1989 - 2001
Actress and singer Toyah Willcox didn't raise an orange eyebrow when she had to strip in front of Britain's greatest actor, Sir Laurence Olivier.
But ask the flame haired former punk to step outside without her lipstick and she feels more naked.
The 32 year old's collection of lipliners is so exclusive it's valued at £4,000 and on show at London's Theatre Museum in Covent Garden.
"I can never go out without lipstick. It makes me feel more confident and sensual," says Toyah.
Some of her older sticks have tremendous value - they were handed down from her mother.
"Lipsticks made by Leichner or Max Factor 40 years ago were much waxier and thicker. You have to scrub hard to get them off. They haven't aged a bit and I still use them.
"But my favourite colour now is a fiery orange because it goes with my hair."
The actress, soon to play a scheming record executive in Channel Four's Midnight Breaks, has used more than 40 colours since stepping out as the princess of punk in the seventies.
"I used to wear Biba purples, blues or greens then. I spent six years being laughed at but I didn't care."
Now she's a firm believer in animal rights. "I go for Beauty Without Cruelty or Cosmetics To Go but never anything French," she says.
You could say she's doing more than paying lip service to the animal world.
FROM PRINCESS OF PUNK TO
LADY OF THE MANOR
Mrs Fripp is exhausted. Dressed in black from head to toe, her pallor is accentuated by the bottle orange of her shaggy hair, the deep pink lips, the dar make-up smudged around her eyes. She pulls her tiny legs up and hugs them to her chest. 'Yes, I'm tired, I'm emotionally very tired. This album has taken me to an extreme. I'm feeling very vulnerable at the moment. I'd rather not talk about it.' Toyah Willcox? Can this really be the same woman: One time Princess of Punk and confident, energetic self-publicist?
Have four years of marriage (to Robert Fripp, guitarist and founder of Seventies group King Crimson) and a nice home in the country taken the fire out of her belly? Is the album she's currently recording, with the working title Ophelia's Shadow, to be a listless liturgy of what it's like to be a hellraiser who decides to settle down?
I ask her. The famous green eyes flash with indignation: 'I haven't calmed down. My life is busier than ever. And to suggest that marriage is a safe option is quite ridiculous.'
But whether she likes it or not, it does appear that Toyah, the non-conformist, has decided to conform. She and her husband now live in stately splendour in the house that was the Queen Anne home of Sir Cecil Beaton.
The girl who joined the Hell's Angels aged 11, reputedly drank a bottle of vodka a day and was chucked out of her fee-paying school, is now engaged in restoring her £500,000 home, and is known by the locals quite simply as 'Mrs Fripp'.
Toyah doesn't like to talk about the house. But it's well-known that she is expecting to spend an estimated £2million restoring it.
Rumours in the area had it that 'nouveau' taste would prevail. But the Fripps have insisted that their aim is to recreate the elegance of the Beaton era - a bizarre backdrop, some might say, for this hyperactive rebel.
It's been an uncomfortable transition for Toyah, the girl who has marketed herself on being an anti-establishment free spirit - and you feel she's still furiously justifying her new status.
'When we first married, I lived totally in his world, and I thought 'I'm losing my identity, and I hate this'. I had two years of absolute hell. I think it's very easy to become absorbed by someone - and if anything, my new album is about becoming absorbed and fighting that.'
She has always fought - from the moment she was born, a sickly baby with a crooked spine and one leg shorter than the other. And it is almost too obvious to state that her low self-image as a teenager (although only 4ft 11ins, she weighed a hefty 11 stone) is an explanation for her obsession with image.
Toyah creates images, lives them and then discards them - not for nothing was The Changeling the title of her fourth album. No longer the pink-haired punkette, she now wants to tell the world that she's a serious actress, a serious singer and songwriter, and, so she clams, an anarchist despite marriage and a mansion.
Carefully she explains her relationship with Fripp: 'I only see my husband for two weeks in any month - so I'm on my own more than I've ever been. I enjoy that solitude, and I find that's when I get my best work done. When he's home I only see my husband at lunchtime and then in the evening.' (He is always 'my husband', never Robert).
'I will not cook for anyone. I will not feel dependant. Going ot bed and having good sex means more to me than making lunch. In the beginning it was very hard for us, both being people who love our isolation. But now we've learned to be isolated and together at the same time.'
Fripp cannot be an easy man to be married to. Eleven years her senior, he has a reputation for fussy precision and immaculate appearance. His friends hated Toyah on sight, but typically, she held up two fingers to their disapproval, 'His friends always referred to me as naive. They really thought he'd flipped.'
Like all tough people, she claims not to be tough: 'I'm determined, yes - very self-contained. I suppose it would be a lie to say I wasn't selfish. Maybe that's one reason I've never wanted children.
'I was sterlised after an illness two years ago. It was probably the most liberating moment in my life. My work gives me all the creativity I need.'
She's shortly to start rehearsals for a touring production of The Taming Of The Shrew, and is also collaborating with Fripp on a joint album. 'His fans will hate it. They loathe it when he dares bastardise his music - but that's their problem. They ought ot go and have therapy.'
She stands up, smiles and trundles lop-sidedly to the door: 'I'm actually very pleased with who I am. Look at me - I've made it!'
A STATE OF WEDDED BLISS
LOVE AND MARRIAGE -
A loss of identity is not something you would normally associate with the individualistic Toyah Willcox, once dubbed "the princess of punk". But, as Examiner feature writer Val Javin discovered when she met the actress and singer at Sheffield's Lyceum Theatre, it was a problem she had to face after marrying rock musician Robert Fripp. From Sheffield Toyah's next stop in a production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus is Bradford's Alhambra in November.
Marriage suits Toyah Willcox - until the bank manager asks to speak to her husband!
It is the only note of dischord in an otherwise harmonious chat about the wedded state. And in particular about Toyah's own state of wedded bliss. Married to musician RobertFripp she may be, Toyah Willcox, individual, she remains.
No one had warned Toyah about the loss of identity which banks, insurance companies and the like presume a bride accepts along with her wedding ring.
"I reacted very badly against it. I didn't like bank managers saying I had to have a joint account or saying 'Hello, can I speak to your husband?'
"I just didn't expect it," she says with a grin. But that didn't mean she accepted it.
"We have seperate accounts, seperate lawyers, seperate accountants! Our marriage is a very spiritually based thing which is nothing to do with material things."
Toyah is in Sheffield, hard at work on a production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus playing Constanze, wife of Mozart. Robert is in New York.
It is not a situation she would have chosen.
"We don't enjoy being apart. It gets harder to be apart because we have grown closer."
They married five years ago and the partnership which may have seemed unlikely to some - the marmalade-haired actress and singer once dubbed "the princess of punk" and the professor of rock -goes from strength to strength.
The couple did after all, have royal approval!
"We were introduced by Princess Michael of Kent at a rock industry lunch in aid of Nordoff Robins Music Therapy.
We didn't meet again until the following year when Robert asked me to work with him on a record for an American children's charity.
He said that as soon as he saw me he knew that I would be his wife," she says, pure pleasures splitting her delicate features from ear to ear.
What's more he proposed within a week. Toyah attempted to be a little more circumspect.
"I said surely we should try this out and live together. He just got a bottle of champagne out of the fridge and said 'okay'." For "okay" read "marriage".
Toyah today is a brimmingly happy lady. Her relationship with Robert clearly central to her life.
"He's been a remarkable influence on my life. He's helped me deal with a lot of adverse things in my nature."
And her influence on Mr Fripp?
"Intellectual people live in their head a lot and I think I've helped him come down to earth and live life a lot more!"
She admits that outside the world of music and work they have very different interests. "I would rather do an assault course as a form of relaxation and he would rather read a book. He can read all day but that would be enough to make me slit my wrists."
Not that she has time to worry about how to fill any days they may be apart.
The Compass Theatre production of Amadeus is a highly complex one. The cast is totally involved and not just in acting.
"We are moving scenery as well. We are taking it in turns when we are not on stage to move parts of the scenery. It's not just a case of remembering your lines but whether or not you are supposed to be moving scenery!"
Her Best Critic
The role of Constanze, Mozart's wife and most loyal supporter, has proved quite a challenge. History's view of her appears to be that she is all but invisible.
"In Mozart's letters to his wife she is not even named. There is only one book in existence about her life and it's out of print. It can only be got from a library in Surrey and when I went, somebody had taken it out - for the first time in 20 years."
Her view of Constanze is a clear one. "Mozart was obviously totally dependant on her being there. She's his best critic and supporter, the person he can talk to. She can deal with the mundane, she can manage him."
Just as clear is her view of the other woman she is preparing to play during the Compass tour, a woman much less able to cope than Constanze.
Toyah will be working in a series of prisons performing a one-hour, one-woman show based on the short and tragic life of rock star Janis Joplin.
The show is packed with Joplin's songs and tries to put her life and the pressures she faced into perspective. As Toyah points out, Joplin faced the "so-called sexual liberation of the Sixties" plus a host of other temptations. "It was like letting a child loose in a candy store."
Almost too much then to occupy her mind and her time. How many more weeks before husband Robert is due back from America?
"He will be back in England in two weeks' time and I will be happier then. We seem to be working from 11am to 11pm at the moment and if he were here I wouldn't be able to give him the time he deserves."
Both seem acutely aware of time and the need to look ahead. In the New Year they will be working together in America on an album, plus a tour.
Robert enjoys a massive reputation in America partly because of his work with King Crimson as well as with Brian Eno and David Bowie.
"Where he's been brilliant is that in every interview, he's given the person an album of mine and said 'You should review that'
Then after a pause and a hoot of laughter: "I don't think I'd have done the same for him."
Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Raffaella Barker encounters a noteworthy musical marriage.
Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp
Toyah Willcox doesn't introduce herself when you meet her. She doesn't need to: there's no mistaking the 4ft 10in of neatly-parcelled energy which bounces into the room. Following her is the 5ft 10in of Robert Fripp, whom she married five years ago.
