After more than 20 years living here, Kylie Minogue finally went native last December. Inspired by her love of Bridget Jones, as well as the newish young man in her life, Joshua Sasse, she did what no Australian woman should ever have to do: she wore a Christmas jumper. “I had two made for Josh and me, saying ‘Have a Sassy Christmas’,” she grins broadly.
It’s not the first time Kylie, 48, has lost all decorum over Sasse — a dashing British actor 20 years her junior to whom she announced her engagement in February. Last year, she finally agreed to do Desert Island Discs — because Sasse is such a fan — and allowed him not only to pick her final track, but to keep it a secret from her.
The first time she heard it was during the show: a pantingly erotic recording of him reading aloud a steamy love verse written by his late father, the poet Dominic Sasse: “I would bend to press my eager face into your neck, where the secret flesh is furred like peaches ... Without asking, I would pull you down with my devoted hands to express, my fluent tongue to endear. We would smear our mouths with ardent kisses and cry aloud from loving ...”
Strewth, girl! Is he, er, always prone to such grand gestures?
“Yeah, he is,” she giggles. “He goes from like zero to 100.”
Campaigning with Joshua Sasse, her British fiancé, for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia
Still, it must be one hot love affair for the famously tight-lipped Kylie to have allowed such a public display of affection?
“It’s true I’m not normally that person, but I just thought, why not? We were deliriously happy. Normally I don’t, because all that stuff is so sacred to me. It’s just not in my nature to blab about it all.”
Oh, come on, just a little bit — surely there must be some downsides to having an adoring, handsome toy boy?
Kylie gives a tinkly laugh. “When I say I don’t want to go out, I’m really happy just to stay on the couch tonight.” She shakes her head: “He’s an old soul — across the board, all of my friends have said it. I totally forget [the age gap], unless you’re referencing a TV show from [ages ago] ... I’ll go, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that.’ ”
Ah, the missed cultural reference points. Does he keep her hip?
“No he’s more old-fashioned. I feel like the young one in the relationship.”
Can’t get them out of her head: Kylie with the INXS front man Michael Hutchence in 1990
Oh, what to tell you about Kylie in the flesh? “Lovely, lovely, lovely,” I find myself muttering whenever anyone asks. She is just so very good at being everything you want her to be: tiny, twinkly, warm and fragrant. Nobody has any dirt on her, which isn’t bad for a woman who dated INXS’s king of debauchery, Michael Hutchence, for two years from 1989. (“I didn’t know whether to ask you to lunch or to have sex” was his opening gambit.) Everybody who knows her loves her. And everybody who doesn’t know her thinks they do.
From the tomboyish Charlene in Neighbours to the Locomotion, hot pants and breast cancer, she has grown up in front of our eyes. But has she actually got any older? Technically, Kylie is now middle-aged, but she seems to have been in some sort of arrested development for the past two decades. Partly that’s because she looks so youthful, but it’s also because of how we think of her. Undoubtedly, the world still struggles to understand a beautiful, successful, sexual and child-free older woman — so we have sought to make her as uncomplicated as possible: a perpetually upbeat and kittenish Peter Pan.
We meet in the bar of Blakes, a fancy boutique hotel in southwest London, where she and Hutchence were rumoured to have sleepovers when they were dating. She is shivering because she walked here. “You walked here?” I suppose I imagined she’d glided over from Oz in some sort of Cinderella stagecoach. “Well, my house is just round the corner,” she clarifies.
Having touched down in London from Australia a few days ago, she then went straight to Milan to perform on her friend Mika’s Italian TV show, before coming back for costume fittings for her Christmas shows at the Royal Albert Hall and promotion for her new record — the Snow Queen edition of last year’s Kylie Christmas album, repackaged for 2016 with some bonus tracks. She apologises for the “wild look in my eyes” and her jet lag, but I’d never have guessed. Dressed in jeans, a pussy-bow blouse with hearts on it and well-heeled red ankle boots, she orders an espresso with a chaser of mineral water. Her hair is casually swept back and her make-up is minimal. She looks great.
“I have my moments,” she smiles. “When all the planets are in line I can do all right.”
Being the permanently luminous Kylie is not without complications. A few years ago, her face was so flawless, she was starting to look a little freaky. Since then, she has admitted to laying off the fillers and it suits her.
Still, she must feel an enormous pressure to stay looking young? “I don’t know if I do feel the pressure. I’m so used to it, which is almost a sad thing to say, but that’s just been my job for so long.”
