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She has an OBE, homes in London, Australia, Spain and France and a personal wealth estimated at more than £50 million from a career spent touring fabulously successful stage shows, appearing in lucrative campaigns, launching perfumes, bed linen, writing children’s books and generally masterminding the Kylie brand
‘I have boundaries, I pull myself back. I have no problem that other women push things to the limit because it’s someone’s job to push boundaries,’ said Kylie Minogue
Inside a giant birdcage decked out with table and chairs on the terrace of a discreet west London hotel, Kylie Minogue is attempting to explain the secret of her perfect derriere.
At the moment the ‘Hottest Ass in the World’ (she has won this award numerous times over the past three decades and, at just a few days shy of turning 47, is still up there alongside fellow winners Pippa Middleton, Kim Kardashian and J-Lo) is hidden by jeans and an oversized caramel-coloured jumper.
‘The bottom is doing very nicely, thank you,’ she says with a smile.
‘It is its own entity. I think of it as something entirely separate to me. Probably the reason for it is the fact I’ve spent most of my adult life dancing around in very high heels.
‘If I’m ever honestly asked to explain my job I’d say I was a high-heel stunt woman.
‘High heels are very bad for the back but they are great for the thighs and the butt. And then the other secret is great lighting.
‘You’ll never see my bottom in anything other than the best light. I always make sure I am best friends with the lighting man on any shoot I do. A good light makes a hell of a lot of difference.’
As conversation openers go, this is pure Kylie. Fun, flirty, honest – while never really giving too much away. It is, of course, exactly the way she orchestrates it.
I’ve interviewed her dozens of times over the past 28 years in cities across the world, during wildly varying periods of her career, and the rules of engagement never change: you get a strict 20 minutes and she never talks about her private life.
Yet it’s this that makes her so fascinating. She always leaves you wanting more. It’s why this five-foot-nothing Australian former soap star has become such an enduring part of British pop culture with national-treasure status and admirers from Prince Charles (who invited her to St James’s Palace to perform for his Diamond Jubilee tour) to Madonna, Grayson Perry to Nick Cave.
‘I actually shock myself by some of the things I’ve done. Once the camera starts and someone shouts “Action” I go into a completely different mode,’ said Kylie (pictured at Liverpool Echo Arena, 2014)
Today, she’s feeling generous – I get over 30 minutes of Kylie time and she’s more effusive and open than she’s ever been.
Pete Waterman, who launched her career back in 1987 with a super-cheesy but super-successful cover version of The Loco-Motion (it went top five in Britain, America and all over Europe), told me recently: ‘Of all the guys I meet there is only one woman they want to ask me about. It’s always Kylie.
‘For a lot of men she was their first crush, and she’s still their crush today because she looks bloody amazing.
‘But from the first meeting I had with her when she was this 18-year-old Aussie actress, I knew she wasn’t to be underestimated.’
Our interview takes places at Blakes Hotel, coincidentally where we first met in 1987, when she was the 19-year-old star of Neighbours (she played feisty mechanic Charlene) and a wannabe singer, and I was a junior writer for a national newspaper.
Back then she told me: ‘I’ll be really happy if I have a hit song in the UK. It would be amazing to come here every now and again, even though it’s a struggle to get used to the time difference.’
Now she lives around the corner in multimillion-pound splendour, and has done for the past 20 years.
There were times when our paths crossed and she was the biggest star in the UK, times in the mid-Nineties when her career was in a tailspin, or when she was emerging from one of her very intriguing love affairs, which ran the full celebrity gamut from Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan to INXS bad boy Michael Hutchence.
And then there was the time I thought I may never interview her again after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.
She hid the worst from the public as she recovered from chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and remains tight-lipped about what she went through.
But 18 months after her ordeal I spoke to her again and now, ten years later, Minogue is here, looking not so different to how she looked when I first met her.
‘Oh come on,’ she says. ‘Even I don’t look in mirrors so much these days.’
She is here to talk about her return to acting and her Hollywood movie debut in the action thriller San Andreas (‘I have a teeny, teeny part but it was great to be part of, particularly since it was shot in Australia’) and a long-awaited concert on June 21 in Hyde Park with Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers.
There’s a lot we know about Minogue. We have grown up with her, seen her metamorphose from girl next door to sex siren, gay icon and cancer survivor.
She has an OBE, homes in London, Australia, Spain and France and a personal wealth estimated at more than £50 million from a career spent touring fabulously successful stage shows, appearing in lucrative campaigns, launching perfumes, bed linen, writing children’s books and generally masterminding the Kylie brand.
‘I’ve got a really successful career but I haven’t got everything. I haven’t got the relationship. I haven’t got children. It just didn’t happen for me,’ said Kylie (pictured in Liverpool on the 2014 Kiss Me Once Tour)
She has never been in rehab or been photographed emerging drunk from a club.
