Call it chemistry Kylie Minogue and James Gooding

Who knows when Kylie became unreal, when she stopped being a squeaky little soap star, a goody-goody girl-next-door, and turned into the supersonic sex siren we know today.

But Kylie’s smart enough to know that she’s living in both the real world and an unreal pop world. She knows the score. How could an incredibly famous and sexual creature develop the kind of stable, cosy relationship that might feature in Neighbours? She flaunts her stuff everywhere, and rightly so - who wouldn’t get a buzz out of being Kylie? The famous and lonely and unlucky lucky lucky in love tag doesn’t fit her at all.

She’s never said that she wanted to marry James Gooding, for example, the model she’s been going out with for the past couple of years. In fact, she’s called their relationship "a nice simple romance - and I want to keep it that way". But, as we all know, love isn’t love if it stays simple and, after 18 months together, the complications began when he got flirtatious in public with Sophie Dahl. It happened again more recently, with a woman called Beverly Bloom -a "socialite", whatever that is. She has extremely rich parents and used to write a column in the Daily Mail about shopping. Who in their right mind would swap Kylie for that?

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Well, of course, James is not going to, but he has to do something to get attention. He’s a model, for God’s sake, dating one of the most photographed, gloriously unreal women in the world.

Kylie’s transformation began with her affair with Michael Hutchence: he was the catalyst, the man who lit the fire. The late INXS singer said at the time that his hobby was corrupting Kylie. Fabulously experienced, a young-old hedonistic, stupid, clever boy who could never grow up, Hutchence introduced her to everything he knew. She was one of his greatest creations. Once, allegedly, they had sex on a plane, just a few seats away from where Bob Hawke, the Australian prime minister at the time, was sitting. Perhaps his rebellious spirit lives on in Kylie. "Everything about Michael was a first for me," she agrees, "he was an incredibly powerful experience." She stops there, reluctant to say any more, and as mysterious as always about her relationships.

Past beaux have included rock star Lenny Kravitz (but, then, who hasn’t dated him?), Green Shields Stamps person Tim Jeffries (again, who hasn’t?), gothically gloomy Australian poet/singer Nick Cave and, in a former life, her Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan. I once asked the very handsome Rupert Penry Jones, who also dated Kylie, about why they split. "Ah, Kylie," he smiled nostalgically. "Can you imagine what it was like to tell people she was my girlfriend? She’s a free spirit." And somehow the way he said it didn’t make her sound like a clich, more like she simply wasn’t ready to settle down. There still seems little chance of that happening. "I’m a show pony, a bit camp," she acknowledges. She knows that’s hard to reconcile with normality.

James is often dismissed in the press as her toyboy (he’s seven years younger than she is) and I imagine he is a bit of a toy to her. "We do normal things like go to the cinema and the pub or lie on the couch watching TV," they both insist, but Kylie’s too wily to pretend her life is normal, and James, for that matter, is not particularly normal or easy-going either.

His mother said he never missed an episode of Neighbours when he was growing up and that he had a crush on Charlene, the tough little car mechanic played by the teenage Kylie. Apparently he always had a photo of her next to his bed when he was a pupil at the very expensive Rannoch boarding school in Perthshire - his teachers even used to tease him by singing Dolly Parton’s Jolene, calling it Charlene instead.

He’d been packed off to school by his dad and the two have had a turbulent relationship ever since James was expelled. The man who called Kylie "an ugly dwarf" fell out with his son because he’d spent a fortune on his education and didn’t get the perfect student he’d been expecting: "I didn’t want him to be a model and I’m not proud of his career. He could have done better. We don’t keep in touch. He has money now. He doesn’t need ours. He doesn’t need us."

So there we have it: an alpha-male fight, where everything’s about money and power. But James saw it differently, thinking it was all about pulling the best girl. (Even when he was a waiter in Essex, he’d flirt with the customers and girls would book tables just so they could see him.) Now he’s smitten with Kylie but feels he has to compete with all the attention she gets. That’s hard for any boy to cope with, but especially for one who wants to prove something to his father - the man who repeatedly insists he’s not interested in anything James does.

This no doubt tortures and appeals to Kylie in equal measure. She was said to be furious and in tears over his dallying with Beverly Bloom, but in no time at all she was sitting on Jamie Theakston’s lap. She wants it but she doesn’t want it, in the same way as she says she can see herself walking up the aisle with someone and "can see myself staying childless and single". She’s not moaning about her life, just accepting its limitations, the limitations of unrealness, where you can be with somebody for a couple of years who shrugs, as James did not so long ago: "We see each other when we can, but we’re not particularly full-on." Sounds to me like a man afraid of being dumped. n