Kylie Minogue chats to Stylist about ambition and insecurities

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A 27-year pop career, a judging slot on one of the country’s biggest shows – gradually we’ve had to conclude that there is nothing Kylie Minogue isn’t up for. Oh, except, perhaps the Hoovering…

Kylie Minogue’s got the Hoover out. This isn’t a situation you find yourselves witnessing every day, and certainly not one you can imagine being in round at the real Chez Minogue – Kylie’s far too busy making iconic pop music and dancing around her giant seat on The Voice to be putting the nozzle on and getting bits from under the sofa cushions.

But in the ultra chic interior of Stylist’s location house in London, Kylie’s finding her inner domestic goddess. As with most things Kylie, it’s glamorous, kitsch and a ridiculous amount of fun. Which is why today’s photographer Ellen von Unwerth – who has shot for everyone from Vogue to Vanity Fair – has made an extraordinary effort to work with her again. After falling ill in Paris, Ellen cancelled the day before the shoot, only to pull out all the stops to recover in record time and drag herself to London, “because it’s Kylie”. This does not happen for every celebrity. But then, when Stylist last worked with Kylie for our fashion issue back in February 2012 on an epic three-day shoot in Los Angeles, 25 fashion designers – from Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld to Victoria Beckham – clamoured to dress her. People just love Kylie.

But this is the world of celebrity, a world famed for tantrums and diva-ish demands. There must be someone she’s pissed off. “Oh sure,” Kylie tells me later that day, after hours of jumping on beds, making cakes and faux vacuuming. “Whoever does my hair and make-up has to be brave because I get so edgy. I can’t imagine there are no complaints about me but I’ve always felt, ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you’. But of course I get home and moan about this and whinge about that…”

Ellen Von Unwerth for Stylist magazine

Naturally, she says all this with a smile. That unmistakable Kylie smile with the big perfect teeth that take over half of her tiny face whenever she really lets rip and beams. And that’s her charm. She’s friendly to everybody; seducing you with her easy-going humour. But anyone who thinks Kylie has just smiled her way through the last two decades simply being likeable, as clever collaboration after clever collaboration fell into her lap (she’s also had 13 sell-out tours and seven number ones), is doing a lot of underestimating. Her total professionalism is evident as soon as she steps on set. The brief before was: ‘No fuss. No faff’. Kylie’s time is precious, as is Ellen’s, and they both like working quickly. We get started almost immediately, with the pair making what is actually a hard concept to pull off look insanely easy.

“I like being able to play,” says Kylie. “I hate having to be still, and I don’t really like being against a white wall and trying to do model poses. I’m not a model – I prefer to have props and things to do. On Ellen’s shoots, you know that she’s going to get results and you can also have a bit of a laugh.

“[But] it’s not my favourite thing,” she adds. “Believe it or not, I still get a bit embarrassed doing shoots. I feel like, ‘Why is everyone looking at me?’ But they have to look at me. That’s why they’re here and that’s my job. I didn’t look at the monitor once [today] because I’ll see everything I hate and just get more and more insecure as the day goes on and hate myself…

Ellen Von Unwerth for Stylist magazine

“Although, with something like my album cover I need to know what it is.”

Ah, ever the professional, I’m gently reminded why we’re here: this month Kylie released her 12th album, Kiss Me Once. I’ve already had a listen. It’s a mix of euphoric pop and melancholy lyrics, with a little bit of raciness reminiscent of her 2000 album Light Years thrown in for good measure. She admits herself that there’s definitely a bit of “old Kylie in there”. Revisiting the style she’s perhaps most comfortable with makes total sense in context. In 2013, she split from her boyfriend of five years, Andrés Velencoso, and had a change of management after 25 years, parting ways with her fellow Melbourne-born manager Terry Blamey and signing with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

“I had it one way for 25 years so wherever I went it’s going to be different and will require adapting to a new situation, new people, a new way of working, new interactions,” she tells me. “With any big change like that, the transitional phase is never going to be smooth. So there was some…” she trails off, perhaps realising she might be going somewhere more raw, and quickly changes gear. “I was very excited and I’m so happy,” she smiles. “I know I made the right decision. When I met Jay Brown, [co-founder of Roc Nation], I knew in the first 60 seconds. I was reading [Malcolm Gladwell’s] Blink as well so that helps. Just make the decision. So that part was easy, but then getting used to everything…

Ellen Von Unwerth for Stylist magazine

“I felt quite on my own throughout a lot of the process,” she admits [after recording most of the album in the States, she returned to her home in London alone to finish it off]. “But I think that’s what makes me proud of it.”

Interestingly, for the first time in her long career, Kylie’s calling all the shots, executive producing the album with the help of fellow Australian hit-maker Sia Furler, a figure regarded in the industry as a female Pharrell Williams (who also contributed a song – the unbelievably catchy I Was Gonna Cancel – to the album). A singing, songwriting producer extraordinaire, Furler has written for Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Rita Ora and Britney Spears, and has lent her vocals to David Guetta and Flo Rida, helping to sell a total of 12 million singles. For Kylie, who has worked with everyone from Nick Cave to Calvin Harris, this could be her cleverest collaboration yet.

“She was great, and someone I admire so much,” Kylie says. “I just think she’s the bee’s knees. I have to credit my record label for that kind of thing. But I would credit myself with being game to try anything; I’ll give anything a shot. They don’t always work out but at least you’ve tried and you’ve been there.”

I tell her she’d have to be game to sing Sexercize, a slow synth-heavy track which asks you to ‘feel the burn’, with a straight face. “Sexercize! Yes! Thank you Sia!” Kylie laughs. “I actually blushed when I heard the title and thought, ‘Oh, that’s wrong’. But that’s the genius of Sia. She can make it cool and make it hot. And I can probably put the little wink into it, so you know it’s going to be more fruity than sleazy.

I mention how it must have been great to have the support of another woman for her first album as executive producer. After all, as her first foray into the music industry was with ‘pop puppeteers’ Stock, Aitken and Waterman, being at the helm must have been pretty daunting.

“I certainly didn’t have any control back then,” she admits. “I did what I was told because that’s what I did in TV [in Neighbours]. ‘Here’s your lines, learn your lines, move on’. So a lot of my first recordings were like that. But prior to that, it was me who went for singing lessons, I’d made a demo tape, I did The Loco-Motion, no-one manipulated me then.

“But then I got into the system and I learnt a lot, and it was fine until it wasn’t fine and I wanted to express myself a little bit more. I suppose in a lot of ways I do have a lot more control these days, but control is just not my favourite word. It’s not attractive. I’d rather describe it as having the choice…”

Ellen Von Unwerth for Stylist magazine

In front of the cameras, in front of an audience – even a small one – Kylie exudes a cheeriness and feeling of calm. She jokes about designing her own emoticons (an eyebrow, kisses, hot pants and her almost trademark brimmed hat) and recalls how she designed her new album cover by experimenting with dozens of red lipsticks on acetate (“It looked like I’d murdered someone in my living room”). In private, as we sit in the lounge at the end of the day, when she’s tired and ready to go home, it’s clear just how seriously she takes all this and how much of a worrier she is.

“I’m a Gemini, so I’m a bit of everything, which can be a nightmare for interviews,” she sighs. “I try to be as chilled as I can but internally I do think a lot, and work myself into a bit of a spin. Being busy helps. But then I can’t wait for tomorrow and having a day off. There are definitely moments when I do not want to be busy…”

Control or choice, whatever you want to call it, Kylie’s decision to release yet another album has made her even busier. After agreeing to mentor contestants in the third series of The Voice UK, she simultaneously signed up to the Australian version and spends her time jetting between Sydney and London. I ask her what motivated her to sign up to The Voice when many of her past career moves have been intended to bestow a certain kind of credibility. Isn’t this reality show too commercial for her? It’s a question she’s obviously answered before. She had been asked to front similar projects and always said no, but then this felt right, with hi-jacking her meeting with producers in LA, and her sister Dannii also putting in an encouraging phone call.

Ellen Von Unwerth for Stylist magazine

The show also introduces Kylie to a new and younger fan base. For anyone over 25, she seems to have been omnipresent on the music scene forever, but there is a section of the younger public whose radar she just does not register on – until now.

“Absolutely,” she agrees. “The last time I hit the general public consciousness was with Can’t Get You Out Of My Head which was 2001. That’s 13 years ago and so it’s time. I’ve already had comments from friends. Their kids didn’t know who I am but they watch The Voice and they have their favourite judges. To know you’ve probably got nan and gramps, mum and dad, their kids and maybe a new generation [who know who I am] is amazing.”

Her mindset of this year – new things, new management, saying yes to new things, even reading Blink smacks of being reintroduced to herself. She tells me she spent New Year’s Eve on her own for the first time and she loved it.

“It was very quiet, very peaceful and I reflected on the past year,” she recalls. “Even though it was exciting and now I’m reaping the benefits, there was a lot in the last year that was just not so great.

Ellen Von Unwerth for Stylist magazine

“Dealing with sadness and trying to make peace with those things and think about moving forward… We can’t go backwards. It’s our good fortune if we get to go forwards. It’s very hard for me to describe, but there was an energy shift. It doesn’t mean I’m not fraught, tired, stressed, excited, crazy, all the things that I was before, but there’s a train of thought that I didn’t have before and I do now and I really hope I can hang on to it.”

For a breast cancer survivor [she has been in full remission since 2005], it can’t be the first time she’s needed to regroup? “Actually, I would say it is,” she says. “Just because if there’s been a similar time it was a very different set of circumstances…”

This is another thing Kylie is extremely good at. While she gives you a little insight into her thoughts and feelings, she always pulls back; hinting at her private life but never fully revealing it. I remember an interview from years ago where she explained it was a tactic to keep her sane. She tells me no matter what happens in 2014, she wants to remember how centred she felt at the start of the year. Does that mean carrying a diary on her many travels, so she can flick back to 1 January whenever she has a shaky moment?

“Oh, I don’t keep a diary,” she says. “I’ve tried, but I don’t think it’s for me. I’m just not good at being that timely. I have enough trouble remembering to take a multivitamin, so by the end of the day, ‘Dear diary…’? No.”

A shame, because if anyone could sell millions on the back of an autobiography, it would be Kylie. Although she isn’t willing to divulge any startling secrets about her famous ex-boyfriends or, well, anything really, she lights up when she's talking about growing up in Melbourne with her mum Carol, dad Ronald, sister Dannii and brother Brendan.

“Prince was my idol when I was 14 or 15,” she says. “When we went on a family drive we had the cassette playing in the car and Darling Nikki came on. My dad nearly had a heart attack with the lyrics in that song [the track, from the 1984 album Purple Rain, was so explicit, it led to the introduction of Parental Advisory stickers on albums]. I don’t know how he survived between my sister and I.”

When she goes home to her parents’ house, does she do what most of us do and return to her 15-year-old self?

“A little bit,” she says. “My parents aren’t in the same house we grew up in which is a blessing. The idea of going back to my teenage room would be weird. They have a nice house where everyone has their own space and it’s grown up. But I do bomb around in the worst clothes and drink way too many cups of tea. I don’t want to lose that sense of being their girl.”

As we wrap up the interview, Kylie’s excitement at her pending day off – a day she has been waiting on for over a month – becomes physical as she kicks her legs up in the air and visibly relaxes. What if your day off is cancelled tomorrow, I ask?

“I like a challenge,” she says. “I don’t want to give in until there is no other option; I’m pretty tenacious and determined. I always try to think of what my 94-year-old grandmother would do. I asked her just a few years ago, ‘Nan, how do you do it? You’re just so cool.’ She had six kids, emigrated to Australia from Wales and is the great matriarch of the family. And she said, ‘Well Kylie, you just go with the flow.’”

Kiss Me Once is out now

Watch our exclusive video of the Kylie Minogue photo shoot, shot by photographer and director Ellen von Unwerth, by signing up to our free iPad edition here

Make-up: Mary Jane Frost using Chanel Hydra Beauty Nutrition and S 2014, assisted by Zoe Arena

Hair: Peter Lux at Frank Agency using Bumble and Bumble, assisted by Kathrin Manger

Nails: Trish Lomax at Premier using Burberry Beauty nails in pale grape Fashion assistant: Camilla Holmes

Photography assistants: Stan Rey-Grange and Charlie Ryan

Digital operator: Ryan O’Toole Set design and props: Trish Stephenson at CLM, assisted by Jo Gibson and James Reygate

Production: JN Production London

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Stylist Team