There’s also a lot we don’t know about Minogue. It has been a deliberate move on her part.
Right from the start she has been ‘Constantly Kylie’, fully aware and accepting of her public image and equally aware that in order to survive, she needed to keep her own life to herself.
She loves Los Angeles ‘because no one knows me there’, and when in Australia with her parents, brother, sister and nephews she is simply Aunty Min.
Kylie has always known her line. She is sexy but never slutty, unlike today’s biggest female pop stars Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and even Beyoncé.
‘I have boundaries, I pull myself back,’ she says. ‘I have no problem that other women push things to the limit because it’s someone’s job to push boundaries.
‘For me, I just happen to think it’s sexier to hold something back.’
I know there’s a different side to her because she’s told me so. At home she’s ‘a total prude’ who ‘would never dream of wearing anything’ she wears on stage out of the house.
‘Definitely not hotpants! Never hotpants.’
But on stage she’s transformed into a very different animal – Kylie the sexy showgirl – and that stuns even her.
‘I actually shock myself by some of the things I’ve done. Once the camera starts and someone shouts “Action” I go into a completely different mode.
‘I can’t quite believe what I did in the video for Sexercise [single last year from the Kiss Me Once album with Kylie in a scanty leotard executing all manner of suggestive thrusts] but my all-time record for completely shocking myself has to be the commercial I did for Agent Provocateur on a bucking bronco .
‘My excuse is that cameras were rolling and it was work.’
The advert was made for cinema but banned on TV.
‘The bottom is doing very nicely, thank you. It is its own entity,’ said Kylie
There are times when, off duty, she ‘drinks margaritas and swears like an Aussie trucker’ with close friends such as the Australian author Kathy Lette or her sister Dannii.
Then there’s the Kylie who speaks French and Spanish, has a painting by prized Australian artist Charles Blackman and a Francis Bacon lithograph, who is obsessed with the American actress and activist Jane Fonda and who has her portrait in her home.
‘I just love her. I love her honesty, her humour, the way she looks and the way she refused to be categorised.
‘She’s a strong woman and she always has a smile on her face. That’s what I admire.’
She plays golf, is a dab hand at a Sunday roast, having been taught to cook by Raymond Blanc, and on a day off in London rarely leaves home.
‘When I work I punish myself, I don’t stop. When I’ve got time out my main talent is doing nothing. I’ve spent most of my life living in hotels.
‘When I get home, all I want to do is potter about the place looking at my things, sitting on my bed.
‘I can go out and be the margarita girl but you have to push me. Once I’m out the door I’m there. I’d say my friends think of me as a bit of a clown. I don’t take myself seriously.’
Ask why she thinks she has managed to endear herself to straight men, gay men and women and she turns suddenly serious.
‘Being diagnosed with cancer is the most devastating thing but there is also something incredibly positive. It changes you, it changes the way people look at you.
‘Once I had breast cancer I realised things had changed. I met women on the street and the way they looked at me was different.
‘I knew they weren’t seeing “Kylie”, they were seeing me as a woman who’d gone through breast cancer.
‘It was like these women were looking right at me. It definitely gave me this connection. And that is still there, and it’s not just to women but to men and to kids and to everyone who is going through that.
‘You look at a woman who seems to have everything, and then you see this terrible thing has happened to her.
‘Plus, I’ve got a really successful career but I haven’t got everything. I haven’t got the relationship. I haven’t got children. It just didn’t happen for me.’
She has often told me she would like to have a child.
‘Now I get to spend time with my nephews.’ (She has three – Dannii is mother to four-year-old Ethan, while brother Brendan has two sons, Charles and James.)
‘We want everything to be perfect but nothing ever is. People don’t have it all, I don’t have it all. I think people get that.’
She is, for the record, single. I ask if she has ever been on dating app Tinder and she laughs.
‘No. I couldn’t bear to be swiped.’
Countless friends have tried to set her up on blind dates but she’s not playing ball. I ask her who she thinks is sexy and she groans.
‘Being diagnosed with cancer is the most devastating thing but there is also something incredibly positive. It changes you, it changes the way people look at you,’ said Kylie
‘A few weeks ago I was with a huge group of friends including Jean Paul Gaultier and everyone around the table had to say who they thought was hot.
‘I couldn’t think of anyone. I’m running out of ideas.’
This sounds like another classic Kylie deflection but clearly she has a type.
Her past boyfriends have included Jason Donovan and Hutchence, as well as the actors Olivier Martinez and Rupert Penry-Jones. All extremely good looking. She shrieks.
‘No. Definitely not. I don’t mind grey hair, I don’t mind bald or balding. I don’t even mind a bit of a paunch. Maybe too good-looking is where I’ve been going wrong!
‘I’m putting it out there. I would like to find someone. I’m a romantic. I’m not conventional.
‘I don’t think even as a kid I dreamed of a wedding day or a wedding dress but I do like being in love.
