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She's the hermitic rock siren who took to her bed eight years ago with daytime tv for company. Now Kate Bush has woken up again. "People have been incredibly patient with me," she tells John Aizlewood.
It's just after midday, Catherine "Kate" Bush is alone, sipping a glass of bottled water at one of Harrods' many restaurants. She waves frantically, all beaming smile, hesitant handshake and concerned as to whether Q received the message she left on the mobile apologising for her timekeeping.
The setting is public, but she will remain unrecognised. Now 43, she looks like an older version of Kate Bush. Although she stumbles with her "r"s, her sing-song speaking voice is a siren in the original sense.
She last surfaced in 1993 with The Red Shoes, her biggest American hit. Undervalued even then, it has, like its creator, aged rather well. Since then much has happened, although she would prefer as little of it reaching the public domain as possible and - we must speak boldly here, for she will not - she would rather not be here. Despite constantly ululating press, Bush hates being interviewed. Indeed, she hasn't done it for eight years.
"I don't think of myself as a personality, so a long time ago I made a decision that I would only do publicity in connection with my work. To do an interview when I have no work out doesn't make any sense."
Of course, she's very nice about it and she is here.
Crudely, there are two ways to get what you want. One is to scream and shout. The other, ultimately more effective, is the Kate Bush way: firm but extraordinarily polite, bordering on diffident, all delivered in that voice.
She changes her mind and decides she doesn't want to eat. Politely but unapologetically, she charms the waiter into moving everything, including the bill, to a table 50 yards away where we can share water and breakfast tea rather than solids.
As she chats to Q, she spurns the comparison (although delighted to hear it) that she is rock's Stanley Kubrick. Mystically reclusive; unwilling to surrender creative control in any aspect or march to any timetable but her own; wholly original in a genre which instinctively crushes originality; obsessively perfectionist. For both, the use of the word "genius" is not wholly hyperbole.
"I admire Kubrick. God knows how he kept all that control on his movies and without having his heart broken. He really was a genius and he took himself away. I'm privileged to have creative control; that to me is everything. I wouldn't dare compare myself to him, but I know what you mean."
The Red Shoes took four years from conception to release. Immediately afterwards, Bush erred. Instead of putting her feet up, she spent much of 1994 making The Line, The Cross & The Curve, a film originally conceived as a visual companion to The Red Shoes.
"I shouldn't have done it," she sighs. "I was so tired. I'm very pleased with four minutes of it, but I'm very disappointed with the rest. I let down people like Miranda Richardson who worked so hard on it. I had the opportunity to do something really interesting and I completely blew it."
"Also, I was actually viewed in quite a negative light at that point, more so than after The Dreaming where I was viewed as some kind of nutter. It dissipated my energy severely and threw me into a state of severe exhaustion. You just get worn down."
She will never do another film. She guested on a Larry Adler tribute, sang in Gaelic on an album by bouzouki player Donal Lunny, and retreated to her Bexleyheath lair, close to her family. Her personal life was not quite the idyll of yore. Bush's mother Hannah had died during the making of The Red Shoes.
"There had been a period, a very big period, where I hadn't been able to work, but I hadn't grieved properly, then work became my way of coping."
Somewhere along the way, her long-standing relationship with her engineer, programmer and sometime bassist Del Palmer had quietly crumbled.
"I needed to stop working because there were a lot of things I wanted to look at in my life. I was exhausted on every level."
She began to write almost immediately.
"There was a part of me that didn't want to work. I'd got to a point where it was something I didn't feel good about. It was as if I was testing myself to see if I could write, but I didn't like what I was writing. I thought, No, if you don't want to do it, it will be rubbish. Basically, the batteries were completely run out and I needed to re- stimulate again."
What did you do?
"I slept. I spent a lot of time sleeping."
"I used to enjoy watching bad television, like really bad quiz programmes or really bad sitcoms. I found that really fascinating. I wouldn't name the programmes, obviously..."
"... but it just seems that I needed to be in a position where there were no demands. I saw friends occasionally and I was very quiet. I was just trying to recuperate."
One doesn't have to be a member of Mariah Carey's inner sanctum to read between the lines. Having peered into the abyss, Bush slowly got her life back on track. She went on holidays. She moved to Central London, renting before buying a flat which she still retains. She describes exactly where, but asks, ever so politely, that the district is not revealed.
"I'm scared to tell you. I don't like where I'm living being pinpointed. It would create problems for me. I went to places I never had the time to visit, like museums. I love museums. I was fleeing my work situation, which was very consuming in every way."
Eventually, Bush tentatively set about writing her eighth album. Then she found herself pregnant. The father was Danny McIntosh, responsible for most of the guitars on The Red Shoes, although in the late-'70s he was a member of hard rockers Bandit, who spawned Jim Diamond and AC/DC's Cliff Williams. Three years ago, Bush gave birth to Albert, destined to go through life as Bertie, although the onset of puberty might just turn him into Al. Bertie now controls her life, and she adores this coup-de-rusk.
In fact, father and son are in Harrods this lunchtime and the trio will spend the afternoon shopping. McIntosh is compact, ear-ringed with greying auburn hair. He's friendly enough, but predictably not one to tarry. Little Bertie has his father's hair (the auburn, not the grey), his mother's eyes and the broadest grin you did ever see. Bush's guard comes tumbling down.
"Although I hadn't always wanted children, I had for a long time. People say that magic doesn't exist but I look at him, think I gave birth to him and I know magic does exist. He is his own human being, but my role is to try and guide him and give him a really good time. I'm very proud of him and I get so much joy out of being with him. It's totally incomparable with anything else."