With gusto they launch into the story of their marriage. The first two years were hard - Toyah railed against being seen as Mrs Robert Fripp and was furious when bank managers and accountants wanted to speak to the man of the house. 'I had been put on a pedestal because of my career and I found it difficult to let go of the past,' she explains.
Robert, who as guitarist and founder of the 70s band King Crimson and collaborator with Brian Eno, has seen a few pedestals in his time, recalls: 'I saw that my wife was unhappy. Romance is always presented up to the point of marriage and then you are expected to get on with daily existence. My wife found it hard.'
As they talk, Mr and Mrs Fripp look at one another constantly. He calls her 'my wife' at every opportunity, his conversation flowing lucidly and logically for minutes on end while Toyah tries to combine a loving smile with an expression which will stop him talking. Having described the entire music business as an artistic cop-out, he draws breath. 'My wife often tells me to shut up,' he says wit ha broad grin which reveals the false tooth which Toyah likes to remove and hide before photographic sessions or important dinners. 'He gets pompous at times,' she says, 'so I have to tease him a little. I also hide the loo paper from him.'
'Because my wife is 12 years younger than me, she is constantly revealing elements of herself which are a joyful and pleasant surprise,' says Robert, with a hint of what may, or may not be, irony. 'She is all her public persona makes her out to be and more.'
The couple live in Reddish House in Dorset, formerly the home of Cecil Beaton, and a place that they anticipate will take ten years to finish restoring. 'I saw it advertised in Country Life,' says Toyah, revealing a surprising streak of hard-line conventionality, 'and I told Robert to go and look at it because I had a strong feeling that we would live there. He didn't have time because he was just off to America, but I knew that of the house was for us, it would still be available when he returned, and it was.'
Robert now spends much of his time in Dorset, which is where he grew up, and has founded a guitar school there. Toyah, however, says: 'I am not quite homebound yet,' and is based in London for her acting and musical work, where she stays on friends' sofas.
When they are together, Mr and Mrs Fripp spend their time visiting stately homes, going to the cinema and fighting. 'Not aggressively, though,' says Toyah. 'It's just that I'm a very physical person and I love fighting. I use it as a way to express myself.'
Robert, whose idea of a good time is sitting down with a cappuccino and a good book, readily admits he is no match for her, but is happy to be assaulted if it pleases Toyah.
Toyah says that the relationship works because of their differences. In fact, she and Robert seem to have a great deal in common.
Evening Standard Magazine
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
It's 10 years to the month since Kings Heath born singer Toyah broke into the singles charts with It's A Mystery. Her flamboyant, brash personality and vivid sense of image firmly establishing her as a pop phenomenon. And to her satisfaction she was also able to develop her talent as an actress, the career she'd originally embarked on after leaving school in 1976.
A stunning role in Derek Jarman's interpretation of The Tempest and the leading role in the West End production of Trafford Tanzi, confirmed her dramatic abilities. But as the years passed and fashions changed, Toyah began to recede from the headlines.
Although albums continued to fare reasonably well, hit single success was no longer guaranteed and acting work became less frequent, less newsworthy. But Toyah has not, like many of her generation, slipped silently away. Instead she has consolidated and matured her talents, learned from her experiences, reassessed her ambitions and re-emerged as determined, as strong and with as much to say worth hearing as ever.
We've met to discuss her new album, Ophelia's Shadow. But seated in the Rep Cafe Bar, talk inevitably turns first to acting. It was here, after all, that her stage career arose phoenix-like with a spirited performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
"That was the first step up a very long ladder for me," she reflects. "In the past year I've found I want to do more stagework than anything. I have enough offers to work in the theatre every day for the next six years, although obviously you need to find projects that attract you and avoid typecasting. But it hasn't been easy. People's perception of me is always a problem because of the hit singles days. You need to persuade them that you've moved on. I had to prove to directors how committed I am to my work."
It was Robin Midgeley, (the Dream's director and also director of the Cambridge Theatre Co with whom Toyah toured in Taming of the Shrew) who broke the barrier. Then last year she worked with Pip Broughton in Nottingham in Therese Racquin, a play about adultery with heavy on stage sex scenes and very demanding acting. It was, she says, the best stuff she'd ever done and certainly opened the doors.
But, as well as having the abilities, Toyah says she also learned that it's who you know and the quality of the relationships you have that count.
"That's not the casting couch syndrome, it's about proving your commitment and the quality of your relationships in working with people. It was something I had to learn. That you have to leave your ego at the back door and become part of a team, which is just the opposite to how you work with music. I had to readapt.
"Everyone's image of me is that I'm very rich, very arrogant and very lazy. There are so many brilliant actors in this country desperate for work that directors can afford to be choosey. You have to prove So I phoned people up and went to meet them face to face. That won me a lot of work."
But if acting is a passion, it's only half the story. The other is her music. More sophisticated these days but as potent a voice as ever. And like acting, it's also a vital part of understanding herself and her inner turmoil.
"It's soul baring, the most expressive part of my work. It has to be personal. In the past my music and I were just a product. It was all about accountants. I began to feel I wasn't developing as a singer or a writer, and certainly not as a person. I became a fashion victim. I had to get back to being responsible for my own actions. People were putting out product under my name and I was taking the criticism for it. I felt I could no longer live with that. I had to give something that was more a part of me and then, if it was criticised, I could handle it because I knew I'd given of my best. Whether it sold or not, it was my true voice."
The first most striking evidence of this new self-determination was the Prostitute album. A potent exploration of the roles women play, most often imposed on them by men or by their perceptions of what men expect. It was a cry for women to be themselves, to discover their feminine (as opposed to feminist) principle. And for Toyah it was a response to the rage she felt at being musically prostituted.
"I can't say how angry and adulterated I felt at the time. Everyone's expectations were that I had to be marketable, a sex-object making easy going music. But all the time all I felt was rage. I didn't want to be part of that system. I didn't want to starve myself for six months to make a video when I'm naturally a podgy person. I felt insulted. I have always felt that if the quality of work is good then people will be attracted to it.
"I'm very happy with Prostitute and Ophelia's Shadow because they aren't brash statements from an egotistical child demanding attention. That was what I felt my career had come to eight years ago. I got very lost. The hits took me over and ego got in the way. Looking back at myself I was a bitch. The biggest thing I had to learn to deal with was jealousy and resentment because that makes you cruel. I had to learn to admire other people without feeling belittled or threatened."
Prostitute was a challenging, stimulating album, yet for many men it's very title was incredibly alienating. People walked out of sales meeting, refusing to deal with the word. It was a lesson that taught Toyah that women have to face such male aggression without giving up on their beliefs.
"Woman are realising that they have to motivate their own future. I was never taught to be self-motivating. I always relied on others for ideas, or to take the initiative. Part of my journey has been to become independent in those areas. My record company treats me with brutal honesty and I have to learn to deal with that. Women have to learn to take humiliation in areas they don't understand and not react aggressively to it. That way you don't get degraded."
Ophelia's Shadow expands the themes of Prostitute, exploring not so much roles but identity and the fact that however much one may search for it, it remains illusive, transient. What matters, says Toyah, is that you are true to yourself at the time.
"I don’t want any of this Western idea of lying about your age (she's 32) and having to pretend to be young and vibrant. I want to be my age. I want the right to that progression. I think you should be seen for what you are, what you do and how. Age should be respected but irrelevant.
"I don't think I'll ever be an utterly serious artist. I'll always have a girlish flamboyance, I'll always have a sense of mischief. It's in my character and I hope it's always there. But that doesn't mean I'm immature. Maturity seems to be a dirty word. I want to be accepted for what I am. Which is why I have arguments about publicity photos. I don't look like I used to so I don't photograph in the same way. There are lines there, there's a slightly sagging in the neck. But my record company says they won't use those photos. But that's how I look and I don't want to pretend otherwise."
One senses that in both acting and music, Toyah is seeking to discover a deeper understanding of herself and her relationship to the world she lives in. Where then does ambition lie?
"To be honest I'm not sure I know where to go. That path isn't yet laid and I'll make it as I go along, feeling with my hands. I just need to make myself available and trust my instincts. The biggest thing at present is my self-education. Time and tastes change and you have to change with them in order to inform your opinions. I feel more rooted and more determined now than ever. My ambition is furious, but not for its own sake. Fame was fun but it was also very demoralising. I could never allow it to happen again. Creatively I'm like a woman who has to have a child. I've got to find what I'm trying to say or it'll eat me up."
Two years ago Toyah Willcox upset a lot of men with the release of an album called Prostitute. Many, it seemed, were affronted by the very word (people walked out of sales meetings refusing to handle the record) rather than the album's exploration of the roles women play and men expect them to play. It was a sobering but valuable experience for the singer, especially since one of the crucial aspects of the work was about the way she had felt exploited as a singer and an artist. Prostitute was her stand against the business.
"In the past the biggest problem was that I felt I and the music were just product. I began to feel I wasn't developing as a singer or a person, that I'd become a fashion victim. People were putting product out in my name and I was having to take the criticism for it. I decided I'd had enough, that if anything was released then I had to be totally responsible for what was on it and that it was my own voice. Prostitute was an attempt to be honest, to turn my rage into something creative."
An act embodied in the image of Ophelia's Shadow.
"Your shadow always follows you and you can never be shadowless. It represents the worst part of us, the part that reacts with anger, the demon. In Hamlet Ophelia falls in love, is tormented, goes mad and drowns herself. My Ophelia doesn't drown herself. She uses the water in which she's surrounded to sail away. Water is a cleansing metaphor and the shadow is about recognising the darkside and using it creatively to survive."
Like Prostitute, the new album is essentially self-analytical.
