The singer looks back at growing up as the daughter of rock-n-roll star Marty, those 80s hits and her second career as a gardener
Singer Kim Wilde came to fame in 1981 with Kids in America and this year celebrates 40 years in showbusiness.
The very first thing I remember is the snow of 1962. It came just after Christmas and covered everything for quite some time. I was two years old, looking at the snow through the window of our South East London home and absolutely loving it. Ever since then I always get excited when the first drop of snow falls at Christmas, not that it happens often anymore.
Mum used to take me to a shop called Clobber in Blackheath, which was Jeff Banks’ first shop and was frequented by the likes of Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black. The staff would look after me while Mum was trying on mini dresses with her big false eyelashes and lovely dark hair, and that’s when I fell in love with fashion.
As a child I had a very strong sense of my destiny. From a very young age I was just certain I’d have a career in music because it was the thing that hit me in my heart and my soul. I vividly recall at age eight falling in love with Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart when I heard it on the radio and thinking ‘Wow, music is where I belong’.
I loved watching my dad perform from the side of the stage, seeing him entertain audiences. I’d known he was famous from seeing him on our black-and-white TV. It’s funny, though, because when you’re young you just take everything at face value so it was like ‘Dad’s famous and he’s on TV sometimes’ but we knew him as that lovely man sat on the sofa with his big hands playing guitar.
Before the singing career took off I did a number of jobs with my friend Clare, who is still my best friend. We worked in a shop and a pub for a bit. I also worked at Lister Hospital one summer as a cleaner. I was young, adaptable, took on anything, and I loved getting a pay cheque and being able to go and buy myself a piece of jewellery.
"From a very young age I was just certain I’d have a career in music because it was the thing that hit me in my heart and my soul"
I got into art at secondary school, did art A-level at sixth form and a foundation course which included painting and drawing. But it all fell away pretty quickly because shortly after that my dad and my brother Ricky wrote Kids In America for me. I’d done some session singing and I assumed that would be my path rather than being a popstar, then I recorded that song and the rest, as they say, is history.
Doing Top of the Pops for the first time was amazing. Madness were there and I was a huge fan. They looked like a bit of a scary bunch; they were such a tough lot that they scared the wits out of me. There was I the Hertfordshire country girl singing Kids in America and I thought ‘They’re gonna hate me’ but they were very sweet, with lots of cheeky smiles. People said afterwards ‘You were so cool’ but actually I was terrified because I’d been watching Top of the Pops since I was eight or nine years old. It was a dream come true and overwhelming in every sense of the word.
Kim Wilde in 1981
I never took the whole sex symbol thing seriously but I was over the moon when they started putting me on the cover of Smash Hits because I’d been buying the magazine for some time. I couldn’t believe it; in fact, I’ve still got all those issues. The stripey T-shirt, dinner jacket and jeans combination was inspired by Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock. The T-shirt was leant to me by a friend and she never saw it again! But I didn’t play up the so-called sultry image. For me it was all about making great music.
When I was in Los Angeles promoting You Keep Me Hangin’ On in 1986 I was shellshocked to see Prince backstage, because he was such a tiny man. I think we said a quick ‘Hello’ but I never got to chat to him. As for that promo tour, I loved flying in and out of cities over there to do radio shows. I went with Ricky and we had a blast. Then when we got back to England the song went to number one in the States and [co-writer] Lamont Dozier sent us a tele-message to say congratulations. I have it framed on my desk in my office.
I toured with Michael Jackson on his Bad tour in 1988 but I only met him once, when we did a publicity photo. I was surprised by how tall he was but he seemed so fragile. I felt like you could blow and he’d fall over. He was very polite, kind and sweet but I only spent those few moments with him.
"I was shellshocked to see Prince backstage, because he was such a tiny man"
Just before I got married I’d stepped out of the music industry. I was a bit bored and needed new challenges. It was a relief to walk away from a career that had dominated my life to become a wife and mum [to husband Hal Fowler and their children Harry and Rose]. I met Hal when we both appeared in the musical Tommy and it was pretty much love at first sight. It all happened very quickly and the children were and still are my main focus in life. I’m so proud of them. Rose is studying psychology to become a counsellor and Harry is an amazing singer-songwriter.
My love of garderning started out as a necessity because after we had children we didn’t have a garden, just a bit of grass out the back, and it grew into a passion. I went to horticultural college for a while in the early 200s, I ended up doing some garden telly which was really good fun, then music called me back and I realised how much I loved it. But gardening hasn’t gone away. I still get called to do consultations and I did a few gardens during lockdown for friends.
Wilde in her garden
I was reluctant to do the retro tour circuit. I didn’t feel ready to revisit the 80s hits but I was asked to go on the Here and Now tour in 2001 with some of my heroes and I thought: ‘Why not? I’ll go on tour with a bunch of 80s artists, come back home and forget about it.’ But I was amazed at the reaction from audiences. I could understand why they’d been interested in a 21-year-old singer fresh out of art college but I didn’t think they’d be interested in seeing a mum of two 20 years later, but there they were.
In 2009 I was out in the garden and saw some incredible lights, which actually got reported in the local newspaper. It was an astonishing sphere in the sky—static and silent, then it moved very quickly, and a smaller one joined it. I’ve been looking at the stars since watching the 1969 moon landing on TV. There’s so much energy and stuff going on out there and it thrills me to think about it. I’ve not had another close encounter but I’m always looking up.
"Turning 60 last year felt like a milestone"
Working with Boy George on my new album has been the icing on the cake. It’s a greatest hits compilation with some new tracks, including Shine On which he and I recorded together. I’ve met him many times over the years and there’s always been a good feeling and spirit between us, but I’d forgotten how garrulous he is. He has so many stories and he’s very wise. He’s like a little Buddha.
Turning 60 last year felt like a milestone, or at least everyone reminded me that it was. But I was in lockdown so I just celebrated it with my husband and family. I had a lot of attention via the post and messages, and I felt very loved and valued. I’m not big on parties. By the time you’ve said hello to everyone you’re starting to say goodbye, so I was happy it was a quiet one. As for work, I’ve often said to my husband over the years ‘When do you think life might slow down?’ but it never has and I don’t know if it ever will. We just seem to be whirlwinds, the pair of us.
Pop Don’t Stop: The Greatest Hits is out now as a two-CD compilation and a seven-disc collector’s edition. Tickets for Kim’s 2022 tour are available through kimwilde.com
Read more: How to set up a library of things
Read more: My Britain: Bethnal Green
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter