Kylie Minogue interview: State of Bliss
KYLIE MINOGUE likes to dress in an effortless, understated way. She always looks good, but kind of anonymous. She's a woman who embraces contradictions: a sexual icon and a survivor who has become a symbol of hope to women with breast cancer. She is one of the most famous women in the world. But she never wants to make a fuss. Sure, she wants to stand out on stage or on an album cover, but never in the rest of her life.
When Kylie was diagnosed with cancer, no one saw her cry. We just saw that she knew how to tie a headscarf properly. When Kylie and French actor Olivier Martinez split up, we didn't hear her bleat. When she got together with the gorgeous Spanish model Andres Velencoso, we didn't hear her brag. We can be sure she won't be selling any wedding photos to Hello!. She doesn't want people knowing her business. Yet her business is show business.
When I first met Kylie, years ago, she was warm and smiley. She used to be a regular in a Soho caf, and I used to live above it. But there was always a well-manicured distance. In interviews she would say nothing of who she really was. Work mattered to her, not fame. In fact, one was only an irritating consequence of the other. But fame is all she has ever known, from her teenage years on Neighbours to pop popette to international brand.
The next time I met her, her life had changed drastically. She was just in remission. She was learning to say no to a lot of things and answer a few questions with a yes. Yes and no had up until this point been difficult words for Kylie. Nothing was ever a definite.
That meeting was very emotional, and she talked often about the cancer. I remember saying that losing her hair must have been really traumatic, and she said, nonplussed, "Not really. It's a sign your treatment is doing what it's supposed to do. So it wasn't really, not when you put it into perspective.
"Being stripped back and having none of these things to depend on was really interesting. I'm relaxed about these things now because I'm not dependent on them. I can enjoy them but not depend on them."
She hadn't long broken up with Martinez then, and there were lots of tabloid reports about the pair supposedly getting back together. She told me they weren't and that she was okay about that. She said that the relationship had been great, and then she sang Didn't We Almost Have It All as if she was in a Baz Luhrmann movie – a song perfectly placed to transcend the emotion … I was crying, she was smiling.
Today, she is at one with herself, in skinny jeans and a T-shirt. She looks extremely beautiful. Not cute, nor camp. Not sexualised, but effortless, relaxed and glowing – not a worry in the world. "A lot of people have said that," she says, smiling. She describes her life as "blissful right now". And her eyes tell the same story.
She is loved up with handsome Velencoso. They have been together since last October. They have done relaxing things like taking trips to Barcelona, playing golf. This is probably the first relationship she has had where her perspective on work has changed. She says she's working less, but perhaps that makes her more focused. She has always wanted to crack America, and she's about to do shows in San Francisco and the legendary Hollywood Bowl, capitalising on her already strong gay fan base. Now is the perfect time for her to crack Hollywood, reinvent her movie career. Playing the Hollywood Bowl says she's a grown-up. It's the place where Aretha Franklin played recently, as did Diana Ross, and Grace Jones is about to. This says you are a serious diva. Can't Get You Out of My Head was a big dance hit in the US, so there's a huge buzz about her show. She's ready to be loved.
Kevin Carr, Hollywood broadcaster for the BBC Asian Network, sums it up. "Nobody knew much about Kylie in America. She was still known here as the girl who sang Locomotion and did bubble-gum pop tunes. Her getting cancer shattered that image.
"Also in this world where people know every time when Jen is crying and every pound Jessica gains, it's super-refreshing to see what a low profile she has kept. You never see her on celebrity website TMZ, and that is a good thing. She has never exploited herself in any way, and we've got celebrity exploitation fatigue."
That said, her perfumes and her range of glamorous bed linens have been superstar successful. Does she ever wish she had just become a designer, or gone into business? "Funnily enough, when I was leaving school and they asked you what you were going to do and I just liked acting, that's never what I would say. I would always say I would go into business, even though I didn't really know what was meant by that. So how about that, I did end up being a businesswoman after all."
She has certainly worked hard at her career, and her ability to do that ceaselessly has defined her. Does she think that the bed linens have done so well because she had time to think about things during her cancer treatment, when music was too physically demanding? "No. When I was recovering all I was really thinking about was the nuts and bolts of what I do, and that is performance. I don't think any of these auxiliary things could exist without it."
As soon as she was well enough she got into the studio to record X. Music is who she is, and believing that everything else in her life would stay the same after cancer had so changed her was important. Eventually she learnt how to work less. Saying no has been a learning curve. "It's partly not wanting to disappoint and partly not wanting to let opportunities pass me by."
Because she got into a more relaxed place, more opportunities outside of performing seemed to come up. "I think these projects only took off so much because I'm at a time in my life where I'm happy. I know who I am. It's defined much more. People get me. You're not a child, you're a woman, and all the people I'm working with, we've grown up together.
Is she very happy with Velencoso? "Very," she says with a certainty I've rarely seen in her. "It's lovely. I am really not looking further than my next trip. I'm enjoying being in the moment." Was she always like that? "No. I would try to project more. I try not to do that so much. It doesn't mean I care less, it means I try to stop myself from saying I am stressed."
She's not afraid to reference her cancer and how it changed her. She says she used to be very indecisive and over-think things. Now she has learnt to go with the flow. There's almost no nervous energy. I'm sure there are lots of things she used to worry about that don't seem important any more, but overall there's a sense that she is really loving the moment and because of that everything else feels right.
She hates talking about her feelings about her boyfriends. Normally she would say absolutely nothing. The fact that she says everything's lovely is a testament to how she has changed. She no longer feels that admitting happiness will make it go away. There's no doubt that feeling stripped back to nothing, fighting for survival, has made her live life in a different way.
I question whether she is still working too hard. "I am completely doing less, unless you include leaping on planes and taking lots of holidays. And golf, it's so much fun. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that I'd have been golfing. Maybe I need to get into designing golf wear because, let me tell you, it's not easy to look good on the golf course." Although she seems to manage okay. Maybe it's just because she is super-happy.
Was it because Velencoso is passionate about golfing that she took it up? "Well, we are both beginners really, which is a good excuse to keep practising. We both just decided to do it." Did she find she was a natural? "No. It's really challenging, and I've had many lessons. But it's addictive. You keep coming back. Remember that scene in Dumb And Dumber, and Jim Carrey asks the girl, 'What are the chances of me being with you?' And she says, 'One in a million.' And he says, 'Ah. So there's a chance.' So there's a chance that you are going to get that great shot, and for me it's been great to do that with Andres in the fresh air for hours. And golf courses are normally attached to very beautiful hotels with beautiful spas and a Michelin-starred restaurant. You play golf, you relax, you eat.
"A lot of people you'd be surprised at play golf. I met the Kings of Leon in Melbourne. It's like a network." Does she think golf is sexy? "Yes, I think it can be."
Clearly she's in a sexier frame of mind. Is that why she's considering getting back into making lingerie? "Maybe," she laughs. "I wouldn't mind doing lingerie again. I did it before but I stopped because it was difficult organising things between here and Australia, where it was manufactured."
"The fragrance and the bedding are just fun, and there has been no misunderstanding as to what the quality has to be and the price range. Everything is clear."
She admits that she never had such focus. Maybe she didn't want people to get her? "Probably," she laughs. Her latest perfume, Couture, was inspired by a scrapbook of pictures that Coty put together. "Some of these pictures I'd forgotten about – me at an event, me leaving the house – and it was almost a reminder to myself: this is a part of you. So my perfume became like a diary.
"I can walk into a room, and it has happened many times, and I go, 'Woah, you're wearing Showtime.' It's a real thrill to smell your perfumes, a total kick. It's like hearing your song on the radio, seeing fans sing along, or hearing a story – 'We played your songs at our wedding.' The human element is the ultimate buzz."
Her linen range has done phenomenally well. It's inspired by her own bedroom and, like her perfumes, is boudoiry, feathery, powdery, silky and sparkly. "I heard someone on the radio say, 'Linens are my drug.' And I thought, that's it. You reach an age where you think, wow, vintage linen. You spend enough time in your home, you may as well make it beautiful. It's your nest, your nest of love," she says, half-way between a giggle and a purr. "The white throw with diamants references my bedroom, which is white with padded walls studded with champagne diamants."
