Sunday times – Giugno 2010
I am still so lucky
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In the past Kylie didn’t want people to decode her. She was comfortable being ambiguous. Which made people want to reduce her to an equation: Neighbours, I Should Be So Lucky, Michael Hutchence, hotpants, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, cancer, survivor, icon equals Kylie.
Before cancer, and even coming out of it, being known was just a little too invasive. She never wanted people knowing her business, even though her business is show. Slowly that’s changing. Her illness — early-stage breast cancer, diagnosed in May 2005 — changed all that. It stripped her, forced her to let people in in a way she had not welcomed before, because she’s always been guarded, perfectionist, ambiguous.
We are in Blakes hotel in London, in a black-lacquer room with orchids and Buddhas. She’s wearing black skinny jeans, platform suede clogs with a silver flash, a silver top and a black, tight leather jacket. Her eyes are a pale, sparkling blue.
I stare at her face. There are a couple of lines around the eyes and mouth. Her skin doesn’t look like the skin of a 42-year-old who has had cancer, but then, what would that look like? She’s stopped doing Botox. “It gave me a bad rap. Isn’t that the saying?” It did seem unfair that Kylie survived cancer and strove to get back to herself, only to find that people complained she didn’t look real when she used whatever she could to look better.
“It fascinates me that I’m asked so much about it, when advertising for face products is forced down our throats. There are some things you can do,” she says. “Most people have done them. You can have microdermabrasions and micropeels. If these things are going to give you better skin, why not? My face has gone through a lot of changes. If you look back to before I was ill, there was nothing of me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in a way I looked much older than I do now. All of me is just fleshier now, but my face changed. It filled out, it puffed up with the drugs. It’s not puffed now, but then it was because of the chemotherapy and steroids. Nobody saw me much — I was under the radar — but there are pictures of me. I could see my cheeks via my peripheral vision. I’d never noticed my cheeks before, but I could look down and I was like, ‘Those are my cheeks!’ ”
I tell her I remember the pictures of the time when she looked chic in a headscarf, when she was undergoing six months of chemotherapy and was losing her hair. She responds: “I try to keep it up just to lift my spirits if nothing else.” By “keeping it up” she means the façade, telling the world she was okay, even if she wasn’t. Did she feel that because she’d been stripped bare by the disease, that vulnerability had given her a new strength — that she was less wary of people and more open?
“I think I know what you’re saying. I was pretty much laid bare. I was at the mercy of all those different specialists, doctors, hospitals, other hospitals.”
I imagine what it must be like if you’ve always been a person who liked to keep a certain control in your life, to go to doctors when you were feeling exhausted and to have them fail to diagnose your cancer; to go back and insist that they were wrong, and then to have other doctors tell you what to do. Kylie did all of that, and was back on the road between August 2006 and March 2007 with Showgirl: the Homecoming Tour, which she had been forced to abandon in 2005. At this time she also made a documentary, White Diamond, with her friend and stylist William Baker, which was intended to show the “real Kylie”.
“I didn’t really want to do White Diamond, but Willy kind of got the better of me. But that whole getting back on stage and doing the tour?”
She wonders now, not why she did it, but how she did it. “I can’t afford to be stressed, and the more I let go the better. You’ve just got to find cruising speed. But then I was trying too hard and being way too hard on myself and carrying along old baggage. I still had those layers from the beginning. Those nagging thoughts — ‘She can’t do this, she can’t do that.’ I was like, ‘I can do it. I’m so stressed by it, but just do it.’ The point is, I’m easier on myself.”
Her new album, Aphrodite, is euphoric. She smiles when I tell her this, without a trace of smugness. “I think the euphoria came when we brought Stuart Price on board [as executive producer]. He’s so delightful and I was so relaxed recording with him because we got on like a house on fire. We just did it on the studio mic [not a recording booth]; I wasn’t separated in another room. I felt confident with him. He allowed me to shine.”