‘I don’t see myself as unlucky in love as I’ve had a lot of really great relationships – and I don’t have any regrets.’
Is there one time of her life she would love to live over again? She thinks for a few seconds and nods.
‘When I was with Michael [Hutchence], we took a holiday travelling all through Europe, we went on the Orient Express, we ate incredible food, we drank, we laughed, we just did whatever we wanted.
‘It was the most incredible adventure. It was the first time in my life I’d put on a few pounds because I just didn’t care.’
On Michael Hutchence: ‘He was an incredible man. I miss him,’ said Kylie
I tell her I remember the scandal when their relationship went public in 1989, the wild rock star and the perfect pop princess.
Within days of them meeting at a bar in Sydney, she changed her hair and unveiled a remarkable new image.
‘On the inside it didn’t seem like that. It wasn’t like I changed my image overnight, it just happened. He was an incredible man. I miss him.’
Is she is in touch with Tiger Lily, his daughter by Paula Yates? She shakes her head.
‘I haven’t met her. But I know she’ll have Michael’s incredible spirit.
‘I know she will be a very special girl and I wish her a great life.’
Minogue learned to maintain some mystery as a teenager working long hours in Melbourne on the set of Neighbours, where she was advised by the promotions chief Brian Walsh – now a major TV executive – always to keep something of herself back. Most things with Minogue were established in these early days.
The eldest child of an accountant, Ronald, and Welsh former dancer, Carol, she grew up in the Surrey Hills area of Melbourne, putting on plays with sister and former X Factor judge Dannii, dancing at local schools and auditioning for roles in soap operas.
‘I didn’t fall into this career,’ she says. ‘This was what I always wanted.
‘My parents didn’t push us but they supported us. I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
When I left school I signed on the dole so I could focus on getting parts.
‘I was completely prepared for the long haul and then, almost straight away, I got a part in Neighbours.’
The success of the soap took everyone by surprise but Minogue was determined to make the most of it.
‘It wasn’t by accident I was cast as Charlene,’ she says. ‘There’s a bit of Charlene still lurking inside me.
‘You can’t be sweet and nice all the time – that would be insane – I can be hard when I need to be.’
You have to be pretty tough to weather a career in the music industry.
Minogue has had seven No 1s and sold more than ten million singles in the United Kingdom, making her the third-best-selling female artist in UK history.
Her 2001 single Can’t Get You Out Of My Head sold more than six million alone, and was voted the catchiest song ever. A clutch of prestigious awards – from NME and Brit gongs to MTV Awards and a Grammy for Best Dance Recording – attest to the incredible breadth of her appeal.
Right now she is pursuing new opportunities, having quit Jay-Z’s management firm, Roc Nation. Inevitably, she has nothing but good words to say about them.
‘I had an amazing time. We got together when I wanted to shake things up and it was fantastic.’
There is, however, no future plan.
‘I wish I could sit here and say I had a five-year plan, a ten-year plan, but that has never been the way I work.
‘When I first started singing, I was torn apart because critics said I could sing, but I couldn’t perform.
Kylie aged 18, with sister Dannii, 15, and brother Brenda, 16. ‘My parents didn’t push us but they supported us. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. When I left school I signed on the dole so I could focus on getting parts,’ she said
‘I think all I’ve ever done is work really hard to try to show that I can do it. I pushed myself in every direction possible to make myself a better artist.
‘I love the idea of performing in Hyde Park: it’s such an iconic thing to do, it will be the solstice and it’s incredibly exciting. But I get nervous because I want to put on the best show ever. That’s what drives me.’
She is a workaholic. She rarely takes holidays and even after cancer she was back 18 months later with a full diary, a tour and an album planned.
Years ago she told me she imagines herself ending her years ‘in a retirement home, every now and again pulling on a sequined costume – I am a show pony’.
She nods. ‘You’ve got to really want this, you’ve got to really work. I’m tough on myself. No one can criticise me harsher than I criticise myself.
‘But I think if you want to be good at what you do, if you want to get better you have to work it.
‘I apply that rule to everyone on my team. I don’t scream and shout and I like to think I am firm but fair.
‘But I definitely have moments on tour when I’m on stage and I’ll see, for example, one of my dancers start to go a bit stir-crazy and improvise a few steps or miss a few and my blood starts to boil. I’ll be the one who will face it head-on straight afterwards.
‘I won’t yell, I’ll just say what I need to say and if I’m really mad I have this look which you really don’t ever don’t want to see. It’s like a laser look that will cut you in two.’
I am about to risk a laser look. I ask her how she feels about Kim Kardashian’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, attempting to trademark her name. Instead she smiles.
‘I’m not bothered,’ she says. ‘In fact, I love how upset about that my fans have got on my behalf.’
After all, there is only one Kylie.
Kylie Minogue headlines Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park, June 21, supported by Grace Jones and Chic featuring Nile Media
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