For my generation — children of the 1980s — it is impossible to remember a time before Kylie was one of the most famous people in the world. Weekdays revolved around 5.35pm and Neighbours, an Aussie soap so popular, it might as well have been the nation’s official after-school club. Twenty million Brits tuned in to watch Kylie’s Charlene marry Jason Donovan’s Scott in 1988. It was our royal wedding.
It was also the era that Kylie came to the UK for the first time, invited over by the pop svengalis Stock Aitken Waterman. They had forgotten she was coming, so bashed out a quick song while she waited and got her to record it on the spot. The whole encounter lasted little more than 90 minutes, but that was I Should Be So Lucky.
Now here we are, 30 years, 13 studio albums and more than 70m sales later. For a fluffy pop singer, she has proved remarkably robust. Spinning Around and Can’t Get You Out of My Head are stone-cold dancefloor classics, but she has always been framed as a kitsch guilty pleasure rather than a significant creative force. Still, it took a while for Abba to get their musical dues.
It is amazing to think that when she started out, the feedback was that she had a nice voice but was a dreadful performer. Now she is one of the best — the consummate showgirl, never without her glitter dust and peacock feathers, metaphorical or otherwise. But three decades in the limelight have taken their toll. I ask what she does to let off steam and the answer, though delivered with her characteristic brightness, feels a little sad. “Just quiet, feeling safe in my environment — safe at home, or someone else’s home, safe where there’s no one with their phones, you don’t have to have your eyes darting around the whole time.”
She would much rather tell me how work is her release. “Being on stage, or singing a song, or ... God, I took a flight to Milan ...” she says, beginning a long story about a male air steward who showed her a photo of him and his husband on their wedding day, holding a congratulatory message from Kylie. “I really believe that an important part of my being and my job are to deliver those bits of joy. Being a moment in someone’s life. It’s a cosmic thing.”
We could all do with more of Kylie’s happy vibes and happy music in the world right now, I tell her, but she corrects me. “It definitely isn’t all happy — sometimes it’s about unhappy things. I’m not always happy, trust me. Being human is involved.”
In 2005, she discovered she had breast cancer a few days before the Australian and Asian leg of her Showgirl tour was due to begin, leading to the very un-Kylieish decision to share her diagnosis.
She was given the all-clear in February 2006, after a partial mastectomy and eight months of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. There are still hospital check-ups today, but “now it’s more of a formality, I don’t have to do it as often. When I reached my 10-year mark, I burst into tears. It’s a much longer process than ... Again, typical of me, I gave enough information because I felt people needed to know something, but no one knows the whole story. It’s a lengthy process and it affects everything. Some days, I’m still not at peace with it. I go, ‘Dammit, I wish I could just wear what I used to wear and not ...’ ” she trails off. “It changes a lot of things. Christmas makes you stop and think a bit of those things, too. Who do I want to spend my Christmas time with? Who do I miss? Who’s not here? It breaks my heart to think about what my family had to go through.”
Her mother moved here from Australia to be with her while she was having her treatment. But — typical Kylie — she was back on the road by November 2006, honouring her postponed dates, so her mum went out on the road with her, too.
“She loved it. Oh God, I don’t even want to go back there, but she was with me for most of it and my dad would come over when he could. Even that, separating my parents for long periods of time, that’s not easy on them. We are a famously tight-knit family.”
There are three Minogue siblings. Only marginally less famous than Kylie is her 45-year-old sister, Dannii, an entertainer, fashion designer and sometime X Factor judge. Lesser spotted is their brother, Brendan, 46, who now looks after the family’s business affairs. “He’s the rock in the middle. Both my sister and I idolise him. We just think he’s the greatest, and if you try to argue with me I will laser-beam you with my eyes and you will be dust on the floor,” she says.
Their mother, Carol, was born in Wales, but emigrated to Australia as a “£10 Pom” in the 1950s. Kylie and her siblings were brought up in a working-class suburb of Melbourne. “My mum had three kids under four and they had no money. The year they got the heater in the house was a big deal.”
This year she will be spending Christmas with Sasse, but hasn’t decided where. “I’m literally, annoyingly, the queen of lastminute.com for Christmas, but Josh has been filming in Vancouver and he’s really missing England, so I think it will be somewhere local.”