This is what Kylie always does — she compliments others, expresses gratitude. Stuart Price worked with Madonna on her Confessions on a Dance Floor album and knows his way around the pop diva. He told me: “Early on, I said, ‘This should be 100% you singing about the things that people had a feeling went on for you in your life, which you’ve never spoken about.’ ” It’s good to reveal ups and downs on record and what she brought to the studio was a combination of joy, sadness and confusion.
Price says he wanted to get “something new that you haven’t heard from her before, but at the same time it’s so unmistakably her. Kylie must have visited most vocal booths in the world and we wanted to break that mould.
We recorded it in the control room, speakers up, designated dancing zone. Kylie’s one of the most accomplished singers in pop music. She rarely sings a bum note”. Was she confident working in that pared-down way? Well, yes: “I love having the challenge,” she says, “and I loved having Stuart.”
While Britain was gripped in the post-election standoff, only one thing could knock politics off the front pages, and that was Kylie’s bum, in hotpants, taken at a video shoot for the single All the Lovers. She laughs: “I was not expecting to be wearing that kind of outfit ever again. In fact, the brief for the video, pardon the pun, was long, flowing dresses. But when I got there the director said: ‘I think of you and I think hot pants.’ I was thinking, ‘Everyone’s gone to so much trouble to call in white flowing dresses,’ and I had to wrestle with my feelings about it, and then I thought the long dresses wouldn’t work for this video, so I would go with it, but some paparazzi were outside and that’s how those shots happened. But I survived.”
More than survived. It was a celebration. She says falteringly: “Now it gets written about because I’m in that age group. ‘She’s in her forties and she’s still got it.’ I’m in the age range where you’re spoken about like that, and I’m like, ‘Shut up, because at some point it won’t be.’”
I recognise this Kylie: the Kylie who’s super-hard on herself; who doesn’t think she looks as great or as gorgeous as everybody else thinks she does. I remember meeting her just after she was declared to be in remission in February 2006. She was really hard on herself, coming to terms with her fuller face and noticing physical changes, feeling grateful to be alive but finding her new body hard to confront because she lost a lot of weight, then put on a lot of weight, and for someone who’s been pretty much tiny all her life, it came as a shock.
She’s still tiny, but she notices that she’s not as tiny as she was. “It has changed a lot and I still have to deal with it.”
In what way do you feel it’s changed? “Well, I’m here, and that’s what I have to remember when I start to get down about it. I still take medication, and there are a lot of women who stop taking the medication because they just can’t stand the side effects. You definitely put on weight.”
I tell her again that she doesn’t look like she’s gained weight. “But I notice it. Weight was never an issue for me. Before, I could just eat anything.”
But everyone feels that. Metabolism slows down after a certain age.
“Well, it does, but it’s hard for me to tell what exactly it is, because it’s over five years that I’ve been on medication. I have under a year until I get my five-year all clear.”
And after that you stop taking the medication?
“After that, yeah. When I think back now to going on that Homecoming Tour, I just can’t believe I did that. I get upset thinking about it.” She says she did it because “I wanted to know I could do what I do. Admittedly, it was in a different way. We had to put an interval into the show”.
She says this as if it was a sign of terrible weakness. Lots of artists have intervals in their shows. Kylie seems unconvinced that she wants to be that kind of performer.
“I fought against the interval, but two nights before opening I realised that if the show was to work, an interval would be a good idea.” I remind her that doing any show at all was an enormous undertaking for someone who had so recently undergone such treatment.
Will there be a tour for this album?
“Next year, yes,” she says. “At least I’m being positive and thinking at the start of next year I’ll be celebrating. That’s the first big mark.”
It’s almost as if her cancer has been talked about so much that it’s been sanitised, tabloidised. It’s been triumph over tragedy. But there’s a sense that it shadows her, though she tries in that very Kylie way not to make it a haunting shadow, just a let’s-be-in-the-moment sort of shadow.
