In the early 1980s, Kim Wilde was subjected to the most sexist media coverage imaginable, either obsessed over as a sex symbol or dismissed as a mechanical pop product. But none of that stopped her building a music career in exactly the way she wanted. Almost forty years on from ‘Kids in America’, it’s time to look back at the making of a pop icon.
Words: PAUL MITCHELL
The 1980s was a good decade for female singers. Spurred on by the trailblazers who came before them, like Debbie Harry, Suzi Quatro and Diana Ross, female singers in the 1980s were more successful, more powerful and more in control than they had ever been. From the US, Madonna, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston ruled MTV, while the UK gave the world Kim Wilde: a singer with a pop-star lineage who would go on to become the highest charting British female solo artist of the 1980s. But her phenomenal success revealed a major problem – a media industry that was unashamedly sexist, dismissing her talent and giving precedence to her appearance, not her music. Now, in the thirtieth anniversary year of the release of Wilde’s biggest selling album, Close, we look back at her career and celebrate the many incredible moments she has given the world of pop.
Wilde was born Kim Smith in 1960 in west London, the eldest child of Marty Wilde (real name Reginald Smith), once a teen heartthrob who scored several top-10 hits in the 1950s and ’60s, and Joyce Baker, a singer who had performed as part of the all-girl group The Vernons Girls. Three more children followed Kim’s birth – Ricky, then much later Roxanne and Marty Jr. When Marty’s career declined in the 1960s, he moved over to theatre and film work, and began writing songs for other artists. The family moved to Hertfordshire, just north of London, when Wilde was nine. Teased at school for having a famous father, she transferred to a boarding school soon after. “I was ashamed,” she said in 1981. “Once I had a fight with a girl because she asked me what right I had to live in such a big house. She punched me in my stomach. I ran home crying and never wanted to go to school again.” As a teenager, she said she became a loner who struggled with self-confidence. “I was always in awe of my school friends,” she remembered. “I felt like an ugly duckling and was very lonely. I wouldn’t even look at boys because I told myself they would think I was ugly.”