“HAVE you heard of someone called Kate Bush?”
It’s the question kids have been asking their parents this week after the veteran singer's song went to the top of the charts.
But even her most ardent fans would struggle to say exactly who she is.
Reclusive Kate rarely gives interviews or appears on television and has only ever done two major sets of live performances.
Over the years there have been numerous theories about her avoidance of the public eye.
Were there mental health issues? Was she too worried about her weight? Or was it a series of personal heartbreaks?
So there was palpable excitement among her legions of devoted followers yesterday when Kate spoke publicly for the first time in eight years.
She broke cover to appear on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 to talk about the new generation of fans suddenly waking up to her music.
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A brief scene featuring Running Up That Hill in the latest series of the Netflix sci-fi phenomenon Stranger Things has resulted in 700,000 people now streaming the song every day in the UK alone.
In the drama it is tomboy Max’s favourite song, and her friends use it to force her out of a hypnotic state.
Kent-born Kate was clearly excited to have her first No1 single since her debut, Wuthering Heights, in 1978.
It means she has the longest gap between No1s, at 44 years, beating previous record holder Tom Jones at 42 years.
It also means Kate is the oldest female artist to reach No1, taking the record from Cher, who was 52 when Believe topped the charts in 1998.
Kate told Woman’s Hour’s Emma Barnett: “What’s really wonderful I think is that it’s this whole new audience who, in a lot of cases, they’ve never heard of me. And I love that.
“The thought of all these really young people hearing the song for the first time and discovering it, I think it’s very special.
“I just never imagined that it would be anything like this. It’s so exciting, it’s quite shocking really, isn’t it? The whole world’s gone mad.”
Kate, who has scored two No1 albums and nine Top Ten singles — including Running Up That Hill three times — also tantalised her fans by offering some insight into her secretive life.
Whereas she was once one of Britain’s cutting-edge performers who used sampling technology in the studio, she now admits she doesn’t even own a smartphone.
Determined to maintain her splendid isolation at her mansions in Devon and Oxfordshire, she prefers to escape from social media and hi-tech intrusions.
The idea that a TikTok spin-off called WitchTok would feature pages and pages of clips of fans imitating Kate’s outfit in the video to her 1980 song Babooshka was, she says, “ridiculous”.
During her interview, the lucid, thoughtful and upbeat singer certainly put paid to those cruel suggestions that she had had some kind of breakdown.
The thought of all those young people discovering Running Up That Hill is very special
Some commentators have speculated that Kate has not released any material for more than a decade or performed on stage since 2014 because she couldn’t cope with the pressure.
But Kate made it clear that she had other priorities in life.
The mother to 23-year-old Bertie, who has been married to guitarist Danny McIntosh for 30 years, said: “Gardening is my thing now.”
Neighbours have reported that she never talks to them about her fame, preferring to chat about everyday events.
But if that makes Kate sound rather ordinary, it would be a false impression.
She is one of the most unusual and unfathomable stars ever to have emerged from these shores.
Who else has written lyrics about cleaning the kitchen floor “until it sparkled” or wielded an Excalibur-like sword while wearing chainmail?
Right from the start, Kate had an otherworldly appearance.
Having been spotted as a 16-year-old talent by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, she released her first material four years later in 1978.
In the video for Wuthering Heights she danced solo in a long white dress, staring unblinking at the camera while performing expressive arm gestures.
Prior to releasing her first album, The Kick Inside, she had spent much of the record label’s advance on dance lessons with the late British mime artist Lindsay Kemp.
Self-taught pianist Kate shunned predominantly male music producers, choosing instead to record her own material at home using an early digital synthesiser called the Fairlight, the first machine that could create sound samples.
That empowered her to go her own way — and become the first British solo female artist to top the UK album chart.
It also led to some very oddball sounds, of which she once said: “Some of them are really bizarre. I worry about my sanity sometimes, really.”
Her first tour, in 1979, was the catalyst for her gradual withdrawal from public view.
The ambitious spectacle, which included a giant egg, a magician and 17 costume changes, left her totally drained.
Kate said she had “a terrific need to retreat as a person” afterwards.
She prefers not to explain the meanings behind her songs.
When Running Up That Hill reached No3 in the singles charts in 1985 it was unclear what the lyrics were about.
But yesterday she explained: “I really like people to hear a song and take from it what they want.
“But originally it was written as an idea of a man and a woman swapping places with each other just to feel what it was like from the other side.”
Kate did continue to promote her work on TV in the 1980s, appearing on Terry Wogan’s talk show and even Delia Smith’s cookery programme.
All that ended in the early 1990s after two friends had died of Aids.
Firstly, guitarist Alan Murphy succumbed to the disease in 1989 and then, a year later, dancer Gary Hurst also passed away.
Two years later Kate’s mother Hannah, a nurse, died from cancer.
When she made a video for her single King Of The Mountain, which reached No4 in 2005, Kate kept “bringing up her weight” with director Jimmy Murakami.
That led to speculation that the once svelte star was worried about how she looked.
Such was Kate’s obsession with privacy that fans were unaware that she had become a mother in 1998 until her pal, musician Peter Gabriel, revealed it in a TV interview five years later.
Kate, who met husband Danny in 1992 while recording her album The Red Shoes, did reveal that her son Bertie thinks Running Up That Hill’s return to No1 this week “is pretty cool”.
She continued: “We are all fans of Stranger Things. We binge-watched it.”
When she made her return to live performing for 22 dates at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in 2014 Bertie played a key role in the staging, which included a tree bursting through her piano and the audience being showered in poetry.
She said: “He gave me the courage to push the button.”
Tickets for that show sold out in minutes and were being offered by touts at £1,500 apiece.
The obsession of her fans has not always been welcome.
In 2011 American Frank Tufaro flew from New York to visit Kate at her Devon home with a £3,000 Tiffany engagement ring, planning to propose to the singer.
He broke into the house and was arrested following a police search, which included helicopters. Fortunately, Kate had not been at home.
Unsurprisingly then, the singer — who is worth an estimated £30million and is expected to add another million to that fortune thanks to the new streaming of Running Up That Hill — is rarely seen out and about.
During one of her rare interviews, in 2005, she admitted: “I am just a quiet, reclusive person.”
And she cuts herself off from the constant presence of social media by refusing to own a smartphone.
She revealed yesterday: “I have a really ancient phone. When I go out in the day I don’t have to deal with emails. It means I have a bit of peace.”
The once-prolific songwriter has not released new material since 2011 and admitted she had put Running Up That Hill to the back of her mind until Stranger Things brought it back.
She said: “I never listen to my old stuff. I hadn’t heard it for a really long time.”
During the interview she appeared to be positive about the future.
She said: “It’s an exciting time we are in now. It’s a time when incredible things are happening, technology is progressing at such an incredible rate.”
Her return from such a long absence will offer fans a glimmer of hope that more is yet to come, perhaps even a new album.
With Kate Bush, it seems anything is possible.
SHE’S JUST TOO GOOD TO SHARE
By John Moorhead Kate Bush fan since 1978
IT’S 1978, I’m 16 and watching Top Of The Pops with my (first) girlfriend Kathy.
On comes this wily, wuthering woman, wonderfully gyrating in a nightie, singing of Cathy and a classic novel I’d only vaguely heard of.
I’d never seen a stranger, more unique thing than Kate Bush. We were both instantly bewitched.
The next year Kathy (the girlfriend one) and I saw her at Ardwick Apollo, Manchester.
I did my hair with crimping tongs. Kate sang on a headset mic, which no one had seen before.
It was, as she might say, Wow, Unbelievable.
Then, 2014, at another Apollo just up the road from my home in Hammersmith, my wife Jan and I could not quite believe what we were seeing.
By the second song, Hounds Of Love, we were both in floods of tears.
The incomparable Kate has been a soundtrack to my life.
Oh England, My Lionheart. The song Breathing terrified me even more about nuclear war.
The Dreaming, weirded out, alone, in a student house.
Hounds Of Love, an entire side about a woman drowning.
Hello Earth. Ariel, beautiful, unexpected, genius.
I suppose it’s good that Stranger Things has brought her to a new generation.
But I’m kind of irritated. Sorry kids, I want her all to myself.