Despite the good reactions to the album, she seems tired. Perhaps it’s the jet lag. Perhaps it’s the effect of the meds.
What exactly are the other side effects of the medication you’re on now?
“Not stuff I’d like to share,” she says, though she confirms that tiredness is one of them. She doesn’t trade on sympathy, she trades on dance tunes, happy things. She really doesn’t want people to worry about her. She doesn’t like a fuss. She’s very contained. So unlike Madonna.
Stuart Price, having worked with them both, told me that they are almost opposite personalities: “Madonna has a much more aggressive and determined approach. Kylie is much more instinctive.” Madonna likes to show off and quote from Kabbalah. Kylie’s intelligence is far less self-conscious. Kylie says she’s porous, by which she means she takes in other people’s moods and absorbs them.
A record-company insider who has worked with Kylie for over a decade says: “There’s a lot of humility about the way she operates. On tours, which are always so difficult, she manages to create an incredible atmosphere. She is very concerned with making other people feel good.”
Has she changed over the years?
“I think she’s the same. She never kicks up a fuss. If she commits to doing something, she’ll do it. She manages to be very famous, and very private.”
I’ve never heard Kylie moan about her lot. Even when all her hair fell out and I suggested that she might have been depressed, she said: “When you put it in perspective, it’s a sign your treatment is doing what it’s supposed to do.”
When she broke up from the French actor Olivier Martinez in February 2007, after four years together, she never bitched about him or was bitter. “I’m a fatalist,” she says. “I always feel that a relationship runs for the duration it’s meant to.”
There are some things that Kylie is sensationally chilled about, and others that stress her completely. “I do moan. I moan with my PA. We’ve been together for over 10 years. We have a good old moan together.”
She doesn’t moan, however, with or about her current inamorato, the Spanish model Andrés Velencoso. They met in October 2008 at a birthday party for the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, and she says she’s still blissed out with him. “He just left this morning, actually. We had takeaway Spanish last night because I’m very good friends with the Spanish restaurant. I liked it before I met him.”
Do you speak Spanish?
“No, but I’ve started to understand it a little and I have recorded a version of All the Lovers in Spanish. Andrés and I were in Spain, driving in the car, listening to mixes, and I can’t remember if it was him or myself who said, ‘I wonder what this would sound like in Spanish?’ So I thought, ‘Let’s try it,’ and he did a translation for me.”
Is there a lot of separation involved? “We try not to leave it too long between seeing each other. But he’s used to travelling, I’m used to travelling. That’s how the relationship started. It works for me and I think it works for him.”
Do you prefer it?
“In a way, to have time to do your own thing, to be compartmentalised like that, yes, I think you’re right. When I try to do everything at once, it’s when I have a meltdown.”
(Not long after this conversation, in which Kylie seemed serene in her love, tabloids reported that she and Velencoso had split. Had this relationship, too, run for the duration it was meant to? Absolutely not, her publicists told me.)
We discuss the Gemini-ness of the extremes of her personality. Some people call her Kylie, and her close friends call her Min. “I think there are more than two of me. There’s a committee. The voices in my head have been so loud, I think I’ve discussed when we’re going on tour, for instance, then I’ll realise I’ve only discussed it with myself.”
I imagine the committee all have different views on her future with Velencoso. I met her when she was launching a linen range and she seemed intensely in love. She was playing a lot of golf and had taken up cooking. I asked her: if she was a piece of her own bed linen, what would she be? “The finest linen top sheet,” she decided. “One that goes over you in summer, that just skims you so you’re not cold.”
Kylie has a lightness and a non-invasiveness. I do wonder about the permanence of her relationship with the Spanish one. I get the impression she likes to love in the moment.
For his birthday last year she bought him a blue topaz from India, where she did a cameo in a Bollywood movie.
