Kim Wilde: The ’80s Wasn’t All About Shoulder Pads and Spiked Haircuts

The 1980s saw a revival. From the disco-inspired world domination of Dua Lipa to the galloping rock percussion of The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights and beyond.

Is it just the cyclical nature of things? As someone who was there in the first place, Kim Wilde is in a good position to answer the question.

“The ’80s were an incredibly diverse time, but it wasn’t just about shoulder pads and sharp haircuts,” she says with a hearty laugh. “It was really exuberant style chaos.

Kim Wilde and her father Marty at his home in Hertfordshire.

“You would have ska, new wave, synth-pop or a bit of prog – a bit of Genesis and good old rock and roll like Queen and U2. It was incredibly eclectic.

“The advent of synthesizers – Fairlights, Synclaviers, Junos and all these amazing new sounds. They were inspiring a whole bunch of new writers and producers, and one of them was, thank God, my brother Ricky Wilde .

We speak as Wilde prepares to go on tour in September after his dates were postponed due to Covid. She’s spent the past two years putting together a greatest hits collection and indulging her love of gardening (she’s won awards and written books on the subject).

“I have been so lucky to have a beautiful garden – or a garden that has become beautiful rather, thanks to my hours and hours of work every day. I have just been in the garden. But it was a great moment for my community where I live.

Kim Wilde at the 62nd Ivor Novello Music Awards in 2017.

“We all connected in a WhatsApp group which has become a great support for all of us since Covid and during Covid. It was a great time for communities of people to come together and come together and support each other, and so there were a lot of really positive things for me that came out of the lockdown.

Wilde is one of British musical royalty – his father, Marty, 83, was an early adopter of rock and roll and scored a string of hits in the 1950s and 60s with songs such as Teenager In Love.

She released around 20 decade-defining hits in the 80s, including Kids In America, and toured with the likes of David Bowie and Michael Jackson. Her 14th album, 2018’s Here Come The Aliens, was well received by critics and peaked at number 21 on the charts, marking a career-ending resurgence.

Today, at 61, her bond with her family seems even stronger and she continues to write with her brother. Could she ever conceive of not working alongside him?

“We are cut from the same cloth. We are two peas in a pod. I wrote a lot of songs without him and recorded them, and there are a lot of songs without him as a co-writer. Actually, I just wrote a song today on my piano.

“But I love working with him. We don’t really have to say much in the studio, we’re so in tune. His passion for music is so intense.

Growing up in the Wilde household must have been a unique experience, I think. “I had a lot of friends whose home environment wasn’t like that, or whose parents were much older,” she recalls. “Their dads were going to bed when my dad would jump in a car and go to a concert.

“I was very aware that we lived in a unique way compared to my friends and their families. But I was delighted because I love pop music and have had it since I was a child.

Wilde was born in November 1960 and remembers the following decade as “an astounding explosion of fantastic melodies and great sounds” – all experienced through her father’s record player or on long trips to Liverpool to see the Grand parents.

“My father appropriated it the way people appropriate religion – and that’s what it became,” she laughs. “But instead our God was Elvis Presley, of course.”

Wilde’s musical education has included The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles White Album and Joni Mitchell as well as Tchaikovsky and other great classics.

When she shot to fame in 1981 with the release of Kids In America, Wilde became an instant household name, her blonde hair-dried mullet copied by young girls across the UK.

It was the following year, when her next hit Cambodia took off, that she met fellow 80s legend Boy George. The Culture Club frontman has become a close friend and they are now touring together.

She remembers singing Cambodia on Top Of The Pops and looking down to see the colorful figure dancing in front of the audience.

“In typical Boy George style, he had managed to convince him and all his buddies to come into the studio to be part of the audience. They were this lovely crowd of people dancing in front of me and I remember that “he stood out, of course – that beautiful form in front of me. I vividly remember thinking, ‘This person needs to be on stage, I don’t know what I’m doing here, that’s the person who needs to be on stage “.

The pair remained close friends and performed together on several occasions over the years, including at a tribute to New Romantic pioneer Steve Strange, frontman of the band Visage, after his death at the age of 55 in 2015.

During the lockdown, they connected via Zoom and Wilde asked him to add vocals to a new song, Shine On, written with his brother. They recorded virtually but were eventually able to reunite and record a suitably flamboyant music video.

Wilde also recalls a close encounter with David Bowie while supporting the late music legend on his Sound + Vision tour in 1990. “He was a very normal guy in an extraordinary situation,” recalls- she. “He was saying ‘hi’ and walking by and wishing you well with the show in a very down to earth way.

“But one of the sweet memories I have is when I left the tour, we had done quite a few shows together, and I decided to bring him a Marty Wilde t-shirt, which , in my opinion, would be fun.

“I wanted to see if I could make him smile. I said to myself: “If I do nothing in this life, if I bring a smile to David Bowie’s face, I can die happy”.

When she entered his dressing room, he was shirtless and had his makeup done. “I said ‘Oh, I have a present for you’ and he picked it up and said ‘Daddy!’ It was so funny, so sweet. He was an absolutely lovely, wonderful man, and he had a huge influence on me, my brother and our whole family.

At the end of our conversation, Wilde reflects on the cyclical nature of things. “Bowie would have been a young, very young man, looking up to my dad and Cliff Richard and Billy Fury – all pop pioneers as he eventually turned out.”

– Kim Wilde kicks off her Greatest Hits Tour in September, starting Saturday 10 at Sage Gateshead and ending Tuesday 27 at the London Palladium.

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