2004 - 2007
TRIBUTE TO THE DECADE
THAT TASTE FORGOT
Small but perfectly reformed
It's a funny thing, nostalgia.
For some the 1980s conjure up grim images of yuppie greed, spiralling dole queues and Little and Large being on TV on a regular basis.
But for others it was a magical era when Live Aid fed the world, the Dons were kings of Europe, and they got their first snog behind the bike sheds.
Howling winds and horizontal rain meant leg-warmers, ra-ra skirts and deeley-boppers were replaced by sensible winter woollies, but a hardy band of mainly thirtysomethings turned out at the Music Hall last night to pay homage to the decade that taste forgot.
"He's older and uglier, but still talented," boomed an unseen voice as Ben Volpierre-Pierrot kicked off the Best of the 80s gig.
In tribute to his host city, the Curiosity Killed The Cat frontman swapped his trademark backwards beret for a tartan "bunnet".
There were gasps when the smoothie singer doffed his hat to reveal a shock of cherubic curls.
"Only kidding," he winked as he chucked the wig to one side exposing his shaven scalp.
Ben may now be a dead ringer for REM frontman Michael Stipe, but he still had the girls screaming as he crooned the hits Misfit, Name and Number and Down to Earth.
Unbelievably, Clare Grogan looked younger than when Altered Images were top of the pops.
The baby-voiced Glaswegian vocalist looked genuinely chuffed to be on stage in Aberdeen.
She beamed: "This is the first time I've sung these songs in front of a Scottish audience in 23 years.
"Last time I was in Aberdeen I fell off stage, so will you catch me if I take a flyer again?"
Dozens of grown men, transformed once again to drooling teenagers, would have been happy to oblige.
By the time Happy Birthday rang out, Clare and the audience were clearly having a ball.
At one point she sighed girlishly: "Ooh, that's gorgeous. You're singing my songs in a Scottish accent."
Not to be outdone, one-time punk princess Toyah Willcox made an entrance to rival her many pantomime appearances.
Striding out in a velvet basque and thigh-high boots she quipped: "Has anyone seen my dress?"
She belted out rocking covers of Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins and Sweet Child o' Mine by Guns 'n' Roses.
As the audience sang along to her angst-ridden anthem I Want to be Free, Toyah confessed: "I feel a bit of a fraud. I wrote this song when I was 12 and now I'm 46."
The nostalgia night was completed by Haircut 100 frontman Nick Heyward, who had the crowd dancing in the aisles to Love Plus One and Fantastic Day.
Wild applause at the end means it is only a matter of time before the Best of the 90s tour starts snaking round the country.
Aberdeen Evening Express
While the reality TV generation might know her only as a star of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, those with longer memories know better. Toyah Willcox, the punk princess who became an 80s icon, has done it all.
From acting on the West End to presenting Songs of Praise, she has become a star of stage, screen and concert hall - her unique voice and high-energy performance style winning her the Best Female Singer accolade at the 1983 British Rock and Pop Awards.
Long before Toyah was a pop star, however, she was an actress. Indeed, by the time she scored her first Top 40 success with the anthemic It’s A Mystery in 1981, the diminutive performer had not only worked with the National Theatre but had also left her mark on the movie world, appearing in Derek Jarman’s seminal punk epic Jubilee and the cult classic Quadrophenia.
Still, for many, it’s for her music - songs that roused a generation - that Toyah is remembered. As such, it is hard to believe that when the Best Of The 80s concert tour hits Edinburgh next Wednesday and Toyah stands in the wings ready to rock the Playhouse, it will be exactly 22 years since she last bounded on to the very same stage. For Toyah, however, it will be as if she’s never been away.
"I don’t feel that I’ve stepped away from anything that much to be honest," says the singer who shares the Best Of The 80s bill with Clare Grogan of Altered Images, Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot from Curiosity Killed The Cat and Nick Heyward.
"We’re all reinventing what we did in the 80s. We have the most amazing band, they are great musicians and they are reproducing what we did 22 years ago. I stand in the wings and watch Ben and Clare and Nick and I’m having a f***ing great time."
The Edinburgh gig will be the tenth in a 20-date tour and the 46-year-old, who has lost little, if any, of her youthful enthusiasm and energy, is holding up well, although being back on the road is proving a "novel" experience.
"I can’t tell you how good it’s going," she says. "I thought that four such diverse artists wouldn’t work, but it’s bizarre. Ben is almost like a soul/reggae artist; Clare is incredibly true to the early 80s with that very off-the-wall contemporary sound; I’m very rock and then Nick is dance, almost. But it’s working well just because we are all so different."
Birmingham-born Toyah is no stranger to the Capital. The singer first toured here in 1979 with her eponymous band to play the legendary Tiffany’s - a venue she revisited the following year. With their star continuing to rise, Toyah graduated to playing the larger Odeon in 1981, before packing the Playhouse just 12 months later.
More than a decade later she returned to the city. However, this time it was Toyah the actress who commanded the Festival Theatre in the 1993 national tour of Peter Pan and then in 2000 she made her Fringe debut as Dora Marr in Picasso’s Women at the Assembly Rooms.
Toyah last visited the city two years ago as tomboy cowgirl Calamity Jane, next week she promises she’ll sport a very different look. "A common statement that has been falling from my lips is ‘as I get older I seem to be wearing less’," she laughs. "I tell you, my outfit . . . I walked on stage on the first night and the audience screamed. I was like a mini-version of Cher but without the long legs."
The screams were a reaction to her costume which she has described as being a "dinky little number that only needed a metre of material to make."
"I’ve been starving for a month because this costume has a 20-inch waist," she says. "It’s reminiscent of a little circus girl in Victorian times, except I’ve taken the innocence away and added a little S&M - it leaves nothing to the imagination.
"I saw it on a transvestite and said ‘I have to have that’. So I went to a costume maker in Manchester who makes clothes exclusively for men to look like women and said: ‘I’m really sorry. I know you have never made a costume for a woman and you don’t know how our busts really go or how our crotches are shaped, but I have to have this costume’."
As a bonus, just for the Playhouse gig, Toyah will also be wearing a "special" kilt made for her by Edinburgh kilt-maker Howie Nicholsby. It’s just one of a number of surprises planned for the night.
"We’re supposed to do 35 minutes each, but we are all over-running," she confesses. "We’re doing all our singles. Claire is doing her singles and favourite tracks and I’ve added a Guns and Roses number because I think it’s quite unfair to expect Claire’s or Nick’s fans to sit through songs of mine they might not know, so I’ve added Sweet Child of Mine and the audience go absolutely bonkers."
Sweet Child of Mine is one of the three musical surprises the singer has planned . . . the other two she’s staying tight-lipped about.
Perhaps surprisingly, considering her success in the 1980s, Toyah reveals that the last two years of her life have been the busiest. She has performed 446 shows to over half a million people - 11 of these shows were part of the Here and Now Concert Tour where she realised her ambition of playing Wembley before a crowd of 16,000 screaming fans.
Alongside all of this, last year she took time out to survive 12 days and nights in the Australian jungle for last year’s I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here.
Before embarking on the Best Of The 80s Tour last month, Toyah confided to fans reading her website (www.toyahwillcox.com) that she was "straining at the bit to be on the road again."
"I haven’t been on a tour bus for approximately 18 years and I want to know if I can do it without irritating the do-da out of everyone," she wrote. "Although I do at least four gigs a month, I’m never on a tour bus.
"This whole concept of being on a bus with your bag of laundry driving until four in the morning and eating chips - I haven’t lived like that for 22 years. You just have to surrender to it and it has novelty value so far."
And when the Best Of The 80s tour bus pulls into the Capital on Wednesday, Toyah predicts that her 1981 Top Ten hit I Want To Be Free will be the song from her set that drives everyone wild.
She laughs: "It’s hysterical because here we are singing about schooldays and the whole audience are up on their feet screaming their heads off. I’m also doing Jungle of Jupiter which is mind-blowing but I Want To Be Free somehow turns the whole of my act into a riot."
Edinburgh Evening News
ME AND MY GARDEN
Toyah Willcox's career has included 80s chart hits, film, TV and stage roles, as well as numerous writing projects. She lives with her husband, musician Robert Fripp, in Worcestershire.
I was born in Birmingham but my father always had a boat on the river Avon so I spent every weekend in this area when I was young. Robert and I bought this house three years ago and it's the best place I've ever lived. The whole garden was designed by one of the TV gardeners but we can't find his name - he did it as a favour to the last owner. It's so well done that we haven't needed to put in a single plant and it looks great all year round.
The garden's probably about half an acre and is divided into five rooms, with the final room leading down to the river. The rooms were here when we arrived but we've added focus by putting in seats. They're more for my husband's benefit - he's a great one for sitting. I'm more of an on-the-move type of person. One room is particularly private - you can't be seen from the river or the house - so it's where we sunbathe. It's even glorious at night because the stars are so bright.
Because the land floods, the soil is particularly rich so we get good growth. I like the fact that we have a mulberry tree because it symbolises luck. They're also quite hard to grow so having one signifies a healthy garden, plus it produces the most amazing fruit. And I love irises - we have a lot of those.We live very alfresco - the garden is east facing so we have lots of sun all day. It has a very Tuscan feel and friends love coming here. An amazing amount of people say they feel as though they've been here before, which I think is a lovely sign. It's a very sensual place.
We have a cherry orchard and we're very worried because there's a nasty disease going round which wipes out trees in a matter of weeks. One died just last week, but if we get it out quickly enough we should be able to save the rest. The trees have been here for a good 40 years so it's sad to see one of them die. We had all the problems with Dutch elm disease and in the 20 years that I've been into gardening, we've been dealing with these strange variants attacking other tree types. We did have 14 fish in our fish pond but a heron ate them all in one afternoon! I love koi and have a fantasy about having a koi pond but we have a lot of predators here - including foxes - so I don't think they'd survive very long.
We have quite a few sculptures in the garden, all done by an artist we've worked with for about 20 years. It's remarkably inexpensive for such unique work and suits our taste. I don't like regular statues.
Robert tends to tour in the summer so I get the place to myself. We try and spend weekends together here but it's a bit hit and miss because I often do concerts at weekends. I have two books coming out next year, as well as a one-woman show which I'm writing about my own life, so there's a lot in the pipeline.
Almost everything I remember from my youth I remember around here rather than in Birmingham. This is where it all happened, so I feel completely rooted. And there's no better place to relax than in this garden - it's the ultimate chill-out.
TOYAH'S QUIET SIDE
From punk to pastoral
The singer Toyah Willcox enjoys the buzz of the market town where she lives, but also loves to escape to the peace of her garden, says Caroline Donald
Toyah Willcox and her husband Robert Fripp are a couple whose profession it is to make noise. Willcox came to fame in the 1970s as a punk singer who also appeared in films such as Quadrophenia and Jubilee, and Fripp’s rock group King Crimson is still touring after more than 30 years. Last year was busy, with Willcox touring in the West End show Calamity Jane and appearing in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! It is therefore surprising to find they are the owners of a large and quiet garden, all the more so in that it is situated behind their Georgian former judge’s house and coaching inn, which stands in the middle of a Worcestershire market town. The street in front of the house is full of hustle and bustle, but once you step out of the kitchen door into the brick courtyard, all is tranquillity. The garden, which covers about an acre and a half, stretches down to the River Avon, from the banks of which you can see water meadows and sheep grazing, in a scene of ageless English pastoralism.
The couple moved there three years ago from Dorset. Willcox was visiting the area — where she was brought up — and had spotted the For Sale sign when boating on the river. She remembered visiting the house when it was a tea room in her childhood. “We came to look round just to be nosy because it is architecturally such a beautiful street and we wanted to know what the houses looked like,” she says. “We walked in and I burst into tears: I knew we had to live here.”
As they had just moved from Reddish House, Sir Cecil Beaton’s old house in Salisbury, to a manor in Dorset, it was not exactly convenient timing and Willcox decided to forget about the new house. Unbeknown to her, her husband went ahead and bought it with the help of a bridging loan. And, in fact, there was some practicality in the move, as she now commutes to London several days a week and the journey is much easier from her new home.
It was a good move. The couple have quite a portfolio of properties, though Willcox will not be drawn on just how many. This house, however, is special. “This is the happiest place we have ever lived: we wish we had come here 19 years ago,” she says.
“There is a resonance about the building and the design, everything is so friendly. You have the town out there where you can buy anything until about 11pm, then the silence in the garden is remarkable. It is two worlds completely divided.”
Although she has designed her own gardens in London and at her studio retreat nearby, Willcox has not changed the layout of the garden, which was created for the previous owner. “At Reddish House we had a formal garden with very old breeds of roses and flowers that Cecil Beaton had put in. Everything was completely different to what we have here,” she says.
The plants may be easy to find at garden centres but there are some old cherry, apple, plum and damson trees, as well as a mulberry, which reflect the orchards in the area’s past. Fruit trees are also in evidence at the neighbouring properties. “They each have their original garden,” says Willcox. “Ours was stripped out to be landscaped, but it is still really beautiful.”
At Reddish House there were seven acres of garden, four of them formal, which needed three full-time gardeners and an annual budget of £100,000 to keep them up. Here, John, the sole gardener, keeps everything looking immaculate in two days a week. “He is just magnificent,” says Willcox.
The garden is divided into five “rooms”, including a pond area, a cherry orchard and a large lawned area where the couple play football — croquet got too competitive for them. This makes the long narrow space seem much bigger than it actually is and provides plenty of different atmospheres for its owners to enjoy. Tall yew hedges, metal arbours and a fair smattering of works by the sculptor Althea Wynne give it year-round appeal. These include a lifesized terracotta warrior on a horse, a surprise Christmas present last year from Fripp.
The fountain in the middle of the pond provides a decorative feature even when it is very cold, as it drips with icicles. “It looks like something from Narnia,” says Willcox.
Up near the house is a bricked patio, with a large dining table. A huge olive tree stands in a pot nearby, which two workmen and her father had to stagger about with from site to site until Willcox found the perfect place for it.
She has written two books since she has been at the house. One, which she has just finished, is a children’s book with a moral tale (move over Madonna). More intriguing, however, is the diary that she is just finishing, the contents of which she refuses to disclose. “I can’t tell you because it is a bit outrageous,” says Willcox coyly. “It is not to do with sex: it’s very topical but it is not kiss and tell.” The mind boggles.
The couple are often away — Willcox will be back on the road with Calamity Jane in September, then touring with Nick Hayward before panto at Christmas — so the house and garden are very much a base, occupied by staff in their absence and kept in immaculate condition for their return. The time when she missed it most was when she was stuck in the middle of the Australian jungle for I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! “I spent every night in the jungle wishing I was back on the high street walking into the One Stop to buy chocolate,” she says. And then bringing it back to eat in the privacy of her own patch.
The Sunday Times
She's already gained fame for her singing and acting talents, and now Toyah Willcox is venturing into the world of comedy.
Currently rehearsing for The Best Of The 1980s nostalgia tour in October, Toyah is also planning a one-woman stand-up show to tour next year.
She tells Teletext: "The show is humorous, it's irreverent and it's naughty. It's certainly not for the over-60s."
In addition to her own material, Toyah says her new stand-up show will include extracts from musicals she has appeared in such as Calamity Jane.
She also hopes to perform some of her late '70s and early '80s rock songs to raw musical accompaniment.
"It's in the workshop stage at the moment and I'm working on a musical accompaniment," she says. "I'd love to perform with just a harp player."
Toyah is busy preparing the set for October's tour with Nick Heyward, Altered Images and Curiosity Killed the Cat. The '80s tour kicks off at Kings Lynn's Corn Exchange on October 6, before moving on around the UK.
"It will be a 40-minute set with predominantly Toyah material but I want to add two influential anthems from the 1980s," she tells Teletext. "It's very high energy and I want the whole audience to feel involved."
She is also busy writing several books: "I'm writing two books and one of them is a diary. I can't tell you the subject matter of the other because it will outrage people.
"It's something that's on everyone's mind and in the newspapers. I've written it because I think it's hilariously funny but everyone who's read it thinks it's challenging."
Toyah says since releasing her autobiography in 2000, she's had the busiest four years of her life.
"Maybe it's time to update my career," she tells Teletext. "I always aimed at having this renaissance and here it is.
"It can be dirty work. The way things work in this country you can just go round and round in circles. But I've got plenty of ideas left."
The singer found fame once again when she appeared on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. And she says she'd love to do another reality TV show.
"I wouldn't go into the jungle again but I'd love to do something like Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Hell," she says. "I like reality TV because it's so entertaining.
"But I wouldn't do a reality show to try and get my name back in the papers. I'm happy with my profile as it is."
CASH WAS A MYSTERY
Toyah's early struggles for fame and fortune have shaped her current attitude towards money.
The 80s pop queen says: "My parents struggled financially and when I was at drama school I was so poor all I could afford to eat was a Mars bar and a cup of tea. It was the generosity of friends that kept me fed and sheltered."
But money worries are now a thing of the past. The I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! contestant now owns a string of investment properties but says she will never charge rent. Instead, she offers them to personal contacts if they take on responsibility for the upkeep.
Her first taste of fame came when she appeared in the 1977 punk movie Jubilee. Later that year she put together her own band and she finally achieved chart success at the age of 23 with It's A Mystery.
"During the first years of my career my accountants were pilfering my money," she says. "I've been my own financial manager for the last 10 years."
She has continued to be successful in film and theatre and spent much of last year performing in the West End production of Calamity Jane.
Toyah bought her house in Chiswick for £117,000 eight years ago. It's now worth about £250,000.
"I've got a few bonds and ISAs as well and about 20 different pension plans," she says.
"But they've all lost 40 per cent and I'm really angry. The problem with these products is that financial advisers do better out of them than the individual does."
Status: Married to Robert Fripp, a guitarist in Nashville, Tennessee. The couple chose not to have children.
Lives: Mainly in Chiswick, London.
Career: Actress and 80s pop singer, she appeared in the second series of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!
Best investment: Made £100K on a flat in Wapping.
Worst investment: Lost £14K on studio apartment in Chelsea.
Money attitude: Never borrow - money should work for you not others.
From punk icon to Shakespearean actress, Toyah Willcox has enjoyed chart topping success, and a varied acting career.
More recently she's been on our screens doing some revolting tasks just to eat! In "I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here".
We've gave you the opportunity quiz Toyah ... here are your questions and her answers.
Throughout your life has anything ever happened to you to make you feel really frightened or scared? Mandy, Westerhope, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Toyah said: Yes, things have happened that have scared me. My work colleague and friend Jill Dando was murdered in 1999 and that was one of the most terrifying things I have experienced, and my heart goes out to anyone whose ever experienced losing a friend or member of the family in this way. It's the most extraordinary feeling of vulnerability and grief.
On a lighter side, there are some many fears that I think we all feel when wars start. Then there's the more ludicrous fears, like for me, the fear of unemployment. I am very typical of a performer, and think I'll never work again. That is a fear, it's a stupid fear, unrealistic fear. Yes, I do experience it and have.
Have you remained in contact with any of the other stars of 'celebrity jungle'? Michael, Chatham
Toyah said: This morning I've spent the last hour texting Danielle Westbrook. Danielle and I have become very close friends. I think that not only is she a wonderful friend, but a remarkable person and I'm incredibly fond of her and she says I'm a dopplegänger for her mother. She's even asked me to play her mother in a drama about her life that's about to me made. I don't know if I will be, I would love to do it.
I'm still close to pretty much everyone who was in the jungle.
What was the worst thing in the jungle? Catherine, Chelmsford
Toyah said: The complete loss of privacy, there were even cameras in the loo. And the reason for that was that if we got bitten by something or passed out our lives were in the producers hands. So they had to watch us 24 hours a day. That was quite bizarre and I didn't like the loss of privacy when it came to coming to the loo and stuff like that.
But for all the bad things about the jungle, it was a huge learning curve. The biggest thing I learnt about myself is how my compliance is my aggression. And I knew that we were going in there to be made fools of to a certain degree, because that makes great telly. But I was deliberating aggressive by being compliant and that shocked me because I was deliberating trying to stop them having good TV and I knew I was in there because I'm feisty and have a temper and I deliberating didn't show it.
Do you think that the music in the late 70s and early 80s is better than the music now, and do you think that they were a better time for music? Peter, Leigh on Sea
Toyah said: When I was living in the 70s and 80s I didn't necessarily think that the music was the greatest. I loved what I was doing and I loved other artists. But in those periods we were always saying the 60s were a better period for music.
But now, today, I enjoy the music of the 70s and 80s far more than I ever did back then. I don't think it was better, I think its because nostalgically I feel a very strong link to it. I love modern music, I love some of the bands around today but having said that the music of the 70s and 80s is incredibly powerful. In June and July I start developing a one woman show that I want to be working on over the next couple of years and the music in it is purely 70s and 80s music, because the producers and I came to the conclusion that it probably the most profound music that we have today.
Yesterday, I had to sing before an audience for the first time in my life (I'm 40 and I had to sing cabaret, like you have done too). I was very nervous and my voice cracked a bit, well a lot. How do you handle your nerves (if you have them), have you got a trick or something? Bea, Dordrecht, The Netherlands
Toyah said: I can't handle my nerves. If I had to sing out of context of a show my voice would crack too. I always tell myself that the audience infront of you is there because they want to see you. I have this weird psychological thing that audiences are there to see me fail which is ludicrous. So I always tell myself that the audience is there because they've chosen to be there and because they want to see me. But that doesn't cancel out your nerves.
If you suffer nerves you have to accept it and go with it, and realise it's just nerves. So I can't offer any tricks really, because for me, even after 25 years of singing I still suffer terrible nerves and I can't control it. The only way I get round it is pretending to be someone else and playing a character.
Do you still have a house rabbit? From seeing you on a TV programme ages ago we now have two of our own! Sheryl, Colchester
Toyah said: I don't have a house rabbit at the moment, because the last two years I've been on the road touring with the musical Calamity Jane and my house rabbit passed away just before I started that and I really want another rabbit. I find life at home without a rabbit quite peculiar because I'm so used to being governed by a house rabbit. They're very bossy creatures, and they kind of manipulate you and boss you around so that there feeding times suit them. I fully intend to have another house rabbit, I think they're very much part of my life.
Toyah, if you were to sing a (cover) duet with David Bowie which song would you pick and why? PS Velvet Lined Shell Rocks! Andrew, Leicester
Toyah said: I agree with the latter!
It would have to be Je'Taime it would be in the style of method acting, in that everything is for real. It would have to be done from a huge double bed from a penthouse somewhere very romantic, lets say New York because I don't think Bowie likes to travel much these days.
I came to watch you in Calamity Jane twice and you were EXCELLENT and I saw you in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which was also EXCELLENT I was just wondering what are you doing next and when? Katy, Walsall
Toyah said: I'm kind of busy doing background work at the moment. The next two months I've said to agents and managers don't bother me because I writing.
I'm writing this one woman show called "Chain Reaction" which is about music which has influenced and written history and its based in the 70s and 80s. It's about songs that narrate our lives. It's partly historical, cultural and news orientated. About 50% of it is about how music has affected me too.
I'm writing a novel which is due out at Christmas called "We Have Angels Here". And I've started a second novel which people have shown more interest in, which might pip Angels at the post. I'm not saying what that's about because it's quite controversial and will cause an absolute stir.
I don't expect to start performing again till May. I'll then do work for the one woman show in June and July, I then go on the road with Nick Heyward touring theatres doing a 1980s tour.
I've got a lot of telly. I've been asked to go into programme where you swap genders.
What inspired you to write the latest book you are working on? Do you ever feel motivated by a need to overcome the adversity in your life, such as your physical difficulties or your dyslexia? Strange Girl, London
Toyah said: My latest book has been inspired by where I live. I won't say exactly where I live, only that it's a town in the Midlands. In a very eccentric town that time hasn't touched and I heard a story about a house in the town that inspired me to write the latest book. It's a children's story for adults and its slightly supernatural.
Am I inspired by adversity? No, because I think adversity is a frustration that pushes you harder. So I think inspiration is something more of a joy. Adversity, dealing with it, is to deal with frustration.
But I do love working and that's why I work. I love being creative, I loved feeling plugged into the world. I have no desire to go away and live in a house in Thailand and do nothing. My adversities frustrate me, and try to deal with the best I can. Most of the time I work because I love the feeling it gives me and its exhilarating.
I love the new album and your 25th anniversary gig in October was great. Are you planning to tour sometime in the near future? Ashleigh, Portressie, Moray
Toyah said: I'm touring in October, and I think it might confuse my fans why I'm going out in a package on an 80s tour. The reason I'm doing that is because I feel much happier with other artists. I don't feel isolated and put under pressure. I think performing is better when you're happy, and I'm much happier in this kind of environment. I feel I'm not carrying the whole tour on my back which can make me quite tense and that affects my performance.
I'm really chuffed to be going out with Nick Heyward. He's great fun, he's a fellow taurean and I think I can put emphasis on enjoyment which is what music should be all about.
To read the interview at 'BBC Essex', please click the image at the top of the news item.
An affectionate look back at a studio which provided television with some of its most magical - and unexpected - moments of the past 30 years...
To the casual observer, it's just a seven-storey box of a building in the heart of Birmingham. But the BBC's Pebble Mill Studios has been a place of magic for the past 32 years.
Remember Skeldale House, the isolated Yorkshire Dales home of the vets in All Creatures Great and Small? You'd actually find it here in inner-city Birmingham. And the waterside boatyard of the Eighties yachtie soap, Howard's Way? That was here, too, about as far from the sea as you can get in Britain.
Pebble Mill is the village of Ambridge, home of those radio country folk The Archers. It's the soapland surgeries of Mac and Kate and those other daytime Doctors. And it brought us the programme that revolutionised daytime viewing Pebble Mill at One.
Now there's trouble at Mill. The BBC is leaving, heading off to an ultrasmart new Birmingham studio called The Mailbox. But at least it's not going without a last affectionate look back at the studios in this Sunday lunchtime's farewell show presented by Toyah Willcox.
'I was born a mile from Pebble Mill,' says Toyah. 'It was where my career started when I was 18 with my first professional job, in BBC2's Second City First series, as a girl who wants to be on Top Of The Pops.'
The Mill was soon to have an even bigger effect on Toyah's life. 'In 1977 I was interviewed by magazine show Look Hear! about a film I was in called Jubilee,' she says. She clearly made an impression. 'A few weeks later, I was back as a presenter - and I was there for three years. Look Hear! went out live on Tuesdays and gave local bands like Duran Duran their first TV appearances. But Pebble Mill has always set trends...'
Back in 1972, the new studios had first come to national fame with the launch of Pebble Mill at One, the bright and breezy lunchtime magazine show presented from the entrance foyer. It was the Beeb's first attempt at a popular daytime show, and it's still perhaps the best.
'It was pioneering in its time,' says Marian Foster, one of the original presenters alongside Bob Langley. 'A live programme with an audience is real life, warts and all. It's more fun and more risky but you get more out of it.'
Bob Langley remembers the time a Hollywood stuntman was on the show. 'Someone had the bright idea of opening with him standing on a fourth-floor ledge and then falling into a pile of cardboard boxes. The stuntman had told me, "The secret is in the way I land. I've got to land on my back - if I go in feet first I'm dead." So we started the show, and I watched him plummet in feet first, like a bomb. There was dead silence.
'I thought, what do I say? "Welcome to Pebble Mill at One. I'm afraid our first guest has just died, but here's a catchy little number from Kenny Ball..." To my immense relief, he climbed out - and not only did he do the interview, but he did another fall later. What a pro!'
Pebble Mill at One - and spin-off Saturday Night at the Mill - attracted major stars. Sophia Loren came. As did Charlton Heston. Bob Langley fulfilled his ambition to dance with Ginger Rogers. And Cliff Richard was always turning up - making around 20 appearances in all. 'I liked it because it was so busy, the place was alive,' recalls Cliff.
Sometimes it was alive in unexpected ways. Christopher Timothy, now starring in the daytime soap Doctors, remembers when he played vet James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small, 'One day I walked in to the studio and noticed a strange smell,' he says. 'They'd actually built a cow byre in Studio A - with real cows and the real smell! It probably lingers still...'
Radio doesn't have to produce smells but it does have to make the right noises, as Jacob Hickey, producer of Sunday's programme, discovered when he poked his cameras into a recording of Radio 4's The Archers.
'This poor studio manager was dragging huge sackloads across the floor to give the sound effect of grain being moved,' he says. 'The actors were puffing into the microphone while the studio manager did all the work!
'Some sound effects are real. Veterans Norman Painting and Patricia Green - who play Phil and Jill Archer - told us that in their day if a kiss was needed, they kissed the back of their hand. Now, young actors actually snog on air.'
Everyone seems to love the old studio. Telly chef Ainsley Harriot got his first TV break here, cooking on Good Morning with Anne and Nick.
'The first thing I did was pancakes and I heated up the pan really hot,' remembers Ainsley. 'Anne Diamond grabbed the handle and cried "Aaaargh". I thought I was going to get the sack for burning the presenter.'
The less famous will be equally heartbroken to see Pebble Mill close, from Muriel, who's been cleaning the star's dressing rooms since the beginning, to the autograph-hunting brothers who have waited outside the reception doors for the best part of 30 years.
'We're all very sad,' says Toyah Willcox, who has appeared in just about every area of the studios, from presenting Children In Need to appearing in Doctors.
'I think Pebble Mill should be a listed building. It's really special.'
HOW I BROKE FREE
As a successful singer and actress Toyah had to learn many lines. But secretly, she was battling dyslexia and it was ruining her life. In an inspirational interview, she reveals how pioneering exercises freed her from misery
Pop star and TV presenter Toyah Willcox, 47, suffered humiliation and deep depression because of her severe dyslexia and learning difficulties.
Then a revolutionary treatment changed her life. Here, Toyah who is married to musician Robert Fripp but has no children, tells LISA SEWARDS her compelling story. . .
When I was a child, I was acutely aware that I didn't fit in. I still felt the same as an adult. I couldn't spell, found reading incredibly hard and was very bad at learning anything.
I remember filming Quadrophenia in 1979 with Sting, and he was teaching me how to sing the backing vocals to The Police hit Roxanne.
They were simple and famous harmonies, but I couldn't visualise the music or hear the rhythm.
So I ended up smashing furniture around the room and banging my fist down on tables, saying: 'Sting, I will never learn it. I can't learn in the normal way.' He didn't know I was dyslexic. Nor did I admit it.
Back then dyslexia was never talked about. In fact, I now realise that many very bright people, some really high achievers, have lived with these problems throughout their life without ever realising what's caused it.
At the time, David Bowie was using the 'cut up' method to write lyrics. He took sentences, chopped them up, muddled them up and put them back together again. I actually thought and spoke like that, and when I used to try to say something, it would come out in a similar jumble.
Because I couldn't spell or read, I had a poor vocabulary. If I spoke, people would laugh. To make matters worse, I also had a lisp.
At school I was left alone by the teachers because I was slow at reading, writing and maths.
The girls with sparkling repartee were the ones who were always listened to. In my head I had equal ideas, but they just didn't come out of my mouth.
In conversations I struggled to convey my thoughts and went off on tangents.
So at school, I'm embarrassed to admit, I became the bully; the disruptive pupil who wasted the money my father spent on my private education by staring out of the window. I couldn't read a book - it was just a blur of lines. My parents didn't know I was dyslexic. They probably just thought I was lazy.
I developed my own coping strategies, even inventing my own ways of spelling and reading. I learnt stock phrases for interviews and auditions.
Because I couldn't rely on total spontaneity, I'd rehearse a conversation, such as mentioning a newspaper heading and saying 'Isn't this story fascinating?' to pretend I'd read it.
But my life changed beyond recognition in November 2003 following a revolutionary treatment called The Dore Programme, which I believe has virtually cured my dyslexia. I've been so bowled over by it that I'm now a spokesperson for the treatment.
The Dore Programme shows you that you are one of millions in the same boat - regardless of how successful or otherwise you are. It can help not just those suffering from dyslexia, but also from dyspraxia, a condition in which a child is born with severe co-ordination problems.
This can mean they have difficulty doing basic things such as holding a pencil properly or doing up their shoelaces, or have attention deficit disorder, Asperger's syndrome, poor sporting ability and clumsiness.
According to The Dore Programme, these problems all have the same root cause: an underdeveloped cerebellum.
This is the tangerine-sized part of the brain at the base of the skull which processes information, governs balance and makes it automatic for us to carry out actions such as following a line of text. If it is not working well, it can also affect short-term memory.
The system was pioneered by Wynford Dore, a Coventry businessman who decided to find a cure for the condition after his daughter, Susie, tried to kill herself because of it.
He poured millions of his own money into finding a solution. Research from a number of medical experts convinced him that the cerebellum must be stimulated by physical exercises to function to full capacity.
The treatment involves a number of exercises designed to stimulate different parts of the brain with different combinations of balance, eye movement, hand movement, leg movement and so on to unlock the neural pathways that connect the cerebellum to other parts of the brain.
Once the brain rewiring has been done, it's permanent and you don't get any regression.
Exercises include walking downstairs backwards with your eyes closed, throwing a bean bag from one hand to the other and standing on a wobble board or a ball.
It's basically a gym workout for the brain, which enables learning to take place. It isn't a substitute for good teaching, but enables you to learn and recall information automatically. Susie, Mr Dore's daughter, has now completely recovered.
To take part, you go to one of the Dore Achievement Centre's ten UK sites - the first opened in 1999 - to be assessed.
The tests are fun, not threatening, and involve analysing how the brain reacts to different stimuli. One test involves a machine that finds what strategy your body uses for balancing.
Its purpose is to single out the effectiveness of a person's senses. If one is not functioning properly, it can seriously impede co-ordination.
The body uses three things to balance: the inner ear (the vestibular); feelings from joints, muscles and bones; and the brain, to which these feelings are transmitted.
But the striking thing about most people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia is that their brain hardly uses any information from the vestibular.
Another test looks at what happens to your eyes when you're trying to track a moving light. The cerebellum is known to control some eye movements directly related to reading and writing.
The eyes of more than 90 per cent of people with learning difficulties are uncoordinated. So when they're trying to read, the information is absorbed in a scrambled way.
Equally, when they try to write, their hands don't follow an automatic pattern, because they have little memory recall of how each letter is formed and it becomes hard to develop a consistent handwriting style.
The programme also gives you a dyslexia screening test for spelling, reading, writing and memory, as well as neurological tests to make sure that there is no other reason, apart from the underdevelopment of the cerebellum, that is causing the problems.
The first assessment takes about three hours and the second, six weeks later, about an hour-and-a-half. You are reassessed every six weeks until your cerebellum is working to full capacity, which usually takes up to two years.
At the end of each testing session, the computer works out the best exercises for each individual and in which order to kick-start their neural pathways.
You're then allocated two exercises every day in a carefully prescribed order. These are simple and can be done at home in about five minutes.
I started with some basic exercises such as spinning in a circle and then trying to sit on a big gym ball. If I had tried to spin around three years ago, I would have been sick - apparently, many dyslexics and dyspraxics suffer from travel sickness, a sign that the cerebellum isn't working as it should.
I did my exercises religiously for three months, twice a day. The effects were immediate. My life improved within a week of starting the exercises and suddenly the dam wall started to come down.
I have hardly stopped writing since the exercises began to take effect, which is incredible considering writing was once the bane of my life, and my spelling has improved dramatically.
Now I feel my life is speeding up. In the past, I'd have days of being completely frozen in a creative mental block and unable to do anything. My dyslexia had a terrible effect on my songwriting. If I had creative moments, they lasted only an hour, Now the prison door is unlocked, I feel I can work whenever I need to.
Even though I still have certain blocks on names and certain words I can't understand or spell, I no longer get cross. In the past the majority of my energy went on being frustrated.
Now I have learned that this is a wasted emotion. Crucially, my social skills have improved beyond belief.
I used to be lonely socially and felt everyone hated me. But within three weeks of starting the treatment I became immediately confident and now feel able to go up and talk to anyone. My verbal memory recall has been transformed and I can hold conversations without going off at tangents.
I'd always fly off the handle because I couldn't communicate my ideas well enough. That's gone now. My vocabulary is broadening every day.
Whereas I'd read a book a year, I now read a book a week - I'm getting through all the bestsellers - which I find staggering.
I now manage my own finances and spend four hours a day just on managing my investments - several years ago I would not have even tried to read numbers.
I no longer have black days filled with the frustration of not being able to read or write. I've learnt that, because I'm dyslexic, I have a smaller amount of working memory, so if I had a negative thought, I didn't have so much brain space to bring in compensatory thoughts to rationalise it.
Just remembering lists was a problem, so I was getting very frustrated, angry and depressed.
My husband, guitarist Robert Fripp, cannot believe the transformation.
The Dore Programme is not a quick fix, because it takes dedication. However, the course made me instantly happy because I've got the stepping stones to a better life.
The system is also being used by many sportsmen, such as Scotland rugby star Kenny Logan. It is thought to be particularly helpful for sports involving hand-eye co-ordination such as football, rugby and cricket, as it can dramatically improve players' awareness of the ball as well as their awareness of other players on the pitch.
Mr Dore plans eventually to help big-business executives improve their memory and motivational skills and is even researching balance and memory problems in old people, including reducing the effects of Alzheimer's disease.
For me, it has opened a prison door I thought was locked for ever.
The revolutionary Dore Programme is the result of Wynford Dore's desire to find a cure for his daughter Susie, who tried to take her own life because of her dyslexia.
In devising the programme, the millionaire businessman from Coventry followed his instinct that the root of the problem was physical, rather than educational.
Inspired by a book about learning difficulties, he hired an educational psychologist, a GP and flew in the book's author, a New York psychiatrist, for the research - in his garage.
Technology that was first used by astronauts, who suffer a form of temporary dyslexia in space, was used to develop the Dore Programme of exercises.
Research is continuing and the University of Oxford and University of London this year supported his conclusions.
In one study at Balsall Common School in Coventry, the reading abilities of the 40 pupils who had the treatment improved by 300 per cent.
'My aim is for this to be available on the NHS so we can tackle problems before they develop into a crisis like with my daughter,' says Mr Dore
THERAPY ON THE COUCH
In Saturday's Mail, agony aunt Virginia Ironside triggered a fierce debate when she condemned therapy as a fraud. She wrote that having spent £54,000 on different therapist over many years, almost nothing had alleviated her depression. So is she right that the thousands of Britons who spend millions on counselling every year are wasting their money? Here, four celebrities who have been through therapy give their own trenchant opinions on both sides of the debate.
Performer Toyah Willcox, 47, has had a long-distance marriage with guitarist Robert Fripp, 59, for 19 years. His playboy past drove her to a therapist, but it failed to help. In their unusual relationship, she lives in a 17th-century manor house in Worcestershire while he is based thousands of miles away in the US. They have no children. She is currently rehearsing to appear in a pantomime in Milton Keynes.
I came to the same conclusion as Virginia Ironside after seeking help for the deep-rooted jealousy I experienced about my husband's past.
When I met Robert, I had only had two serious relationships, whereas he was a bachelor who had famously been quoted as saying he'd slept with seven women a day when he was touring in the seventies.
After we announced our marriage and I moved in with him, I found his phone never stopped ringing, even in the middle of the night, with old girlfriends calling him up. They typically asked if he fancied one last fling, or whether he was doing the right thing getting married.
I knew Robert loved me and was finally, at the age of 40, ready to settle down, but I got so upset about it I ended up in tears.
I told Robert how I felt and he reassured me and suggested I talk through my anxieties with a psychotherapist he recommended.
I agreed, thinking it would help curb my feelings of distrust for Robert, which were making me aggressive towards him. The therapist, a man at least a decade older than me, only asked for a small voluntary payment of £15.
He let me talk about my concerns, but then suggested it was unnatural for a woman to be so possessive of her man. He even tried to make me belive that should my husband stray, I would be to blame.
He was a very successful, respected therapist and had I been a more vulnerable or fragile person, I might have listened to him. Instead, after my second session, I just felt belligerent. The therapist again tried to tell me that my instincts were wrong, and even had the audacity to ask me what was wrong with infidelity.
It became very clear he condoned extra-marital relationships, and I actually felt I was being primed to be a stay-at-home wife who should turn a blind eye to any infidelities. The therapist was following his own agenda, not mine, and his behaviour was remarkably dangerous. I don't like to think what might happen if he gets hold of a weaker character.
Fortunately, I stopped our sessions there and then. Later, I doscovered he'd had an affair with at least one of his female patients, so my instincts had been correct.
Robert and I did survive because we spent a few days seeing an American relationship counsellor together, who talked common sense and made us realise that we both had to acknowledge each other's history and move on together, which we have done very happily.
That kind of positive help can be useful. It's the counselling which makes you feel worse about yourself which is so damaging.
Toyah Willcox is a woman of many talents – a musical icon, a talented stage performer and even an author. As a native of Worcestershire, Toyah launched the County Council’s new recycling campaign ‘Mission Impossible: Target 75’ earlier this year.
The Autumn issue of WoW features a summary of the exclusive Toyah interview, but here you can read her answers in full...
My Worcestershire – with Toyah Willcox
With the release of your book ‘Diary of a Facelift’ and your busy schedule of live shows, do you ever find the time to enjoy living in Pershore?
I have enough time to enjoy where I live. That said, I’m in London most days. Recently, I’ve decided to commute daily as the atmosphere in London is very uncomfortable after the bomb attacks.
My schedule is such that I used to spend five days a week in London, where I have a home as well as in Worcestershire, but now thanks to technology I can have meetings around the world with lawyers, record companies and publishers from my office at home, which means I’m aiming to spend less time travelling to ‘the big smoke’.
For me, Worcestershire offers what I often refer to as ‘real life’ where I can be with real people who value the same things that I value – those are strength of community and goodwill to others. My husband Robert Fripp and myself have lived here for four years now and we wish we’d moved here 20 years ago as we both get equally homesick whenever we have to leave.
We have visitors from all over the world to our home and many are A-List names. They all go away saying they’d like to move to where we live because it is not only a great looking place but they feel safe and welcome here.
What do you like the most and the least about where you live?
I like the fact that my parents are in a safe environment – they live in the next village. In fact, I can’t think about one thing that I dislike about the area. I’m a fierce believer in farming. It’s utter madness to turn food-producing land into other usage when we are an island that may one day need to sustain itself and, considering the way things are with imports, we’re dependent on mainland Europe for a lot of our food. Utter madness, and a terrorist’s dream situation.
I think this area works so well for my husband and I because we have established careers and can travel far and wide. It’s a perfect place to come home to and recharge our batteries and possibly retire.
We don’t have any of the big name shops on our high street, which I see as a blessing. It makes our high street unique in many ways. My office looks out onto the high street and whenever I see an elderly person stumble, which is too often, I also witness everyone around running to help. There was one occasion when I was on the phone doing a live Radio 2 interview when I saw a lady fall outside and I thought I was going to have to drop the phone live on air and help her, but the rest of the street got there first. That’s what I like about where I live – people care about each other. I never feel lonely here because I don’t think I’ve ever walked down the high street without having a conversation with someone I’ve never met before.
The only thing I would dislike is if it were to change too much. If it’s not broken, why fix it? But perhaps that’s an impossible thing to wish. Changes happen to sustain population.
The architecture where I live is magnificent. Whenever I drive into town my heart lifts to see such a perfect high street. Some buildings are made of golden stone that glows in the sunlight and I feel immensely proud to live here. It’s almost timeless.
You’ve been helping the County Council to promote recycling and waste minimisation recently. Do you ‘slim your bin’ at home?
We most definitely slim our bin. We have a compost heap where all our vegetable matter goes, we’re vegetarian and we eat fresh local produce. We gather all our old paper and all our plastics and aluminium. The amount of recyclable stuff that two people can generate is staggering – we put out at least two large bags each of paper, plastics and glass every week!
It’s so easy to recycle these days. We have regular collections on our street and once you’re in the habit of asking yourself “Is this reusable, could it have another life?” you instinctively sort and save things as part of your everyday life. When I’m touring it’s impossible to recycle when you’re going from hotel to hotel, so I keep all my recyclables in bags in the boot of my car and sort it out when I get home!
Would you encourage your friends to visit Worcestershire?
We do regularly and they’re always amazed at how easy it is to get to and how beautiful it is. I boast often that I can get to any part of the UK in four hours without any hassle. I can drive to Glasgow, Dover, Swansea or Lands End all within a reasonable time and, believe me, I do it regularly. For a touring artist who hates the hassle of airports the geography is perfect.
We have people visit us from all over the world, from Australia to LA, and they love it here because it’s close to being unspoilt in relation to the big cities. The countryside is sublime. I adore seeing the fruit orchards, the roadside stalls and the majesty of the Malvern Hills.
I tell everyone who loves JRR Tolkien and The Lord Of The Rings to drive to junction 7 of the M5 where the hill that inspired Bilbo Baggins’ home still stands with a tree right on the top. Tolkien knew this area well and all my life I’ve been convinced that this little hill next to the M5 is the inspiration for the illustrations that Tolkien drew himself.
As a local Council Tax payer, do you think you get value for money?
I think we get incredible value for money here. I live outside of Worcester City, where I’m sure the money has to spread further, but where I live we have a fantastic council that keeps our town pristine. Our local hospitals are the best, better than London, and I’m a supporter of Evesham Hospital which is superb.
We do as much for young people as possible, giving them communal space. The services here run like clockwork. I would only fear too much modernisation. There’s a great spirit here, it’s all about the people and sometimes modernisation depersonalises everything and takes the soul out of the community.
And finally, how would you sum up Worcestershire in one sentence?
Worcestershire is the true heart of a country known for its history as much as its beauty – it has everything.
Word On Worcestershire
FACING UP TO REALITY
Alice Eaton talks to Toyah Willcox about punk, reality TV and her recent facelift
Most women would rather die than go public about any procedures they may have had at the hands of their plastic surgeon - but not Toyah Willcox.
Unlike many of her contemporaries in the showbiz world who hotly deny any subtle touching up on Mother Nature's behalf, when Toyah decided to go under the knife for what she says was a much-needed facelift, she wasn't content with confessing the fact to a few close friends over lunch. She wrote a book about the whole experience and, in the weeks following the operation, was frequently quoted on television and in the tabloids extolling the overwhelming benefits the procedure has had in her life.
This typical unveiled openness from the one-time punk princess is what promises to make An Evening with Toyah Willcox, being held this month at North Finchley's artsdepot, of which she is a patron, an event full of revelations and juicy gossip.
"I always knew that I would have surgery from when I was a teenager," explains 47-year-old Toyah, when I call her Midlands home to find out more about the upcoming engagement.
"I'd wake up in the morning feeling fantastic and would go to the mirror and the person staring back looked like someone who hadn't slept for a month. I have a lot of energy that is disproportionate to my age, and my face and the way I was feeling were growing apart at a rate of knots," she laughs.
She admits the facelift has completely changed her life but is careful to point out that her motive for writing the book, entitled Diary of a Facelift, was not to encourage others to go down the same path, but to give an honest account of the whole procedure, stitches and all.
"I work in an industry where I don't know anyone who hasn't had something done, but even my best friends don't admit to it. There is a lot on television about plastic surgery but no-one has ever asked the patient what it is actually like. The book is all about getting the body ready for major surgery as well as the recovery afterwards. I know a number of doctors who have actually given the book to people who are having major organ surgery as it shows them how to prepare for it and how to achieve maximum recovery."
Toyah has also had a huge response from women who have already had plastic surgery as well as those thinking of taking the plunge.
"I have had letters from women who have found it a huge relief to read that it is usual for the skin to take ten weeks before it is back to normal as there are times when you think you are never going to look normal again. I have also had women who wanted to know what it would be like to have a facelift and have read the book and decided against it, which is also a positive outcome."
Although Toyah's experience with plastic surgery has been a completely positive one, she is quick to speak out against young girls changing their shape to suit the industry.
"For me it was a completely personal choice - I couldn't live with myself. But I do have a problem with young girls having surgery to achieve bigger busts and having their skin pulled around before they are fully developed. This is the reason why we need to be more open about everything we do to ourselves."
Despite this conviction, Toyah doesn't intend to go into too much detail about her surgery on the actual evening, mainly because she says a lot of the details may be too graphic for some audience members.
"I experienced no pain from the surgery but some people have actually passed out when I have gone into details so I am going to be careful."
There is no shortage of other material to go on when it comes to Toyah's career. Since springing onto the 70s punk music scene as a fresh-faced singer with spiky pink hair and an attitude to match, Toyah has never looked back. Hit records followed, including the aptly named Sheep Farming in Barnet, and she was soon to be seen in a number of prestigious stage and screen roles, including memorable appearances in cult films Jubilee and Quadrophenia, work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as sharing the screen with Hollywood greats Katherine Hepburn in The Corn is Green and Sir Lawrence Olivier in Granada TV's film version of The Ebony Tower.
More recently, Toyah took the title role in the stage musical, Calamity Jane, on London's West End, and young parents and their offspring may be more familiar with the voice of Toyah offering the calming goodbye in the popular CBeebies series Teletubbies.
Toyah puts her diverse career down to persistence and self-belief.
"I am incredibly proactive," she admits.
"There is a trait among actors to have too much pride to actually go out and get work. My agent says he has never known an actor like me. I have no qualms about calling up a TV company and asking if they have got anything for me. People generally have preconceptions of other people and this is a way of getting rid of them, otherwise I would have for ever been seen as a punk rocker."
It is this tenacity that saw Toyah fighting for survival in the ITV reality show I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
"I absolutely loved the first series of I'm A Celebrity so I got in touch with the producers and asked them, if they were ever doing it again, to consider me."
However, it proved to be more of a challenge than she realised.
"It was incredibly hard because we were hungry and that drives you mad," she remembers.
"I normally eat five times a day but we were being fed once a day and they took away any fruits or plants from the jungle so we couldn't even forage for food. It is very hard to stay civil when you are hungry and I had to learn to control my temper as all I wanted to do was eff and blind and smash the place up. If I had known I was going to be that hungry, I might have thought a bit more before volunteering myself but I am still glad I did it."
With so many different career paths trodden, from actor, presenter, singer to reality TV star, it is difficult to pin down the real Toyah and that is exactly the result she hopes to achieve.
"The industry is so corporate and the moment I feel I am conforming and fitting into the ideal', I take a job that goes against the grain. I love doing different things and am comfortable presenting anything, from sex to religion."
So what is she most proud of?
"I am not a retrospective person - I get up in the morning and deal with what I have to do. I don't operate through pride, I operate through zest for life.
"But if I am proud of anything, it is of still being around."
An Evening with Toyah Willcox is on Sunday October 16 at 8pm at artsdepot, Tally Ho Corner, North Finchley, London N12. Call the box office on 020 8369 5454 or visit www.artsdepot.co.uk
TOYAH TOYAH TOYAH
Whether you think cosmetic surgery is sad, superficial vanity or a brave attempt to keep the march of time at bay, it's not often a household-name star admits to having had facial surgery. It's even rarer when she decides to make public a detailed, personal diary which gives a blow-by-blow account of the whole process, from the critical decision and the search for the right surgery, to the nerve-wracking waiting period, the surgery itself, the recovery and on to the final transformation.
Yet that is exactly what Toyah Willcox did earlier this year when she launched a book detailing her own facelift experiences. As she embarks upon an "Audience with Toyah..." national tour, including a trip to Fife, here the former punk tells Michael Alexander why she felt compelled to write the book and why she thinks more celebrities should "come clean" on having had surgery.
In her latest publicity pictures, Toyah Willcox looks younger than her 47 years, but then she's not scared to admit she had a face lift two years ago. Feeling and looking tired after a year touring in the title role of Calamity Jane, and after years of contemplation, she decided to freshen herself up because she "couldn't look at herself in the mirror any more". Battling "inner turmoil" about whether she was being vain or shallow - even as she prepared to go into theatre for the operation - she now says she has no regrets spending £7500 on the controversial surgery which, she says, rejuvunated her self-esteem.
She only wished more celebrities would be honest with the public and themselves, however, by admitting they too have had surgery.
"I don't know anyone presently in the industry who has not had cosmetic procedures done," the flame-haired diva told me from her home in London, her trademark lisp instantly recognisable.
"Ninety per cent of people in entertainment wouldn't even class botox as a cosmetic procedure. And the audiences wonder why these people never seem to age!"
Toyah said she felt compelled to write her book, Diary Of A Facelift, for so many reasons, but one of the many is that she feels cosmetic surgery is not about vanity and A-list superstars, but increasingly about "survival" in a world where most people live longer than ever, raising questions about stars' rights to remain in the workforce.
"Good health comes from diet and exercise, but I feel very strongly that dishonesty is not right," she continued. "If the A-list stars keep getting younger yet deny they have had surgery, they are, in a way allowing the inappropriate surgeons to prosper and the brilliant surgeons to exist in secrecy. We all deserve equality when it comes to seeking self-improvement - as we all increasingly are. But I don't think surgery's a necessity to get on in the entertainment industry. I had a body dismorphic disorder. I did it to improve my self-esteem, and it worked 100%. But that was a personal thing for me. No one should ever have plastic surgery because others have told them to."
Although her facelift is topical and is bound to be mentioned when she holds her "Audience with..." event in deepest, darkest Lochgelly on Sunday, the star says she won't be saying too much about it. "Some people might not even be able to look at a syringe. Most of those who have fainted when I've talked about it in the past have been men. I even had a cameraman pass out on me once! So I won't be going into too much detail. A lot of people out there won't want to know!"
So what, then, can the audience expect?
"It's going to be very informal and I will be singing because I'd be mad to do this and not be singing. We'll be doing it in two halves. In the first half I'll be talking about my life with anecdotal statements and giving an insight into showbiz. I'm in control of that part because I know what I'm going to talk about.
"The second half though will take the form of a question-and-answer session, and it can go anywhere. I love doing that. It's usually very funny. People ask me the most bizarre questions and it can really go off at a tangent.
"This will be my first tour. I've never done anything like this before. But it's not new for me. The thing is a lot of the work I've done the public have not seen. I do motivational talks. I do them in private and have never done them before a public audience. I've done 20 years of after-dinner speaking. This tour will be a very real thing to do. To be face to face with an audience just feet away, it'll be nice, fun and informal."
Billed as a chance to "meet Toyah and hear her inspirational, funny and unorthodox life story", the audience will certainly have plenty of material to ask about in her diverse career, fro mher days as an iconic rock star in the 1970s to the TV presenter and author. Musical accompaniment will come from Chris Wong, the guitar player of her curent band line-up.
PUNK STAR TOYAH
Legend's soft spot for area
Brummie-born punk princess Toyah Willcox thrilled fans at Wolverhampton's Robin 2 club with a storming set last night.
Toyah blended some of her greatest hits, including It's A Mystery, with some of her favourite rock anthems to the delight of a packed out crowd.
And 80s legend Toyah, 47, revealed she has a real soft spot for Black Country audiences.
Speaking before the gig Toyah, who has played the city three times, praised local rock fans, saying they were some of the best she'd played in front of in her 30 years of touring. She said: "You get really great crowds here. Wolverhampton has really passionate fans who get involved and are great to play to."
Last night's concert was filmed for a new DVD which will be in the shops for Christmas. It means people attending the concert will be able to buy a permanent momento of the night, together with behind the scenes footage and interviews.
Toyah returns to thrill her loyal fans in city
Crowd is in raptures as princess of punk sings
Punk princess Toyah returned to her roots last night with a gig in Wolverhampton, Mark Douglas spoke to her
Brummie punk star Toyah stormed into Wolverhampton last night and revealed why the West Midlands holds a special place in her heart.
Toyah played a riotous set at Bilston's Robin 2 club as part of her sell-out UK tour, and said she loved the passionate crowds she draws in this area.
Speaking before the packed out gig Toyah, who has played the city three times, said: "You get really great crowds here. Wolverhampton has really passionate fans who get involved and are great to play to. I played this venue six or eight years ago and I always remember it being a good gig because the audience can really get involved with you."
Backed up by a six-piece band, including a brass section, Toyah belted out a selection of hits from three decades to fans last night.
Toyah played the Civic Centre last year, and said it was great to return to the West Midlands. The flaxen-haired rock star said: "I love heraing the accent. Wherever you go in the world you can always tell when there is a Brummie around and I absolutely love it."
Toyah spent all of yesterday filming a new live DVD at Robin 2, with interviews, live footage and behind-the-scenes extras all being filmed by a camera crew.
The Robin 2 gig was a bit of a shift of gear for Toyah, who has been selling out huge 20,000 venues as part of the 80s nostalgia Here And Now tour.
She said: "I think I like bigger venues because there is no feeling like going out in front of 20,000 people and performing.
"But this place looks fantastic and they have done a great job of refurbishing it."
This year has been a busy time for Toyah as she has re-released all of her back catalogue of punk classics. And she is still busy as a TV presenter and actress, which has seen her star on everything from popular travel show Holiday to Songs Of Praise.
Birmingham Express & Star
TOTAL BODY CHECK-UP
Height: 5ft 1
Weight: 8st 3lbs
Health problems: None
To find out if celebs benefit from their glam lifestyles, we test their bodies using a health assessment by Re-Aqua. It evaluates blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of diabetes and weight - looking at body fat percentages. We sent Toyah to try it out.
Do you have a food or drink vice?
