I was a popstar, a size 8 with a string of gorgeous boyfriends... So why did I have this gaping hole in my soul?
T hank God for those antlers,’ Kim Wilde sighs in a my-life-would-be- in- ruins- without-them sort of way. She is referring to the sparkly comedy reindeer antlers hanging above the fireplace in her converted barn.
Yup, the very same ones a rather merryy Kim, 53, wore when, overcome by thee festive spirit — and one too many lychee vodka cocktails — she serenaded train commuters with a few of her old hits in a packed carriage last year, accompanied by her brother, Ricky, on the guitar.
The impromptu performance of an offkey Kids In America and Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree was captured on a mobile phone and, within hours, went viral. Was she mortified? You’d better believe it. ‘My instant reaction was, “Oh my God, I’m going to look like this sad middle-aged housewife out on the tiles.” You know, some poor old has-been icon out on the lash drinking away her sorrows, which it wasn’t at all.’
Kim says she was ‘demob happy’ and knocking back the cocktails at the Magic FM Christmas Party after a particularly busy year of her popular ’80s concerts. ‘We were having a great old time. The cocktails didn’t taste that dangerous until I hit the fresh air. It all kicked in the next day. I was suffering from deep hangover anxiety paranoia when my husband [actor Hal Fowler] got on the computer and started looking at all the hits the footage was getting. It was going up at a phenomenal rate. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
‘Without the antlers, I’d have looked a tragic case so I was mostly giggling to myself. I was also aware I might have mucked up any chance of being taken seriously at any level ever again. I thought, “Am I worried about that? Not really.”’ And why should she be? Within weeks, the hi la r ious footage of a tipsy Kim had received more than two million hits. Almost as many as the 2.5 million that launched Susan Boyle’s career. So Kim did what most suddenly-in-the-spotlight-again pop stars with a tune in their head would do. She sat herself down and began writing an album. Wilde Winter Songbook, Kim’s first Christmas album, was released ealier this month, featuring duets with Nik Kershaw, Rick Astley, her husband Hal and her famous rock ’n’ roll dad, Marty Wilde. ‘The public have been so sweet,’ says Kim. ‘They’ve said, “You know what, Kim? It was lovely to see you let your hair down, have a drink and be so joyful at Christmas.”
‘I thought, “Bless every one of you.” It gave me confidence because people didn’t judge me and make me feel silly and tragic. Instead I feel really treasured. The pressure of being my age and going out singing Kids In America can overwhelm me sometimes. But this has made me feel, “You know what? The public are allowing me to be 53.”’
Kim wowed us all in the early ’80s with her debut hit, Kids In America. Blonde, bouncy and size 8, she won a Brit Award for Best British Female in 1983, had a No 1 hit in the States with You Keep Me Hangin’ On in 1987, toured with Michael Jackson a year later and saw her album Close go platinum. And then? Well, three more albums followed, but as Kim says, ‘The music industry moved on and didn’t want me any more. I remember saying to a friend, “What does an unemployed pop star do? I can’t even type.”’
So she changed her name to Kim Fowler when she married Hal in 1996, became a mother to Harry, 15, and Rose, 13, and took up gardening. ‘I loved changing my name,’ she says. ‘ I loved it when I saw it on my passport. I loved it when I saw it on my chequebook. I had a chance to reinvent myself. The life I’d had wasn’t fulfilling. I knew I had a chance to find out who else I could be without being Kim Wilde.’
Today Kim’s ‘never been more happy’. To hell with the fact she’s a few dress sizes bigger. She’s now comfortable in a sense of self that only comes with lived-in hips. ‘The prize for me was never a platinum record. I wanted a family,’ she says. ‘When I was on the Michael Jackson tour, I should have been happy. I had a successful album, everyone was making a fuss of me, I was on the biggest tour in the world, but I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t more fulfilled. I’d had a real close-up view of what it was like to be a megastar working with Michael Jackson and it all seemed a bit sad, really. Things like hiring the whole floor of a hotel or exclusive access to a funfair. I thought
it was a very isolating place to be. The fun of going to the fair is being with other people.’
After the Jackson tour, she moved from London to the country in search of something solid, but her anxieties continued. Shortly after her 30th birthday she suffered a breakdown. This is the first time she’s spoken about that dark period. ‘I’d bought a 16th-century barn, which I renovated and moved into on my 30th birthday,’ she says. ‘I had a great, big party. My dad got up and sang. I got up and sang. We had a great time, then when everyone left the next day I was all on my own — literally. I had a really tough time. I suppose I had a bit of a breakdown. It was pretty intense for me not having been down that dark tunnel before. I’d wake up and not be able to see any light at the end of it. I just remember being without motivation. I gave myself a hard time because I had everything I thought I wanted, to make music, be a pop star, travel the world, but I had this gaping hole in my soul. I felt ungrateful because I had so much and it wasn’t enough.
‘My dream was to have a family. It was a bitter irony that the girl who was perceived to have everything didn’t really have what she wanted in her heart. I had some tasty boyfriends but I was concerned I’d never be able to find the right man. I couldn’t commit. Then, when I met the right man, it was so easy. It was an effortless “Of course we’re going to get married and have kids and stay together for the rest of our lives.”’
Mr Right was Hal who, at 45, is eight years younger than her. They met when Kim starred as Mrs Walker in the West End musical Tommy. Hal was appearing as her costar, Kevin, and the moment she set eyes on him at rehearsal she was smitten. ‘He was striking: big eyes, high cheekbones, foppish hair, very cool. He had this classy leather satchel. I liked everything about him. We both came from close families, and nature and the countryside was a big thing for both of us.’
They were married within six months. It was, says Kim, ‘one of the happiest days of my life’ with the villagers who are now part of the fabric of their family life turning out to wave them off. Shortly after the wedding, they planted their first tree, a plum tree, on the half-acre of unused land next to Kim’s barn. Whenn Kim was pregnant with their son,, Harry, she decided to return to ann early passion for gardening and study horticulture. Today there’s a ‘beautiful woodland’ where that plum tree stands, and Kim has written two books about gardening, appeared in the BBC series Garden Invaders and won a Gold award at the pres-prestigious Chelsea Flower shows for her courtyard garden.
‘Making that transition from being a pop star to having all that time in front of me was really exciting but quite scary. Sometimes, it got overwhelming having two little kids and a new career in horticulture. Hal really helped me get through college with my computer skills and my homework. He’s been such an inspiration. At school I was never very smart. I was very much a C student, but suddenly at college I was getting distinctions and was one of the brightest people in the class. It gave me a huge amount of confidence. It hasn’t all been plain sailing. I remember cold nights driving round the motorway exhausted and drenched, with mud in my fingernails from digging bloody holes for the TV series. But I still loved it. I loved that it wasn’t about make-up and glamour. I love being close to the seasons — close to the outdoors.’
She pauses. Smiles. ‘I feel very happy, very loved and very blessed,’ she says. ‘I’ve not had to make the big sacrifices of that megastar fame that some people make. My level of fame has been completely liveable with, which means I can jump on a train to get here.’
Wilde Winter Songbook is out now
Kim in her ’80s heyday
and (far right) on the
train last Christmas