Aside from serving up more bangers than a greasy spoon, the queen of pop empowered an audience 100,000 people deep, all of whom went from singing her hits to crying along with her as she shared her own emotional journey to the Glastonbury stage 14 years after she had to cancel her headline performance after a shock cancer diagnosis in 2005.
In the heat of summer, adorned in sequin trousers, I danced my absolute tits off in a field to the iconic back catalogue of Kylie Minogue as she sent Glastonbury festival spinning around. The resulting show was the most-watched performance from the festival ever – beating even Ed Sheeran, Adele and Beyoncé – and it’s not hard to see why.
It seems apt that I end my year interviewing the woman behind the highlight of my own year. As I tell her I was there, right at the back, Kylie can’t hold herself together. “Far gone, or far away?” she jokes, “I just want to grill you for a minute.”
The grilling of an audience member is important to Kylie as her personal memory of the event is limited. “There are only certain bits that I remember and the other moments I just kept thinking, ‘just get through it, just make your quick change and get out there in time and hope it doesn’t wrong!’ You know, troubleshooting a lot of the time,” she shares.
“I think I said at one point, ‘I want to try and remember this,’ but it’s really hard. It was so hard trying to compute that many people – I have never seen so many people – and having that energy coming towards you whilst trying to do what you’ve wanted to and trying your best. It was unreal.”
Aside from the Glasto debrief to end all debriefs, we find ourselves in a very festive themed London hotel room accompanied by a Christmas tree littered in kangaroo baubles and a koala bear moonlighting as an angel on top of the tree (as is the tradition in her own home) to celebrate the singer becoming the ambassador for Tourism Australia – her beloved homeland.
But aside from being her home, Australia has acted as a place of personal escapism for the 51-year-old star. “I’m not there as often as I’d like to be and even when I am there it’s so hard to really stop,” Kylie says. “But it is escapism for me as even when I’m not there, just knowing it’s there and knowing my family are there is reassuring for me.”
It’s a place where Kylie has gone to fully escape the reality of life, it seems. “When things go wrong, where do you want to be? You want to be in your home, with your family. Around 20 years ago I latched onto a trip with my parents. I had just been through a breakup and I just felt like life’s a disaster.”
“I called them and asked, ‘you’re where? Can I join you?’ It was actually kind of the Outback – it was definitely like using it as escape route! That just filled me up again with that kind of reassurance and love to go, ‘okay, I can face the big world again.’”
In a year that has seen Kylie score another number one album, she certainly needs a bit of downtime to fully process the achievements of 2019. “I thought 2018 was my best year in a while,” she says beaming. “I turned 50, I met Paul (her boyfriend) I released Golden and things had found a new place, a new way. And then 2019 just went crazy!”
Going from such highs to the realities of normal life is equally difficult for Kylie to process and her own mental wellbeing has been put into perspective by her year-long boyfriend. “It is the classic situation of your Adrenal glands pumping away and you think, ‘Yes sir. We’ve got this, we’re doing it!’ And then you stop and they’re going, ‘right, well we’ve got all this excess energy, what are we going to do with it? You’re going to get so depressed right now!’”
“It’s a ride and I’m quite aware of it, especially with Paul who’s been so supportive, but it’s new to him,” Kylie continues. “I’ve always lived this life, so I assumed that’s how it goes. But he is someone with such a big heart and is a smart, sensible guy. It’s been interesting to see it through his eyes and actually be able to see it a little objectively and realise it’s not normal to feel like that. It takes a lot of work, good people around and that’s always a work in progress as well. Trying to always, get things right, fine tune them and learn from your mistakes. It’s a funny old business, but it’s the only business that I know.”
In this very crazy business, does she constantly feel in competition with herself, I ask. “God yes! I think, ‘well those stats are pretty good. What’s next?’ But I think a lot of that is just out of curiosity as well. I love doing new things. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years now and then, professionally and personally. But I think that curiosity is part of what drives me.”
Kylie’s career has also been driven by reinvention. After all, during her lifetime she has transformed from a mechanic in Neighbours to a gold hot pants wearing pop icon. “I just enjoy it. I think I’m a natural chameleon, so it suits me. Reinvention has taught me, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work. But you don’t know unless you try,” Kylie shares.
During this time Kylie’s personal life has rarely been out of public view. The headlines around her love life have been numerous in particular and so readily available for consumption that everyone feels like they know Kylie Minogue. It’s a topic I discussed with Jennifer Aniston weeks earlier, I tell her.