They met in the autumn of 2015, when Kylie made a guest appearance on the set of his TV show Galavant (broadcast on ABC in America), and have said they’d like to get married in Melbourne, but won’t do it until same-sex marriage is legalised in Australia. They have even launched their own campaign, called Say “I Do” Down Under, to prove they mean business.
Being a gay icon with a global following comes with its own politics, though. Does she worry about visiting countries with a bad record on same-sex rights when she goes on tour?
“It’s definitely a consideration,” she nods. “There was just a period when no one would go to Russia. I haven’t been in a while, but there’s that little voice in your head saying that’s also not fair for the people who don’t get to see you, and by you going there you’re showing support for them. It’s a little tricky.”
I bring up Desert Island Discs again, but she interrupts me: “I have no idea what I said — it was like an out-of-body experience.” I tell her it was a joy to hear her being so candid and carefree. She cried twice: tears of joy after Sasse’s surprise poem and tears of sadness when remembering Hutchence, who died in 1997 after committing suicide while depressed and under the influence of alcohol and drugs. He played a profound role in her own coming of age: “I was 21 years old, ready to get the butterfly wings and go out into the world. We collided at that time and I guess he just fast-tracked some of it.” Towards the end of the interview, Kirsty Young asked her what she would like to see in her future, and the answer was unexpectedly revealing. “Who knows if a family is on any one of my horizons? If that were to happen, that would be incredible.”
Is that something that she and Sasse are serious about? “Well, as time goes by that becomes a different kettle of fish.”
But there are many options, I say, you could always adopt? Kylie sighs. “I really don’t want to talk about that,” she pauses. “When cancer strikes, you have to consider all of that. Trust me, there’s a point when the next person who says, ‘Well, there are many options,’ you want to scream. Of course, it’s great there are options. It’s marvellous there are options! But when you’re dealing with all the other stuff and things that you took for granted are taken away from you, it’s like, yes, there are options, but ...” she scrunches her fists together and makes a frustrated grimace. “But I have three nephews who I am crazy about, so I’m good at being an auntie,” she continues. “I guess you have those visions of, God, what would my child look like, be it a boy or a girl? What would I see of myself in them? That’s saddening, but I’ve thought about it for a long time and I’ve had to face that for a long time.”
Love thy neighbour: the wedding of Scott and Charlene (Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue) drew 20m British viewers in 1998
She is far from alone in that experience. One in five women in their mid-forties today is likely to be childless — almost double the number in their parents’ generation. But Kylie is one of the few who is publicly called upon to articulate the experience.
“I find it tricky,” she admits. “If you go into [some subjects] deeper, it just gets too emotional. It’s hard because it’s more than a soundbite. You can’t simplify it.”
So I try another thorny subject unique to women of a certain age in the public eye — when to hang up the hot pants? Kylie has always been gloriously comfortable in her sexuality. Hers is a sort of cheeky, sparkly-eyed raunch that is fast being replaced by the porny, dead-eyed sexbots of the Instagram generation (another reason why women and gay men love her, I would wager). But while there is a lot of pressure on the nation’s sweetheart to stay youthful, there is also a flipside: when to rein it in?
“Yes, I wouldn’t see myself doing ...” her mind audibly wanders back to a 2001 Agent Provocateur commercial she did in her smalls astride a mechanical bull, which was deemed so rude, it could be shown only in cinemas. “I look at some things that I kind of shocked myself, where I can’t believe I did that. But I wouldn’t like to feel I have to dress a certain way or act a certain way or look a certain way that is age-defined. It’s tricky, because what your brain is telling you your age is, is perhaps different to the age you are, or perhaps the age people perceive you to be.” She pauses. “I would like to think people are becoming more open-minded about it — and no doubt they are, when you consider that 20 years ago 40 was considered ancient and now it isn’t.”
Our time is up and Kylie stands up to put her coat on, nearly falling over a package by her feet. “Oh!” she says brightly. “I brought this.” It’s her new Christmas CD and, even better, a 2017 calendar featuring Kylie rocking a variety of retro sports outfits and camply provocative poses. Will she sign it for me? Of course!
Once finished, I make a confession: this isn’t my first Kylie autograph, I already have a signed copy of her first album on cassette. “See! There’s a moment that warms my heart,” she lights up, bathing me once more in that heart-meltingly toothy grin. “I didn’t even need to explain that whole story about the air steward.”
I watch her walk out and around the corner, not a fairy-tale stagecoach in sight.Kylie Christmas (Snow Queen Edition) is out now