Superstar Kate Bush on how her Bexleyheath beginnings influenced her career
- Credit: Archant
Music superstar Kate Bush has always been something of an enigma, but one thing is certain – it all began in Bexleyheath | Words: Bernard Bale
Kate Bush, 61, is not just one of the world’s biggest-selling recording stars, but also one of its most mysterious. Millions have bought her albums but few know much about her, except that she is an incredible talent.
She also comes from Kent – Bexleyheath to be precise – and while she had no professional influence at the start, she was born into a family who certainly enjoyed their music.
“My mother, Hannah, was of Irish descent and loved music and dancing so I think she was a big influence. My father, Robert, was a doctor but also a very good pianist, so there was always music in the house when I was growing up,” she tells me.
Home was a farmhouse in East Wickham, not far from Welling. There was more than one reason why it was a pretty good place to spend her early years.
“As well as there being music around all the time, my older brothers John and Paddy were into folk music, so that was another influence,” she adds.
“Best of all, we had an organ in the barn behind the house and I used to go and play on that from an early age. I wasn’t yet in my teens when I started to write songs. I think living where we did was a big help because there were not too many distractions.
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“That is one of the nice things about Kent – it can be as urban as you like or as rural as you like; it has the best of both worlds.”
Kate was brought up a Roman Catholic and from 1969 to 1976 went to St Joseph’s Convent School in Abbey Wood (it became known as Bexley College in 1993). She was described as being very quiet and quite withdrawn.
“I think I was into my own world and being creative rather than anything else,” she says. “I learned, but writing songs was more important to me.”
Her family was encouraging and even helped make a demo tape of some of Kate’s songs, which initially didn’t raise much interest.
A family friend, Ricky Hopper, was involved in the music industry so he made a more professional tape and sent it off to Peter Gilmour of the legendary Pink Floyd.
“I am very grateful for all the support I had,” said Kate. “I was only 16 when that demo tape was made and I was totally amazed when Peter Gilmour responded by saying he thought it was great and offered to get me into the recording studio.
“My family had been wonderful and at last someone was taking an interest.”
It was not long before the whole world was taking an interest. “I was still quite young and had to finish my schooling, which ended with me getting a number of O-level passes.
“I wanted to learn more, however, so having had an advance for my contract with EMI I was able to enrol with Lindsay Kemp, who was more than just a dance teacher, he was a performance teacher.
“David Bowie learned a lot from him and so did I. He was incredible, a one-off and I was incredibly lucky to study with him, work with him and spend time with him.”
Kate adds: “I also took mime classes with Adam Darius, who was a genius, and I learned so much from him as well.
“I completed my schooling but it was only when I left school that I realised how much freedom there was to express myself. School was good, but inhibiting. Music and performance was my freedom.”
It was in 1978 that Kate became an international star when her epic song, Wuthering Heights, was released and soared to the top of the music charts, remaining at No 1 for an entire month.
“It was an amazing time but also a very busy one because I was suddenly being asked for TV appearances and interviews. It was breathtaking but I was again well supported and didn’t get caught in a stampede.
“It taught me a lot too – to do things at my own pace rather than try to keep up with the demands of everyone else.
“I became quickly aware of the outside pressures of being famous affecting my work. It seemed ironic that I was expected to do interviews and television, which took me away from my work.”
It is fair to say that Kate has always been her own person and there have been long gaps between her recording sessions and personal appearances.
“I like to get things right and I don’t dwell in the past, I am always looking at doing something new and it doesn’t just happen when you want it to.
“I am flattered when people say they are looking forward to the next album or whatever, but I don’t record for the sake of it; I want it always to be special.”
She adds: “It’s a bit like acting. I like acting, but I never wanted to be an actress.
“I just wanted to be the best I could and when you make a music video I like it to tell a story, to reflect the song rather than just be a lot of photo shots strung together with no particular plan.
“It surprises people that I don’t listen to my old stuff. The truth is that I don’t listen to much music at all, although I love music. I don’t want my previous work to influence what I do next so I don’t listen to it.
“I am more likely to watch a film for relaxation, preferably with the family. I am an avid reader too, especially the classics.
“I read and ponder everything, some books have quite a profound effect on me.”
Kate, who has a son Bertie, fathered by guitarist Dan McIntosh, whom she married in 1992, is a vegetarian. “I haven’t always been but I made the choice myself,” she tells me.
“I just decided one day that I didn’t want an animal to be killed just so that I could eat it. That was it. I have never eaten meat since. I like to make my own decisions.”
Her work meant that Kate had to move from Kent but she still has family in the county and has not become a stranger.
“I don’t think I could ever forget growing up in Kent; it has played a part in making me what I am. A lot of musical talent has come from Kent in the past and almost certainly will continue to do so.
“Maybe there is something in the air or just the Kent approach to life. I certainly enjoyed growing up in the county and I am always happy to tell people that this is where it all started for me. I am still a Kent girl at heart.”
So, it all began in Bexleyheath for Kate Bush, who went on to achieve her own ‘wuthering heights’ as a music superstar.