bit like an impostor – mainly because my goal was never to be a pop star, but to write songs and be an accomplished musician. I was not very into fashion. At first, I just wanted to be a session singer and make money – I learned that the more harmonies you did on someone else’s song, the more money you made. But once I found myself there, I thought, “OK then, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Even if for the public I probably had this image of being young, beautiful and available, I didn’t feel like that at all. Kids in America was an amazing way to start my career, but I still experienced the same insecurities as anyone in my twenties. Besides, I did not believe that my beauty was particularly great. My appearance didn’t make me feel prettier or better about myself. I never assumed her image was a passport to romantic bliss; in fact, the two never seemed to go together.
I didn’t take fame too seriously either. I wasn’t in that room when the kid put up the poster of me, so it always seemed like a very distant concept. When this photo was taken, I was still living at home. I had a little sister whose diaper I changed after Top of the Pops. Life was very normal. I wasn’t in the last nightclub with famous people. Quite the contrary: for most of the first few days, I was still chatting with the girls I went to school with.
A lot of it has to do with my dad. Although he never sat me down and gave me the 10 point guide to fame, I just watched the way he behaved. He always worked very hard, but he didn’t believe that success gave him the right to be more important than anyone else. The greatest love of his life was rock and pop, and growing up he constantly played music of all kinds: from classical to Pet Sounds and Mike Oldfield to Elvis and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Music was our family’s religion.
My parents were young – they were only 20 when they had me and Ricky – and threw more parties than me. They probably had a lot more sex than me too. The biggest shock for them was when I came back with blonde hair, when I was at art college. They said I looked good and I thought, “How boring is that?” There wasn’t much to rebel against. The 80s were a crazy time for a lot of people, especially if you were on a lot of drugs. But this lifestyle never appealed to me. I knew how to drink champagne, copiously, but that was all. Also, I always felt really privileged and lucky to be in the situation I was in – producing a record with my brother and getting on stage to perform.
I decided to change my life when I turned 30: my career had been incredibly successful, I had platinum records under my belt, but I felt lost. Instead, I decided to get married and become a mother. I switched to gardening; register at Capel Manor College to take a part-time gardening course. It was a fairly small class of 20 – and even though everyone knew who I was, my previous job didn’t matter: everyone was more interested in our common passion for plants and their names latins. It was a life-changing and wonderful experience to slip into an anonymity where “Kim Wilde” no longer mattered. I transformed into this earthy version of myself, not a trace of lipstick — though I mostly kept my hair blonde.
When my children have grown a little I was seduced by an 80s revival tour. There was a part of me that was really curious about what it would be like to hang out with the Human League, Nik Kershaw and Clare Grogan. I thought it might be fun, even though I thought I’d hate it and was afraid no one would want to see me on stage – a married woman with two kids who isn’t a size eight anymore. “It’s finish!” I imagined they would think when they saw me up there. Instead, I was stunned to see a huge audience that didn’t care that I was no longer the 21-year-old version of myself.
At 62, I’ve never felt more like a pop star, and I appreciate having made my own careful journey to get to this rather daring place where I am now. I’ve always had a strong sense of my identity, but now I’m brave enough to wear these costumes; step out in front of a crowd dressed in a Barbarella outfit while holding a space-age laser gun. It’s not just the elaborate outfits either – I feel like I’m finally becoming myself. I’m better at holding on; I don’t blanch every time someone calls me an icon; and I find the stage to be the most natural place in the world. I would never have said that in the mid 80’s! The girl in the photo would certainly have found this concept impossible.
Sometimes I see young artists with all the confidence I have now, but at the start of their career. While I step back and think “How did you do that? Who are you?” I’m glad my life held some weird and lovely surprises. I won’t be running around on this planet much longer, and I don’t have time to sit and think about impostor syndrome. I want to jump in and be as bold as possible. After all, my dad is still on tour and he’s 83.