"But I try and use it in a way that other people can identify. Women understand it instantly. Men see it from the point of view of their relationships with women and feel alienated and angered. I have no aggression towards men. The majority of my work is self-observation and if a man takes it as criticism then he's seeing it the wrong way. Women understand instantly. I've always felt women are irrational but that's what's so wonderful about them. It's a fact that we change chemically, that we have a new skeleton every three months. Change is inevitable and only through death can you have rebirth. Decay always nourishes something else. But in the West we like to stay rooted in the ideas of house and family. I want to challenge that, to make women realise we have to motivate our own future and that they have to learn not to react aggressively to men when they are honest with us. "
The album is also very much about identity and the masks we offer to others and ourselves. It may be about femininity but there's more than one aspect.
"It's like saying you can only write one book. There's sexual femininity, and creative and maternal femininity too. They are specific roles and there's many faces. You choose the one you want to wear."
"One face Toyah has chosen not to wear is that of motherhood.
"Work will always be my priority and I married a man (Robert Fripp) who feels the same way. I think that was a responsible thing to. I'm not going to have children. I have enough around me and I love them, but I couldn't handle one being there all the time. Also I don't like babies. they repulse me. There may come a time when I adopt, but I don't think I'm mentally stable enough to have a child. I'd resent it because I resent anything that keeps me in one place too long."
It's an honest statement many may find hard to accept, but it's an honesty that infuses everything Toyah now does.
"I think you should be perceived for what you are, what you do and how. Looking back I was a bitch, but I learned that makes you cruel. The only truth you can find is being honourable in your relationships with other people. I want to be accepted for what I am not judged on face value. I can't stand being idolised. Fame was great, that one year was tremendous fun but I can't tell you how much I cried because of the way people acted like animals around me because I was famous. It upset me dreadfully and I could never allow it to happen again.
"I can't live a life of obscurity. I'm gregarious, I have to have people round me. It's why I work on stage. I have true artist syndrome. I need an audience, I love working in front of people. It's the most rewarding part of my life. It's the heart of me. I won't ever be an utterly serious artist, there'll always be a sense of mischief. But that doesn't mean I'm immature. People have described me as being like Puck and I do identify with him. He irritates people and so do I. But as long as it's done with humour that's all right. Positivity is the key."
Ophelia's Shadow is on EG Records.
WHAT MAKES HER TICK?
When Toyah Willcox stormed the charts in the 80's she became Britain's favourite rebel. But she's more than that. Martyn Clayden caught up with her at the theatre, where she'd just finished playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Did you enjoy the production? It seems Puck is an ideal role for you.
Yes, it has everything that I enjoy doing and exploring. Even though this was a period play set in the 1800's, I was allowed to push out the boat with him - I used skate boards and a penny farthing.
You also played Peter Pan recently. Is it difficult breathing new life into something so well known?
I think you're always conscious of that, but I'm so ignorant of history I always put fresh eyes on things. With Peter Pan it's became a tradition for the part to be played by a little girl in tights being very feminine. I reversed that. My Peter Pan was rather aggressive and dangerous.
You've always been maverick and unorthodox. Did that stem from a typical rebellious teenage youth?
It might have sprung from that. But I don't seem to have a normal way of thinking. Even when I read scripts I read them in a different way. Perhaps it's because my childhood wasn't particularly normal. It wasn't tragic but I had some problems, mainly stemming from a slight deformity in my right leg. At one point it became a threat to my future. When I had a repeated knee infection, they said they'd remove the leg. They didn't, of course, but I can remember the horror of shopping for shoes when I was young - it highlighted my problem and I'd end up in tears. I think it did make me hold people away from me. At school I became a bit of a rebel - ostracised but at the same time hugely respected because I made it clear I didn't want everything the school said I was being educated for: college, university, an office job, family. From an early age I was saying I was going to be an actress and singer. Some of the girls thought I'd do it, but the teachers didn't.
Did your parents influence you?
I was completely independent of them. My father was a bankrupt when I was seven. It took me a long time to recover from it. To witness your parents being disabled by a monetary system makes you incredibly independent.
Did it influence your decision not to have children of your own?
Not really. I made that decision because I don't have any maternal instincts of my own. It's not that I dislike children. I'm surrounded by my friend's kids.
Were your parents artistic?
My mother was a dancer but she didn't really have much of a career after having children. And she was affected by Dad's financial position. They were mostly concerned with keeping their children in good schools. Looking back, I should have been at stage school. That only came later. Instead I was at an establishment whose only way of punishing me was banishing me from doing art and music and drama. Their negativity actually fuelled my determination.
Which came first - drama or music?
I was rocketed into the National Theatre at eighteen, having been picked out of the drama school I attended. It was an incredible leap. Almost immediately afterwards I started making movies. I made seven before I had any huge musical success. It was the 1980's before the band really took off with the hits like It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free.
You worked with Lord Olivier for the TV adaptation of The Ebony Tower. What was he like?
He was just gorgeous. By the time I worked with him he wasn't terribly well, but he had such fight and determination. He was full of ambition, which was ironic in a man who'd done everything.
What are you working on now?
I've got a film company called British American. I'm the British side and my business partner, Paul Springer from LA, is the genius behind the company because he's the writer. We've got a film called Travelling Light going into pre-production over the next twelve months. It's about an all-girl rock band set only slightly in the future, but these girls are pirates - reality pirates. We're aiming to shoot this spring, so we probably won't ba able to release until the end of the year.
Would you say you were tamer than you were in the past?
No, I don't think so. I've become more centered. I don't waste energy anymore.
Do you set goals for yourself?
It's good to have strategies, but I do think they can shackle you. I live day to day. I could book work for the next two years, but then I'd feel as if I were in prison. I try to be a free spirit in everything I do.
THE REAL ME
Toyah Willcox TV presenter tells all to Nina Myskow
I took an interest in Toyah Willcox from her earliest punk and acting days in the late seventies, for the simple reason that we share a birthday. Her, me and the Pope! Since her successful rock career - 13 top 40 singles and 15 solo albums - she now also works as a TV presenter on Holiday, and is a regular on VH-1. She has just finished touring in the Live Bed Show with Joe McGann - we met backstage in Croydon. In 1986 Toyah married musician Robert Fripp of King Crimson. They live in Wiltshire.
Toyah is a sturdy little bundle of energy, she is feisty, fun, brave and oddly vulnerable. As endearing as her lovely lisp.
'I didn't lose weight until I moved to London and formed a band. Difficult? No, I just did a lot of amphetamines for about two years. I went for days without eating.
I lost three stone. It was something ludicrous like three stones in six weeks. I just stopped eating.
I realised that unless I lost weight, I wasn't going to have an audience, it's as simple as that. I was living with a group of girls, drama students, who were having sex every night and I wasn't.
And I thought, "There's a problem here, what is it?" And I thought, "It's my physicality, not just my personality, there's something physical here."
I realised that if I lost weight, I could hold an audience's attention better. I hate saying it because I really feel we should fight to be individuals. But at that age - I was 19, going on 20 - people prefer that thinner, kind of under-fed look.
It all went with the work. It suited the acting I was doing, it suited the image. I wouldn't dream of doing it now, I think you kill yourself. It worked in my favour, but even now, looking back, it gives me the horrors.
To keep the weight off, I went to a nutritionist. And for five years I just ate grilled chicken and cabbage. For five years, to keep the weight off. All the time I was having the hits and everything.
I was doing a bit of living it up and lobster round the world, and a LOT of alcohol. But then there are these tricks to knock the weight off. One is the Scarsdale Diet, which is grilled chicken and cabbage. And the other is boiled eggs and grapefruit, the Mayo Clinic Diet.
You'd just drop 6lbs in a day, and that was for a photo shoot, and I was doing all that.
I kept myself slender all those years. I starved. Totally denying myself. Oh yeah. Totally. I had to, but it was unbelievably stressful for the body.
But I think as hard as I tried to kill myself - I mean, not as a conscious act, but just out of stupidity - I was very, very robust and athletic.
When I was a kid, my mum was very determined, she pushed me into things like ice-skating, because I was born with curvature of the spine, one leg longer than the other. And a joint defect where sockets didn't form. It just means that I creak a lot.
It irritates me that I'm so incredibly short. I think I'm 5ft, but it depends which leg I stand on. If I haven't got my rise in my shoe, I have to stand on tiptoe on the left leg. There's almost two inches difference.
That's why I'm very, very aware of nutrition and health these days. I don't want the operations that are necessary to build hip sockets - three major ones and a year off.
I went through a stage of being staggeringly beautiful when I was 13. I dieted, I starved myself. I ate one meal a day. And boys were falling at my feet, and I loved it.
And then came the journey through puberty. You start to have responsibilities and have to think about the future. And you have to think about commitments, which I really have a problem with. And the weight just piled on.
It was gradual. By the time I was 15, I was over three stones heavier, I was gross, with great big bosoms - my arms wouldn't go across my breasts. I was about 10.5 stone, I'd ballooned up from seven.
I went through a very rebellious phase then. hell. I was awful. I was very much a loner and determined to be individual. That's when the wacky hair started - I shaved the back off completely and had long, black hair at the front. I frightened people. Taxis wouldn't pick me up, buses wouldn't stop for me.
I'd been a heavy drinker since I was about nine years old but I drank most in my teens at school - really, really drinking. We'd use pocket money, all gang up together to buy gin, which we kept in the piano at school.
Later I used to carry a bottle of whisky around with me. It was all part of the punk ethos - take a swig and pass it round.
I'd really put it away. In the rock 'n' roll days, I used to have to have the same chauffeur, so that he knew where I lived. He'd find me in the middle of Dorchester, lying unconscious under a table and have to carry me back to my apartment.
I love booze, I love it now but I don't drink the way I used to. I drink socially these days.
When I met Robert I looked very good. I was very, very slim. I was 26, it was the mid -Eighties and I was signed to CBS at the time.
I'd been in a relationship where I'd been very unhappy and didn't feel safe, and here was this very intelligent man, much older than me. I thought he was reliable and dependable, a perfect English gent.
He was a well practised bachelor, and everything I never wanted, on that level. So I married this wonderful man and spent two years threatening ex-girlfriends. There were just so many!
He was a well practised bachelor, and everything I never wanted, on that level. So I married this wonderful man and spent two years threatening ex-girlfriends. There were just so many!
He loves the way I look. He says that he finds me very sexually exciting now. He loves the maturity, he's very complimentary.
He likes my little legs, which is a godsend. He LOVES my little legs. I don't think he's ever liked long legs, so I am definitely blessed when it comes to his opinion of me. He's never critical.
In fact, he does one thing - you know how your stomach stretches? Mine has stretched, gravity has got it. I'd love to get rid of it. But he just grabs it and plays with it like a new toy. He loves it. Handfuls! I'm like, "Get the hell off!"
I am the same weight now as when I was 14, about nine stone.
I think what happens is, you find your natural body weight. And you learn to eat when you feel you need to. From the age of 32 I kind of hit a balance.
Still, I do see that middle-aged shape. I know if I went to the gym every day and ate a bit better, and I didn't eat late at night, I'd be in very good shape. But I can't be bothered.
I think if I got a fantastic film role, or something that really required it - because it's the camera that can't stand weight - I'd be motivated into it.
Otherwise, I'm kind of comfortable with who I am. Slightly niggly that I could do with about 10lbs off.
I miss Robert dreadfully when he's away in the States touring. I get emotionally ill. he's my calming factor and my hero. The longest separation was three months and that was a mistake.
The reunions, however, are fab. We're still on honeymoon. Yeah. Every time we meet, it's a dirty weekend, It's good. It does work for us. We're still very much in that romantic love stage, after all this time.
What hits me now is the mortality of us all, wasting time. I'm at the stage now - we've been together 13 years - where I realise that if anything happened, I couldn't ever find another partner. I wouldn't want another partner. My life is now with him.
I have this strange feeling of pride that I haven't burned out completely yet. I turned 40 this year and I loved it. I feel so strong and centred.
I really feel life begins now, because I'd never planned past 40. Therefore I'm free. I'm free of my own kind of perceptions of what I should be. It's very liberating.
I am my own person for the first time in my life and I feel very good about it.'
I have a very sweet tooth. I love home-made chocolates. I can pass a sweet shop but I have to indulge at least once a week.
I've accepted my lines because I developed them very early on but I would definitely have surgery. I do facial exercises all the time, when I'm driving, wherever. I look an absolute loony in the car but I just don't care.
Buffalo Grass Vodka in the freezer compartment. I love a sexy drink and it's just sensational. These days I know when to stop drinking and I get physically ill very quickly. Very handy. Going on stage with a hangover is not on. I can't waste my life like that anymore.
MY PROBLEM AREA
I've got big thighs and short legs. I'm not worried about my thighs with current fashions. I can wear my nice combat trousers. On a beach I'd wear bermuda shorts. I never show my thighs. I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger - they're disproportionate and very, very strong.
I'm very aware of nutrition and avoid processed food. I fuel myself with fruit - so much so that the enamel has gone off my teeth and I've had them veneered. I have mango and papaya in the morning, lunch is a massive wok of veg. Protein in the evenings, it will take fat off during the night.
Work. I haven't had a holiday since 1983. I'm booked until April and I haven't got a day off for the next two months. I need the stimulation. Robert says he can hear my thoughts, my brain just whirrs. I rarely sleep through the night, so I get up and go to my office at the far end of the house and work. If I just lie there, my thoughts wake him.
ME AND MY PASSPORT
Actress, singer and TV presenter Toyah Willcox films reports for the BBC Holiday Programme.
How many visa stamps are in your passport?
I have a very thick ten-year passport which always gets questioned when I go to Israel. They think I must be a terrorist because I also have a Polish visa. I get interrogated every time, even though they know me - I have a hit satellite show in Israel. I have lots of American visa stamps because my husband, who's a musician, works in Los Angeles (inset) for two weeks a month, and I pop over to see him all the time.
What is your favourite place to visit?
It would have to be Estonia, where I will be making a movie this year. It's sensational, totally unspoiled. Amazingly it's full of Scottish people who went there three years ago for a football match that never happened - and they never came home. There are lots of Scottish pubs and you can live there on about pounds 10 a week. Israel is also fantastic. It's never dull and is full of extremes. On my last visit I was filming for the BBC's Holiday Programme and I had to live like a nomad in the Negev desert for six days. Then I'd pop back to Eilat to have a bath and it was like being in Las Vegas.
What was your worst experience?
I was touring in Poland five years ago and it was difficult getting food. And when you turned taps on all that came out was sludge, so no-one used the bath. There was also a huge alcohol problem.
What is your favourite form of transport?
I love flying. Yachts are awful because you get stuck with people. I can be anonymous on a plane.
Who is your ideal travelling companion?
I like travelling on my own, I'm a very insular person. I just love getting on a plane with magazines and a good book.
What essentials would you never leave behind?
A handbag and a toothbrush. Once I went to LA and that's all I took because I have clothes at my husband's place. Customs were very suspicious because I didn't have a suitcase.
THE BIG INTERVIEW
The days of the accepted rebel punk may be well behind her but Toyah Willcox can still be a bit naughty when she wants to.
Married to rock guitarist Robert Fripp, the founder member of the '70s dinosaur rock band King Crimson, who is 12 years her senior, Toyah is often desperate to spend a little time with her lover and husband of 14 years as busy work schedules keep them apart. So, instead of moaning about it, the pair sneak off to obscure destinations for a little "tete-a-tete'' to keep their marriage on track.
"Over the next two months, we have one week together in Santa Barbara,'' she announces.
"We do meet in the most obscure places - two months ago we met in a motel in Southampton. "It's a very flexible relationship, which is lovely. Originally we had a rule that we would see each other every three weeks, but that hasn't stayed. It's fine and we are both very forgiving if we can't make a meeting.
"I think the worst thing is when you are not seeing somebody and you end up getting lonely. I'm always surrounded by camera teams or script writers and I have to work hard to find an evening alone," she laughs.
Now a recognised TV presenter, Toyah Willcox has survived the treadmill of fame and is enjoying her fame more now than ever. But what has happened in her life and career should come as no surprise to her as she was given a trip to a fortune teller for her 21st birthday and, according to Toyah, he was uncannily accurate.
"You know the scary thing" says the 41-year-old actress and former pop star. "He got everything right."
It seems that not only did the mystic foretell how many hit singles she would have, but he also predicted some troubled times ahead with her manager. And he also saw a change of career on the horizon.
"He said: 'You're going to spend your time from your mid-30s to your 50s travelling - you'll be in a different place every week', and it came true.
"He made a tape recording of the predictions. I play the tape every year and it's still right after 20 years."
As the acceptable face of punk at the turn of the '70s and early '80s, Willcox had eight Top 40 singles. Most people of a certain age will recall her lisping her way through radio-friendly chants like It's A Mystery and Thunder In The Mountains, looking for all the world like an explosion in a paint factory.
But these days she is much more conventional, with her hair neatly clipped up away from her elfin-like face and dressed in grey trousers, sensible pullover and gilet.
She now presents BBC1's religious slot, The Heaven and Earth Show, on Sundays, and appears in children's BBC drama Barmy Aunt Boomerang - when she isn't jetting off around the world for the Holiday show.
She is brisk, efficient and businesslike - anything but a former rebel with a cause.
"My life is now much more rewarding,'' she reveals. "The rock world can be very insulated. It's a bubble of drugs, alcohol and hotel rooms, which has its limits. I was very disciplined, though. I couldn't go on stage for two hours then party all night. Most singers don't talk in the daytime to help their voice, but it's as dull as dishwater - the only exciting thing was being on stage. The rest got really tedious."
These days, Willcox is a strict vegetarian, only eats organic food and doesn't touch caffeine. "Cutting out caffeine took about 20 years off my face to start with," she says adamantly.
"Part of the problem of being dyslexic, which I am, is that your brain works very badly if it gets dehydrated. Water encourages the electrons in the brain to be more efficient and my short and long term memory have both improved.
"My sleep pattern has improved dramatically and my energy levels also ended up rising."
Born in Birmingham, Willcox is the third child of a joiner. She was born with a crooked spine, one leg longer than the other, a clawed foot and stomach trouble. At the age of nine she drank so much sangria at a barbecue that she collapsed with alcohol poisoning.
"My brother and sister kept feeding me sangria and telling me it was Ribena," she recalls. "I ended up drinking three bottles of the stuff."
Rather than putting her off drink, the experience saw her developing a taste for alcohol. She would sneak booze into her school, Edgbaston Church of England Girls' School, and by the time she reached 14 she had turned into every parent's worst nightmare. She could easily knock back a bottle of spirits a day, she was a heavy smoker, dyed her hair bright pink and started hanging around with bikers.
"I don't regret any of the rebellious teenage years, because it gives you a bit of contrast," she says. "I loathe people who purport to be saints - I don't think they exist. I think we all have good and bad within us and I think it's that battle which makes us interesting."
Currently completing her autobiography, Living Out Loud, she describes the book as revealing more "minx-like behaviour" than "sex and scandal".
"Writing about my childhood was very therapeutic," she smiles. "Even though I'm dyslexic, all my memories are clear. I've tried to write things which have never been heard before, even by my husband. When people read the book it will just confirm all those stories about my wild teenage years,'' she adds, as if trying to prove she really was a rebel after all.
This is Hampshire
She was the pouting flame-haired punk princess who stormed the charts in 1981 with her trademark lisp. An older, calmer Toyah Willcox reminisces with Nick Fiaca.
"1981 was the greatest year of my life! I had my first hit single with It's A Mystery and two other top tens later that year." laughs Toyah.
"It was a fabulous, let's party! year - but very innocent by today's standards. I had a lovely time just touring the world getting VIP treatment."
Among Toyah's hits that year I Want To Be Free and Thunder In The Mountains. Ironically, though, Toyah hated the song that made her name.
"I didn't like It's A Mystery. It was a compromise with the record company, but it just took off within hours, taking everyone by surprise!" confesses Toyah, 41, who has been
married to musician Robert Fripp since 1986.
With her wild, flame-coloured hair, Toyah had a unique, pouting style. And she's still proud of her controversial early eighties image. "When I look back I see a startlingly
young vibrant person, which I defy anyone to try and be 20 years on. I'm furiously proud of that time. It wasn't an overnight success, it took five years of solid touring to get there. When I see pictures of myself then I think 'Yeah that's cool'.
"But if you'd asked me how I felt about my hair at the end of the eighties I'd have cringed. Now it's kind of come around again and it still works.
Although she still does around 150 gigs a year, and is recording a new album for release next year, Toyah's branched into other areas of showbiz. She has clocked up dozens of stage
and screen roles, including BBC comedy My Barmy Aunt Boomerang this month, as well as presenting shows like Holiday on BBC1.
I wanted to do more with my imagination and work in areas where I don't have to go to the gym three hours a day and exist on a diet of lettuce leaves," she says.
"If you live in a bubble you don't evolve, and the greatest fearI had was staying fixed in the eighties.
"I'm much more private now. Everyone knows who I am, but I can still walk down the street, which I couldn't then."
BY TOYAH WILLCOX
Big voices, loud characters, unforgettable faces - these women are mistresses of image. By Toyah Willcox.
"When I was little, I was always dressing up and wanting to be something I wasn't: famous, taller, 9 years old instead of 6. As I grew older, I realised that, actually, I could be anything I wanted to be.
"In the early 80s, I was seen as the Queen of Reinvention. My look would change three or four times a year, with each single I released. And with each look - pink hair, shaven head, whatever - I found myself becoming a different person. If you've ever gone from very long hair to very short, you'll know what I mean. Suddenly, you can't wear the same clothes and your image has a very strong influence on how you behave, like it or not.different person.
"Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, Lisa Stansfield and Lauryn Hill are all strong women who aren't afraid to play with their image. They're not afraid to leave 'pretty' behind and go with 'strong'. That comes with experience and maturity. François Nars (the top make-up artist who created this look for his book X-Ray) has done all the people he's made up a great favour. He's allowed stars to change people's perception of them. This is such a luxury. Who else, in real life, is given the opportunity to do that? It takes guts, but Nars has brought out key elements of their personalities via his make-up.
"If you're in the public gaze, reinvention and exhibitionism are the name of the game. You have to change constantly, be one step ahead, to keep your image fresh.
You have to keep people guessing; if the public are bored with you, it's the end of the road.
"Madonna is the most successful reinventor of our generation. She's still managing to stay one step ahead. Boy George is perhaps the least successful - he's never really changed. But this is probably because his image was so strong to begin with - all the public want of him are variations on his theme.
WHY TOYAH IS STILL
Her Hair and make-up are more conservative but she doesn't see her husband for months on end...
In the 1980s, Toyah Willcox was a phenomenon - a punk princess with 13 top 40 singles and 15 solo albums to her name. Today, at the age of 42, the once flame-coloured hair has mellowed to a cool blonde and she's dressed in conservative black t-shirt, trousers and trainers.
She's currently starring in the hit children's comedy My Barmy Aunt Boomerang on BBC 1 and also makes regular appearances on Holiday, The Heaven And Earth Show and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Yet in many ways she's still a misfit. "I'm a free spirit," she says, "When I have to talk about what it was like being a pop star, I just think - I can't stay here anymore."
For the record, though, she thinks her chart-topping years are 'insignificant'. "I can't say it was a happy time. That's the one period I don't really think back to. It put me where I am today, so I'm grateful, otherwise it's history. If people ask me do I still sing, I verbally cut their throats."
When we meet she had just returned from Glasgow, filming more episodes as Aunt Boomerang, the Aussie soap star who's really a ghost.
"This is where I kind of live," she explains as she waves her arm around the living room of her London flat, its walls decorated by masks she has collected from Mexico, an ancient tapestry, pieces of amethyst, and with a pale green wrought iron staircase.
She's friendly and bouncy but you suspect that as soon as she got bored, she'd be out the door like a shot. Over the past year she's zapped around from one place to the next, either filming or travelling. As well as the London flat, she and her husband Robert Fripp, 53, who's in the band King Crimson, own a 15-bedroom Manor House in Dorset.
Yet Toyah says she'd be happy never to go home again. "If I was wealthy enough I wouldn't have a home. I'd just go from hotel to hotel. I'd just hop from city to city."
Her 14 year marriage has been conducted mainly through long distance phone calls as her husband is away either on tour or in Seattle where he has a business. "I've only seen Robert for a week this year. So he's in big trouble and he knows he is." The next day, he's going with her to Manchester, where she's filming a sketch with ex-Slade singer Noddy Holder for a TV show starring Steps. "But I've given him an ultimatum; he's home for two months after that or he won't see me again."
She's angry in one breath, yet enthusing about her unusual union in the next. Robert proposed after they met at a charity lunch. "Most of our marriage has been a honeymoon because we see so little of each other. We're still learning so much about each other which I find very exciting. As I get older, I'm not so sexually jealous of him. It's not an open marriage - I trust him now. I didn't in the beginning but now his energy has changed. I just don't think he would want the complications of being promiscuous. In the earlier days I was more jealous.
"As he's got older there are fewer groupies, basically. He's a very low-key person. He doesn't have the drive that needs to conquer women and that makes me trust him.
"It's not an easy marriage, I don't think either of us finds it easy but we didn't go into marriage thinking it would be. I don't think there's such a thing as a fairytale ending, and we're
both incredibly patient and honest with each other."
Despite the generation gap between them and the absences, when they're together it sounds magical.
"We have such good times. We explore like permanent travellers. We go to every museum, every restaurant we can find, every show and it's a permanent holiday. We don't have a sit-at-home- and-watch-TV type of relationship, he loathes the telly."
The downside is that Toyah admits she can get lonely without him. "I'd never go home if he wasn't there - that would be inviting suicide. Companionship is incredibly important and so is work. If I haven't got either of those, the loneliness can be intolerable. Another downside is the stigma that although I'm a married woman, I'm on my own. Socially that means that noone will approach you, a guy won't ask you to dance. If Robert decides to come home for good that would be great, I'd be doing what I normally do which is travelling the world but he could come with me."
With her friends an ideal night out is a meal followed by a tacky nightclub. But when they're together?
"It's a phenomenal relationship - we don't fight, we don't argue, we don't play games. Everything is based on truth and truth can be hurtful but it can also be very rewarding. We've agreed that neither of us share a bank account or anything financial. We do share the home in Dorset but we've not yet been there together.
Toyah admits they're drawing in the reins a bit and making plans for the future. Robert, who also runs an Internet TV business funded by US computer king Bill Gates, is based much of the time in Seattle.
"When I spoke to him yesterday I said, I do have a problem - I need to see more of you than this. So we're talking about moving the company to Britain."
The latest plans are for the couple to have their main base in London, a home in San Francisco and their country home in Dorset. So, what has her husband got to do to make up his prolonged absence to her while he has been on tour?
"Just be with me, for at least a month. He won't make it through two months, he's too much of a traveller."
Daughter of a successful Carpentry factory owner, Toyah was brought up in a middle-class existence in Birmingham. She was educated at private school, where she never fitted in. But although she gets on with her dad, mention the word family and Toyah almost shudders. Adamant she didn't want children, and following health problems, she was sterilised at the age of 27.
She has just written her autobiography, "I'm hoping it will close the chapter completely, to be honest. I just wish people would let me live in the present day. This is the best time in my life because I have such independence and I don't have to answer to anyone. And at a certain level I don't actually care what I look like. It should be about how I feel, and I feel fine."
Eighties icon Toyah has a style all of her own. The star of Barmy Aunt Boomerang (BBC1) reveals how she once lost her hair and why, these days, she prefers to be starkers...
Describe your style
Black, tatty and comfortable. I did all my outrageous dressing up in the eighties. I've grown out of that now.
Whose style do you admire?
I'm obsessed with the editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour. Her clothes are never OTT, just tasteful and show off her finely-toned body. She represents middle-age at its best.
What's in your wardrobe?
I don't wear anything around the home! Honestly! I've been known to not get dressed for three days. It's partly the freedom of it but more laziness. I walked into a room completely starkers once to speak to my husband, forgetting it was full of workmen. I nearly died.
What are your friends sick of seeing you wearing?
No one particular item, but I do think they get cross that I dress down so much, but I don't like wearing clothes that look like a a bank statement.
Describe the worst hair disaster you've had
I've dyed it every colour of the rainbow - red, pink, blue, green, yellow. It became a sign of who I was and I grew so fed up with the image that I dyed it black in 1983. Unfortunately, the bleach was stronger than the others and my hair fell out. I had to have a crop.
SEX, GOD AND ROCK 'N ROLL
Toyah Willcox, the former “punk princess of pop” who can boast of being the presenter of The Good Sex Guide and the hymn-singing Songs of Praise, talks to Tony Leonard about virginity, Derek Jarman, scrotums, the General Synod, John Gielgud’s balls, bottle-throwing lesbians, Jesus Christ and... more besides!
You’ve always had a big gay following. Why do you think that is?
Toyah: I think because I always championed people that sat on the outside of the norm. I’m not saying that being gay is outside of the norm but twenty years ago, gay was still very much underground. I championed peoples’ individuality and the right to be individuals rather than be seen as uniform, and I think that had a lot to do with it. And possibly, I’m a girl and I just think gay blokes love girls, they love girl performers.
But you’ve got big lesbian following as well.
Toyah: Do I? Because the only time I’ve ever been bottled off stage was at the Fridge on a female night. He, he. Yeah, bottles were hurtling through the air.
Why was that?
Toyah: I had a very pretty backing singer with me who is very hetero and was performing very hetero. She’s a bit of a prick-teaser and I think she aggravated the women in the audience. I had a painted-on tattoo and I think that just pissed them off politically. It was interesting. I was quite shocked. It was the only hostile audience I’ve ever experienced.
You say in your autobiography, Living Out loud, that in 1976 you and all your punk friends wanted to be gay. Why?
Toyah: We all wanted to be gay. I had a jumpsuit I wore with ‘Lesbian Rule’ on it; because gay to me meant creativity. It wasn’t just about anything sexual, and at this time I was a virgin so I didn’t even know what blokes were about. Gay to me meant an alternative lifestyle, creativity, exploration, nothing staid, nothing boring, no dull habits. It just meant everything romantic and exploratory. All the gay people I knew at the time, Derek Jarman, and all his friends, John Maybury, were stunningly visual, expressive people so I associated gay with that. And they knew how to live. They lived life to the full.
Then you acted in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee… as a virgin… with all these…
Toyah: Ha… Naked men! I couldn’t get over the scrotums, I thought “Oh my God, these are disgusting!” He, he, he. Scrotums are so peculiar! When I had to do this scene with Karl Johnson and Ian Charleson naked, I couldn’t speak. I just couldn’t take my eyes off these testicles in skinny bags lying on thighs and Derek took me aside and burst out laughing when I said to him “I’ve never seen a naked man before. I’m completely shocked!” Ha, ha, ha. I saw a lot on that film, I can tell you!
Like in the scene filmed in The Coleherne?
Toyah: Yeah. With the Lindsey Kemp Company having sex all over the place!
Was that part of the film?
Tony: No. It wasn’t part of the film, it was just their offscreen entertainment. And I just couldn’t stop watching because I didn’t even know what sex was about between heteros. Obviously I’d seen porno mags and stuff like that but I didn’t know how a human being actually went about it in motion. And it was just fascinating. I was very scientific.
And was it quite soon after that you lost your own virginity?
Toyah: There was no-one on offer. I wasn’t a very attractive person and I was a bit picky. I tend to like pretty boys so it was my own fault. And also that old cliché, if someone was interested in my I was immediately not interested in them. So if people were interested in me, which, looking back, there were probably quite a lot of men and women at the time who were, I dunno, I felt threatened by it as if I had to live up to some kind of reputation.
How did you get involved with Derek Jarman?
Toyah: Through Ian Charleson. I was working at the National Theatre with him and he knew Derek was making Jubilee and he just said to me, “There’s someone you’ve got to meet. Come and have tea at Redcliff Gardens and meet Derek Jarman." So I just went round for tea, a complete stranger, and no-one was ever a stranger with Derek. You were straight in there, one of the family. I had tea with him, he threw the script at me and said “Pick a part.”
How different was it working on The Tempest with Derek?
Toyah: Very, very different. Between Jubilee and The Tempest, Derek had become a serious, very focussed film maker. And it’s not that he wasn’t on Jubilee, but dealing with a punk film, there were so many laws that could be broken. Dealing with The Tempest, he had to be very considerate over how he broke the laws and it was treated very much as a serious Shakespearian production. Again, very beautiful, very happy time. Derek was very good at expressing a kind of creative love for everyone he worked with. There was never any bitterness or resentment with Derek. He was nurturing, the whole time. I view The Tempest as really one of the most important films I’ve ever made. Purely because of the relationship with Derek and how he let me perform it. And he let me take aspects of myself, the experience I had of long-term virginity and being wild and just craving sexual touch and sexual knowledge, he really tapped in on that and used it.
Would you have liked to have worked with him again?
Toyah: I’d have loved to but I was dumped for Tilda Swinton, whose a far better actress. I think they were passionately in love, whereas Derek and I was a bit of a father/daughter relationship.
You think they were in love?
Toyah: Oh yes, I do, very much so. Derek was capable of loving women. It wasn’t sexual love but deep, deep love. He was capable of expressing that.
You met another great creative gay figure of the 20th Century, Sir John Gielgud. You didn’t get on with him so well, I think?
Toyah: Well, it wasn’t a question of trying to get on with him. He had a dressing room next to mine at the National and I was always shouting out of the windows to wardrobe up above to get my effing costume down. I think he just had enough of it one day. He must have been snoozing in his dressing room and he phoned my room and told me that that the National Theatre wasn’t a zoo and people in London don’t go around hitting each other and I said “Oh come on you effing bastard, who is this?” thinking it was wardrobe winding me up and looked across to the next dressing room and there was John Gielgud glaring at me on the phone. I felt terrible, I ran off and hid. But that wasn’t our first encounter. For some reason there were wheelchairs in the corridors of the National Theatre and I girlfriend and I were speeding around on these wheelchairs racing each other. Then we got bored with going forwards so we decided to go backwards and I went straight into Sir John Gielgud’s nuts!
You weren’t really likely to get on after that.
Toyah: I just think he was tolerant but so much higher on the hierarchy to me that he didn’t really bother with me.
You’ve gone from unhappy child to street-fighting punk to actress to popstar to, umm, religious affairs broadcaster. That’s a bit of an unusual career path isn’t it?
Toyah:But if you read the Bible it’s got everything in it. It’s got sex, homosexuality – and it has got that and I believe that before the Bible was doctored by the Roman Catholic Church it would have been much more open about homosexual affairs. I think that the Bible has been so doctored over centuries. I think there’s a truth in the story of Christ, a brilliant metaphorical truth that has been covered up. I think it’s about equality between men and women and sexual respect and I believe that it’s all been bastardised to a certain extent, to make it a political story. I’m a firm believer in the story of Christ before it started to be written down 150 years later. I think there’s a story there that relates to Buddhism, Hinduism and the new form, Christianity. That’s why I have absolutely no fear whatsoever of being involved in religious programmes. I don’t like dogmatism and I don’t like literalism and I think that there’s something remarkable there, really remarkable, that’s been lost and if the church would only open up and admit it’s been lost, I think it would win people back.
You describe yourself as a pantheist but you’re clearly involved with the Christian community. Do they accept you?
Toyah: Yes. I am accepted by them but I’m very close to the line. The diehards loathe me. I get more hatemail from doing a religious programme than anything else.
Why do you think that is?
Toyah: Because I’m not a literalist when it comes to the bible. I’m really a Buddhist but if there is such a term, I’m a Buddhist Christian, because I believe Christianity was developed by a very brilliant prophet or Messiah to encompass everything good and right in religious belief. When Jesus was alive there were over 500 sex cults in Israel alone and religion was based on sex and sexual beliefs so he evolved with a great knowledge of sex which is why being chaste has been so heavy in that story. But I think it’s metaphorical. I think it’s about control and self-control and discipline.
I think because I’m part of a generation who’ve veered away from Christianity and I’m seen as a believer which to a certain extent I am, I’ve just been welcomed into that kind of broadcasting.
Do you give the programmes credibility through your broader view?
Toyah: As far as the Synod is concerned I have ruined the credibility of religious broadcasting. They are dead against me, but viewing figures have proved them wrong and that’s my winning point. They’ve done surveys on me. People only turn the telly on to watch my pieces apparently.
Why do you think that is?
Toyah: Well, the religious audience is a very small one. There’s an awful lot of people out there who want a spiritual life. They don’t necessarily want a religious life but they do want to find something, that spark in them, that they can have a dialogue with and I’m the same. I think we see each other as equals. The audience turn on to watch me because I’m on the same path as them.
So how did you get into religious broadcasting in the first place?
Toyah: Well I was doing The Sex Guide at the time when I was asked to do a series called All About Eve. It was about how women are represented in religion and how history has covered up the true story of women in the Bible. For instance, in Judaism, Sofia is the all-knowing goddess of wisdom. Sofia created God and man to do her work. Then I went on to do The Good Sex Guide and then Songs of Praise. That is one of the proudest moments of my life that I can go from sex to religion!
Do you have any plans to revive your musical career?
Toyah: There’s talk of putting the old band together for next year which I’m up for but it’s got to be at the right level otherwise there’s no point. I’ve decided that once the Internet has sorted itself out and if it breaks even, I’m happy to write music and release it over the Internet. I’m not interested in profit-making in music any more and I’m not interested in the music industry. I would like to carry on singing but in a way where I don’t feel I’m compromising who I am.
How do you feel now about It’s A Mystery now?
Toyah: I don’t worship it and I don’t hate it – that much. I ridicule it a bit. It’s done me a lot of good and I’m thankful for that but it’s history. I would perform it again but it’s a period piece.
Was it a deliberate decision to pull out of the commercial side of music?
Toyah: Yes but it was helped by the fact that I went seriously out of fashion. I got fed up with the negativity. I don’t like people projecting negatively on me; and the music industry and music journalism always project negatively. I think it destroys the soul. I think thought is very powerful, thought has physical action. I just thought, “No, I’m not willing to become a victim or be created into a victim by these people.” That’s why I found it so easy to walk away.
You’ve always been in relationships. Do you regret not doing more of the sex and drugs thing?
Toyah: I’ve done the drugs but… I do regret it sexually but I’m so easily hurt, I’m so easily sexually possessed and sex is so sacred to me that I think if I did do it I would have been destroyed by it. So on the one hand I think it’s good I didn’t go there. I’m just too vulnerable, too sensitive and I fall in love at the drop of a pin.
Alan Cookman previews 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' starring Toyah Willcox.
Your chance to star with former punk rocker.
Former punk queen Toyah Willcox will play Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in this year's open-air Shakespeare production at Stafford Castle. The singer, actress and TV presenter will also play Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, when A Midsummer Night's Dream opens for a two week run on June 28.
Toyah has twice before appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She was Puck in a production in Regents Park and Hermia at Birmingham Rep. But she first came to prominence as Mad in Jubilee, the punk epic directed by Derek Jarman in 1977. She later played Monkey in the cult Mods-and-Rockers movie Quadrophenia with The Who.
In the early eighties, Toyah had a string of hits with her own band, including It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. Now she is a busy actress, appearing in everything from Amadeus to Jack And The Beanstalk, and presenter of TV shows like BBC1's Holiday, Holiday On A Shoestring and The Heaven & Earth Show.
"Toyah will bring a well of experience and knowledge to the production," says the Gatehouse Theatre's Steve Freeman, who is producing A Midsummer Night's Dream with colleague Dan Shaw. "Her career spans 24 years, and she has a CV that ranges from Shakespeare in Regents Park to Top Of The Pops.
"She's a personality that everyone knows, whether as an actress, singer or TV presenter and she's going to make this year's event at the castle something really special." Steve says the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream will include other familiar faces whose names will be revealed shortly.
Meanwhile, there are opportunities for local performers to appear alongside Toyah and the other professionals in this year's alfresco production. Director Peter Dayson is looking for local talent to fill 10 roles to be taken by amateurs.
ON THE LINE
She's come a long way from a rebellious young Brummie punk to ubiquitous TV presenter. But it's not really a mystery, as Graeme Virtue discovers
What are you up to these days?
I'm doing a TV show in Scotland called Barmy Aunt Boomerang which is a 15-part children's comedy drama. I play the ghost of an Australian soap star that can walk through walls and stuff like that. It's filmed very much like a soap opera. It's wonderful in that it parodies a lot of things that you see in soaps. It's very funny and it's incredibly enchanting.
How did you research the part? Did you watch Neighbours non-stop?
Well, the thing I found about Neighbours is that they no longer sound Australian; they almost sound anglophile. When I was a child, we had Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. And Skippy had (adopts really deep Australian accent) a really deep Australian accent. I thought, if I was going to play an Australian soap star with an English accent, the children weren't going to get the cultural differences. So I based my voice on what I remember from Skippy. So my accent is slightly coarser than the ones you get in Neighbours.
Have you managed to hold your accent throughout the series?
I think so. No one's said anything about it. But I've had so much fun doing it because an Australian speaking alongside a Glasgwegian accent makes it even funnier; even lines that have no humour become funny, because of the timing of the words.
Had you acted with so many kids before?
No, that was a brand new challenge and I have to say I was dreading it and it's been absolutely magnificent. The kids we've had have been so bright and tough and sassy that I've spent many a day just sitting listening to them because they're really on the ball and very, very funny. And just full of a lust for life.
You've done an impressive range of work in the course of your career: music, films, theatre, TV, panto...
Well, I've been around a long time. But that's the way I like it; once I've done a job I like to go right across the spectrum to do the next one.
Like presenting The Good Sex Guide Late one year and then doing Songs of Praise?
That's one of my proudest achievements. I have a very forgiving audience. And funnily enough, I had no trouble doing the Sex Guide at all, but my loyal fans were slightly horrified when I did Songs of Praise. My take on it is that everyone has the right to tread a spiritual path, and just because you've presented Songs of Praise doesn't mean you've suddenly become a happy-clappy or dogmatic religious person.
So how did you handle making the transition from sex symbol to sex therapist?
I tell you what I was most nervous about with the Sex Guide: I'm incredibly shy, and I don't like men making passes at me. It's the one thing I can't handle. And I was really, really worried that men might think I was readily available and start hitting on me. But it didn't happen and I was so relieved.
They were probably quite scared of you.
I think I like the fact that men are scared of me and I want to keep it that way. If anything, I could be walking down the street and someone would stop me and tell me about their marital problems, which I found really sweet. There was this wonderful man on the show called Dr Ian Banks whom I adored, and he got surrounded by a whole gang of rastas on a tube train. He thought he was going to be mugged, but all they wanted to know was what to do about impotence!
Maybe they should get them on to Songs of Praise.
I don't think sex and religion work that well together. People that watch Songs of Praise tend to be over a certain age and they're not so interested.
You and your husband Robert Fripp are said to have one of the most stable marriages in showbiz...
That sounds like an ominous curse.
What's the secret?
The secrets are things that people wouldn't be willing to follow. We don't have children and I think children do change a marriage. Neither of us wants a family. And I think because our careers are so separate and our lives are so separate, a lot of our friends say we're still having an affair, we're still dating. We see relatively little of each other, so the time we spend with each other is so precious that we spend a lot of it laughing rather than arguing. The other side of that coin is that one day we will actually live together, but will we actually get on? We've never done it.
You'll just have to keep travelling and working around the world.
Yes, because there's no way I'm washing his socks. He actually has a lady that does all his washing, but I think life's too short to spend washing people's underwear.
Finally, how do you feel about the current Eighties revival?
I don't feel a part of it. I've had hundreds of offers to do concerts, which is great, but I still do quite a lot of live shows anyway. But I'm not being included on any of the compilations, and that's partly because the record company which owns my material is reluctant to re-release it for some reason. It's great to have all these offers, but I don't quite feel a part of it. I mean, I'm so happy for Culture Club. I think it's working for them. They're good writers, and I think Duran Duran have always been good writers. Those two groups in particular, I think it's lovely to see them around again.
60 SECOND INTERVIEW
Birmingham-born singer, actress and TV presenter Toyah Willcox, 43, first came to fame as the punk movement's 'short girl with a lisp' in the late 1970's. Star of films Quadrophenia and Jubilee, she had hits with songs including It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free, and has since fronted TV shows from The Good Sex Guide Late to The Heaven And Earth Show. She is married to fellow musician Robert Fripp.
What's your favourite job?
Making movies, because I like the whole event. It's like you're in a circus and you're on the move.
Does that stem from making music videos?
It was before that, when I worked with Derek Jarman in Jubilee. Then I went on to do George Cukor's TV film The Corn Is Green - with Katherine Hepburn - and I fell in love with the complete focus you have when you're working on a film. Nothing else exists and I find that rather lovely.
How influenced were you by youth culture in your choice of career?
Hugely. When you're young, youth culture is all that exists - you don't think about anything else. The punk movement influenced me, the mod not so much as I was too much into punk. The films at the time like Scum, Quadrophenia, Breaking Glass...they were all youth culture films and we all wanted to be in them.
Was Hazel Oconnor (star of Breaking Glass) a rival?
Back then, I considered her a rival, but we're more like friends now. We moved in completely different directions. The press would play us off against each other but that was not just between me and Hazel, it was also between me and Paula Yates and virtually every female on the planet. We were all enemies. I think we've all smartened up now and don't fall for those tricks.
Do you look at your old videos and cringe?
No, I don't cringe at anything I've ever done. I'm proud of everything.
Do you still listen to your old punk albums?
No, I haven't got the time any more.
If you recorded a song today, what would it be like?
I kind of like electro/techno/pop at the moment. Kylie has hit the bullseye with her latest song. It's very 'of the moment'.
What's on your CD player?
PJ Harvey's Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, and Music by Madonna.
What's your health routine?
I insist on eight hours sleep a night, I don't drink alcohol, tea or coffee. I'm a
vegetarian so I always eat fruit and veg and I do about an hour's aerobic exercise a day.
How spiritual are you?
Not as much as I used to be. I used to be so much more but I found I've become more and more distracted by work. That's what keeps me going - I just enjoy my work. I've never wanted a family in my life. A lot of people put family as a priority but I don't, which means I have an awful lot of time on my hands to work in.
Who's been your biggest influence?
I still carry a real torch for David Bowie's work. I also like Steven Spielberg's work, even though he can really miss the mark sometimes. When he gets it right though, you never forget what he's done.
What did you think of AI?
I loved the last half hour, I thought it was sensational, but would have liked him to edit the first hour and a half down.
And have you met Bowie?
No - my husband has done some work with him but I have yet to meet him myself.
What's your biggest vice?
What's your best quality?
I haven't got a clue - perseverance, possibly.
What's been your most embarrassing moment?
I often lose my temper with people because I take the wrong meaning from something. People call me the rottweiler - there have been times where I actually put my fists up to someone when they haven't done what I thought they'd done. I'm immensely embarrassed by that.
Do you apologise after?
Yes (laughs) - but it's often too late.
What's your motto?
Don't dream it, be it. It's from the Rocky Horror Show.
What would your epitaph be?
She came, she lisped, she left.
Presenter TOYAH WILLCOX'S limp and lisp made her painfully shy as a teenager. But joining her local chapter of the Hell's Angels changed all that.
I was a very happy child until the day I started school in 1962. My mother says I laughed until that first day, and then I hardly smiled again until the day I left school, 12 years later. School came as an utter shock to me - I never really understood the concept, I think.
I remember my parents trying to gear me up for the first day, telling me where I was going and that I would be wearing a uniform. But nothing prepared me for the desertion I felt that day my mother left me at the Edgbaston Church of England School for Girls., near where we lived in Birmingham.
Though I had an older sister and brother, I had no concept of the outside world before I started school, which makes me wonder if I was stupid in some way. It just didn't occur to me that I would have to go to school, just as my siblings had. I must have been so close to my mother that I thought life at home with her would never end.
I was bullied for years, and I wasn't academically bright. The potential may have been there, but I was dyslexic. I think I also suffered from some kind of arrested development because I found it difficult to express myself. All my fears stayed locked away inside me.
My powers of conversation weren't very good, partly because I had a speech impediment - quite a pronounced lisp - and people laughed at me as soon as I opened my mouth because of the earnestness of what I'd say. So I stopped speaking. I was quite a serious child.
I was also born with problems with my feet and spine, and my left leg was shorter than my right. So I never felt normal. I always felt very different from everyone else. I walked with quite a bad limp, to the point when, wherever I went, people asked: 'Are you all right?' I sometimes hid the limp by wearing an insert in my shoe.
Still, everywhere I went, people would say, 'Oh Toyah - that's an unusual name!' , or 'Have you hurt yourself?' because of the limp, so I always felt different.
When I was young, vanity was a problem because I knew I wasn't perfect, just at that age when I wanted to be. Teenagers, in particular, don't like to stand out too much, so I became painfully shy as I grew older. I didn't want anyone to see me without clothes, and I didn't want anyone near me.
But I always felt protective about my exotic name. People would look at me and think: 'God, this child's weird. She limps, she has a lisp - but she has a great name.' So it was a great way of breaking the ice, and I always wanted Toyah to be my name and my name only.
