The past year has been a game-changer for Kylie Minogue. She tells Louise Gannon how she finally ‘lucked out’ – in life and love.
Kylie removes her jacket and stands up in a Chelsea hotel room, pushing out her stomach to show me her ‘lockdown belly’. I laugh as she parades about in teeny sequined trousers – they look no bigger than a size eight – pushed into black highwayman boots. She looks better than I’ve seen her in a long time, all bed-head, relaxed, minimal make-up, that megawatt smile on full beam and – just maybe – a few more curves.
‘I’ve gone up a dress size,’ she says, patting her famous backside (her Madame Tussauds waxwork holds the record for the most replacements because thousands of visitors have groped it). ‘All those lockdown takeaways I had have left their mark. I’m bigger than I’ve ever been but I’m good at hiding it. And honestly, who cares?’
Her latest album – her 15th – is called Disco. Surely, then, she needs to be pulling out those gold hotpants from her 2000 disco-infused ‘Spinning Around’ era that have gone down in pop legend and, in 2007, were part of an exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum? ‘No way!’ she says. ‘The hotpants have definitely gone into retirement. I think you get to a certain age and you do have to move on and make changes.’
Kylie is 52. The Melbourne-born performer – daughter of an accountant and former dance teacher, and the elder sister of former X Factor judge Dannii, 49 – has been famous ever since joining the cast of Neighbours as gutsy tomboy mechanic Charlene at 18. The show was a huge success in Britain and the following year she signed a record deal, working with the 80s hitmaking production team Stock, Aitken and Waterman. It was a career move she thought might ‘last a couple of years, until people got sick of me’.
They didn’t. Kylie stuck – to everyone, from music fans to the British establishment (she received an OBE in 2008 and, in 2017, was presented with an award by Prince Philip for her contribution to British-Australian relations). She has sold 80 million records, beginning with ‘Locomotion’ and ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ in 1987, while her Glastonbury set last year drew the biggest live TV audience in the history of the festival with 3.9 million viewers, beating the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran.
‘That was a moment,’ she says. ‘I was so nervous beforehand that I couldn’t speak. Chris [Martin, from Coldplay, who performed with her alongside fellow music legend Nick Cave] told me to enjoy it. But I was doing my usual thing of catastrophising about one of the props falling on me or the musicians and everything going horribly Spinal Tap.’
Kylie was not, she says, expecting to be so embraced by the cool festival crowd, feeling – as she admits she always has – riddled by impostor syndrome. She says, ‘When I went out there, I was hit by this huge wave of love and I couldn’t quite take it in. Then, that night, I watched my performance back, focusing on all my mistakes.’ It took three days before she finally took in the record-breaking response from the crowd. ‘I’ve gone through my career never feeling like I’m ever getting it quite right because, however critical anyone else is, I am the most critical person of myself.’
She pauses and looks genuinely overcome. ‘I began to process the feeling from being on stage that night. What it actually felt like was this massive acknowledgement of me as a performer. And for the first time in my life I accepted that and I just cried. I then had two thoughts – one was that it was never going to get any better than that so just stop, or learn a lesson, get some confidence from it and keep going, which was what I decided to do.
‘It also taught me the joy of imperfection. I put myself under such pressure for everything to be as perfect as possible, but nothing ever is and that’s OK, that’s life – and letting go and letting things be can be pretty amazing.’
We are quiet for a few seconds and a TV bursts into life in the adjoining room, filling our space with low-level babble. She carries on talking for a couple of minutes, then runs to silence it. When she returns, she is smiling sheepishly because she’s proved that, deep down, she’s still an impossible perfectionist.
‘But that noise was so annoying,’ she says. On her tours, Kylie is all over everything, be it the lighting or the sound of the zips on the dancers’ costumes. Much of Disco was engineered and produced in her living room during lockdown, skills she taught herself from her observations over the years, along with zoom calls with experts and YouTube tutorials.
Although she refers to herself as a ‘sequined show pony’, Kylie has always had huge control over her brand, ever since 1990 when (with the support of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence) she turned her ‘girl next door’ image on its head by sending her ideas for the steamy cover of her third album (Rhythm of Love) to producer Pete Waterman, and forcing through her reinvention as ‘Sexy Kylie’.
I have known Kylie since those early days, and seen her go through everything from pop princess fame to her rebellious years (1989-91) when she dated wild Australian rocker Hutchence, who tragically took his own life in 1997. She’s been through breast cancer and several long-term relationships, including Jason Donovan; French actor Olivier Martinez, 54; Spanish model Andrés velencoso, 42, and an engagement to British actor Joshua Sasse, 32, which she broke off after a year in 2017, amid rumours of him cheating. She has never married and has forever been cast with the ‘Bridget Jones’ tag. It’s a label that bothers her only because, as she once told me, ‘I’ve never been conventional. I’ve always been more into romance over marriage. I was never the little girl who dreamed of the wedding dress.’