"What I have found very difficult since I've had my child is finding time to talk to people, because he comes first. He doesn't care whether the album comes out, so it comes second. I don't want to miss a minute of him. It's so much fun, by far the best thing I've ever done."
Are you and Danny married? Immediately the shutters spring up once more. She twiddles her ringless fingers.
"Do you know, I knew you were going to ask this. I said to Danny, What do I say if he asks if we're married? I feel I have to give you an explanation: I'm so protective of Bertie, I get so concerned for him. A lot of people mix with are the mothers of Bertie's friends. I don't even know if some of them know who I am, so I'm really concerned about whether I'm married going to print. This is where I start to get nervous and concerned."
All people care about is if you're happy.
"I am really happy, I feel I've got the balance right where Bertie comes first and then the album. Some people say the best work comes from suffering: I don't agree with this. Hounds of Love is one of my best albums and I was very happy then. I'm very happy with Danny. I feel very lucky and that I've achieved a lot of things I was looking for after the last album."
If ever a track - aside, of course, from Wamdue Project's King of My Castle - sounded as if it were the first and final sighting of a one-hit wonder, it was Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, which, in 1978, appeared to come from nowhere and go to Number 1. The singer was a strange, doe-eyed lass of 20. In fact, she'd been nurtured for a while after Pink Floyd's David Gilmour had heard a demo and alerted his label, EMI, who signed her almost instantly.
Revelling in their Pygmalion role, the company paid for tutoring in mime and dance and gave her what appeared to be valuable stage experience when they encouraged her into leading the KT Bush Band around the pubs of West London. Only when EMI were satisfied she was ready did they unleash Wuthering Heights.
She would never again top the British singles charts, but EMI knew what they were doing, for there was much more and much better where Wuthering Heights came from. The hits piled up, but 1979's Tour of Life might have been better titled The Only Tour Of Her Life, for she never did it again and major international success has always eluded her.
At first, she was prolific, releasing two albums in 1978, a third in 1980 and a fourth in 1982. The reclusive years began after 1985's Hounds of Love, commonly regarded as her masterpiece. Since then she has released just two more albums, although as her public appearances are most infrequent, the picture of Kate Bush in many people's minds is of the young woman of Wuthering Heights. With each passing year of silence, the mystique around her has grown.
With the myth a succession of rumours have grown about her weight, her state of mind, her love life and her work. She rarely bothers to refute them, if only because denying one thing invariably means admitting to something else, if only by default.
Today her weight is normal; she is in both robust mental health and her second settled major relationship. All the time she is beavering away on motherhood and her new album and, although Hounds Of Love and The Whole Story were in the Top 75 as recently as October, she fears her audience might have vanished.
"It would be cynical and arrogant to think I'll be deliberately mysterious and spend years making an album, but I'm not capable of doing it once a year. If I'm really honest, what I find so exciting is that people want to listen to my music when I'm not thrust in their faces. In this fast-moving world, people do forget, but they're incredibly patient with me."
The self-produced new album has no title yet. It may be released in 2002, it may not. There is an element of not wanting to put pressure on herself by not committing to a date.
"It's hard to say when, because it's a matter of how much time I get to work on what's left to do, so I couldn't actually measure it in time."
What's it like?
"I'm not sure, because I don't get to listen to it. You see, with my other albums I used to listen to stuff such a lot. It's very different now because with Bertie I don't have the time. I'm quite pleased with it though. There's quite a lot of it done, but I can't really talk about something that's not finished, it's like talking about an event that hasn't happened."
The sound of gnashing teeth in the background comes from EMI Records. If she hasn't got the time to listen to her new album, the back catalogue is long-neglected.
She sips her tea. Father and son are returning. Bush sweeps Bertie off his feet. What if the little fellow wanted to go into music?
"There's something very special about him. I don't know what he's going to do, but he will bring something very special to it, he's got that spark. If he really wanted to do music, I couldn't stop him, could I? It would be wrong. Music is the most wonderful thing, but it can be very painful. I just want him to be happy."
Has music made you happy?
"Yeah, sort of."
A few days later, at the Q Awards, Kate Bush is less happy. "I was booed outside, I've never been booed," she confides, most distressed. Unaware of awards ceremony etiquette, she ignored to paparazzi outside. In accordance with awards ceremony etiquette they had, therefore, booed her. She looks sceptical at this explanation, for she had honestly thought the general public was so keen to pursue a vendetta against her that they had gathered en masse to jeer. She allows herself to be led by the hand into the empty awards hall where she can sip water and compose herself.
Of course, she has a whale of a time. "When I was told I'd got an award, I thought they'd confused me with somebody else," she giggles. The extraordinary spontaneous standing ovation she received and a vote of confidence from John Lydon gladdened her to the giddy degree where her first words on a British stage this century were, "Ooh, I've just come." Good job she didn't bring Bertie. Del Palmer gets a thank you. Danny McIntosh did not.
Politely she explains she will have her photograph taken, but only with the adoring pussycat that is Lydon and her old chum Midge Ure. Elvis Costello gives her his telephone number in the hope she'll call and work with him. If he's made arrangements this weekend, he'd be best not to cancel them.
Eventually, almost unnoticed, Ms Kubrick skips off into the late afternoon, wondering aloud whether anyone thought she'd behaved rudely. She hoped not. She hoped that more than anything.
To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds