1983 - 1984
1983 - 1984
Hammersmith Odeon, Dec 6th
Thousands of admiring boys and girls (mainly boys) were tuned in in a moment, as Toyah slammed on the stage.
None of this wishy-washy warm up stuff, her presence was electrifying. With the type of microphone that you pin round your ear and keep in front of your mouth. She was able to perform, constantly on the move.
For the entire evening, dressed in black-and-white striped panta-loons, and black and silver lurex top, she thundered across the stage, waving arms and fists. She is expansive and plays to the crowd. This is part of the excitement. Although the musicians were more than competent and alive it is really hard to remember the musical backing.
You just remember Toyah's pointed expression, and challenging appearance as she insists ' I Want To Be Free' ' It's A Mystery'. It's impossible to forget that Toyah is, as much as anything, an actress. This is perhaps her main attraction. She injects such drama into her act, by creating energy and completely 'getting into the part'. Her voice is her major tool. In one song she can range from forlorn to jarring, from indignant to rebellious and usually ends up sounding majestic.
Most of her songs were taken from her new album, Love Is The Law. Her new single, 'The Vow' was performed well, but it is rather strange and muted in comparison to some others. 'Dreamscape' began with smoke clouds smothering the stage. What with just about every large band using this technique, it seemed a little wasted, but it was there, I suppose, to illustrate the point. The same with the song she entitled 'Boom' where, after singing about how she could explode, she seemed to do so in a firework explosion.
But stage effects are not really Toyah's game - she leaves that to the inconsequential stage artists - she can keep an audience with her for the entire performance. Even when she sits in little corners singing little girl tunes.
'Thunder In The Mountains' and 'Broken Diamonds' were greeted rapturously and applauded well.
She performed two encores, raucous and very well-received. As we left, all we could hear was 'wasn't she fantastic' and 'I can't get over how good she was'. It's important not to forget that she really works at it. It's the fact that she gives everything for the moment, which a lot of other artists refuse to do.
I only wish the band could create more excitement from the actual music. It's as if she's there, plugging in to the audience and creating rock operas in every song, and the band seem to be playing the same tune all the way through. She was extremely well accompanied by her female vocalist, who should have got more applause for harmonising so well without loosing presence in the shadows of Toyah.
This concert gave me cause for thought, though. The mainly male audience were waving their hands and fists at Toyah, clamouring to get near the stage. Yet faced with this aggressively opinionated powered woman, how would they react? They'd probably hate her. What do men really want from women, I wonder?
IN THE ARMS OF
The increasingly extraordinary Adam Sweeting tackles the several personalities of the small but determined Toyah.
I'd never met Toyah before, and I was wondering which one I might find. Would it be Miranda from "The Tempest", the fierce female wrestler from "Trafford Tanzi", the lisping TV presenter, or the aggressively padded pugilist from the sleeve of her new "Love Is The law" album?
I was marched into a glacial conference room at her manager's office and didn't notice her for a moment. "And this is Toyah ..."Ah, there she was, lurking in the far corner with a shy smile. Good Lord, she is tiny isn't she? Just returned from two months in the wilds of France where she'd been filming "The Ebony Tower" alongside Sir Laurence Olivier, Toyah has not yet readjusted to the noisy pressures of London. "God, it is noisy isn't it?" she said, as a flock of police cars whizzed past down the King's Road, banshee-sirens wailing. "I was in France for two months of complete solitude, and it was wonderful." She giggled throatily. "I can't speak French -well, I can a bit now - so I was very alone and it was very nice," Funny, the lisp is now almost undetectable.
I can't pretend to be much of a fan of Toyah's records, either her lyrics or her kind of futurist/Heavy Metal music, which always remind me somehow of Ultravox without the moustache. Hoping to skirt round the subject, I told Toyah I thought her music now seemed to be very much in second place to her acting career. A forthright 25-year old, Toyah was having none of this."No, not at all", she said firmly. "Where have you got that from?" Well, you know Toyah, "Trafford Tanzi", TV appearances... "The reason I do TV is to promote the music, and also I enjoy doing TV", she insisted."I like the medium, I prefer to be in front of a camera rather than being on a stage the whole time. When you're on a stage in front of an audience it's a rare electricity, it's a rare inspiration you get from your audience, but at the same time I feel I need different media to channel myself through. I get bored very easily, and boredom is very destructive. The reason I do TV is that more people can get to see you without having to pay phenomenal ticket prices. I'd say music and acting are 50-50.
But after appearing in "The Tempest" and "Trafford Tanzi" and working on a new film based on a John Fowles novel, which are all fairly sophisticated projects, can you still take pop music seriously? Toyah didn't agree with this line of questioning at all. "I keep both careers very separate from each other. I keep them apart so that they in fact inspire each other. After I did 'Trafford Tanzi', it was like a holiday to go and make a film, because it got me away from a certain type of people. The only thing I will never take seriously is the people in the pop world, because they're all voyeurs and they're all pretentious in their own way".
Hmm. Tell me about working with Sir Larry, then. Toyah chortled. "He was great, very impressive. He's just a lovely person. He's very intelligent, very entertaining, just a nice human being and very talented." Let's not be too hard on the old boy.Had he heard any of your records? "He hasn't", revealed Toyah, "but one of his daughters has. He has a great interest in computer systems and stuff, I spent a lot of time talking to him about Fairlights and the Jupiter programming system, and he really is into all that. He loves technology".
I don't remember any of this being in Peter Hall's diaries. Anyway... "When we started the movie, he completely disbelieved what I was telling him about certain techniques but towards the end of the movie he was starting to buy things, like he had his own word-processor and a computer typewriter", Lawks! "Olivier Joins Depeche Mode", Had he seen your performance in Derek Jarman's movie of "The Tempest", Toyah?"No", she said. "I never tried to get any form of judgement from him, and I didn't try to study his acting at all. Because of his senior age I had a lot of respect for him, because I just like people of that age. He had a lot to say about his past career, and he had more to say about his technique of directing than he did about his technique of acting, and I just found him absolutely fascinating.
"I'd tell him about my techniques within the pop world, and he'd then give me information about how he directs. We learned from each other in that way, but once we were on the set. We didn't communicate as personal people, we communicated as characters, because we had to hate each other in the film".
In "The Ebony Tower" (directed by Robert Knight. who was responsible for the BBC2 series "The History Man"), Toyah was called upon to play a character called The Freak. "On the surface she looks like a freak but deep down inside she is the sanest of the four main characters", Toyah explained. "The most intriguing thing about the part is that I could relate to it because for ten years I had red hair, and people instantly judge your character and your personality by your outward appearance, while inside you can be completely the opposite. That is what The Freak is about."
Since finishing the movie, Toyah has dyed her hair black so she can go shopping and drop in to the Pizza Express without having people recognising her all the time. "Having red hair you're living in a false reality, you can't go out because you're instantly recognisable, so you're permanently being treated like a star "
But surely you set yourself up for that by being who you are?
"I did by having red hair," Toyah qualified. "Now, only the people who buy my records and follow my career know who I am. I used to get very annoyed with people who'd come up in restaurants and slobber all over you when they'd never even bought one of your records or supported you, They're just all over you because you're a pop star to them.
"If I see someone famous in the street I generally walk the other way, because the reason they're walking down the street is that they've got something to do. It's very nice, I like being recognised, but just for a few months while I'm getting ready to write the next album I've decided to be a little incognito".
I quoted a couple of lines from her new album at her. "Everything and everyone I ever loved has been taken from me" ("Remember"). Are you in love, Toyah? Toyah shrieked and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh dear! No one's ever asked me that. I'm glad you've asked that! The whole of that album is inspired by punters I met while I was doing 'Trafford Tanzi' When I arrived at the theatre I'd talk to the punters outside, and I'd talk to them in the intervals and I'd talk to them at the end. For the first time in four years I travelled alone without any security which meant I could talk to the audience without people going "come on you've got to go in now" and ordering my life about. I really got to know these kids and I got to like them a lot, and I got to see little groups of them fall in love with each other and their relationships grow and then fall apart, because they were all young teenagers. I was an observer, and I learned so much from them that I'd forgotten."
"I'd go home after 'Trafford Tanzi' feeling either very happy or very angry - they could make you very angry some days because a lot of them were there every day for five months, so we got to a point in our relationship where they could really annoy me or make me very happy."
Meanwhile, Toyah was working on the "Love Is The law" LP. Guitarist Joel Bogen and keyboards man Simon Darlow had moved into Toyah's house so she wouldn't have to go tramping off to a studio after a hard night's wrestling, and during the day
"They'd work on arrangements and backing tracks. The way I worked on the lyrics was I'd get home at about 11 and start drinking", Toyah confessed. "I've stopped drinking now but I'd deliberately drink heavily to relax me a lot. Then Simon would set up a microphone and stuff and we'd sit down and I would improvise a lot of the lyrics as the backing track ran through the headphones. "'Remember' came about after a particular argument with one of the punters who got so drunk she tried to hit me, and so I was sort of pent up, and 'Remember' came out of that. The album is all experiences like that, and a lot of it was improvised. 'Rebel Of Love' was really totally off the top of my head, it really has no song structure at all. It's more like a poem. Rather than pre write songs and let them go stale, I did them on the spur of the moment."
Did you find it easy to work that way? "It was at the time, because 'Trafford Tanzi' left me on such a natural high and a natural power-emotion ...doing that play and winning an enormous fight every night really does make you feel very good, so it was a natural way to come down, to let my mind run riot to the backing tracks. It was very positive."
Your lyrics do seem very constructed though, Toyah, rather than coming from inside yourself. I get the impression you find it hard to talk about yourself on an intimate level in your lyrics.
"For the first time on this album I've tried to be more intimate than I've ever been before", she pondered. "I've tried to avoid diversities and go for raw emotions, so in a way allowing the punters to get very close to me and trigger my emotions was a very important source of inspiration for that album. It was a one-off, I'll never do it again because it was exhausting. I don't willingly talk about myself that openly because you're laying yourself open to be knocked down."
Well anyway, are you in love? You never answered that one. "Oh God ...well, I have a permanent companion who I've lived with for four years, and I can't foresee any parting happening there and I love him very much. But I have what I call three different loves. "There's a love which is a great friendship where I feel great bonds with people, I think that's still a form of love. There's the love I feel for my old man where nothing can step in, because I don't believe in promiscuity of any type, I think it's a weakness. So there's unsexual love and there's sexual love, and I believe you can only have sexual love for one person. I feel great love for people around me at the same time, but I wouldn't want to have an affair with them. I think that's sordid, it's horrible, I hate people who do that."
That's very moral.
"Um... I don't think it's so much moral, I really think if you go round having affairs left right and centre you're damned weak and you don't understand who you are. You're searching for something you'll never find. And it's not so much moral, I think it's sensible, and with all the new plagues going about..." She laughed. "I think it's the only way people will survive."
How about heroes or idols? Got any?
"Oh God, yes. My idol of all time is James Dean but he's gone and snuffed it. I love Marilyn Monroe because she just shone. I love people with that charisma. I love Bowie. He's my biggest hero ever, I got into him when I was about 12 and I've never thought differently of him, whereas Marc Bolan I liked when I was 12 and didn't like when I was 17 and then started liking him again just before he died." What's so special about Bowie?
"It's a persona. I've never met him and I never want to meet him, because he means too much to me. If he goes and blows everything I think he is, then I'll have no more heroes left. I think you've gotta have a hero, you've got to have someone you really admire. I think once you get to know someone too well you can't admire them any more, because you naturally see weaknesses and I don't like seeing that."
Aha! What weaknesses will you admit to then, Toyah?"I've got hundreds. I overeat, I'm lazy if I don't push myself, I'm stubborn, I'm a terribly jealous and possessive person. But all those things keep you going. I think my ambition is fed through jealousy and possessiveness, 'I want, I want, I want'. I'm a megalomaniac, mentally and physically.
"But it's controlling those feelings that strengthens you in a way. I believe you can channel different energies, like when I'm angry, if I keep that anger in me I'll have a burst of energy and be able to do lots of things. But if I blow it by throwing things about and having a screaming tantrum I'll exhaust myself. One thing I've learned to do over the last five years is channel energies. Before I go onstage I deliberately won't move, I'll stay in the same spot for two hours. Then suddenly I'll explode when I come onstage. It's like you've gotta destroy to create sometimes. When I'm nervous I naturally want to move about, so I keep it inside me."
What's the worst thing you've ever done to somebody? "Oh, I don't think I've ever done anything bad to people," said Toyah, aghast. "I could never hurt anyone. I've been in fights but I've managed to control that now. I've been in real punch-ups, but that's because I get too drunk and I enjoy a good punch up. Ha! The only thing that gets hurt through jealousy is yourself, you can't hurt other people through your own jealousy because it's a paranoia that goes on inside your own head. That's why I've tried to channel it into something more positive."
It will probably come as no great surprise to you to learn, then, that Toyah doesn't like other women much and even forgets she is one sometimes. "I don't like yer typical woman," she asserted . "I think it's a waste of life. By that I mean women who need a man to lean on or aren't emotionally strong enough to survive independently. I just get on better with men. They're more physical , they're more strenuous in what they do, and that's how I like it to be."
"There's women I really like, but because I want to keep liking them I stay away from them. I can't talk about women's things. I really try, but I just can't - my head turns off after about an hour."
What about feminism then? Is it irrelevant?
"I think it's a bit dated now," said Toyah. "The kids I've met who will be the future, they just have no paranoias like that, they're just not insecure in that way. They know that the only way that they're gonna get on is through their individuality and care of appearance, but not through being extra-masculine or extra-feminine. It's with their own intelligence and hard work, they know that they're trying to get somewhere, and if they're weak it's their own fault. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman - I know men who can't get jobs because they're pathetic. It's the same as women who can't get jobs because they're feeble."
