When your BFF is a pop princess, you work with the world’s biggest divas and you dress women up in camper-than-Christmas clothes, you’re bound to be a bit of an extrovert, right?
Not so, apparently. William Baker – celeb stylist, director and best pals with Kylie Minogue – is almost shaking with fear before our interview. “I don’t really do interviews,” he explains. “I would s**t myself if I had to go out in front of an audience like Kylie does.”
We’re glad he’s brought her up as we were worried about mentioning the K word. Partly because the pair were rumoured to have had a huge falling out in 2005 and partly because if they’ve made up, he’s hardly likely to spill on her.
But in fact, it’s only as he talks about the woman who described him as her “gay husband” that he finally relaxes.
They met in 1994 after William got a Saturday job at the flagship Vivienne Westwood shop in London. Kylie walked in one day, and William bombarded her with ideas. She took him for coffee and hired him as her stylist.
It sounds like the stuff of dreams, no? “It’s weird,” he agrees. “But it felt right. There must have been a connection. She was wearing a hippy-dippy outfit. It was after Neighbours and she was growing up. I felt she had great potential.”
In a spin
William, 38, helped unleash it. Their careers went stellar as she got her mojo back. But it was those 50p gold hot pants that Kylie, 44, wore in her Spinning Around video in 2000, and which William chose, that clinched their working partnership. “Her flatmate bought them at a junk shop and Kylie wore them to a bad taste party,” he recalls. “I had to convince her to wear them in the video, but it didn’t take much!”
But five years later, William abruptly quit in the middle of Kylie’s Showgirl tour. Headlines screamed that they’d had a humungous fight. “We never had a row,” he says. Cue lots of long and very loaded pauses. “The tour was stressful. Kylie was really ill but didn’t know it. She was withdrawn and it was hard work. It was just… difficult, and it had always been easy. It was complicated and had always been simple.”
He adds: “It was irritating because it looked like I’d been fired. I was supposed to have said something in an interview and got misquoted. Something about not wanting her to turn into Cher. She wasn’t annoyed but it caused a… it made it look like…” He tails off, worried he’s said too much. Shortly after, Kylie was diagnosed with breast cancer and spats – real or imagined – were forgotten.
“I hadn’t known a friend be very sick before and can’t imagine what she went through,” he says. “It must have been terrifying but she’s strong – a survivor, because she’s so nice you don’t see it.”
They still work together and he says she’s still his best friend. And outside work? “We go for dinner or just drink a lot of coffee. We’ve been friends so long we have a kind of shorthand. We don’t really need to speak.” He says she’s happier than ever now she’s loved up with Spanish model Andrés Velencoso, 34: “He’s lovely and looks after her well.”
But Kylie isn’t the only superstar on William’s speed dial. He’s styled and directed tours and videos for everyone from Björk to Rihanna and Britney.
Britney was staging a comeback after her meltdown when William helped style her 2009 Circus tour. “There’s a big difference between British celebrities and American stars,” he says. “They have 20 security guards around them.”
Britney, it seems, was no exception. “She was in a fragile state,” he says. “It was difficult because you could tell she’d been through a lot. We went through loads of sketches trying to get it right. In the end she cut everything up and did her own thing.”
The result was a much-criticised mish-mash of x-rated stripper ensembles and equestrian outfits. Was it hard for him to accept Britney’s decision? “It does hurt but the thing girls are most insecure about is their clothes, so it can be a difficult process,” he says.
He says Shirley Manson from Garbage and Geri Halliwell – who he styled on her videos for Bag It Up, Lift Me Up and Mi Chico Latino – were some of the less confident stars he’s worked with. “I had a few shoes flung at me by Shirley, and Geri is very secure, but insecure, if that makes sense.”
Of his (nameless) stroppiest clients he says: “There can be an atmosphere. Most people I work with are very strong willed. If they hate it but you convince them, they will have a mood about it. It’s usually the people who aren’t successful who are the most difficult.”
He describes Rihanna – whose live performances including this year’s appearance on Saturday Night Live he has directed – as “strong-minded” and “no-nonsense” but doesn’t give some of the guys he’s worked with such glowing endorsements. “Straight guys are fussy and more aggressive,” he says. “They’ll say: ‘I’m not f*****g wearing that.’ But I worked with One Direction last year [directing their X Factor performance] and they loved their clothes.”
William, who’s single, realised he was gay as a teenager. Does it help when he’s working with female stars? “It must do, women feel safer,” he says.
For someone who lives and breathes fashion, he’s not much of a sartorial masterpiece himself. “I put anything on – I’m a slob,” he admits.
Carry on camp
Nor is William – who lives in London – into the showbiz lifestyle. “I watch Dynasty or walk the dog on my evenings off,” he says. “I travel a lot and go to nice places but it’s just a job, isn’t it?”
He’s currently promoting The Hurly Burly Show, the West End shebang he’s directing. It’s a burlesque-based dance extravaganza. Now on its third run, it’s a labour of love for him. “I love burlesque and saucy British humour,” he says.
Kylie came to watch the other week. “She was so proud,” he says. “She was knackered because she’d just come back from the States, but still gave me notes about the sound levels and bits she loved.”
He’s not yet 40, but it seems there’s little left for William to do. “I’d love to work with Madonna,” he says. “She’s incredible. I’ve met her a few times.” He pauses then adds: “But I was more star-struck when I saw Matt Smith at an awards do. I was such a massive Dr Who fan growing up in Manchester.”
That’s the endearing thing about William – he may be surrounded by celebs, but deep down he’s very much a normal bloke. Lucky Kylie.
● The Hurly Burly Show is at the Duchess Theatre until September 22.
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