Kaiser Chiefs Ricky Wilson interview – That Boris Johnson slur and not being a Nepo bab | Music | Entertainment

Kaiser Chiefs' Ricky Wilson

Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson interview (Image: DX )

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When rock star Ricky Wilson wants to escape the pressures of fame, he heads up to the attic of his north London home. “It’s like a museum up there, full of old Kaiser Chiefs stuff and boxes of awards,” he tells me. “I’ve even still got the shirt I wore from my first gig at school band night, when I was 17.

“When my wife Grace goes up, she says ‘Do you really need to keep all this crap?’ But I know where everything is, it’s like Sherlock Holmes’s mind palace up there.”

Ricky, 46, has had a career worth archiving. As well as notching up indie rock bangers like I Predict A Riot and the chart-topping Ruby, the Yorkshire-born singer was a judge for three series on Saturday night television talent show The Voice UK.

He first appeared on our screens long before the Kaiser Chiefs – in the audience of The Mrs Merton Show in 1995. When guest Barbara Windsor said she liked her men young, schoolboy Ricky piped up, “How young would you go?”

His blue eyes retain a cheeky twinkle to this day. Even after the Kaiser Chiefs’ nine hit singles and seven Top Ten albums, there is not a hint of jaded cynicism about him. Yet this decent, grounded chap has suffered digs about his weight, looks and motivation for years.

The Kaiser Chiefs in 2023

The Kaiser Chiefs in 2023 (Image: GETTY)

Even former Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid into him, branding Ricky “an epic softie” and the band “the weeds from Leeds” in a 2006 article triggered by their second hit, I Predict A Riot.

“He said when he was a student, he didn’t predict riots, he started them,” says a bemused Wilson who still has ‘Epic Softie’ on his Twitter account.

The put-down that hit hardest, however, came from his old English teacher at Leeds Grammar School. “He said to me, ‘Mr Wilson, enough of the cabaret’. It’s quite cutting and it shut me up. I’ve used it myself more than I should’ve done.”

Cabaret isn’t in Ricky’s blood, but television is. His father Geoff was a producer on hit Sixties series Jeux Sans Frontières, which pitched teams from European nations against each other.

“It was quite fun growing up travelling around Europe, watching the Belgians take on Luxembourg. I’m not by any means a nepo-baby, but seeing the contests put smiles on people’s faces must’ve had a massive impact. It was like a travelling circus, making people happy – basically what I do now.

“My mum Glynne was a score girl – you can see her on old clips of the spin-off show It’s A Knockout! Eddie Waring was my father’s godfather.”

Kaiser Chiefs' Ricky Wilson in 2005

Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson in 2005 (Image: GETTY)

Kaiser Chiefs at the 2005 NME Awards

Kaiser Chiefs at the 2005 NME Awards (Image: GETTY)

Wilson’s first gigging band were the grungy Parva, formed in Leeds in 2000 from the ashes of Runston [CORR] Parva. They became the Kaiser Chiefs in 2003, taking their name from the south African football team Kaizer [CORR] Chiefs (the name of ex-Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe’s first club).

He never expected to have a career in music. “I thought I’d work in animation or advertising,” says Ricky, who has an MA in graphic design and taught at Leeds College of Art & Design for a year – “I was terrible at it.”

The Kaiser Chiefs released their debut single Oh My God in 2004. It went Top Ten on re-release, chased by I Predict A Riot – “that bought me my first house” – and their multi-platinum 2005 debut album Employment. More hits followed, including Every Day I Love You Less & Less and Never Miss A Beat.

Ricky recalls headlining the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena in 2007 – “It was the first night of two, and when I came off stage, I thought it doesn’t get any better than that. It felt like that was proper Kaiser Chiefs. I don’t remember the worst gig, I was probably drunk.”

His ‘pinch me’ moment came during the soundcheck for Jools Holland’s 2008 Hootenanny show. “I remember standing in the door of the Tardis watching Paul McCartney play Get Back and thinking ‘I wish I had a photograph of this…’

“I’m not good at living in the moment. Even in the band. I don’t get too concerned with the moment. It’s a job, a fun job, I don’t get carried away. It only sinks it later. Parva was our training ground. I realised that the best thing to do to get better is to watch other bands, see what you don’t like, and do the opposite of that.”

Kaiser Chiefs' Ricky Wilson and his wife Grace Zito

Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson and his wife Grace Zito (Image: GETTY )

Ricky was a coach on The Voice UK from 2013 to 2016: “I stopped at the right time. Any more than three series and people would’ve got annoyed with me. I decided to leave, but I expected to be asked back… I never was…”

Then a BBC series, the show changed his life in an unexpected way. It’s where he met stylist Grace Zito in 2015. They were engaged three years later, married in June 2021 and are the parents of twin girls.

Ricky, who is busy promoting the Kaiser Chiefs’ new album, The Easy Eighth, has also hosted Virgin Radio UK’s drivetime show for nearly fourteen months, performed as Phoenix on The Masked Singer and recently appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Big Show as the “unexpected star of the show”.

Is there anything he can’t do? “I’ve written children’s books but they’ve not been published – I don’t think they’re good enough,” he admits. “Grace thinks they’re the best thing I’ve ever done. So it’s a hobby instead. We’ve got the twins now, so I’ve got an audience of two; that’s good enough for me.”

Ricky thinks Grace would say his ambition is his best quality. “She admires that I can make dreams happen, either through dogged determination, luck or skill. She also complains that I don’t cut my fingernails enough which I think is a plus.”

He relaxes playing one of his eight ukuleles – “You can’t be unhappy when you’re holding a ukulele” – and Grace introduced him to the joys of Minorca, where they now own a sea-front apartment.

The Voice judges will.i.am, Paloma Faith, Boy George, and Ricky Wilson in 2016

The Voice judges will.i.am, Paloma Faith, Boy George, and Ricky Wilson in 2016 (Image: GETTY)

The band’s unusual career has ranged from touring with the Foo Fighters to befriending Girls Aloud, who covered I Predict A Riot in their live shows, changing the lyric ‘Borrow a pound for a condom’ to the more family-friendly ‘Borrow a pound for the bus home.’

When their chief songwriter, drummer Nick Hodgson, left in 2012 the hit singles dried up, but the Top Ten albums kept coming: “We’re very lucky to have released eight albums; very few bands from when we started have got that far.”

Of their new songs, Ricky rates The Lads – “you’d be happy with it being the last song you ever made”. And Beautiful Girl, “We don’t often do love songs but when we do, we do them well.”

The Job Centre Shuffle is “What you’d think we’d sound like after 20 years,” he says. Feeling Alright, their poppy collaboration with Chic’s Nile Rodgers is more of a departure: “It was a lot of fun working with Nile – I don’t think I’ll appreciate how much of an important moment that was for years.

“The problem with being in a band is you set your hopes quite high and no matter what happens, you’re never quite satisfied. If you’re Number One for 12 weeks, you’re disappointed that you didn’t make 13 weeks.

“We decided the eighth album would be the easiest, and it was a piece of cake. I don’t know what comes next. After having kids your priorities shift a little bit. But I know I’ll still get up in the night to record a line or a melody I just thought of.

“I don’t think that will stop. It keeps happening and it’s a beautiful thing. As my mortgage advisor Brian says, the sooner you stop worrying about things you can’t change, the better life gets.”

Kaiser Chiefs’ Easy Eighth Album is out now.

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