Kylie Minogue is a very rare thing in the celebrity world – a self-made woman who doesn’t worship her creator. You couldn’t meet a less pompous diva. With cheek-bones sharp enough to shave your legs and a derrière so perfect it prompted a newspaper campaign to have it designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, Kylie should go through the tunnel of love holding her own hand. But my bonsai pal doesn’t keep fit by doing step aerobics off her own ego.
Last year Kylie (like Marilyn, she’s famous enough to be known by only her first name) celebrated 25 years in showbusiness. And what a quarter-century it’s been. She’s released 11 albums (which have clocked up 70 million record sales) and eight live concert DVDs. All of her 50 singles, released throughout the world, have been hits. She’s the only artist other than Madonna to have had UK number ones in the 80s, 90s, and 00s. Tickets for her last UK tour in 2012 sold out in ten minutes flat. Madonna performed wearing a “Kylie Minogue” emblazoned T-shirt. She was the Green Fairy for Baz Luhrmann in Moulin Rouge! and the muse of Nick Cave. Fashion designer John Galliano said she was a “blend of Lolita and Barbarella”.
Males and females, from seven to 70, the cool, the uncool, the straight and gay, the hip and those with hip replacements, all worship the water she walks on. We just can’t get her out of our heads. So what, then, is the secret of her lasting popularity in an industry where fame can last the blink of a mascara-ed eye and female artists are put out to artistic pasture at the first sign of a crinkle or wrinkle?
Having known Kylie for 20 years, I would say it’s a creative concoction of raw talent, hard work, self-deprecating humour, wit, warmth and a total lack of pretension. Despite having had more love gods on her romantic menu than most of us have had hot dinners, there are no rehab horror headlines, no kiss-and-tell tabloid tales about lesbian trysts and whipped-cream orgies, or backstage demands for pedicures for her poodles. The only dressing room extravagance Kylie’s ever been known to demand is a kettle, to make a pre-show cuppa.
Her favourite holidays are not at resorts so exclusive that even the tide struggles to get in – she prefers camping and caravanning. “I think this is because we always used to have caravan holidays as kids,” she once told me about her childhood in Australia, where she still goes camping at Phillip Island. “When we finally got an annexe, it was such a big deal! I love motels, too. I love the simplicity of them: you drive in, get your key and park your car right outside the front door.” It is this unaffected charm that has so confounded her critics.
I first met Kylie through Michael Hutchence, who she was in a relationship with, in the mid-90s and we’ve been friends ever since. For years Kylie and her sister Dannii have been popping over for dinners and dance-a-thons and games nights at my London home, where we play Boggle, Pictionary and Twister. Kylie’s game contribution once was to strap on a Velcro cap and hand out Velcro balls to all my other guests. We spent the rest of the evening cavorting around the house, throwing balls at each other’s craniums. As we steeplechased over furniture and hurtled up and down staircases, I remember thinking that only Kylie could prompt such bacchanalian behaviour from, among others, a London leading human rights lawyer, a Booker Prize-winner and a pinstripe-underpanted politician. For this star a “night on the tiles” means winning at Scrabble; Kylie is a shrewd and competitive player. Well, it makes sense. Her name alone is a triple word score.
But Kylie’s greatest social skill is her ability to treat everybody the same. Even though the pop princess has many famous friends, she has never contracted A-listeria or developed airs and graces. Knowing my hatred of housework (my skirting boards have top soil) she often does my washing-up after dinner. “I rather enjoy a sporadic cleaning frenzy,” she once told me, snapping on the Marigolds. “I call it ‘spring cleaning’ but do it in winter, summer and autumn, too.”
And her family are just as unpretentious. Most family members are like brussels sprouts – something to be avoided at all times, except Christmas. But the Minogue clan are more supportive than Oprah Winfrey’s control-top pantyhose. Her mum Carol, an ex-ballet dancer, goes on every tour, helping with the costume changes, while her dad, Ron, an accountant, does the books – and Dannii often pops up on stage for a duet. It’s a cottage industry.