"I have a very sweet tooth, so I treat myself to one Kinder Bueno a day. I don't drink at all."
What would you change about your body?
"I'd like to minimise my curves. I think I'm fit for my age but, as I'm getting older, my body's changing shape. However much I exercise, I don't think I look athletic because I'm busty."
Workout or yoga?
"I work out every day. I do two hours' fast walking on the running machine, weights and cycling. And I plan on taking up yoga soon."
Do you take any supplements?
"Too many. I take hemp and flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, vitamin E, Cool Oil by the Groovy Food Company (for omega oils) and acidophilus every day. I haven't had a cold since I added zinc, and I also take Glucosamine, which is good for joints."
BLOOD PRESSURE: Toyah's diastolic blood pressure - the minimum pressure between beats when the heart relaxes - is a healthy 78. It should be between 70 and 90, so this is spot-on.
Toyah: "My blood pressure has always been on the lower side so I'm not suprised by this result. In fact, I'm really pleased with it."
WEIGHT: Toyah's body fat is slightly high at 29.8 per cent. It should be between 22 and 28 per cent. But it's nothing to worry about.
Toyah: "I work out for two hours every day and thought I'd have too much muscle and not enough fat, so I'm pleased about this. I'm not worried about losing weight."
DIABETES: Toyah's blood-sugar level is very low. Her glucose level is 1.2 (it should be less than seven) so, at the moment, she has no risk of developing diabetes.
Toyah: "This result is great. I'm very surprised as everything these days contains sugar - even bran flakes."
CHOLESTEROL: Toyah's total cholesterol is 4.2, which is fine as it should be less than five. Her level of "good" cholesterol is only 0.61 though - it should be over one. Toyah should take 1,000mg of vitmain C a day to boost this level.
Toyah: "It looks like I'll have to add vitamin C to my supplement list."
EXPERT'S VERDICT: Celebrity fitness trainer Nicki Waterman says: "Toyah is fit and healthy, but I'd expect her body fat to be lower. I advise her to invest in a heart-rate monitor so she can check the intensity of her workout. They're available from sports shops, or log on to www.heartratemonitor.co.uk. When walking and cycling, Toyah should head outdoors. A hilly route will help burn calories and give her heart and lungs a better workout. She should pick a few different routes to avoid boredom."
In a career spanning almost 30 years Toyah Willcox has been a successful recording artist, film and stage actor, writer and businesswoman. She talks to Fitness First about beauty, image and writing her compellingly open and honest account of her recent facelift.
Q. We live in a very image-obsessed age and on one hand, some might see this as evidence of our shallowness, others might argue that failing to make the effort to look one's best indicates somehow a lack of self-respect or ambition. Do you feel that society should place so much importance on image and do you think this puts too much pressure on people - particularly the young?
A. Society has placed importance on image from as far back as the Pharaohs. Image has set Kings and Queens apart from the common hordes throughout the centuries therefor it is only natural in all cultures for people to question if their image reflects their successes in life, whether it be in finding a mate, or getting a job or in getting a role in a movie. There is nothing shallow about self-appearance because I believe it is natural to care about one's looks.
Do we put too much importance on image? Only when obsessed with an unnatural level of perfection. I do get despondent with the media for selling us what is beautiful and what is not, because surely beauty should be about celebrating diversity, but it seems we only get the 'Barbie doll' images shining happily from our magazine pages.
I have always said that if we can teach our sons to believe they are leaders from an early age then we can teach our daughters the same and that goes for enforcing self-worth. It is a crime to give the young the impression that ageing is something to fear or to be ashamed of. That said I neither fear nor feel shame in the ageing process I simply want to prolong a quality of life in an industry that will always be image conscious. I love my work and I love the entertainment industry, telling me to go away and have therapy so I can learn to age gracefully would be like telling a porn star to have therapy to remain a virgin. I fully accept the values of my workplace.
Q. In Diary Of A Facelift you recount a story about how, despite Katharine Hepburn's incredible talent her earliest reviews were all (negatively) about her appearance. Did you feel that your own achievements over the years were being sidelined by the public's preoccupation with looks?
A. It is true that in recent years my looks dominated my achievements when it came to critical comment. You say in your question 'the public's comments' - the public have nothing to do with this, they are passive readers. The comments I received were media reaction, people who decided it was more worthwhile to say I looked 'haggard' than to say 'wow what a great performance', that's life, it doesn't alter my talent, I am still talented, it doesn't alter my ambition, I am still ambitious, and all it does is stop me buying the newspapers and buy their rivals instead.
Punk star Toyah wows crowd
Q. Fitness First recently commissioned a survey that revealed that 15 per cent of British people would be prepared to pay over £10,000 to wake up tomorrow and find their body in the best shape it could possibly be. Do you feel that beauty will become more viewed as a commodity?
A. I find it surprising that only 15 per cent said this, I thought it would be more like 60 per cent. undoubtedly to some, beauty is a commodity, I can think of a hundred examples and not all of them are flattering. But what I have undergone is not about beauty it is about 'freshening up' and liberating myself from a potential 40 years of ageist reviews and comments such as 'are you angry?', 'have you been crying?', and 'are you not well?'. I'm 46 I have at least another 40 years in me and I want those years to be happy, after all I have worked for it and have saved for it, so is beauty increasingly going to be seen as a commodity, yes - but I have news for you - it has been since printing was invented.
Q. You refer to Sharon Osbourne and Debbie Harry as being the only people prepared to admit their cosmetic surgery. Why do you think there is so much more stigma attached to facial surgery as opposed to say, breast enhancement?
A. I admire them for being honest and admitting to surgery in a hostile environment. Breast implants are associated with young women and latest fashion and face lifts are associated with sad, ageing women, now that is what I call shallow. Face lifts have been around for over a century and have almost exclusively been the practice of the super-rich.
In recent years surgery has improved to the point that one need never have to admit to having had it because it's all starting to look natural (in the good cases). The danger here is that if we don't talk about it, misinformed women could go to 'cowboys' for surgery and we need to regulate this industry. Also we need to eradicate from our minds that ageing means we step outside of society. Personally I have never been more qualified in life to work and advise and I am showing no signs of slowing down. We have all seen in the space of a few years that the 30's are becoming the new 20's and 40's becoming the new 30's, we are all remaining healthier longer, this will mean we will remain sexually active longer and I don't know anyone who has sex and doesn't care about their image.
Q. Having your Diary published was an extremely brave and possibly risky step - was your motivation to achieve some sort of catharsis or a genuine desire to help others by recounting your experiences and your delight with the obvious positive result?
A. I wrote the book because if I see another advert for a beauty product with a surgically-enhanced model promoting it, I will scream and if I meet another woman who tells me she looks 10 years younger than she is, because she drinks water, I will scream again. Surgery is very, very common. It needs to enter our every day vocabulary in order to protect those who are considering it.
Q. During your career you have successfully reinvented yourself on numerous occasions and it is quite evident that you are thrilled with both your appearance and your self image at the moment - do you have any more surprises left for us?
A. Do I have any other surprises left? Well of course. Where there is secrecy there is the element of surprise, just watch this space.
Diary Of A Facelift by Toyah Willcox is available at all good bookshops priced £14.99 in illustrated hardback.
It includes a detailed appendix of practical advice aimed at anyone considering or about to undergo facial surgery.
HOW GREEN IS
Very green, if you happen to live in the Vale of Conwy. It's a verdant swathe of farmland and forest stretching from the coast of the foothills of Snowdonia. Not only that, but along the way there's Bondant, one of Britain's finest gardens. Toyah Willcox, an enthusiast of all things green, takes a look:
Katharine Hepburn once said to me that Wales was the most beautiful place on Earth. She was referring to North Wales - Snowdonia to be precise. According to the brochures, it's a 'land carved by glaciers and bathed in mystery, so much so it will draw you back time and time again'. Well it has only taken me 26 years to return, but I have been somewhat busy. If I'm not on stage, on the TV or writing a book I'm probably starving in the depths of the Australian jungle or trying to get the tea stains off my best porcelain mugs. I don't know how I do it but I always manage to forget to have holidays.
Now I am winding down the A470 from the coast towards Betws-y-Coed. It may sound romantic and believe me, it is! I am on my way through the Vale of Conwy and thinking I should have come back sooner.
I have the grand boast of being able to say I spent two months in Betws-y-Coed in 1978 making a film with the late, legendary Katharine Hepburn and director George Cukor. We were filming a remake of Emlyn William's The Corn Is Green, a Welsh classic. Most of our time was spent waiting for the rain to thin and the fighter jets from some nearby air base to stop 'buzzing' us. but that said, the warmth of the people and the magnitude of the natural beauty left an indelible and delectable mark on my memory.
Now I'm pulling into the drive of Tan-y-Foel Country House (the English pronounce it 'ton of oil') after a pleasant and not too long journey from London.
On first appearances it looks like a small, well-maintained guest house, albeit one with magnificent views over Snowdonia. Then I step through the front door and am blown away. Tan-y-Foel is a little gem.
Take the snappy modernism of London's Soho House and the grandeur of Bath's Ston Easton Park, remove the stuffiness and pomp of both and condense them into a six-bedroom private country house and you have Tan-y-Foel. The locals call it the 'posh Japanes place on the hill'. I call it 'yummy'. It's clean, crisp, friendly, incredibly relaxing and plainly adored by the Pitman family 'mother', father and daughter' who created it and run it personally.
I arrived with the world on my shoulders, worrying about misplaced e-mails, VAT accounts and a leaking immersion tank. Within five minutes the lot was forgotten. My only criticism was that my room was so comfortable (four-poster bed, large batheroom, etc, etc) that I could easily have stayed put and not walked a single hill.
Next morning I was greeted by the view over the rocky peaks of Snowdonia that gives Scotland, Switzerland or France a run for their money. But I wasn't here to climb mountains but to look at something a little less wild. Beneath me lay a beautiful, broad vale carved by the River Conwy. It was a garden in itself, with neat fields and rivermeadows flanked by hills and forests. My destination, however, was the genuine article.
Gardens spring from the soul, they are the last true freedom of expression we have in this day and age. Within six miles of the hotel is one the National Trust's showpiece properties - Bodnant gardens, 32 hectares of sumptuous colour laid out in a stunning way and filled with rhododendrons, azaleas, camelias, magnolia, hydrangeas, clematis and freesias.
So much pleases the eye here - almost too much if such a thing were possible. Don't even try to spend a few hours at Bodnant. Think about most of the day, because this is an experience you really shouldn't hurry as hectare upon brilliantly conceived hectare unfolds before you.
I almost started off on the wrong foot, if you are not careful or vigilant you, like many, could miss Bodnant's most famous feature, the Laburnum Arch, which is immediately on your left as you enter. Originally planted in the 1880's in the form of a curved tunnel, it is an overwhelming mass of yellow blooms from mid-May to mid-June.
Strolling through the arch, surrounded by reflective golden light thrown from a galaxy of grape-like flowers I bumped into a superstar among gardeners, Martin Puddle, Bodnant's third-generation Head Gardener. He wasn't hard to find. He was the one everyone was stopping to congratulate on keeping a garden of such enormity so pristine.
Martin walked with me to the five grand terraces. I stopped in awe. Bodnant's unique character comes from the way in which it has used the fall of the land to such striking effect, stepping down the hillside in a sequence of huge Italianate terraces into the wooded Dell at the front of everything.
Ahead of me was a lily pond the size of a small football pitch and tumbling below that was the Rose Terrace, followed by the Canal Terrace. And it didn't stop there! The formality of these terraces has a counterpint in the Winter Dell, a delicious mix of tangled woodland, shrubs and water features leading to an old mill.
We stood in admiration for the great mind (and income) that created this homage to Gardener's World. Bodnant is one of those fingerprints that the can-do industrialists of old left on the land along with satanic mills and titanic bridges. First on the scene was Henry Davis Pochin, a successful chemist (he invented, of all things, white soap!). But it was his grandson, the second Lord Aberconway, who really left his mark, creating Bodnant's glorious terraces.
Martin explained that at one end of the Canal Terrace was a stage for outdoor performances and at the other was the Pin Mill. It didn't look anything like a mill to me, even though I am reliably informed that it once served as a pin factory. It seemed more like the 'great big Greek thingy' you see on the hill as soon as you enter Athens.
What I love about this garden is that surprises like that keep on coming. Bodnant has so many levels, literally and metaphorically. Once you have explored the Laburnum Arch, navigated the terraces and admired the perfectly framed views across to Snowdonia, you still have The Dell in which to delve.
On the descent I discovered a magnolia (Magnolia Wilsoni) growing low enough to the ground for my short little legs to reach a bloom and sniff. It has the most extraordinary fragrance of passion fruit and vanilla. And, providing yet another contrast, in The Dell I had to peer skywards to see the top of the largest giant redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in Britain, one of the many magnificent specimens of 200-year-old native and introduced trees.
After the splendour and the crowds - for Bodnant is incredibly popular - I headed back into the Vale of Conwy. gardens and gardening are a passion in these parts. I'd been told about the small, neat village of Rowen, just across the valley. Every two years, the villagers open up their gardens to visitors and hill walkers. Although this won't be happening again until 2006, it's worth a visit at any time. Rowen, the complete opposite to the lavish wealth of Bodnant, is brimming with affordable inspiration and ideas. It's a rare sight in modern Britain to see such an unspoilt, timeless village. there's even a fabulously, uncrowded tea room - a huge welcome after the queues st Bodnant - called Pen-y-Bont where you can nourish yourself with everything from chicken breast in wine to home-made lemon sponge. And it's cheap but delicious!
Even though I had by now been thoroughly spoilt by the vale I always like to save the best till last. I have such vivid memories of filming in Betws-y-Coed I couldn't wait to return to see if it had changed in the 26 years since I was last there.
In many ways it hadn't. The hotel I had stayed at looked exactly the same. But further up into the town, I couldn't believe the number of shops - many, many of them, selling outdoor gear to crafts. I suppose this is no bad thing since when I was last here it was nearly impossible to feed yourself past sunset. But, one thing, I'm pleased to report, hasn't changed - those magical walks.
Good walking routes sprout in every direction from the centre of town. I chose the Swallow Falls Walk. I was on my own but still felt very safe. In this area there's a huge love of the outdoors, so wherever you venture you bump into like-minded people.
The Swallow Falls Walk takes you through shaded pine trees where the heady scent reminded me of a hot Mediterranean evening. I was there in the height of summer and the famous falls were what I would call friendly, trickling and welcoming, but I'm sure that after a serious rainfall the whole experience would change dramatically. As the sun started to fade this was a moment of bliss. It allowed me to visit old territory in my memories; of Katharine Hepburn chatting with the locals, completely under their spell; of the film crew lugging huge lights up the hillsides to shoot the night shots; of the phone calls to the Ministry of Defence asking them to re-route the fighter jets.
But my most enduring memory was of sitting in a field with Miss Hepburn talking about glamorous Hollywood and at the sam time thinking to myself, 'nothing compares with this'.
The article also includes a substantial 'travelfile', with details on how visitors can experience everything Toyah did.
A View of Wales
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
Does Reincarnation Exist? In a New TV Series, Celebrities Are Hypnotised and Regressed to See If They Have Lived Before, While a 'History Detective' Looks for Factual Evidence of Their Stories. Here, Three of the Stars Describe the Experience.
Actress TOYAH WILLCOX, 47, discovered that her past life was spent as a hermit in a church cell.
She says: I've done past lives regression several times and it's never the same experience - but I have come up with quite surprisingly tangible characters. Once I was a gamekeeper, John Adams, on an estate near Bournemouth in 1750, and, when we looked into it, we found he was a relative of my husband, Robert. I'd never heard of him and Robert hadn't, either. So that was quite disturbing.
The theory is that, if it's a good marriage, you stay with your partner through several lives, swapping sexes - and I've been married to Robert for 19 years.
This time I came up with the story of an anchoress - a woman who would have been bricked up inside a church to live the life of a hermit. I was in a film called Anchoress some years ago, so I knew something about them, but the anchoress I emerged as during hypnosis seemed to be part of a completely different cult, from an exclusive community of women who were hostile to men.
Most anchoresses were educated, well looked after and had gone into it voluntarily. But I was living in my own excrement, which rang alarm bells with the historian. I had foot rot and my hair was falling out.
I named her - she was Naomi Gunter - and I said I was in Holland. Most anchoresses had all the comforts. People came to see them to tell them their sins. But mine was bricked up in the lepers' corner of this church and the visitors had stopped coming. She was dying and she'd been forgotten. I said the village had gone pagan.
Also, she'd been forced into this life, aged 14.
The researcher said that wasn't what usually happened, which led him to explore further, and his detective work suddenly pulled the strings together.
In 14th-century Holland, there were women called the Beguines and, unusually, one of them was always chosen as an anchoress - so I could have been there unwillingly.
If I had time, I'd research it further.
Personally, I believe that we have genetic memory, as well as, very possibly, a memory of past lives. I think it's all there, stored away in the biological microchip of who you are. So I'm very openminded. The experience didn't really affect me, but the John Adams regression, years ago, did, because at that point I didn't believe in reincarnation. I thought about it for years after that.
Have I Been Here Before? is on ITV1 every weekday at 1.30pm.
At 46, Toyah Willcox felt that the world was already treating her as an old woman. Here, the actress tells Christa D'Souza why she decided to have a facelift and then write a book about it - complete with graphic photos
'I'm nobody's mother figure now'
As I pull into the train station, it is hard - even from a distance - not to pick out Toyah Willcox immediately. It's not just the bright red hair - it's the childish, stocky figure, dressed in head-to-toe black and pogo-ing from foot to foot because of the cold.
So this is the heroine of my punky teens. I have spent all weekend with my nose stuck in her new book, Diary Of A Facelift, which describes in deliciously gory detail the 11,000-euro operation she underwent in Paris last year. Rude to stare, I know, but it's going to be hard to avoid it. After all, what does a woman of 46 (that's just two years older than me) look like up-close after she's had a facelift?
If the book's cover is anything to go by, she looks wonderful: a veritable Botticelli, with her long blood-orange locks and enigmatic half-smile a million years away from the pouchy platinum-blonde she was in I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here. Or indeed from the Mohican-haired headbutter of the late 1970s and early 1980s. But a photograph is a photograph: I want to see the real thing.
Ah, and here it is... looking, if truth be told, not quite as nubile as her book cover suggests, and a little - well - bright in her thick layer of foundation and pink lipstick for this gloomy Black Country light... but amazing, none the less.
Her skin, even with all that make-up, has a surreal, luminous quality as if it has been lit from inside and, apart from some tiny lines when she smiles (which she does often, if not with abandon), her face is wrinkle-free. That slight turkey wattle, so unforgivingly show-cased on I'm A Celebrity, has disappeared, and her neck forms a perfect right angle with her pretty, pointy chin, making me instinctively want to give the underside of mine a few pats with the back of my hand.
And the scars? When we reach the first set of red lights, she happily lifts back a bank of hair and shows me what merely looks like a bramble-scratch behind her left ear. It is only when she parts the hair that I can see what her clever surgeon, Dr Olivier De Frahon - the man rumoured to have been behind Silvio Berlusconi's "fresh" new features - actually did.
Starting the incision just in front of the ear, he traced it around behind and then went way back into the hairline - which allowed him to lop off the excess skin, reposition the muscles around Toyah's sagging jaw-line and tighten her neck. The incisions he made below the lower lashes, for the eye-lift she was so desperate to have, have left no trace.
"What's so fabulous", says Toyah, in that faintly Brummie lisp we all know from Teletubbies, "is that I don't feel so vulnerable. Before, it was like every bit of emotional baggage I'd ever experienced was etched on my face for all to see: now, it's not there and I can be who I like, which is what actresses are supposed to be able to do, right?"
Oh, and there's one other thing she's had done which has made a huge difference. Can I figure out what it is? No, no idea. "Look, can't you see?" she says, giving her hair a girlish toss. "he made them smaller! people don't realise this, but ear lobes sag - they get longer and bigger as you get older. See, subliminally, men know this just like they subconsciously know that it's a woman's hands or her neck which tell her age better than her boobies. My little lobes, I'm sure of it, make a big subliminal impact."
It was exactly this time last year that Toyah found herself lying in an operating theatre on the outskirts of Paris, with a drip in her arm and tears running down her face. She was possessed by a fear so acute, as she puts it in the book, that "I could feel it oozing out of my armpits".
This stemmed partly from the fact that, three years earlier, she'd had to go under the knife to have an infected contraceptive coil removed - and then had trouble coming out of the anaesthetic. But she was also recalling the words of her astrologer, who had not very helpfully told her that the moon would be in Aries on the day of the operation, and that meant sharp knives making mistakes.
But nothing could dwarf the excitement she felt at the prospect of losing her jowls and bags - as her heroine and fellow Brummie Sharon Osbourne had done before her.
"The worst was some of those young men you have to work with as an actress," she says, as we drive down her local high street and into the driveway of a Georgian town house. "I noticed they were beginning to treat me almost as though I was a - yeeeuch - mother figure, ignoring me in their conversations because they thought I wouldn't understand, making me have to butt in to be heard. They don't do that anymore, though.
In fact, nobody does that anymore. Take the time she was on a shopping trip in London the other day, and popped into the Sloane Street branch of Stephane Kelian. "I thought the sales lady was looking at me in a funny way, " she says, snorting happily, "and then as I'm handing over my credit card, she suddenly shouts: 'Wait a minute, I know who you are - you're Toyah Willcox's daughter!'"
Then, there was the time a van driver reversed down Savile Row the wrong way to get a better look, and mistook her for Davina McCall. "Davina McCall," whispers Toyah reverentially. "Now, if that's not a compliment, I don't know what is."
I am now sitting in her ultra-tidy, teal-accented country kitchen that overlooks the River Avon. Just down a pathway are two cottages she also owns. In one of them, her parents live; in another, her husband of 20 years, the musician Robert Fripp, is pottering about. They are both much happier here in Worcestershire, where she was brought up, she says, than they were at their previous home - Cecil Beaton's old cottage - in Wiltshire.
There, she says, she used to get so lonely, what with being childless and Robert living half the year in Nashville; but here, she is around people all the time who seem to enjoy having a star in their midst; some of them have even taken to caterwauling "It's A Mystery" outside her door when the pubs empty. So far, she adds, everybody's been far too polite to say anything about her new appearance; the shop-keepers tend to make discreet comments instead about how nice her new haircut is or how much weight she has lost.
While a pot of cauliflower and parsnip soup that Toyah made earlier is warming on the Aga, she makes some fresh coffee - "I don't touch the stuff, but my husband loves it" - and sets up her laptop to show me all the carefully catalogued photos which she had Robert - obliging, unsqueamish fellow that he is - take at every stage of the process. "Look," she says, pointing to a picture of her face swaddled in bandages, with day-glo yellow rings around her eyes that are so criss-crossed with stitching they can hardly open. "That's me straight after I came round."
The next shows her entire face bandaged-up, with just a tiny slit for her nostril and mouth; the next with the bandages off and her vermilion hair matted to her head like glue... On and on, she takes me through this ghoulish photographic odyssey - the most bottom-clenching shots, for me, being the ones in which she's bent her head down to show the big metal staples embedded in the back of her scalp. It all looks so painful that it could put a less greedy person than me off their soup.
But, as Toyah is quick to insist, apart from a soreness in her throat from having her jaw clamped open for five hours, and a slight tugging when Dr de Frahan sewed up the holes where the drainage tubes had been, there was no pain: not one iota from start to finish. If anything, it was the frustration of having to keep still for so long (the doctor made her stay in Paris for a week) that was the hardest ordeal. Oh, and not being able to chew properly.
Indeed, by the fifth day, she had lost 6lb (a lot, considering that she weighed only 7st 13lb to begin with) and had resorted, in desperation, to sucking on cheese and onion Pringles - "the only ones that worked because they were so flat in shape".
When I asked what has impelled her to tell the world about the operation, what has given her the courage to reveal such graphic, unflattering pictures (after all, the facelift wasn't a freebie, and privacy, she says, is of the utmost importance to her) - she insists that there was never a question of keeping it a secret.
"This was such a terrifying, major leap in my life, there was no way I wasn't going to share it, no way I wasn't going to do my bit about all those bad guys in Yugoslavia - well, that doesn't exist anymore, but you know what I mean - or those companies who combine plastic surgery with safaris, and women pay all this money only to meet their surgeon when they're knocked out. I also feel that it shouldn't be something that anybody should be ashamed of.
"I know women who feel imprisoned by their looks, prejudiced against, and would love to change them but wouldn't because their husbands don't approve. Well, that's bloody bollocks, isn't it?"
By her own admission, Toyah - the youngest of three children - has always felt an outsider in the looks department. Born with a twisted spine, clawed, over sized feet and an under developed left side, she had to be put into a plaster cast for the first six months of her life and wore one shoe higher than the other for most of her school days. Much shorter than all the other children (she is now just 5ft 1ins), sporting an embarrassing 32D chest by the age of 10, and a bit on the plump side to boot, she was relentlessly teased.
Then there was that lisp, so unmistakable that when she dials a call centre somewhere in India, the operator says: "Wait, that's not Toyah Willcox, is it?" It didn't help, somehow, that her mother, a former dancer, was so tiny and light that "she never, as she liked to tell me, used to leave footprints in the snow".
Carefully, Toyah adds: "My mother had a very hard life herself. She also tended to live her life through my experiences, but it's probably fair to say it was she who taught me to value anxiety, rather than joy; to believe that if I had a dream, it couldn't possibly come true. I'll happily admit I've got Body Dysmorphic Condition - you know, when you look in the mirror and see either a very fat person or a very thin person or a very ugly person. It's just when I look in the mirror, I see my mother's fears."
Like a lot of patients who end up having a facelift, Toyah had been having regular Botox injections and the filler Restylane inserted into her lips (like her unlucky friend Lesley Ash) by a specialist on Harley Street. To supplement these beauty aids, she went to see a "facial consultant", Linda Meredith, who gave her skin oxygen treatment and massage. But none of this seemed to be producing a radical improvement, and her skin was never going to return to its 20-year-old state - when it was admiringly described by Katharine Hepburn, her one-time co-star in the 1978 film The Corn Is Green, "as like the inside of a shell".
Genes, she thinks, had a part to play. "No matter how much I dieted, exercised, gave up caffeine, alcohol, sugar, fat, carbohydrates and chocolate," she writes in the book, "I still couldn't improve my looks." She thinks it was starring in the West End production of Calamity Jane - "all that leaping about a stage, doing a big sing eight times a week" - that probably did her face in for good. But although she had already seen a few Harley Street surgeons (one told her that he wanted to peel her face right back to her scalp, "like that John Travolta film Face/Off") no one had a good enough spiel to convince her.
All this changed when Toyah was introduced to de Frahan by Meredith, and went to see him at his temporary consulting suite at Claridges. Within a few months, Willcox found herself boarding the early morning Eurostar, armed with the loyal Robert, a suitcase full of scarves and sunglasses and every conceivable potion from Boots (including syrup of figs, because she didn't want to strain any facial muscles while going to the loo).
Since that day, says Toyah, she has not looked back. She's been cast in two "big American movies" - one of them co-starring Gene Hackman - she's headlining at the 1980s-themed Wasted festival this summer and, more importantly, neither of her agents is calling to say that "the character parts are just around the corner, if I'll just be patient". Indeed, she quips, the only thing that would throw her now is if the part calls for a shaved head.
Now that she is fully recovered, and the reaction has been so positive (when she told her dad, he asked her why on earth she hadn't done it before), she says she is definitely entertaining fantasies about having just a bit more. A tummy tuck, or a breast reduction, perhaps - because she has always regarded "bee stings as the ultimate in femininity".
"I suppose it's like childbirth, "she muses. "You forget what you've gone through in order to do it again. But Robert says absolutely not, I've got to leave my boobies alone - and I agree with him. Bodies, to me, aren't so important now, anyway.; it's my face which ultimately counts more to me as an actress."
Would she, then, ever go through all of this again? "God, yes! When I'm 60 or 70, I'll definitely be going tighter. I love how Anne Robinson looks! I love how Joan Rivers looks! And, besides, I like the notoriety of it all - it's like sticking two fingers up to the world and saying f--- you.
"Before I had the op, people treated me as an old woman," she adds more earnestly. "I could see it in their eyes - the lack of interest, the irritation. No, really - I promise you it was there. Even worse was when strangers saw me from behind, assumed I was in my teens - people do because I'm so little and bouncy - and then saw me up front and did this kind of "don't look now" double-take.
"I'm sure that's why I used to get overly aggressive and act sometimes like bloody Boadicea attacking the Romans. Now that my face matches my personality, I feel I can allow myself to be more of a serene person - let that femininity, which I've hidden for so long, come out. That's a very, very empowering feeling, you know."
The Daily Telegraph
THE FIVE MINUTE
'I've no sympathy with young, lazy people. That's why I've no children'
Toyah Willcox is appearing in Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, from today until 14 January
If I weren't talking to you right now I'd be...
Reading through the scripts that have come through. This morning I got two musicals, a radio soap and an independent film script. For me, it's the wackier, the better. I like things that make people's jaws drop open.
Phrase I use far too often...
"Absolutely." I say it about everything and anything. It pacifies people. If I say it to a film director it usually means I will do what I want anyway, but if I say it to my band I'll probably try to compromise.
I wish people would take more notice of...
Their health. If people eat badly they think badly. Everything you allow to enter your body will influence your body, whether it's what you watch on telly, read or eat.
The most surprising thing that happened to me was...
Finding out not only how much I earned when I started managing myself in 1990 but also how much people were creaming off my income. The day I started managing myself, my income went up 500 per cent.
A common misperception of me is...
That I'm vulnerable, naive and malleable. I'm the opposite of all those.
I am not a politician but...
May God help anyone who voted me in because tax would be a fixed rate of 20 per cent, education and work would be compulsory and National Service would be back - but it would teach 18- to 21-year-olds about business and health. I have no sympathy with young, lazy people, which is probably why I don't have children.
I'm good at...
Being a problem solver. It means I get very little life.
I'm very bad at...
Saying no to people who have problems.
The ideal night out is...
In a bordello with David Bowie. I wouldn't tell my husband, but then he'd probably be in a bordello with Debbie Harry.
In moments of weakness...
I panic. But if I sit on it for 24 hours, I can come back to a problem with a fresh pair of eyes.
You know me as an actress and singer but in truer life I'd have been a...
Sculptor. I'm such a fan of Barbara Hepworth and Elisabeth Frink. I've played many artists in my career so I think this has made me want it more.
The best age to be is...
Now. I believe in living in the moment.
In a nutshell, my philosophy is this:
The greatest thing I've ever been taught is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Personally, I'd stuff them full of chocolate and play with their private parts!
OUR BRUSH WITH
Last week the Mail revealed just how much airbrushing is used to disguise the imperfections of modern stars. We printed posters of celebrities next to pictures of how they really look.
But is airbrushing just a natural response to the public's desire for perfect stars? Here, Toyah Willcox - who has been airbrushed - argues the point:
Singer and actress Toyah Willcox, 48, had a facelift three years ago - yet she says many of her publicity photos have also been heavily airbrushed. She lives in the Midlands with husband Robert Fripp, 60. Toyah says:
The brutal truth these days is that you can have all the talent in the world, but it counts for nothing if you don't look good. I have four platinum albums and 30 years in the music business - but the moment I appear with wrinkles and eyebags in a photograph, my career is effectively over.
Yes, it annoys me. It isn't fair because I don't think men are under the same pressure to look good. But you simply cannot survive in the industry unless you look as young as you possibly can.
That's partly why I felt so pressured into having a facelift three years ago.
Some women might think I'm hypocritical, moaning about ageism and yet having a facelift. But I believe my saving grace is the fact that I have been totally honest about the procedure. I even wrote a book about the experience called Diary Of A Facelift.'
Apart from Judi Dench, I can't think of an actress over the age of 40 who has not had work done, or had some of their pictures airbrushed.
The pressure is constant - I also know of two leading 'mature' female actresses at the BBC who were told to have surgery because they were becoming 'hard to light'.' In other words, the wrinkles were showing.
Not only is there pressure from the industry and from society, it also comes from within. I had the facelift more for me than for anyone else. The catalyst was appearing on a reality TV show four years ago. I looked dreadful. Inside, I felt better than ever, but there on TV was a woman with jowls, a turkey neck and baggy, creased skin under my eyes.
It's embarrassing when you appear in publicity shots looking amazing and then appear on stage with wrinkles.
If that means having cosmetic surgery, then so be it. I now have Botox every three months, which costs £300 a session, and I've also had Thermage, where they heat your skin to about 45c to stimulate natural collagen. This costs about £250 a session and you need at least six sessions.
Many famous women have said they haven't had facelifts, but I bet they've had Thermage, because their skin looks so good.
I know I'm a victim of my success. It would be wonderful if women in the public eye could grow old gracefully, but the reality is that people expect us to look young.
My face has to be smooth and unlined. I have to diet constantly - I eat only 1,500 calories a day, mainly in fruit and vegetables - to keep my weight at just under 8st (I'm 5ft 1in). I'd love to eat sticky buns, but television piles the pounds on your appearance.
Most big stars have approval over their photographs and of course they want them to be airbrushed. That's nothing - I know of two famous musicians who have their blood changed at a Swiss clinic every six months.
I'm not looking for perfection, but then I can't bear the thought of looking tired and old. The trouble is that airbrushing can make you look like an expressionless doll.
As you can see from these pictures, the lines around my eyes have disappeared in the doctored image. It's too frozen-looking and as an actress I need to have character in my face.
The brutal truth is that whether we like it or not, there's no place for an old-looking woman on television - age is being airbrushed out of existence.
I'M BEING TERRORISED
BY A JET-SET STALKER
Midland rock star Toyah Willcox is living in fear after being plagued by a woman jet-set stalker.
The obsessed fan has been jetting in from New York to harass the singer and actress at her home. And the situation has become so serious that a friend has offered Toyah an ex-SAS soldier to protect her.
The Birmingham-born singer, who lives in the quiet market town of Xxxxxxxx in Worcestershire with rock star husband Robert Fripp, said: "This woman is severely mentally ill. She is very dangerous.
"I want her to leave me alone but I don't wish her any harm. I told a high-profile industrialist about the problem and he offered me the number of the SAS man who could 'remove' her.
"Fortunately, these days, stalkers are taken very seriously and the police have been very helpful."
So frightened has the 48 year-old star been that she has enlisted Government help.
"Immigration are also dealing with the problem," she revealed. "They are trying to stop her coming into Britain. It is a long way to come from New York, but that's what people do when they're mentally ill. When I say anything, she thinks I'm communicating with her.
"I've had to deal with several stalkers over the years. Some are just over-zealous fans who don't mean any harm, but their presence is inappropriate. I don't want people hanging around outside my front door. It's difficult when I live in a town and not the middle of the country. I don't like to create that kind of attention.
"My husband has had even more problems than me. Ten years ago, someone tried to kill him. The stalker was sectioned and is now in prison in Germany."
Toyah, who grew up in Kings Heath, Birmingham, is returning to her home city on Saturday to perform at the Alexandra Theatre in The Hitmakers Tour, a 1980s revival show with Howard Jones and ABC's Martin Fry.
She admits that touring these days is different from 20 years ago.
"I'm much more relaxed now, and there's no throwing TVs out of hotel windows!" she said. "I used to be very rock'n'roll, going for days without eating and sleeping, and just going AWOL. Once, I jumped off a Manchester hotel balcony and swung from a chandelier in the foyer. It was very dangerous and stupid.
"A security man had to get a ladder to get me down. I have a lifetime ban from that hotel!"
These days Toyah is teetotal, and more interested in a quiet country walk. She's made four nature documentaries for the BBC to be screened next year, featuring animals in danger in the Midlands - swans, salmon, water voles and slow-worms.
It was facing snakes, spiders and eels in the Australian jungle that proved a turning point for Toyah.
She was horrified to see footage of herself without make-up on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! Jonathan Ross said she looked so awful that she shouldn't be allowed to appear on TV.
And Toyah agreed with him.
In February 2004, she went to Paris for a £7,500 procedure and then published a book, Diary Of A Facelift.
"It's put some people off," she admitted. "They say 'I'm really glad I read your book because I know I could never go through that'."
Holding her hand after the operation was her husband of 20 years, guitarist Robert Fripp, the 60 year-old founder of supergroup King Crimson.
Until recently, he spent most of his time working 4,000 miles away in Nashville. They used to spend just 12 weeks of the year together, although they spoke on the phone five times a day.
Now they are more regularly both to be found in Pershore or at their London home. Toyah admits they have grown closer since her facelift.
"There were some pretty gruesome moments after the op, but he was wonderful," she said. "He was so patient and calm. I really thought that the moment he saw me, looking all bruised and swollen, he'd run away. But he rose to the occasion brilliantly and it's made our marriage even stronger."
A LAD 'N' A GENIE
There are six-foot dames, women dressed as boys, boys stroking their magic lamps… and this is family entertainment? Sounds more like a Friday night at Revenge! It’s almost as if panto was made for gay people, but apparently adults and kids alike love to go along and shout, ‘He’s behind you!’ and ‘Oh no he isn’t!’ and ‘Oh yes he is!’ and anything else that comes to mind and it’s great fun. This year Brighton’s Theatre Royal plays host to Aladdin, starring CHICO (of The X Factor fame) and TOYAH WILLCOX as the Genie of the Lamp. Hayley Sherman enjoyed free sandwiches and cake at the theatre and spoke to both.
“A lot of actors wouldn’t dream of doing some of the things that I’ve done.”
Toyah Willcox is very difficult to pigeonhole; punk goddess, reality TV star, presenter, actress and mediator of the Tellytubby. She has been doing panto for 14 years and seems just as enthused by Aladdin as the first. “I have such a dislike of winter,” she tells me. “To come to a theatre for two months and lock the door helps me psychologically. Also, it’s the only time in my entire work that I get to work in front of three generations of a family. You look out there and you see grandma and grandpa out there with their kids and the grandchildren and sometimes it’s unbelievably touching. And it’s fun.”
This year Toyah will be donning the MC Hammer pants and playing Genie to Chico’s Aladdin. “There’s actually three genies in Aladdin,” she tells me, “but they’re all played by the same actress ‘cos they all look the same, so it’s a bit of a running gag. The genie always gets Aladdin out of trouble and he’s always in trouble ‘cos he’s a bit of a lad. I think me and Chico are gonna have a lot of fun.”
As she speaks to me, visions of her role in Quadrophenia leap into my head and I can’t quite make the connection between punk and panto, but she’s quick to remind me that the Brighton-set Mod film was 30 years ago. “I think that it’s age appropriate and time appropriate that I’m doing panto. I think if I went from Quadrophenia one year and did panto the next, that would have been odd, but I think a 30-year gap is
actually quite manageable.”
I push the theme of pigeonholing further, but I think it’s not the first time that she has been quizzed on how she would classify herself. “I still have to claim my identity wherever I go,” she explains. “I think that the thing about diversity is that people don’t know what box to put you in and that can be a problem.”
Pigeonholing aside, Toyah has enjoyed such a varied career that I couldn’t help wondering if she intentionally set out to try every job in the industry: “I always wanted to act and sing and because I’d written songs there was the writing element too. The fact of the matter is that I have to work. There’s no choice about it. I can’t stay at home and do nothing, I’m too self-destructive. I’m not snotty about things. I end up doing an awful lot and I think that a lot of actors wouldn’t dream of doing some of the things that I’ve done.”
Her appeal has spread even more widely in recent years with the release of her book Diary Of A Facelift. “My employment has just gone through the roof,” she confides, “Which says a lot about the industry.”
I was curious to know what made her decide to write about the subject. “Everyone’s doing it and everyone’s talking about it except in public. Also, I did suddenly go away for two weeks and came back looking really well and people were saying, ‘Wow! You look really great, have you been away on holiday?’ I can’t lie you know. No! I’ve just spent 20 grand on a new face. I have no regrets, but there’s no way that I could recommend it to anyone, because that would be irresponsible. All I can do is share my experiences psychologically with people, and the book is more about psychology than the event. That’s why I wrote it because I think that psychologically, it’s one of the most immense journeys someone can make, because you’re tampering with nature and I think that you have to take all that on board.”
I ended the interview by asking her for an autograph for my dad, which she happily did, gushing cheekily when I told her that he fancied her, and then she was on to the next interview. A facelift may have changed her face, but this woman seems to have boundless, natural energy and passion for the things that she is doing: “I’m always so excited about everything,” she tells me. “Everything’s always new to me. I never go into a job thinking ‘I did the same sort of thing a year ago,’ I always think, ‘Wow! This is gonna be the best thing I’ve ever done and it’s gonna be today.’”
Between Chico’s positivity and Toyah’s energy, this year’s Aladdin has got to be one for the diary.
I'M TRYING TO BE A BIT
MORE LADY LIKE
If you thought the recording career of Toyah Willcox came to an end when the 80s did, you may be surprised to discover that the singer, once famed for her outrageous outfits and equally eye catching on stage antics, has recorded no less than 18 albums.
Her first release, a post punk offering that came out in 1979, went by the strange title, Sheep Farming In Barnet.
What sort of Toyah can audiences expect to see when The Hitmakers Tour rolls into Manchester next week? Has she toned down her live persona?
"I try to be a bit more age appropriate now - I'm 48 and I get concerned that I still go on stage wearing completely outrageous things. On one level, I get away with it because people expect it of me and certainly, on this tour, I will be pushing the boat out as far as I can but I'm trying to be a little bit more lady like with it. I don't think I'm outrageous now for the sake of being outrageous, but the one thing I was born with was a very quirky sense of humour and that's still there," she says.
The artist, who is married to King Crimson co-founder Robert Fripp, says there has been a massive resurgence of interest in the music of the 80s, which means that her gigs attract fans from the age of 12 upwards.
Toyah, who has also appeared in numerous stage musicals, has been offered two new recording contracts and she's back in the studio writing songs with her former song writing partner Simon Darlow. If these song writing sessions go well, a 19th album could be on the cards.
Not that Toyah has been short of work of course - as well as presenting documentaries, she's recently appeared on the BBC programme Masterchef and she's also been offered a part in one of the soaps. But she's sworn to secrecy over the identity of the programme in question.
IN FINE FORM
Toyah Willcox is up there with puffball skirts and neon leg-warmers when it comes to embodying the Eighties. And on October 12 she's taking a trip down memory lane alongside fellow '80s icons Martin Fry of ABC, and Howard Jones on the Hitmakers Tour.
Toyah Willcox is positively champing at the bit to climb into her outrageous stage costume and belt out the hits in the up-coming Hitmakers Tour.
"I can't wait!" She shouts excitedly down the phone.
"I worked with Martin Fry and Howard Jones about three years ago and it'll be really good to be back with them. We all love each other's music and we all have very upbeat hits."
Squeezing three of the Eighties biggest electro-pop stars onto one stage seems a recipe for disaster, but Toyah insists there's no diva-behaviour.
"There's no room for egos in this kind of work," she said. "But we all have that Eighties' bigness about us. We're certainly not wallflowers by any means!"
Toyah exploded onto the scene in the late 1970s with a mean streak of punk-influenced attitude shown in songs like It's A Mystery' and I Want to Be Free'.
1982 saw her winning Best Female Singer in the Rock & Pop Awards and more recently she has graced theatre stages and television productions in a varied acting career and even had a stint in the Australian jungle as a contestant on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!' She says musicians nowadays have it much harder.
"The music industry was very different when I started out," she said. "We had independent labels the whole point of punk was that if you made 500 singles you could sell them yourself. That whole ethic kept it going.
"Now record companies are very big and very corporate. If you don't sell a million you're out. I think that's really harsh but I'm optimistic because My Space and You Tube are allowing bands the kind of platform we got. The whole world is tuning in to see what people are up to.
"It would just be so wrong if the only intention of the music business was to sell a million albums. We'd lose all that wonderful diversity."
The Hitmakers tour comes hard on the heels of a resurgence in the popularity of 80s music and fashion - something Toyah is revelling in.
"I'm loving the 1980s coming back in fashion," she said.
"You've got to remember that in the 1990s the 80s was considered the pits. It reminded people of Thatcherism and consumerism. But the one thing that's positively survived is the music because it's so optimistic.
"Our audiences range from 15 to 60 year olds. The young kids don't remember the bad days of politics around the 80s, they just remember the music."
Toyah said she was lucky to "side-step" negative associations with the eighties throughout the 1990s because she focused on her acting and presenting career.
"All through the 1990s I was presenting on TV and wasn't involved in music much at all, " she said. "It allowed me to almost step away from the barrage of insults.
"Now in 2000s I'm playing Wembley, Manchester Arena. I certainly wouldn't have expected that in my 40s."
And she admitted keeping herself looking much younger than her 48 years takes effort.
"I have to battle with my weight the whole time," she said.
"I eat a good organic veggie diet, I go to bed early, I don't drink. You've got to and that's not just to stay looking attractive either, that's to have the energy to perform. We're all the same. On this tour all our partying will be done at tea time - we'll all be in bed by 11pm."
So what can audiences expect from the Hitmakers Tour?
"A completely uplifting evening," said Toyah.
"All of us are totally in love with our music and in love with our audience. You'll get the hits, it's up tempo, it's up beat and we want to send everyone away with a big smile on their faces."
You can't say fairer than that.
See Toyah Willcox, Martin Fry and ABC, and Howard Jones in the Hitmakers Tour, at Manchester Opera House, on October 12. For tickets call 0161 242 2524.
Star of the 1980s punk scene TOYAH WILLCOX is busier than ever. She tells Amy Carroll how she fell in love with Menton and why her apartment there is the perfect place to be creative...
What is it about the French way of life that makes you feel you’re escaping to somewhere really special?
My first experience of how the French do things was in 1984 when I was filming The Ebony Tower with Laurence Olivier. We stayed in a château in the Dordogne and it was all shabby gentry style. Even the countess, our host, had no pretensions. It was all about family, evenings eating home-made fish soup and chatting around the table. It’s the same in Menton. It’s sleepy and most visitors are retirees. There’s very little interest in strangers and the locals leave you to your own business. It’s so laid back and quality of life always comes before work.
You’ve recently appeared on Masterchef and enjoy cooking at home. Do you take inspiration from the cuisine on the Riviera?
I like trying out new recipes but out here, I’m not equipped for cooking. The culture is for eating out so, like most people, I have a tiny kitchen. I usually make a daily trip to the fabulous glasscovered market in the square. I buy fresh fruit and wonderful salad produce – most of which I don’t even know the name for in English because we don’t have it back home. Then, I usually eat on my balcony, enjoying the fabulous view over the harbour.
You come out here to write. Apart from the obvious beauty of the place, what is it that brings out your creativity?
Well, sleep isn’t something I aspire to and I love solitude. So, when I’m out here, sitting on my balcony until the early hours of the morning, I find it a great place to contemplate. The light in this town is incredible and the place just lends itself to being creative. I think I always have a sense of urgency when I’m here too. Even though the pace is relaxing and slower, and I can switch off my mobile phone and not worry about being interrupted. I know I’m only here for short periods of time so I click into super-creative gear to make the most of it.
Is it true that Menton is popular with arty types?
Menton definitely attracts artists. I found out about it because my percussionist has a place here. But it also has a strong French community and there are plenty of local sculpture artists, jewellery-makers and painters. The place seems to hold an interest for surrealists. I like that type of art because it takes you beyond real life; it’s not just a photocopy of what we see.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I’ve never been comfortable on the beach but I love the outdoors, so I go for really long walks. You can walk into Italy from here. I also love buying antiques. I’ve found a shop that specialises in antique fairground pieces. The treasures you’ll find in there are absolutely astonishing – I’ve just bought a wonderful church mirror. I’ve discovered that if I go every so often, over the course of two or three months, I can barter a bit and eventually get a good price.
How easy was it for you to buy your apartment?
The first time I came to look at property here I couldn’t afford anything and so I bought an off-plan apartment close to Nice, in Èze. Once I had made some money from renting that out, I looked again at Menton and fell in love with this apartment as soon as I stepped inside and saw the sea view through the French windows. I paid 345,000 Euros for it and only needed to do basic updating inside – painting, new flooring and the central heating.
With the time you’ve spent in France, have any French songwriters made a lasting impression on you?
Not really. A lot of my work comes out of silence. I rarely even listen to music. I require non-interference and up here, 67 steps up from the old harbour, and three flights of stairs up from the front door, I’m incredibly high up and I can only really hear the church bells. It’s ideal for me. I love the place to bits.
PRIZE QUESTION: Do you ever regret not having children? [Susie Forbes, Thame]
No. I just don't have the right mentality to be involved with a family and I've always known that. I've never thought about it. I'm incredibly nomadic and I don't have any ties. That's probably the most rock 'n' roll side of me.
You were in the Top 10 in the 80s and known for your wild image. But if you could be like anyone in the charts now, who would it be? [Gina Kyriacou, Couldson]
I'd like Gwen Stefani's legs, Alison Goldfrapp's voice and Bjork's mentality - she's so entertaining.
Would you do another reality TV show? [Samantha, Edinburgh]
I would, if it was challenging. The problem I had with I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here! was they weren't interested in our abilities, they were interested in us cracking. I love Celebrity Big Brother - it's fascinating when a celeb lets their guard down and forgets the cameras.
Would you pose naked? [Jimmy Martin, Hereford]
I have, for the Daily Mail two years ago. Playboy asked me 20 years ago, but I turned it down. Now, at 47, I'd do it because I believe in sexualising middle-aged women.
What was the worst job you've ever done? [Clare Gosling, Portsmouth]
I used to sell cigarettes in a kiosk in Birmingham. I hate smoking, I'm dyslexic and I can't count money. In those days the tills didn't add up for you, so I made the prices up. That job paid for me to go to drama school.
What's the best film you've made? [Emma Griffin, Stockport]
The Tempest, directed by Derek Jarman. It was no holds barred, a lot of nudity and bad behaviour.
Would you consider any more surgery? [Sharon Donaldson, Mitcham]
I would, but I wouldn't tell people when I'm going to do it this time. I'd get my upper eyelids done and I'd definitely have a tummy tuck. I wrote Diary Of A Facelift because everyone denies having surgery and it's incredibly unfair when women don't understand why they're ageing and others aren't.
Do you think your facelift sets a bad example to children? [Bev Foreman, Reading]
No. I don't think I look perfect and that's why I set a good example. My surgeon told me he couldn't make me look like a supermodel, but he could stop me looking tired.
You were in panto with Suzanne Shaw. What advice would you offer her about men? [Alison Jones, Edinburgh]
She's the loveliest girl, incredibly young and sweet and unaffected. I'd say to any woman of 23: 'Stay single and independent until you know who you are. Don't get involved with someone until you believe in your own power and beauty.'
What's the secret to a happy marriage? [Laurie L, High Barnet]
Financial independence for both people. I don't believe in living out of someone else's pocket. I've been with my husband (musician Robert Fripp) for 20 years and there's still a lot of romance in our relationship too. That's crucial.
What man would make you consider adultery? [Karen Beauhill, Hartlepool]
Mark Wahlberg makes me go absolutely gaga. So does Matt Dillon, so it'd have to be both of them!
Sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll... Which works best for you? [Gabrielle Frazer, Sunderland]
Rock 'n' roll. I despise drugs - it's a no-win culture. If a creative person allows themselves to be a drug addict their work doesn't necessarily suffer, but they waste their lives. We're here for spiritual growth and drugs don't help that.
What's your worst vice? [Jane Crawford, Salcombe]
Gluttony. I'll eat anything sweet.
If you had £5,000 to blow in a day, what would you spend it on? [Naomi Tozer, Norfolk]
I'd book a first-class flight to Nice for me and three friends. We'd get a helicopter into Monaco and go to the yacht club to watch a concert. We'd go to the Casino Royale for a meal, and then blow £500 each at the casino. I've never gambled in my life, but when in Monaco it's something you've got to do.
What's your most treasured possession? [Jenny Stone, Leeds]
I collect big, rare crystals. I also have some stalagmites, the highest of which is just under 4ft. They're imported from Brazil and I've got them all over my lounge. I just love them.
Who's the nicest celeb you've met? [Tracey Smith, Swindon]
Linda Barker's one of the loveliest people you could meet. She has time for everyone.
Love, fame or money? [Angela Shah, Birmingham]
Fame. It's terrible I know, but all my life I've only ever wanted fame. I've been relatively famous for 25 years now and I wouldn't know how to live without it.
What's in your handbag at the moment? [Karina Thompson, Gloucester]
I have a tiny handbag, about 6in by 8in. It contains my driving licence, my passport, keys for four properties, a notebook, four pens and a precious stone called a Fire Agate, which is supposed to make women more perceptive.
What song or piece of music holds most memories for you? [Alice Walker, Southampton]
It has to be David Bowie's Life On Mars. I've always loved it - it's one of the most evocative and emotional somngs I've ever heard. I sang it at one of my very first auditions and got the job, so it's always meant good luck to me.
Who do you consider the greatest singer-songwriter of all time? [Elaine Hammond, Bedford]
Kate Bush. She's a very good friend of mine and talented beyond belief.
What's your greatest fear? [Charlie Henderson, Sussex]
I'm a bit of a luvvie in that I hate being out of work. I'm actually phobic about it.
What ringtone do you have on your phone at the moment? [Liz Davids, Bristol]
I hate my mobile. It's a Blackberry and I can't work it out. I can't even set my ringtone, but there's one called Trance that I want - if only I knew how to set it up.
Have you got a party trick? [Sangeeta Patel, Manchester]
I haven't, but I wish I had. I'd love to be like that Frenchman who jumps building. He proves that where there's faith and belief you can do anything.
Do you ever look back at pictures of what you used to wear and wonder: 'What was I thinking?' [Lynne Westcliff, Chichester]
No, I'm extremely proud of all the decisions I've made, especially when they've had an influence over many generations. When I look at celebrities who don't take any risks to be strong individuals I find them dull. One thing I'll never be accused of is having an orange tan and the same pout.
What have you done with all your punky stage outfits? [Felicity McCarthy, South Shields]
I have a house to keep my press cuttings, costumes, headdresses, stage make-up and books that refer to me. There's a room of recordings of every TV show I've done and another full of fan mail.
What's your life philosophy? [Sarah Bright, Bitterne]
My philosophy is live with what you have, never live wanting someone else's possessions.
WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE HAVE
NEVER PARTIED SO HARD
BY TOYAH WILLCOX
On Sunday night, as I stepped into Cliveden House for Dame Shirley Bassey's 70th birthday party, I didn't for one moment worry about what I looked like, or whether I was going to be the youngest-looking person in the room.
For really, at the age of 49, what do I care? I don't attend parties to be snapped by the paparazzi. Nor do I attend parties merely to be seen by my fellow partygoers.
I go, particularly in the case of good old Shirley, to celebrate the birthday of one of my friends. And for wonderful conversation. And to celebrate the liberation and freedom of being an 'old bird' on the razzle.
Indeed, as I stepped into that party on Sunday evening, all I cared about was finding interesting people to talk to - from worlds as varied as business, politics and showbusiness - and that Shirley, Cilla Black, and Joan Collins wouldn't out-dance or out-last me on the dance floor.
Sadly, that's exactly what they did - partying until the early hours while I had to return home to bed at midnight so I could prepare for my pantomime appearance - I am currently playing Jack in Jack And The Beanstalk at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading - the next morning.
If not for that, I would have been clamouring to stay out with the rest of them. No wonder we ended up on page three of the Mail under the headline Golden Girl Power.
The truth is that the days of slippers, blankets and a crossword are long gone for women of a "certain age". Now, it's parties, sparkling conversation and a lust for life that no longer need be dampened by outdated social expectations.
My mother's generation was brought up to effectively give up on life after 30. Once they were married with children, they were encouraged to fade into the background, to stop worrying about fashion and careers and to get on with motherhood.
When I was a twenty-something pop star in the Eighties, I could barely look beyond the age of 40 - let alone imagine that I would ever be 50. Now I feel there is nothing standing in my way. And much of that, I feel, is down to women such as Shirley, Joan and Cilla.
Thanks to them, we 'oldies' have been given licence to indulge ourselves and prolong our careers, spend money on clothes and pampering, and generally get out and have fun without being labelled as barmy old birds who should know better.
Never was that so clear as on Sunday night, when it was very much the glamorous older women who were commanding all the attention - from men of all ages. The males in the mix positively drooled, and not just at the jaw-dropping, floor-length gowns, but at these women's wit, their life experience, their inner "we've done it all" confidence.
I remember watching Shirley take to the stage at around 10pm and the entire room stood silent, hanging on to her every word as much as gawping at her fantastic figure. We have simply never seen women like her looking like this at such an advanced age before. Who would have thought, even 30 years ago, that any woman could have a lasting and sustainable career after 40?
As a young woman when I was singing and presenting on TV, it was drummed into me that I should do all I could before I hit 30. God forbid, if I was still working at 40 - well, said all the male executives, I should count myself incredibly lucky.
Remember, even as we hit the Eighties and early-Nineties, there appeared little place for women over 40. So many Hollywood actresses were sidelined, while men such as Robert Redford and Sean Connery were celebrated for their wrinkles.
But, quietly in the background, women such as Shirley, Joan and Cilla grafted away - still making music, writing books and presenting TV. Gradually people realised that despite their "old age" - if you can really call it that - these women weren't going anywhere.
At the same time, glossy magazines started targeting the older readers, realising that with the everlengthening life expectancy, women wanted to look after themselves. And that, of course, is where plastic surgery comes in. I'll admit, this is where the argument gets tricky. Are the women using plastic surgery to recapture a lost youth or prolong their vivacity?
At Shirley's party on Sunday night, I met Cindy Jackson, 52, a self-confessed devotee of plastic surgery. We've met before, and as we looked around the room, we both remarked on how well all the ladies at the party looked - some, perhaps, would admit to a few nips and tucks, others would claim a great diet and a dedicated personal trainer.
But as we talked, it came down to one thing - looking after oneself.
Now, while I am also a follower of plastic surgery - having had one facelift three years ago and Botox for the past seven years - I do so merely as a preventative measure. Personally, I think I look my age, and because I like acting, I choose a low-level of Botox in order not to freeze my forehead. I want my face to reflect how youthful I feel inside.
However, Cindy freely admits that her use of plastic surgery is in order to turn back the clock. It is not a choice that I would make, but nevertheless I believe she has every right to do as she wishes.
In fact, that freedom of choice is one of the reasons older women have so much power now. We have heard about the "grey pound", and more recently, "silver surfers", the older generation who frequently use the internet.
But the reality is that in everyday life, we now have the option to look as old or as young as we like, and I bet you'd hardly find a woman at that party who wants to look her age, not when she feels so empowered and successful inside.
And to me, that is one of the greatest changes in the past 20 years - wealth and success. When I was younger, I took advice on everything. I had control of my acting and television career but for everything else - my businesses, property and finances - I had to turn to men for advice.
In the past few years, not only have I taken over everything myself, but I have seen a huge rise in the number of female entrepreneurs making millions from their own hard work.
With that new-found money comes a freedom to indulge yourself and do exactly what you want when you want. For many of these women, their most successful years have come as they've turned 50 and they want to look as glamorous and powerful as they feel.
That was particularly evident at the party - hundreds of women in the most beautiful, expensive dresses. Yet, interestingly, there was no competition and no feeling of one woman trying to outdo the rest.
At 50, 60 and 70, there is little to outdo. Everyone looks their best and everyone has achieved their best. What I marvelled at most was how every woman there admired each other - not just for their looks but for their achievements.
Yes, of course the car park was filled with Bentleys and £500,000 Rolls-Royces, but the difference at this party was that everyone had them, therefore there was no need to compete. And, just for the record, at least half the cars in the driveway belonged to the women.
But what about the fashions? Again, that was one of the most liberating things about partying with a bunch of "older women", if you can call them that.
The rule-books can be chucked out the window. Why worry about bingo wings or a bit of a flabby stomach? Why not just sling on the dress you've always dreamed of wearing and sod the critics. Twenty-year-olds might have firmer thighs and fewer wrinkles, but they can only dream of the innate confidence that comes with a life lived to the full.
Over the past few years I have gone out maybe four times a year with Cilla, Rula Lenska and Shirley Bassey. We always hit the nightclub Tramp in London, and we are always the last ones to leave.
That's one of the joys of "growing up". We don't care what other people think. Why should there be an age limit to enjoying yourself? The truth is I am happier now than I have ever been. Now, I no longer worry about anything more than enjoying myself. And if, in a few months' time, when I reach 50 and I stay out partying until the nightclub closes, well then I'll just crack a smile and raise a toast to the future.
It was 11 months late, but Dame Shirley Bassey finally celebrated her 70th birthday.
The Welsh diva invited a host of her famous friends, including Joan Collins, 74; Cilla Black, 64; and 'King of the Jungle' Christopher Biggins, to the lavish bash at Cliveden House, the Berkshire stately home and hotel.
It was a double celebration for Dame Shirley and Biggins - the I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! winner turned 59 on December 15th. Despite their advancing years, Dame Shirley and her pals showed they could party just as hard as their younger contemporaries.
Dame Shirley and her Golden Girl pals spent the night quaffing champagne and showing off their moves on the dancefloor. Dressed in a red fur bolero, Dame Shirley arrived at 8pm and entered her party flanked by the self-styled Fantasy Boys - a topless male dance troupe dressed in white satin trousers
While most of the 500 guests kept to the glitzy dress code, ageing punk rocker Siouxsie Sioux and designer Pam Hogg arrived in a low-cut metallic catsuits and garish make-up. Despite celebrating her own birthday, Dame Shirley belted out 'Happy Birthday' to herself, before cutting her four-tiered red birthday cake.
The singer wore a low-cut red satin sheath dress to the Scarlet-themed party, which cost a reported £500,000 (paid for by Andrew Davis, chairman of von Essen which owns Cliveden) and was named 'Let the Party Start' - a nod to her cover of the Pink song which she performed in the Marks & Spencer Christmas TV ad last year.
Guests including Bruce Forsyth, Honor Blackman, Tony Hadley, Rolf Harris, Lord Brocket, Toyah Willcox, Tony Christie and Raine Countess Spencer feasted on a lavish spread of Scottish lobster, langoustine, foie gras and Beluga caviar.
Former Blind Date host Cilla attracted a lot of attention with her public displays of affection with her boyfriend John Madejski. Cilla, who started dating the Reading FC boss in 2004, couldn't keep her eyes off her lover and was spotted caressing his hands at the dinner table.
Besides Dame Shirley's famous voice, upcoming singer/songwriter Tallulah Rendell and operatic boy band Blake provided the entertainment. The diva was serenaded by Blake - who formed after meeting on social networking site Facebook earlier this year - before being kissed by all four members.
Dame Shirley turned 70 on January 8 this year, but has been too busy to organise a big celebration until now.
The Monaco-based singer spent months in a recording studio earlier this year making her hit remix album Get the Party Started, which was released in June. The same month, she was helicoptered into Somerset to headline the Glastonbury Festival.
Dame Shirley wowed the festival crowd with hits including Big Spender and Goldfinger, dressed in a Julien McDonald dress and wearing £3,000 diamante-encrusted 'DSB' wellies. And in July, she signed a new record deal with Universal Music Group's Decca Records, and is set to release a new album in the new year.
CAVES: IT'S A
There isn’t much that shocks singer and presenter Toyah Willcox.
But the punk icon has revealed she was stunned when she learned that Dudley was hiding miles of ‘secret’ caves and canals.
“The limestone caves are astonishing because I had no idea they were there,” says Toyah, who grew up in Birmingham. “There is an unbelievable history hiding under Dudley, which will attract thousands of visitors to the area.
“When I went down to the Black Country Living Museum for a tour into the Seven Sisters caverns it was full of visitors. People want to see this history and the opening of the caves is of national importance.”
Toyah will be fronting a televised bid on ITV next month to bring £50 million of lottery cash to the Black Country. She is also the face of the bid on the website www.thepeoples50million.org.uk. On-line voting has already started and a phone vote will be launched on December 7 to coincide with the TV show.
A Million People: Black Country as an Urban Park, has been shortlisted for the vote along with an expansion of The Eden Project, a national bike route proposed by Sustran’s and a bid to protect the ecology of Nottingham’s Sherwood Forest.
As well as opening up Dudley’s Seven Sister’s mines and caverns there will be a 12-mile ‘green bridge’ built linking Walsall and West Bromwich town centres and Wolverhampton’s canal network will be given a new lease of life.
“What I found extraordinary in Wolverhampton is that no one was using the canals – wherever I went I didn’t see a soul,” said the 49-year-old. “We need to be using these phenomenal areas but I had the feeling that people didn’t know they were there. It is like Brindley Place in Birmingham, which was just waiting for re-development.
“The plans for the Black Country affect three towns and a city that all have a very difficult infrastructure. They have wonderful canals but the roads haven’t got any structure, which means there is no way of getting to the nature reserves and parks without crossing over some very busy roads.
“This scheme will link communities with green bridges so people will be able to walk between Walsall and Sandwell and along the beautiful canals in Wolverhampton.”
Celebrities have been nominated to back each project in the lead-up to the vote. While Toyah is backing the Black Country project, GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly is taking a stand for Sustrans, survival expert Ray Mears is fronting the Eden Project’s bid and actor Brian Blessed is the face for Sherwood Forest. Toyah says the Black Country’s project is exceptional because it will directly affect one million people.
She said: “In the Black Country you are looking at a part of the world that influenced the history of mankind.
“These are people that deserve this money because they toiled and worked hard to give us the industrial revolution and yet they are not the richest area in the country – they deserve better,” she said.
“This is about a better lifestyle for a million people and by linking the towns and cities it will make the area more friendly. I grew up in Birmingham but would come to the Black Country all the time for educational reasons because there is so much history here,” she continued.
“It is in the Black Country where you can learn about the extraordinary nature of human spirit, it is a place where children started working from the age of nine – which is shocking when you think how civilised we are today. I remember the Black Country as a bleak place but it was that same bleakness which inspired artists and writers such as Tolkien. It inspired the Lord of the Rings and it has annoyed me that New Zealand has profited from that instead of us.
“We need to start showing things like this off and exploiting all the things that the West Midlands is famous for. The West Midlands is an incredible and exciting place to be and with Birmingham as our second city we can do a lot to improve the area.
“Even though we are surrounded by two major motorways – the M6 and M5, this lottery cash will help make the area a more green and pleasant place to be,” she added.
Express & Star
TOYAH ON A DETERMINED
Toyah Willcox believes in healthy eating and a spot of National Service. She tells Alison Jones why.
For someone who once seemed to be the very embodiment of anti-establishment attitudes and youthful rebellion as the princess of punk, Toyah Willcox holds some very surprising views.
The type of views that might have Daily Mail-reading Majors hurrumphing along in agreement. For instance she believes that a spot of National Service could shape up the country's teenagers.
That they are being mollycoddled and spoilt as they are left to entertain themselves at home with the latest gadgetry while the playing fields of England are sold off beneath them.
And that a little bit of familial structure and discipline can go a long way to guarding them against the dangers of drugs and casual sex.
"I was brought up in a very strict middle class family who made me sit around the table and eat and who talked to me about the dangers of drugs and of sleeping around. My parents took responsibility," says Toyah, speaking from her home in the Worcestershire countryside.
"My rebellion was more about freedom of choice. You have the choice to say no to drink and drugs and I was very aware of that."
We are discussing the car crash careers of Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse, who seem set on a path of self destruction that is threatening to eclipse their musical achievements and the promise of great things yet to come.
"I think young people need to go through a phase like that. I don't agree with it and I think they will hit a time when they regret it but I don't think you can tell young people how to behave.
"But it is not just about them, it is about the people who surround them. In my experience with friends who have had drug problems, you remove them from the community and the people who feed off their dependency.
"I think it is sad and hopefully it is temporary."
Even at the height of her punk period, when, after graduating from Old Rep Drama School and being cast as the nihilistic Mad in Derek Jarman's seminal cult movie Jubilee, she went on to form her own band, Toyah didn't entirely cast off the sensible attitudes of her suburban upbringing.
She was wary enough to see when the vulnerabilities of others, such as Sid Vicious, were being exploited "a lot of people enjoyed his demise because they were sitting back on their laurels making money out of him and the music industry was very aware of that".
And when the relentless schedule of touring started to take its toll, she formulated her own healthy eating regime and gave up a few of her favourite indulgences.
"Being on the road the whole time, which I was 25 years ago, was always a challenge. I was a vegetarian and it was impossible to find vegetarian food.
"Also it was all late nights, early mornings and environments that aren't great for your health, like aeroplanes and trains.
"I didn't want to keep being on antibiotics or going to the doctor's. I realised if I didn't eat sweets and I didn't drink I felt much better, so it was a simple process of elimination.
"I do feel deprived," she laughs. "I miss alcohol immensely. At the end of a long day, the thought of sitting down having a drink and forgetting everything is incredibly desirable but it is just not worth feeling bad."
The sacrifice started her interest in homeopathic remedies and complimentary medicines which continues to this day. And it is why she has agreed to open Birmingham's Natural Living Show at The Clarendon Suites in Edgbaston, next weekend.
The event will be backed with practitioners from the holistic world giving talks, demonstrations and holding workshops in such things as Reiki, Lomi Lomi, herbalism, astrology, Kabbalah and laughter therapy.
"I believe in a complimentary lifestyle," she says. "These shows attract people who are quite instinctive about their health. If you practice homeopathy long term you are aware that certain things lower your immune system.
"I don't drink - there is no point if you don't want to get colds or stomach bugs. I avoid processed foods, complex starches and refined sugars, all the demons of our diet in the Western world. It is really about prevention and balancing your body out."
She believes that complimentary medicines have been given validation by the fact that GPs will often recommend acupuncture, homeopathy or massage to patients, particularly those who are chronically ill.
"I think increasingly doctors want to wean patients off this pill dependency so we are becoming a much better culture like that.
"We tend to forget everything was homeopathic before the invention of penicillin. And before the Second World War the way you dealt with muscle pain was by cupping (a remedy that made headlines when Gwyneth Paltrow was pictured with brown circles all over her back, caused by a small cup which has the air sucked out of it by a naked flame, creating a vacuum).
"Cupping removes lactic acid, which is incredibly painful if you have it stored in your muscles. When I was in Calamity Jane in the West End, I had it done, but it is not cheap."
Forty-nine year old Toyah's dedication to pursuing as healthy a life as possible and using natural remedies should, one would have thought, prepared her well for spending time embracing nature in the jungle in Australia, when she starred in I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
However, she had reckoned without the deviousness of the show's producers and the fact that seeing famous people suffer makes good television.
"They deliberately didn't let you take in anything you relied on. The whole point of it is that you break down and become something other than what you are in the outside world where you have all your crutches to lean on. So we weren't allowed to take in anything."
She was in the second series, eventually won by Phil Tuffnell, where Anthony Worrall Thompson led a protest over the contestants lack of food.
"I don't eat three big meals a day I eat six very small amounts a day," Toyah explains. "They (the producers) knew that is how I feel well and normal and they didn't allow me to do it. I was only allowed to eat once a day and they weren't interested in how I was feeling.
"It was a test of nerves. Eventually, four days in, when my eyes were clouding over and I couldn't see anymore, they got a doctor up to the boundaries and he said I had to be able to eat every two hours so he was sneaking me biscuits.
But it wasn't making me feel any better because in there you weren't having a balanced diet you were living purely on protein, so I felt pretty ill."
When she came out, rather than being given a few weeks in a spa to recover, Toyah flew straight back to Britain to star in Calamity Jane in the West End.
Though Toyah's acting, presenting and stage work seems to have taken precedence over her singing, she is still devoted to music.
"I do it 20 hours a day! I am making a solo album and I am off to Estonia in one hour as I am on a world tour at the moment," she protests.
She releases her first ever digital single on Monday, Latex Messiah (Viva Le Rebel in You) and the image on her website shows she's lost none of her desire to shock, as she is clad in skin tight PVC with a wig/headdress like Beelzebub's horns.
So it is surprising to hear that she has always felt the need to need to conform to showbusiness ideals of beauty as being slim, toned and fresh faced, although she is refreshingly up front about it.
When she underwent a facelift a few years ago she wrote a book about it.
"I knew from the age of about 20 that I'd have one, and I had hit 44 or 45. I had no qualms or second thoughts about it whatsoever. I think it is about maintenance, about looking your best. I don't think it is about looking younger, nipping and tucking is about looking well and vibrant.
"I have a healthy lifestyle but I am always concerned about weight because in my line of business it affects getting employed. If you are overweight you don't get booked to do concerts, you don't get booked to do TV. Weight is incredibly important, as shallow as that sounds. It is the first thing a producer looks at."
In spite of this, Toyah still sees herself as an empowered individual because she is creating her own work and opportunities through her music, not relying on the phone to ring with acting offers.
"I think I have a strong work ethic," she confirms. "I am painfully aware of my limitations and I always want to improve.
"I don't rely on anyone else to give me what I want in life and to live like that you have to be responsible for yourself."
Which is why she feels sad for young people today whose creativity and ambition is not being encouraged. Instead they are being nannied and indulged into apathy.
"The whole structure of this society is so people earn and bring money back into the community. People are educated and go out to work.
"We are not having children for them to go shopping and play computer games! We are having children to be a responsible part of the community. I think the Government has let them down. The day they allowed schools to sell playing fields for property development was absolutely wrong.
"And this whole culture where you can be sued if a child hurts themselves in the playground, it is just stupid. I can remember standing in goal playing hockey where the ground was frozen solid and breaking my teeth. I didn't complain about it and no one worried for me.
"Our parents generation grew up during a war and it had the effect of galvanising them. Everything we see now is happening far away, Africa, Iraq, we are desensitised to it. Kids are just not seeing that they are responsible for their own future and that is not only cultural, it is political as well.
"We have to give teachers more power and nurses more power and go back to the values of the mid 60s which was a Labour government, so why haven't we got those values now? I am incensed by it."
Somewhere in middle England, there is a Major hurrumphing his support.
Work makes Toyah Willcox happy. And if current trends are anything to go by, she must be ecstatic. So what drives this flame haired eighties icon to do more and more?
We caught up with the diminutive Toyah, as she slipped on her thigh length leather boots for her latest stage appearance.
And no, not this time on the Hexagon’s stage as part of an eighties tribute tour, but to reprise her leading role as Jack in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’.
Toyah readily agrees life is all about new challenges – though this won’t be the first time she’s done panto, and Jack is a familiar role.
“I never feel as if I’ve arrived,” is the shocking admission from Toyah herself, who is an accomplished musician (vocals, guitar and keyboards), actress, songwriter and producer.
With a shy smile she admits to becoming star struck when in the company of David Bowie and adds: “I don’t feel remotely that I’ve ‘made it’.
“Every stage of life is about a new adventure. Even as a child I could never believe that life started at 20, and finished at 30. The adventure is still on going,” said 49-year old Toyah, “Doing different things is very empowering.”
Indeed her career – which saw her bursting onto the screens in the anti-establishment David Jarman film Jubilee in 1977, followed by a highly successful music career from the late seventies with her band ‘Toyah’ (I Want to Be Free, It’s a Mystery) - has gone from strength to strength.
Acting roles have included anything from Shakespeare and Minder to Tales of the Unexpected and now as Billie Piper’s mother in the new TV adaptation of Belle de Jour. Music continues to be a huge part of her life – she is married to musician Robert Fripps with whom she conducts a ‘Transatlantic relationship’, so they can both pursue their own careers.
But Toyah has also evolved with such projects as I’m a Celebrity, the voice of the Teletubbies, her biography in 2000 ‘Living out Loud’ and her 2005 Diary of a Facelift – ‘I had the facelift to look well’.
She says life is an open book, that no one need go digging to find out any secrets and the best time of her life is ‘now’.
These disarmingly honest admissions are no surprise when you meet Toyah. She is friendly, offers us a coffee and then proffers the packet of mixed nuts and fruit she is nibbling from: “I’m trying to do a bit of a detox at the moment “, she grins, though she looks incredibly svelte and healthy.
Talking of her early career Toyah freely admits she had not had any life experience. “I was from Birmingham, then suddenly I was in London. I worked with heroin addicts, sex addicts; they were all phenomenal, wonderful people. That phase of life was so interesting. I learnt to keep my mouth shut because I’d not experienced what they’d experienced. They were complicated. Hedonistic. Derek Jarman, he only saw the good in people.”
Work has always flowed in Toyah’s direction, her trademark lisp never hampering her style: “I’m very pushy. I have no pride when it comes to asking for work. I ring people up all the time.”
She has worked with the likes of Greta Scacchi and Catherine Hepburn on a raft of high profile films and TV dramas: “I adore telly acting.”
Yet despite all the fame and glamour Toyah is grounded: “When I look at what a life should be, it should be about happiness. We’re pathetic in this country. People are very hard working, to the point where a lot of people don’t realise if they’re happy or not. If we had happier people, we’d be a happier society.
“For me work keeps me very happy. I’m restless. I like to be on the move.”
Age appears to fascinate Toyah, rather than scare her.
“A lot of people say they don’t care what people think as they get older, you are your own ‘kingdom’ at that point.
“I think the facelift changed me. It’s given me tonnes of confidence. I feel more confident that I’ve taken control of something I wasn’t happy with.
“I’m always working on a project. I’ve got two books on the go, both non-fiction. And the nostalgia tours – well, it’s a holiday, that’s not work, it’s party time.”
Of Jack and the Beanstalk with The Proper Pantomime Company Toyah adds: “On many levels I love it (panto). It’s a cultural art and I enjoy it immensely. I love the challenge of working two shows a day.
“I love that you get three generations of one family in the audience. And I love working over Christmas. I would hate to have nothing to do at Christmas. I would rather do panto than non-stop concerts. Panto is more like family, you have a wild social time with the people you work with.”
On playing Jack Toyah said: “The challenge is bringing something to the show and for the audience to go away thinking ‘we haven’t seen that before’.
“I’ve played Jack three times. I want to entertain the audience as if it’s George Michael playing Wembley,” laughed Toyah.
IT'S A MYSTERY WHY BRUM'S
NOT BRITAIN'S HOLLYWOOD
Punk legend Toyah Willcox is to help transform Birmingham into the British equivalent of Hollywood.
The Kings Heath singer and actress is working on a secret drama project centred in her native city.
"I'm working with writers and producers to try to create a Birmingham film industry," said Toyah, 49, who now lives near Pershore in Worcestershire.
"Birmingham is a very exciting area because it has such diverse architecture and culture.
"The project I'm currently working on will be very recognisably Birmingham. Cities can grow around films and you recognise many of them by the movies made there.
"Birmingham has a lot going for it - the city has great untapped potential."
Toyah, married to guitarist Robert Fripp, says her dream of a 'Brummywood' could come true because London is no longer the centre of every major arts project.
"I commute every day to London but I wouldn't consider moving there," she said. "A lot of people are moving out of London now. Economically it makes sense. New technology means they can work anywhere.
"Birmingham is an ideal location because it's in the centre of the country and doesn't get the terrible traffic problems of London."
Toyah is currently playing Billie Piper's mother in racy ITV show Secret Diary Of A Call Girl.
"It was great working with Billie because she, too, had a music career," she said. "The programme is quite risque and we were all very sensitive towards Billie - you can feel vulnerable when filming nude scenes.
"I've already appeared nude in two films - The Tempest and The Ebony Tower - and also once on stage in Nottingham performing Emile Zola's Therese Raquin.
"Half of me felt completely up for it and full of bravado, and half of me felt really shy.
"I've never watched myself on screen so I've never felt awkward about seeing myself nude. I'm simply not interested once the job is done. After that I move straight on to the next job."
Toyah candidly shared the details of her plastic surgery in a previous book, Diary Of A Facelift.
"Having a facelift is very common in my profession," she said. "I don't know anyone who hasn't had one.
"I was very nervous before surgery. Nothing is 100 per cent safe, but it was one of the most exciting things I've ever done.
"If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have been able to continue experimenting with image as I do now.
"I would have been classed as an older woman trying to look like a 20 year-old.
"Now I can't wait to turn 50. My 40s have been my happiest time and I think my 50s will be even better.
"No-one tells you what a wonderful sense of freedom you get when you reach this age."
Creating a Hollywood in Birmingham would make sense for this Midland all-rounder, who loves working in the region.
She was the narrator on children's programmes like Teletubbies and Brum, and appeared in Silver Street, the Asian Network's version of The Archers.
Toyah will be in Birmingham on November 3 to launch The Natural Living Show for Body, Mind and Soul at The Clarendon Suites in Edgbaston.
As a former presenter of an alternative remedies series on ITV's This Morning, the show is right up her street.
"It's a show about holistic ideas such as homeopathy, colour therapy and aura therapy, which can be used on a complementary basis with western medicine," she explained.
"A lot of GPs now support homeopathy and colour therapy is said to be good for seasonal depression.
"I've been very interested in alternative medicine for 25 years.
"Arnica was the first alternative medicine I used. It's great for shocks and for bruises. I also take the friendly bacteria bifidobacterium to prevent me from getting colds in the winter, which is really important as a singer.
"All the hospitals were homeopathic until the discovery of penicillin, around the time of the Second World War.
"Suddenly, there was a revolution of man-made medicines but nature is so clever - it can cure many mild symptoms."
Birmingham Sunday Mercury
FINANCE? IT'S NO
MYSTERY SAYS TOYAH
Singer and actress Toyah Willcox is so mean her husband says that her purse screams if she opens it.
Toyah Willcox shot to fame during the punk rock era. Her appearances in Derek Jarman’s 1977 film Jubilee and the cult classic Quadrophenia launched her as an antiestablishment figure.
In the 1980s, she sang hits such as I Want To Be Free and It’s A Mystery. In 1983, she was voted Best Female Singer at the British Rock and Pop Awards. She has also starred in many West End plays, including Taming of the Shrew and Cabaret, and has recently started filming a drama for ITV2, The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper.
Willcox, 49, lives with her husband, the former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, in Worcester.
How much money do you have in your wallet? I have £100 which is about normal. I very rarely use cash, though – it’s purely for emergencies.
Do you have any credit cards? I’ve got three but I only really use one. I use the other two when I’m abroad – an Amex card for emergencies, and a Lloyds TSB Visa card which I use in France.
My main card is a Marks & Spencer Mastercard which earns me points, which I use to renew my underwear drawer. It doesn’t take long to collect points as I get through thousands each month on that card.
Are you a saver or a spender? I’m a saver. My husband says my purse screams when I open it. I go through every bill – it’s amazing to find so many things that shouldn’t be there, like bank charges. I claimed back my bank charges even though it was only about £200. It’s the principle of it – I’ve been known to reclaim 1p.
I have a savings account, a current account and a Lloyds TSB tracker savings account.
How much did you earn last year? I’m earning more now than I’ve ever done. In terms of acting, singing and writing, I made around £400,000. I have just over £2m in investments if you include all my properties, but the income from that is about £75,000 a year – shockingly low. I think I’ll need an investment portfolio worth more like £8m to retire with the kind of lifestyle I’m used to now.
Have you ever been really hard up? When I first moved to London at 18, I was living on £5 a week. I remember sharing an apartment with two drama students and pinching two brussels sprouts out of the freezer. The longest I went without food was three days.
What is the most lucrative work you have ever done? Did you use the fee for something special? I did a Mum deodorant advert in 1986 that paid £40,000 a year – I think it ran for two or three years. It involved one day’s work with Griff Rhys Jones directing. I made two albums from that money.
Do you own a property? I have two properties on the Côte d’Azur which I rent out, and three properties in England. I also have three other properties with my husband.
One of the French houses is a new-build. I rent it out to an IT firm. It cost me £200,000 but it’s worth twice that now.
I recently completed on the second. It was something that comes on the market so rarely, I pulled out every stop.
I have two riverfront properties in the Midlands, which I bought in 1999 and 2000. I bought the first one for £147,000 then the one next door for £170,000. They’ve tripled in value. My parents live in one and the family uses the other for holidays.
I also have a one-bedroom house in Chiswick, which I will never get rid of because I can’t envisage buying into London again. I bought it in 1994 and I use it as a work studio.
My main residence is in Worcester with my husband. It is a six-bedroom Georgian house we bought in 2001.
Do you invest in shares? I bought a £20,000 bond from Standard Life in 2000. I cashed in recently to buy the house in France. It was worth £1,000 more than my original investment, a poor return for six years. I also have premium bonds, but I cashed in £30,000 for the house in France, as well as about £10,000 from savings. I have a self-invested personal pension with Selestia into which I put £64,000 last year. It’s made £13,000 this year.
Do you have any Isas? I have a cash Isa with Nationwide into which I put the maximum each year.
Do you have a pension or other retirement plan? I have four but the highest performing one is with Legal & General. I haven’t put anything into that since 1989, but it’s grown beautifully every year – double digits, I would say.
Do you believe pensions are a good thing? I think I could have made my money go 10 times further by investing in property.
What has been your worst investment? The Standard Life bond was a complete waste of money. I could have bought a place in Sheffield for a little bit more.
And your best? The place I’ve just bought. It’s already gone up by 100,000 Euro (£68,000) since February.
Do you manage your own financial affairs? I have an accountant and advisers, but I choose where things are placed.
What aspect of our taxation system would you change? I get very angry that hard working people get taxed as much as the billionaires. I would add another tax bracket for the ridiculously wealthy.
Also, I’m a carer for my parents and I think carers in general should be helped out with tax breaks.
What is your financial priority? To feel safe, especially when we’re living in such an unstable society. I worry that something awful may happen and then any wealth I have may not be worth much at all. I’m also worried about what Gordon Brown will do.
Do you have a money weakness? I probably travel too much. I often just go off to places like Brazil or Ecuador to have a look at the property market. I like the idea of buying a house where nobody knows who I am.
What is the most extravagant thing you have ever bought? I once bought a £2,000 emerald necklace after doing 74 performances of Peter Pan in Canterbury in 1994.
Do you play the lottery? Yep. I think it’s a fantastic charity. On opening nights, I put a lottery ticket in the good luck cards I send round to the rest of the actors.
What would you do if you won? Probably give it away.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt about money? I think you need to treat money like it’s an alien from another planet. You have to learn its language.
The Sunday Times
TOYAH'S OPEN BOOK
Even before that chirpy voice greets me, I feel I already know more than anyone has a right to know about Toyah Willcox .
I know she was so certain she didn't want children that she was sterilised 20 years ago. I know she has one of showbiz's more unconventional marriages, husband, guitarist Robert Fripp living and working in the US while her home - where the couple meet up periodically - is in Worcestershire.
I know she had a facelift in 2004, because she wrote a book about it. And I know she has a tense relationship with her mother because Willcox tells us so among the home truths in a frank online diary.
Apparently, Willcox accepted years ago that if her life is an open book, no one need go digging to find any secret chapters.
"I don't get pestered by the press. I don't have problems with the paparazzi. There just haven't been any problems because honesty is disarming."
Now she wants to bare her soul about something else - the topic of women growing old. "I feel very strongly that no one talks about the journey a woman makes from the age of 48 to 60. It's a mammoth journey," says Willcox, who is 49 tomorrow. "In Inuit culture, it is the most powerful part of a woman's life. In western culture, it is deemed as the hag, the termagant. But it is phenomenally exciting and challenging.
"In the west, the menopause is seen as some horrendous illness, but it's there for a reason. Women become infertile physically, but mentally I believe we become more fertile. I'm fascinated about that. I've never felt more ready to sit down and write than at this age."
So why, if she is so comfortable with the passing years, did Toyah undergo a facelift after her 2003 stint in the I'm A Celebrity jungle drew catty comments about her haggard appearance?
"I had the facelift to look well," she replies. "I was incredibly healthy, but I was looking as if I was terminally ill. I didn't want people looking at me for the rest of my life asking if I was OK. My surgery was purely to freshen me up." So, it is no surprise to hear her say that the best time of her life is right now.
"I love my life. I have a fantastic time. I'm unbelievably wealthy, I work every day and my work is an absolute joy," she says.
At the same time as seizing the day, though, she is also happy to wallow in nostalgia with yet another 1980s tour, which will put her on stage at Tatton Park, with the likes of Bananarama and Belinda Carlisle on July 29.
"Yes, it's shameless nostalgia. For me, it is not a dirty word," she says. "We are playing music that people went to school to, had their first crushes to, possibly their first marriage to."
It is 30 years since Birmingham-born Willcox first hove into public view in Derek Jarman's acclaimed punk movie Jubilee. A part in the quintessential mod movie Quadrophenia followed, then a string of pop hits through the Eighties.
But her CV also runs from Shakespeare to the Teletubbies, Songs Of Praise to TV's Good Sex Guide. She is turning to writing more recently, not just songs but also a book currently with publishers and a TV drama script.
"I'm not an intellectual snob. I treat everything with equal enthusiasm. I never think I shouldn't have done a job. Everything has a beneficial side."
So, what was the beneficial side of I'm A Celebrity?
"Apart from the £1m it made me, it led to the four scripts a week and the average of four TV programmes a month I get offered," she says.
At her busiest, Willcox claims to work 20-hour days, and is constantly turning down projects, particularly reality TV shows and anything to do with lifestyle and fashion.
"I say no to 70 per cent of what I'm offered. I'm planning for the next 10 years. If it is something I really can't get into - shopping, designer handbags or shoes - I'm just not interested.
"I don't shop; I have someone that sends me stuff. I don't wear high heels. It's just not part of my life. I don't have time to shop.
"I run a property business in the south of France. I have a game show business. I am writing scripts now and doing endless concerts."
Gates for the Here and Now show at Tatton Park open at 4pm, while the concert begins at 7.30pm. Tickets are £29 (with £2 discounts for groups of ten or more. Under fives go free). To book tickets call 0870 060 1768 or click here for the Halle show on July 28 show and here for the Here and Now July 29 show.
Manchester Evening News
YES, I KNOW CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE -
JUST DON'T ASK ME TO HAVE ANY!
BY TOYAH WILLCOX
At this time of year, I always perform in pantomime, which involves working with children. These youngsters are, without fail, exceptionally wonderful.
As the curtain comes down at the end of each show, there will normally be a small hand slipping into mine as a child, bewildered by the artificial darkness caused by the lights going down, looks to me to protect her.
Because I don't have any offspring of my own, this is the only contact I have with children, through my work in such shows as Aladdin, this year, and the children's TV series Barmy Aunt Boomerang, Brum and Teletubbies.
So to suddenly have a child putting her trust in me evokes very strange emotions. As I try to guide this little soul to safety, her sense of wonderment is tangible: the hopes and dreams which she has are all clearly there, waiting to take more mature form.
It may seem strange in a world that often revolves around children, with people saying that having children is the point of being alive, but I have never wanted one of my own.
Considering all the problems in the world and the maze of difficulties that the passage from childhood to adulthood takes, I believe parents are either saints or masochists. As for myself, I cannot think of one good reason for giving up my peace or my sanity.
I come from a background where my parents constantly told my sister and me never to have children. They wanted us to be financially independent, but never made us feel unwanted.
My sister hasn't got children, not because of this advice but for the same reason that I don't: we were part of a generation of women who believed that to have a career meant you should NOT have family.
And the absence of children doesn't stop there. My husband's sister didn't have children, my aunts never had any and virtually all my close friends don't have any either. The truth is that I am simply not capable of compromise, especially with the young.
For example, if I was in a supermarket with a child having a tantrum because it was demanding something I couldn't afford, or which was bad for their health, I would walk away and let the little devil find their own way home.
However, I don't see myself as inhuman or unusual. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would put a child's safety before my own, although I would never, ever pander to their whims.
And that is one of the greatest challenges of being a parent today. For I see children as collectively 'our' children. They are our future. I like to think that I am still responsible as a role model, with my work in children's theatre and television being an example to future generations.
There is a profound difference between those children with whom I work in pantomime (whose magic revolves around the fact they still behave as youngsters) and those types that you see hanging out on the streets. On stage, there is discipline and focus; out on the streets, they are charged with aggression.
If I governed this country, I would make it illegal to sell a child a violent video game, a thong, a midriff-revealing T-shirt, or anything that encourages them to get plastic surgery or to become a size zero.
Do you think it is healthy that a young girl under the age of 14 should idolise glamour models such as Jordan?
I admire her self-made success, but I am a 48-year-old adult. When I was a child, the fairy princess in my imagination wore a ballgown that covered her entire body. Breasts didn't even figure in my fantasy.
Instead of Jordan, our children should be shown another role model, the world's first female space tourist, Anousheh Ansari. She came from a poor family in Iran. As a child, she loved astrophysics, but since the mullahs had closed all educational opportunities for girls, her family fled to America where Ansari could follow her dream.
Starting a telecoms company with her family, she was worth $750million by the time she was 35 years old and was able to buy her ticket to space.
Education is our gift, our privilege and our freedom. We are so lucky to have freedoms and choices, so why do we take them for granted? Instead, we are hit by headlines such as the one about a four-year- old expelled from primary school for sexual misconduct, a 12-year-old stabbing a classmate in the face with a pair of scissors or a sevenyearold selling drugs.
Why do we allow children to become disillusioned, overweight and aggressive? Where has the spirit of adventure and intelligent rebellion gone?
These days, a child can't even climb a tree without a school or a playground being sued. When I was a child, we were all writing and printing our own magazines and selling them outside school!
I suppose my parents motivated me by making me fear I wouldn't be able to provide for myself in the future. Cash handouts weren't so readily available then, so education and getting a job were at the top of my future wish list. Today, there is an increase in street gangs, which are nothing more than children self-policing themselves to make sure no one ever has a chance to shine and break away from the crowd.
What has gone wrong? I think that the poor diet that so many children have is the main offender, not only junk food, but a bad cultural diet, in the shape of violent DVD games and sexual images on TV.
I blame computers and hardsell advertising (if I see another advert selling frozen foods on primetime TV, I'll scream).
Sportsmen selling products and not the beautiful game have a lot to answer for. Who gives a sod what aftershave David Beckham wears? It's his talent on the pitch that children should be seeing, not a man raking in the cash for looking good.
We have given children the wrong impression of our intentions. By giving in to them on so many fronts, in some cases parents have become a laughing stock by being too scared to stand up to them.
A few years ago, I was in Leeds, filming the children's series Adam's Family Tree. The school in which we were shooting was in the centre of a notorious housing estate and we had to be ferried there in an armoured bus.
What I saw on that two-minute journey made my blood freeze: cars burning, with children running up to the flames and pushing their hands in.
I had only ever read about this sort of thing in the 1975 Doris Lessing novel, Memoirs Of A Survivor, where the author warned her readers that children could become our oppressors. Suddenly, here was the reality.
Whereas I have supported both my parents since I left home and started work at the age of 18, a high percentage of children now don't leave home, preferring to gather their savings to purchase a first home in their 30s. It fills me with horror to think that, if I had children, I could have to subsidise them for so many years.
Am I self-centred for feeling this way? That's partly true but what is far more disturbing is to have a child because you feel that is what society expects - even if, like me, you have no biological urge.
As such, the next generation cannot afford to be lazy and uninspired because the State cannot support us all for much longer using the present pensions system.
You may think that I am proud to be a grumpy old woman. That's true. But I am not proud to be a childless woman. It has always perturbed me that I've never felt the biological urge, but I accept my fate.
However, what I do have is monumental respect for every parent out there who takes on the challenge...