Kylie has, however, never given up on romance, even after it emerged that Sasse – who she met when she appeared in his TV show Galavant in 2015 – very ungallantly began chasing after Spanish actress Marta Milans. ‘I understand why women start feeling they are done with men, especially once you’ve got older, you have kids and life is busy. You can’t be bothered to go chasing. But I have never quite got to that stage. And then,’ she says and smiles, ‘I lucked out.’
In 2018, a year after she and Sasse split, she quietly began dating the creative director of GQ magazine, 45-year-old caerphilly-born Paul Solomons. I ask if she is happy and she nods. She suddenly looks nervous and tells me she is reluctant to say too much about their relationship, but soon that smile reappears as she talks about how they met. ‘It was through friends,’ she says. ‘As soon as I was single, they had their Rolodexes out, telling me I should go out with this guy or that guy.’ I remind her she once told me she didn’t mind paunches or balding men, and she laughs. ‘I did say that, and it’s true, but they never ask me out. I was sort of open to dating again, open to everything. I don’t have any rules about what someone should look like, I just like a good guy.’
Her friends clearly know that most of the men she has dated are strictly tall, dark and handsome (Jason Donovan – a matching blonde – being a rare exception). She laughs. ‘My friend kept telling me about a guy called Paul who he’d worked with. He had a photo of him and I looked and said he seemed nice. He told me to call him but I said, “No.”
‘He didn’t let up. We’d go to my local tapas bar and have a glass of wine, and he’d start telling me what a good bloke he was. Unbeknown to me, he was doing the same to Paul and trying to get each of us to ring the other. Then, one day, we went to the bar and my friend said, “Right, I’m calling him now.” Two minutes later, Paul was on his way. I wasn’t looking glamorous; I was in a T-shirt and denims. I had no expectations, but he came and we talked, drank wine, laughed and got on. What I wanted was a good guy and he was a good guy. We swapped numbers, went on a date.’ She pauses. ‘And that was it.’
It turns out that she had come across Paul more than a decade earlier on a photo shoot for GQ. He remembered her as a ‘bit off and grumpy’ but she confesses she didn’t remember him. ‘It was 2004,’ she says, ‘just before my breast-cancer diagnosis [in 2005] and I remember the shoot. But I also remember not feeling very well a lot of the time that year, which was probably why I seemed grumpy.
‘And I wasn’t well, it turned out. My cancer changed so many things. It changed me, it changed my family and it changed the perception of me.’ Breast cancer may have devastated Kylie but it also humanised her. It made this impossibly beautiful, highly successful woman suddenly relatable. She nods. ‘Women would come up to me in the street after that and talk about what they were going through.’ She has been clear of cancer for 14 years. ‘I still sit and read women’s stories. I think about that time because it’s a huge part of who I am and it drove me on. You don’t give up. You have to keep going.’
It is a lesson she has learnt again through lockdown, especially the first few weeks when she was on her own in her London apartment.
We talk about how the world changed with Covid-19. After months working on her album in the studio in London, she flew to perform at a concert in São Paulo in March then returned home to watch the prime minister delivering the lockdown message. Her beloved family in Melbourne – which includes her parents, Dannii, younger brother Brendan, 50, and her three nephews – were also in lockdown.
‘It was terrifying,’ she says. ‘I was on my own. Paul was working from home at his place and my family were in Melbourne. I knew that compared to most people I had nothing to complain about. I have a little patch of a terrace and I’d go out every day and look at the blue sky, with no planes crossing through it, and think about my family.
‘It was hard and I did get very anxious,’ she recalls. ‘During the first week I got a bit agoraphobic. I’d watch the news and worry. The last time I was home in Australia was Christmas – I still haven’t been able to see my family – and although you can speak to each other, you can’t be with them. I remember after a few days making myself go out for a walk and I was actually shaking.
‘Then lovely unexpected things happened. I started ordering deliveries from a local deli. I didn’t use my real name and I never wore make-up, and was rotating two tracksuit bottoms and three T-shirts. I opened the door and my delivery man, Noel, handed over my food then told me he’d seen me in concert at Hampton Court. Every time I ordered a delivery – basically every day – Noel would turn up and we’d chat. He’d add little tubes of toothpaste and anti-bac gel. He was so lovely and kind that it just cheered me up.’
After two weeks, Paul moved in and Kylie ordered the studio equipment to work on completing the album, writing lyrics for tracks like her single ‘Say Something’, which is all about staying connected while keeping apart.
Disco is a truly belting album, Kylie at her best with addictive tracks from ‘Super Nova’ to ‘Magic’. Earlier this month she livestreamed a one-off show, Infinite Disco, to celebrate the album, along with other classic hits.
So this is an affirmation of life, I suggest, and she nods. ‘I wanted it to be upbeat, escapist and taking people back to the golden days of disco because we have never been more in need of having a lift and being able to forget for a few moments some of the awful stuff that is happening. We’re all going through a lot but there is still so much in the world to celebrate. There have to be a few moments in your life where you put on your sequins and just dance and be happy.’
Kylie’s album Disco is out now via BMG on all streaming platforms. For her new wines range visit kylieminoguewines.com