Next up is her first men's fragrance, called Inverse. "It's delicious. Girls can wear it but it's really for men." And was it inspired by one man in particular, or is it how she likes her men to smell? "Men of good taste, yes. It's manly, but it ends up being kind of powdery. Yummy."
She is smiling in a teasing way. She puts as much of her Kylie essence into her fragrance as into her songs. They are all inspired by what's going on in her life or her past. "I could be inspired by the roses in my grandmother's garden or the powder that she used. Anything really."
I see that there are at least two Kylies. The introverted, sensitive thinker and the effervescent showgirl. And in the past those Kylies have often been at odds with one another. At the moment they seem to be cohabiting harmoniously. There is also the Kylie before cancer and the Kylie after cancer. Of course it's hard to know where one begins and the other has shifted.
She has tried to describe that shift. "Although it's difficult for me to be concise about it." And she reminds me that the word for post-cancer is remission. "I think there are more than two Kylies. They are called the committee. There's a lot of talking goes on and not a lot decision-making because things go round and round. But I've improved with my decision-making. I used to dread it. Now I think I just know more how I am and what I want, and that's new for me."
There have been reports that she was becoming religious and converting to Catholicism, which is absolutely untrue, she says. But she has always been spiritual. "I believe in the same as I've always believed in, which is universal energy and power, but I believe it more intensely."
She has handled whatever the universe gave her without ever looking like a victim. There has always been a huge kernel of strength in Kylie, and now more people see that. There's huge fatigue when major celebrities have minor crises. Madonna has been toppled from number-one gay icon spot. Sympathy for her was in short supply when she broke up with Guy Ritchie, and she is often thought of as being mechanical, controlling to the point of heartlessness. But no one has tired of Kylie, and affection for her continues to grow.
So what's coming next? "I would hope that my year carries on in the way that it has done. It has been absolute bliss. I've been in the studio with my musical director – no pressure, just coming up with songs – and the small tour in the US."
After that there'll be a new perfume and another bed linen range. What's her tip for decorating a bedroom? "Start with a good bed. You need four pillows, continental and standard, and ironed sheets."
Does she iron her own sheets? "No. But I send them to be ironed."
If she were a piece of bed linen what would she be? "I would be the finest linen topsheet, the one that goes over you in the summer, something that's light like a muslin, just skims you so you are not cold."
And that exactly describes Kylie as she is right now – light, carefree, not weighed down by anything.
Neighbourhood girl to world domination
KYLIE MINOGUE was born in Melbourne on 28 May 1968 to an Australian father and a Welsh mother. Her younger sister, Dannii, is also a pop singer and a presenter on British talent show The X Factor. Their brother Brendan is a news cameraman.
The Minogue sisters began their careers on Australian television, where at first Kylie was overshadowed by Dannii. That changed however when Kylie won the role of Charlene in the popular soap opera Neighbours (right) in 1986, opposite her then boyfriend Jason Donovan. She also starred opposite Charlie Schlatten in the 1989 film The Delinquents.
Her singing career began after she was spotted singing at a charity event with fellow Neighbours stars in 1987, and within months had released a cover version of The Locomotion. Following the single's success, power producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman invited the young actress to London to work with them. Her eponymous album Kylie sold seven million copies and a string of hit upbeat dance-pop tunes followed.
At the age of 21, a romance with INXS bad boy Michael Hutchence led her to take control of her image for the first time, reinventing her good-girl persona with the sexy video for her single Better the Devil You Know. The critics loved it, but fans did not warm to the new edgier Kylie. As a result, her career suffered a decline in the 1990s, with a number of collaborative projects and films failing to take off.
In 2000, inspired by the disco acts of the 1970s and assisted by tiny gold hotpants, her comeback single Spinning Around (left) became her first British number one for a decade. Hardened critics melted once more, marvelling at Kylie's ability to be both superstar and businesswoman – the singer had by this time launched a successful fragrance and ranges of lingerie and bedlinen.
Then in May 2005 everything was put in perspective. Diagnosed with breast cancer, the 38-year-old issued a statement and cancelled her Showgirl tour. But just 18 months later, after undergoing a partial mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she returned to the stage with the treatment widely hailed as a success.
Today Kylie is a global superstar renowned for her spectacular shows. She has sold more than 60 million records worldwide and is getting ready to work on her 11th studio album.
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