“I wanted him to have something jewelleryish but not ostentatious. I had some string and I plaited it into a sort of web into which we put the stone. The stone was tiny and I knew it would be lost in the string, but that was the beauty of it. He wore it for a while and then the stone got lost. Okay, gone to the universe. Then he kept wearing the string until that finally wore away. So that’s the jewellery I got him. Something precious and something from the kitchen cupboard. Knowing he would lose it and it wasn’t secure was the most beautiful part.”
Her sister Dannii is pregnant. The irony is not lost on her that Dannii is the last person who you’d ever have expected to get broody. “She’d say the same thing. Life’s funny, isn’t it? She’s blossomed.” Kylie has always wanted to have kids, but doesn’t know if she can get pregnant. “I’d love to, to have babies, but…” she says. “It’s very hard.”
I tell her a lot of people who concentrated on their careers feel terrible that they put it off for too long.
“Perhaps if you are resolutely sure that that’s not the path you want to go down, that’s okay. But if there’s an element of doubt, you can’t help but question it. It’s not fun.”
And what brings you out of that?
“Pineapple Dance Studios does it for me,” she laughs.
There’s also her lifelong relationship with busy.
“Busy and I are getting on quite well at the moment,” she reveals. “We are negotiating how fraught I will become. The committee meeting in my head has looked at the next week and is trying to be relaxed. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I slip into old habits. But I’m not as bad as I used to be.”
Do you throw yourself into busy to get away from other things that are not very pleasant and not easy to deal with?
“Partly yes, and partly it’s a challenge. I love what I do, and the more I learn the better I am at it. It’s like discovering a certain freedom. If I didn’t tour again I would think, ‘Oh, no, I have finally just found my stride.’”
Do you mean that when you’re performing you know who you are?
“In the broader sense, yes. I’ll be in the old-people’s home trying to do a high kick down the corridor. I felt it at the end of that video shoot. I felt about 1,000. Dancing on those heels. I ached.”
Yet she makes everything look effortless.
“Yes, I try.”
Why is that so important?
“I like to make a happy environment. After this video shoot I said thanks to the extras because they’d all been shivering for so long, and the second-unit director said in 20 years of doing video shoots he’d never seen anyone get on the mic and thank people. That just astounds me as thanking people is just being a normal, thoughtful person. There are enough difficulties in life.”
But if you make things look too effortless, do people take you for granted?
“There is that. But that’s a whole other… that’s not a barrier reef, that’s a big, deep sea.”
I leave Kylie, thinking about the deep sea of unsaid things and the unspoken burdens she must carry around with her. We meet a week later. She is dressed in gold. Everything seems brighter and more flippant, but she says that’s because my mood has changed and she’s picked up on it. We talk about the possibility of having a gay husband and how much she loves Will Baker, her GBF, or girl’s best friend. “I think the 2.4 family is down the drain these days. Every girl has to have her GBF. In my life it has to work.”
Does Baker have to approve of her boyfriend?
“Yes, they like each other. We all met the same day, which helped. Before that I dated some guy for a bit and he absolutely bristled and still goes on about it. It’s sweet, I guess.”
Does she want to have a non-gay husband?
“What I may have said is marriage might not be for me.”
I don’t think she sees things conclusively. Not living in the moment stresses her out. And she seems to be flustered by the question.
We are in her management offices, amid her lilac satin and feather cushions. It’s very bright, and I can see her skin even more clearly, and she seems extremely happy in it.
“I think I’m at the point where I’m feeling good within myself, but I think that’s because the perception of me has changed. Not least because I was shown to be susceptible as everyone to a terrible disease and to be human, and perhaps because a certain amount of time has passed and I’m still here.”
It takes a long time to process going through cancer and come out the other end, to actually admit it happened to you. I remember talking to her soon after it was announced that she was in remission. She didn’t know how she felt about it. “I’m prone to anxiety, that’s for sure. But my current motivation is to try to enjoy the moments that are good and to address the moments that aren’t good because they colour each other. If you can get a number of moments in a row that are good, that’s a reason to be joyful.”
Fonte: Sunday Times