But even though Kylie and Dannii have worked professionally since they were children, Ron and Carol are the opposite of stage parents: doting, yes, but gloriously grounded. When I first met Kylie’s father about ten years ago, I asked him what theatres and exhibitions he’d seen since arriving in London. “Kath, I’ve been defrosting the girls’ freezers with a hair dryer. The state of those girls’ freezers!” Ron tut-tutted affectionately. Greater love hath no dad.
But while Kylie may not regularly thaw the freezer, she once told me: “I don’t win any rosettes in the kitchen. I always say my talents lie in other areas. I’m pretty handy with technical stuff. My brother [Brendan, a news cameraman] bequeathed his toolkit to me when he moved back to Australia from London. This being an act of such love and importance, as we know how men are with their toolkits, I’ve taken the responsibility as owner very seriously. When it was handed over, it came with the wise words, as if from Confucius himself, ‘Never loan out your power tools, they will never come back.’” So, if things go wrong with a camera, light or prop on the set of The Voice, it will be Kylie to the rescue.
After celebrating her 25th anniversary in showbiz, Kylie told me she had an “epiphany”, deciding that she wanted more challenges. She changed record labels – she’s now with Roc Nation, headed by Jay Z – and has been recording steadily for 12 months. Her new single and album are due for release soon and have a fresh and different feel.
Another one of her new experiences is to mentor up-and-coming talents on The Voice UK. She’s superbly qualified to sit on that judging panel. Why? Well, firstly, her work ethic makes her a perfect role model. Most Aussies are shirka-holics. We like to get up at the crack of noon and find a job that lasts from 1 to 2pm, with an hour off for lunch. Well, Kylie is the opposite.
“As a four-year-old I went to ‘rhythm class’. Basically it was a bunch of kids making a lot of noise with music sticks, glockenspiels and triangles,” she told me once, mock shuddering. “But from there I graduated to violin and piano lessons. I also took ballet, jazz and tap class. I carried on learning and loving music into high school, when I took up the flute. I found I took to all of the instruments really easily, although I never stayed with them for long enough to fully nurture the talent. I still have my certificates from piano eisteddfods I entered, including one where I came second in the ‘eight and under’ category. Talk about hitting the big time!”
Her acting career began when she was 11 in Aussie series The Sullivans, followed by Skyways and The Henderson Kids, then finally as the legendary Charlene in Neighbours. By 1986 she was a household name in Australia, and by the time she was out of her teens she’d won five Logies (the Aussie version of the Emmys) – and that’s all before she even started singing professionally.
In other words, Kylie is a born performer. When I visited her in Paris during her recovery from breast cancer back in 2005, I remember her telling me a story that perfectly illustrates her showgirl spirit. “When the cancer was diagnosed and I was going in for surgery, I was lying there on the trolley and I was suddenly taken by the fact that I was going into a ‘theatre’.
“Medicine is so different from my business, but in some ways, so similar. The whole gowning up, the masks, the build-up, the adrenaline… It all felt so familiar. I was under lights. Ah!” – she struck a mock theatrical, pouty pose – “There’s my spotlight!” I chortled along with her, but also marvelled at her spirit. Only Kylie could find the positive in such a terrifying scenario. Her wit will also stand her in great stead as a Voice judge. Australians have a sense of humour drier than an AA clinic, and Kylie is even more self-deprecating than most – a fact the public first gleaned from her self-effacing, deadpan rendition of I Should Be So Lucky during the Poetry Olympics at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996.
So far she’s loving the Voice experience. “It’s intense but rewarding,” she told me over dinner recently. “I’m enjoying feeling like I have my guys with me – Sir Tom Jones, Ricky Wilson and will.i.am.” When I asked her what she is looking for in a singer, she replied: “Connection, individuality and desire.” Which just about sums up the divine Ms M. If The Voice’s judges are judged, Ms Minogue will surely score full marks. Her mix of intelligence, compassion, experience (Kylie is the queen of the comeback; fittingly, her name is Aboriginal for “boomerang”) and candid practicality ensure success. Because yes, Kylie may have the world’s most beautiful bottom, but the important thing is – she never, ever talks out of it.
The Voice UK starts on Saturday at 7:00pm on BBC1.