Best known for her hit 1981 breakthrough single Kids In America, Kim Wilde is one of the most iconic artists of the ’80s. Having done well with a string of other hits including Chequered Love, You Came and Never Trust A Stranger, not to mention her hit cover of The Supremes classic You Keep Me Hangin’ On, Wilde left pop music in 1997 after meeting her husband as part of a production of Tommy The Musical by The Who.
Settling down, having two kids and discovering a love of gardening, Wilde thought this was it for her as far as music went. Her green thumb made her a shoe-in to appear as a guest designer for Channel 4’s show Better Gardens. This then led to her hosting two series of Garden Invaders, as well as winning the Best Show Garden Award at the Tatton Flower Show in 2001 for her and fellow horticulturist David Fountain’s All About Alice garden.
Yet music wasn’t quite done with her yet and in 2003 she was persuaded to tour with The Human League and Altered Images, and has never looked back. Somehow managing to balance her music, gardening, family as well as two radio shows, she’s currently touring Australia alongside Howard Jones.
Catching up with her last week we spoke to Kim Wilde about her incredible career, her fairy godmother Pete Townshend and her green thumb.
Music Feeds: Along with being a singer, in the process of that you’ve discovered your love gardening which has turned in to its own career. Can you tell us about that?
Kim Wilde: It started off for practical reasons because I wanted to create a garden for my children to grow up in because we didn’t have a garden and that was the inspiration. When you start having children you find yourself with all this energy and love and gardening for me became a brand new passion. It sort of replaced music for me, because I had taken a big step back from music at that time into what I thought was permanent retirement.
But I still had all that creative energy flowing around and it found itself in the garden which was a great place to find itself and it’s still there even though music is massive part of my life again. So in between the tour I just did in Holland and the tour that I’m doing in Australia next week, I’ll be spending a lot of time in the garden planting bulbs and just getting the garden ready for autumn.
MF: I’ve actually just gotten the gardening bug myself in the last year, and it is really just so rewarding to plant something with your own hands and watch it grow.
KW: It is so rewarding, it’s such fun and it changes. It can be frustrating at times and very often you feel very out of your depth as there is so much to learn about it, but to anyone who is reading this starting out or thinking of starting out gardening, don’t get discouraged, just stick with it.
MF: Definitely, a couple of dead plants is all part of the learning process. More than a couple for me.
KW: That’s so true, of course, we all do it and every gardener kills loads of plants.
MF: You mentioned before that when you took it up you thought you were going to be retiring permanently from music, but now you’re out and touring a lot and sharing your music with old fans and new ones too.
KW: It came as a surprise to me when it all kicked off again. When I hung up my Kids In America hat I wasn’t planning on putting it back on at all. I got married, and we had our children and I was very focused on that and then gardening came and took over from music for a while. So when I eventually got persuaded to do an ’80s retro tour here in the UK with The Human League and Altered Images, that was just it. I haven’t looked back since. I’ve always been a bit of an all or nothing sort of person, and I’ve always believed that when one door closes another one opens, so I was very surprised when music opened the door back up again for me.
MF: You said that it took some persuading, were you reluctant to be seen as an artist trading on nostalgia?
KW: There was that yeah. I just thought that Kids In America was then and this is now. I’m a housewife now with two children and not a 21-year-old with a 23-inch waist. Things have changed, and I wasn’t sure if the public wanted the new and improved Kim Wilde, improved in that I was a mum, but they did. There is a huge appetite for music from that decade.
And I just still love the challenge of singing again, and touring, working with musicians and then of course songwriting and recording, the passion hadn’t gone anywhere. It had been transposed into the garden there for a while, but it hadn’t been lost.
MF: Music can be quite cyclical too and you never know how it’s going to go. Absence makes the heart grow fonder in a way so it was probably good you took that break.
KW: I totally agree. I mean I wasn’t afraid of taking a big step out at that time. It was a bit daunting, but I did just get married and we were having children. So there was plenty to focus on and the gardening became the place where I could pour my all my creative energy into, as well as bringing up the children of course, but music was always around. My husband is in musical theatre, and we were listening to all kinds of different music that I’d never really listened to before. So all of a sudden I was listening to Steven Sondheim.
MF: You met your husband as part of a musical theatre production didn’t you?
KW: Yes we met while we were doing Tommy The Musical by The Who. I remember I went to the audition, and Pete Townshend was there and chose me. It was a huge honor to be chosen by one of my musical heroes. Tommy was an album I’d listened to over and over again as a kid, my dad had it on vinyl and I used to pour over that incredible artwork and listen to that incredible music and then all of a sudden I got handed this script and a chance to be a part of it, and I just couldn’t turn it down. I remember at the time I had a record contract and the production just seemed more important to do, and as fate would have it within six months I’d found the man that I married and we started a family. So it was a great decision, and, in a way, Pete Townshend is kind of like my fairy godmother.
MF: Not many people can say that.
KW: It’s a great thing to be able to say, and it’s true.
MF: But even before you started your own, family has always been important to you. You worked with your father and your brother on your early music, so it does seem almost fated that music would then lead you to beginning your own family.
KW: I had just kind of gotten to a point, I was 36, and I’d gotten to a point in my life where I said to myself, if I don’t sleep in the same bed for a whole year, my life is just going to be in a permanent state of travel. I’d lived in and out of a suitcase since I was 20 years old and I’d worked very very hard with my career had taken me all over the world, to Australia three times but I didn’t really have my own life. Meanwhile my brother and my friends and even my manager were all having children and getting married and it was something I really really wanted.
I remember thinking to myself that if I don’t stand still and just stay in one place I might miss this moment. So it was one of the best decisions I made for myself, and lucky for me something amazing happened.
MF: It is amazing you managed to slow down at just the right time because you have had a very frenetic career. You still do between your radio and gardening work on top of the music and your family. Do you manage to balance it all out a little better these days?
KW: I do and I’m just really lucky that I have such a great base here with our family, and the garden and the dogs, there is an amazing yin to the yang of my professional life. At times it does kind of feel like I’m spinning plates or something, and I’m getting older and so sometimes that stuff overwhelms me a bit, but that’s life isn’t it. It overwhelms you at times and you just have to build something from it. You don’t really have a choice do you, it’s sink or swim in this life.
MF: It’s better to be overwhelmed by opportunity, at times, than to turn it down and take the safe option. If you fail, at least you tried.
KW: Absolutely, and I’ve definitely gotten better at living as I’ve gotten older that’s for sure.
MF: I think we all do, life takes a bit of practice.
KW: It does, and I’d much rather be my age now that be 25. I’d rather be 55 than 25 any day.
MF: Well you’re going to be arriving back in Australia any day now, and I know it’s only been three years since your last visit, but is it still exciting for you to come down to the other side of the world and perform?
KW: I love it. I think it’s an incredible privilege. That there are people there waiting for us is just astonishing and inspiring and I feel like a kid again. I can’t wait to pack my suitcase and get to the airport and check in and then wake up in Australia, it’s going to be great.
MF: It must have been even more exciting the first time you came out here, back before the internet when distances felt all that much further.
KW: Yeah, and it’s always been just very humbling to visit fans all around the world who have this beautiful relationship with me through my music. That’s what it’s been like when I’ve gone to Germany and France and Holland and now Australia, having had this passport to the world throughout my younger years and feeling like such a world citizen is just wonderful. But I carry little pieces of particular countries in my heart and Australia certainly has a got a big old chunk of my left ventricle all to itself.
Kim Wilde & Howard Jones’ continue their co-headlining Australian tour this week. Head here for dates and details.