“You met Jennifer Aniston!? I’m so jealous,” she squeals before I ask her how she feels about the notion of everyone feeling like they know her, when in fact, we, the public know very little about the realities of her life. “I do feel like somehow we are slightly in alternate universes, I can see the similarity. We’ve just been in people’s lives for such a long time,” Kylie continues whilst discussing the comparison to Jennifer. “For me, on a good day, the balance feels right. And I get it, I was 19 years old when I started, and I was in people’s lounge rooms twice a day on Neighbours.”
At that moment Kylie jumps up from her seat to close a bathroom door behind me, “Can I shut this door? It’s for your Feng Shui,” she exclaims skipping off to close the door before returning and unexpectedly adding, “I’ve actually never watched a soap opera, believe it or not. Like none. The first thing I watched the entirety of was Breaking Bad!”
She quickly gets herself back on track. “I have not really answered your question about people thinking they know me,” Kylie asserts. “I think mostly I like it. I mean, of course there’s just so much they don’t know about me. I think a lot of that’s good. You need a sense of ownership of yourself and I don’t know that people fully appreciate what a clown I am most of the time and I am the biggest idiot in the room. But it does feel like we’ve done a lot of growing up together and I think they can see that, even if I’ve tried to hide some things I have been through. For the most part it’s been a caring relationship (between me and the public) and I’m thankful for that. It’s not been without its moments like when people are out to get you and the press are awful. It’s definitely not been a journey without its struggles, that’s for sure.”
In light of the aforementioned struggles, has she learnt to become a hustler, I ask? “Sometimes I have this vision of myself that I’m a bit meeker than I am, because there’s part of me that is shy, that is insecure and yet I’m doing what I’m doing. There is constant balance between that. I wasn’t the kid at school in all the plays, I wasn’t on the stage. I suppose I would never describe myself as a ‘hustler’, but I think a bit of me is almost lying. You try to get things done, make things work whilst building and relying on a team. Ultimately, I’ve got these great people, but I’ve got to have the gumption to go out there and do it. And I’m driven to do it. Don’t ask me why or how I just am?”
Sitting before Kylie strikes me as someone who has an innate faith in herself but that’s something she has had to work on, she shares. “I have a lot of insecurity of course,” Kylie adds. “And I’ve had to fight through every time I’ve been knocked down and people say, ‘You’re not good enough!’ Oh, I’ve had all that and I still get it. That’s just the nature of music. You’re not to everyone’s taste. But I know I’ve had to fight through that. There’s a bit of soft focus that happens over time, but if, actually I stop and think about it, there have been some really challenging times where I questioned if I can put myself out there.”
“A lot of that is in my makeup, she continues before revealing something very surprising. “But definitely my parents brought the three of us kids up to, feel like we could do things. Not that we were special at all, but my mum was doing transcendental meditating when I was born, and I didn’t know that until a few years ago! I think as much she was largely a stay at home mum, I think she really was adamant that we did what we wanted to do and really focused on us. I think she’s helped me or put fertiliser on whatever it is I already had in me to grow.”
Change is certainly something that has punctuated Kylie’s career, but one thing has remained consistent, aside from her self-belief. The lack of equal representation between women and men in music is yet to be resolved. Between 2012 and 2018 out of the 700 top songs on Billboard’s year-end Hot 100, women make up 21.7 percent of artists, 12.3 percent of songwriters and 2.1 percent of producers.
“I think I’ve been pretty fortunate with that,” Kylie says as I ask her how she’s navigated this clear gap in equal gender representation. “I walked into it when it was all men, but I never felt any less. I had to pay my dues and do my time and you know, kind of hustle a way in there, be more decisive about things and have my opinion heard. Luckily, I don’t have any of those stories of the abuse of power that unfortunately you hear about. So, I would like to think in my own way I have done it subtly. I don’t ever make too much noise about it. But I’ve made my way.”
Before she spins her way out of the door, Kylie asks to see a photo of me from her Glastonbury performance. As I pull up my Instagram post and read her the caption, “Kylie Minogue, you actual legend. I love you and so does 100,000 people. So incredible to see someone so damn empowering on that stage,” she wraps her arms around me in a spontaneous hug. “Thank you for being so positive,” she says. No thank you, Kylie Minogue.