My mother had seen the name in a book about ballerinas - her tastes were always a little exotic. Dad wanted to add the names Pepita Boodelle because he just liked saying them - they bounce off the tongue. My family can be completely dysfunctional but also very playful. Anyway, the registrar of births refused to accept Pepita Boodelle on the grounds that Christian names had to be predominantly British, so I ended up being registered as Toyah Ann.
My father was born into a wealthy family in Birmingham - his father built most of Kings Heath - ran three factories and was a construction engineer. But when I was seven, dad received some bad financial advice, and went bankrupt. All of his assets were in the stock market and, when it slumped, he just couldn't recover and had to sell up. It knocked his confidence terribly and broke his heart, too, because it was a business that had been in his family.
Eventually, he went into antique dealing but, by that time, he was seriously ill with a heart condition. He and mum swore that the one thing they wouldn't give up was sending me to private school. They both really suffered for it - and I hated every minute. I failed my 11-plus and left school at 16 with only one O-level, in music theory.
But I think going to a private school did help me, in a way. If I'd gone to a comprehensive, I don't think I would have rebelled as much as I did. And rebellion was a significant part of my childhood. It drove me on and gave me the confidence to go further afield. I moved to London when I was 18, partly because I was desperate to get out of Birmingham, and I became one of the first punks. If I'd been happier, I may not have left. So, in retrospect, I am grateful for my private school education.
I'd wanted to act and sing since seeing Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music when I was seven. But people thought I was living in a dream world - everyone kept mocking my genuine passion. They would say to me: 'You're not terribly bright, you've failed your 11-plus, you've got a lisp - why not just marry and have children?' To me, that lifestyle was a trap.
Because I couldn't express myself so well but was so ambitious, I often felt very angry. From the age of 12, I started to run wild. I became a complete monster. I started going to discos and pubs, wearing make-up, dabbling in the occult and hanging out with bikers - I was utterly rebellious. Dad was terrified, mum despondent. Their baby daughter was starting to look like something out of The Munsters.
Everything I wanted to be was expressed by James Dean. I was trying to copy East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause, but, in seventies Birmingham, the only way I could get access to a motorbike was joining the local chapter of Hell's Angels. I first met some of them at a disco in a church hall. They were truly nice people, led by a man called Steve who had been to public school and was reputed to be a peer of the realm.
One day, mum and dad said they wanted to meet these mysterious new friends with whom I kept disappearing, so I invited the gang around for tea one Sunday afternoon. Mum made cucumber sandwiches, expecting about ten people, but 40 of them turned up.
They roared down the road on about 30 motorbikes - we could hear them coming from miles away, particularly in our quiet, conservative little neighbourhood.
My parents were absolutely horrified but, then, the bikers came in and were delightful, and it all went terribly well. Some of them watched a John Wayne movie with dad and the peer chatted to mum all afternoon, and was utterly charming. But my parents never asked to meet my friends again.
Night & Day Magazine
Claire Murphy talks to the food lover who hates cooking
You are currently appearing on Whose Recipe Is It Anyway? where chefs have to guess which celeb supplied a recipe. Did you enjoy presenting the programme?
It was fantastic. It's one of the most interesting jobs I've ever done. We shot 40 programmes in 10 days and the time just flew by so quickly. It worked extremely well and everyone enjoyed it.
Are you a big food fan?
Yes, I love my food and I love watching other people cook. Personally, though, I loathe cooking! Working on the show was perfect for me because I had all my favourite chefs preparing food on the day, so I was in heaven.
Acting, singing, presenting or writing - where does your heart lie?
Film and TV acting are my great loves - but if there's nothing on offer, then my priority is to work. I'm lucky that the fields I work in are rarely dull.
How did you make the move from defining 80's popstar to TV presenter?
A very good manager! And I'm a hard worker. I think there's a lot of ego involved in being a pop star, whereas to be a presenter you need to be knowledgeable and hardworking. It suited my thirties very much to go into presenting and I now present in areas I'm particularly interested in, like alternative medicine, food and the arts.
Who have you most enjoyed meeting?
I really enjoyed meeting the former hostage Terry Waite because he's so extraordinary. And I've met some wonderful women, everyone from the writer Su Townsend (The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole...) to jazz singer Marion Montgomery. I love meeting people who have inspired me.
Who were your favourite bands or singers during the 80's?
I really loved Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Metallica, and Sisters Of Mercy.
You sang: 'I'm going to turn suburbia upside down...' Have you?
Well, I think it has turned itself upside down. Suburbia is not what it was 20 years ago, everything's come to the surface right now - wife swapping and transvestism. I don't think there is such a thing a suburbia anymore.
If you could sing with a band today, who would it be?
Catatonia. I think Cerys Matthews is fantastic and she's got a great voice.
What do you think of acts like Hear'Say who have had fame handed to them?
I don't know that they have simply been handed fame. I think success when you're very young is a terrible burden because you're not formed yet. There's a lot of talent in Hear'Say, just as there was in the Spice Girls, who also had mega success at a very young age. There's nothing more tragic than that being taken away from you before you are 25. My heart goes out to Hear'Say. I don't resent them, I just think they're in for a rough ride later on and they've got to lay the foundations now.
Do you prefer acting onstage or in front of a camera?
I know what I'm better at, and that's acting onstage, but I prefer acting on camera - I like the whole circus of television presenting - I love the equipment and the team. When it works properly it's like watching the cogs of an engine. I just get so excited - I don't think it could ever bore me.
Do you watch yourself on TV?
No. I would only watch if I had to be very critical about it. I'd watch it a long time afterwards when it couldn't hurt me if I thought I was crap!
What has been your career highlight?
I'd say the highlight of my career was hitting 40. Niggly things don't bother me anymore and time becomes so valuable that life just gets better.
TOYAH STILL WANTS
TO BE FREE
In the fickle world of showbusiness, Toyah Willcox is a long-running success story. She's grown from a punk princess, via TV drama to acclaimed Shakespearean. But it's a success she will never share with a family, writes Suzanne Locke.
Bluntly, she says she never wanted children, and so she was sterilised at the age of 27.
Now 43, she says she has no regrets."In the beginning it felt very weird. No matter how you feel about having a family it's a pretty major decision to make. Now I've got no problems with it at all.
"I never wanted them. I have no instinct for them - it's never been in me," she insists. "It could be genetic - my father's four sisters never had children and my sister, who's eight years older than me, never had children."
For Toyah it's easier to maintain a long-distance marriage without children in the equation. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, her husband of 15 years, lives in the States and is currently on tour in Nashville. They see each other on average just once every couple of months.
Close to home
"We're not tied down by any family or any children, so there's a lot of freedom. I think we accepted pretty early on that he wasn't going to be around and I wasn't going to give my career up in England. There's no way I could be a rock 'n' roll wife and I'm so English I don't think I could move abroad."
But Toyah's close relationship with her parents makes up for the long periods on her own. She has even bought the house next door to them, near Stratford. "My dad's the most fantastic person I've ever known - my No.1 hero," she says.
Toyah has dabbled in everything from Shakespeare to religion, kids' TV and sex. Her father is a Buddhist and was "more embarrassed about me doing Songs of Praise than a live sex show, The Good Sex Guide. He worried that I'd gone soft."
Few could accuse her of that. For Toyah was born with a club foot, a bowed spine, dislocated hip and a lisp and is technically disabled. She's had to battle society's prejudice while forging her career, which kicked off with pop hits like It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. She is also dyslexic and, considered "dumb" at school, left with just one O-level, in music. "I regret I didn't see education as an investment in myself. I treasure learning now."
Currently she's appearing in a regional tour of The Shagaround, an expletive-filled, raunchy tale of girl power set in the toilets of a nightclub, which moves to the West End in July. She will then be playing Titania in an open-air production of Midsummer Night's Dream at Stafford Castle. "I'd like to work forever, I don't want to retire," she says.
Toyah's enjoying herself now more than ever before. "I think hitting 40 was great - you're emotionally independent, you're financially independent, and you don't give a damn what people think of you any more." You wonder whether the woman who dyed her hair crimson and claims to have no taboos ever really did.
FROM SEXY LISPS
TO BOOK LISTS
She has gone from possessing the sexiest lisp in pop to presenting Songs of Praise. During her colourful days as a punky priestess, she rocked the rafters of the Oxford Apollo as she stamped around the stage in all her raging glory, dressed like the sort of warrior woman your mother warned you about, writes George Frew.
Her gigs would attract fans of all sorts, from university colleges to residents of the Cowley Road.
Her more thoughtful fans could also catch her appearing at the Oxford Playhouse, in roles like that of the flighty Constanza in Schaeffer's Amadeus.
She made a highly effective Peter Pan in pantomime here, too.
Back then, Toyah Willcox had a bit of a reputation for duffing up journalists who wrote things about her that she didn't like but then, she was always capable of giving herself a hard time.
During a pop career that involved 13 top 40 singles and 15 albums, she expressed the hope that one day, she might actually produce something she liked.
And while she was appearing in plays likeThe Tempest and movies such as Quadrophenia and regularly being voted 'Sexiest This, That Or The Other,' Toyah would dismiss herself as "a midget" (she clocks in at 4ft 11ins).
She comes from the Midlands and went to the sort of posh school that has the words 'Young Ladies' in its name, where she failed most of her 'O' Levels, music excepted.
All this and more can be found between the covers of her autobiography, Living Out Loud, which she was busy signing copies of last night at Oxford's Borders bookshop.
Toyah's been married to rock guitarist Robert Fripp for the past 15 years. At 42, she seems more comfortable in her own skin and sounds like she wouldn't trade her new career as a TV presenter for a pop comeback if you offered her a pile of tenners the height of Carfax Tower.
She admits: "Doing book signings can be embarrassing, though you get four people turn up at lunchtimes and 400 in the evening," she laughs.
You're as likely to catch Toyah on the telly presenting The Holiday Programme as the aforementioned Songs of Praise.
She lists her current hobby as "feminist theology" and has one main regret: "I wish I'd been a little wilder when I was younger it would have made me more emotionally independent."
This is Oxfordshire