"Feminism has its extremes -I just don't understand women who hate men so much. It's very strange. It's as bad as gays who want to beat up women. There's a balance to everything, and feminism is a little too far over, for me anyway."
Crikey .You lay down the law about people and things a lot, Toyah, but do you have a romantic side? "Oh I'm very romantic but I keep that in my head. My fantasies are where my lyrics come from. The people I work with aren't romantic at all, but my fans are romantic - I get flowers and romantic letters from my fans. I have my romantic ideals, but I have to keep them in my head because I think it takes two to be romantic. Within my career all of us are fighting really hard to keep the ball rolling, we're really tense and hyper-active. To survive you have to let your idealisms go in your head and nowhere else. I'm romantic when I'm alone, I suppose."
But in public, it's full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. "What really counts is the people who still want to see you," asserted Toyah defiantly. "I think if you listen to people who are trying to be destructive towards you then you're stupid. You really are stupid."
The publicist was beginning to flap by now, so we wrapped it up. Toyah went off to continue fasting on cottage cheese and black coffee, and I lurched off in search of a typewriter.
REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE -
THE CHANGING FACE OF TOYAH
The last time something newsworthy happened here was in the Fourteenth Century.
Then a small army of Englishmen rode into the courtyard of this isolated chateau deep in the rural heart of France and ransacked the place.
Six hundred years later and the Brits are back, but this time with more peaceable intentions. Granada TV have chosen this timeless spot a few miles outside Limoges as the setting for their dramatisation of John Fowles' The Ebony Tower.
Revolving around the relationship enjoyed by an elderly exiled painter with two young artistic 'groupies' who share his retreat as seen by a visiting writer, the 90 minute play features just four actors and one location.
But what a location! As chickens and guinea fowl scamper across the courtyard, an elderly woman dressed all in black peers with a child-like grin of thrilled bemusement at the lorries and lights, the foreigners who have temporarily invaded her existence.
Rumour has it she has left the chateau only once in her 56 years of domestic service here, and then only to travel the few miles to Limoges.
No wonder she looks at us all as if we have somehow arrive from outer space. Looking around, it's not such an illogical conclusion to draw - especially when you come face to face with the flame-haired Toyah Willcox.
"I'm nicknamed the Red Devil around here because they think I'm a devil or else a comedienne, which to them doesn't mean a stand-up comic but a travelling performer.
Toyah laughs at the thought of being a devil, but not at the thought of being a travelling performer. She takes her acting very seriously - and you can't get much more serious than a John Mortimer (Brideshead) adaptation of a Fowles tome starring
Lord Olivier as the painter Breasley.
Toyah takes the part of one of the groupies, nicknamed The Freak for her outlandish behaviour.
So what's she like, this freak?
"Oh, she's an absolute bitch! I like acting bitches, the only problem with this bitch is that she keeps stripping off and we've had to handle that with extreme taste or else people wouldn't see me acting, they'd just see me as a slag stripping off.
"We've made her slightly psychic and a slight witch and it's great fun. Monkey in Quadrophenia I played as a speed freak, whereas this character is one minute silent and psyching people out with her eyes, the next minute she's screaming at somebody.
"It's very hard. It's taken a lot of time and a lot of nagging from the director to get me to do it properly, but it's stretching me and that's what I like. It's pushing me in a direction I've never been before.
"Also I'm learning a hell of a lot from just doing a film again after three years. This is the first I've done since The Tempest, and I've actually forgotten a lot. The thing with doing a stage play is that your actions become very big and descriptive for all the people at the back of the theatre. With a film you've got to bring it all back down into yourself. That's the hard bit, plus having to act with someone who insists on being called 'sir'."
The 'sir' if you haven't already guessed, is Laurence Olivier. Variously known as England's greatest living actor and the biggest
shakes since Garrick, he commands respect.
So much so that after each day's filming the tiny cast take it in turns to have dinner with the fellow. But even if this rota system has earned the nightly engagement the nickname 'the chore', Toyah for one enjoys the job.
"I dine with him quite often and he's very into the music side - it's great. And he's surprisingly up on it all. We were talking about the Fairlight (computer) the other night and he was fascinated by it's possibilities. We had a very interesting conversation because he can't understand how something you can use like the Fairlight can still show your emotions through the technology. He thinks it's
become very clone-like, he thinks we're heading towards a Metropolis
society where everyone has lost their human instincts.
"I say no, because not every human can twiddle those knobs and get the right noise. It's still very much a question of individual interpretation."
I'd almost forgotten. Relaxing in the Dordogne countryside for a few brief hours, occasionally meeting the eyes of the little lady in black who can know nothing of this Red Devil, the notion of Toyah as Pop Star had deserted me.
Despite the prestigious acting roles, music is still central to Toyah's creative drive. Why else would she risk physical and mental exhaustion by combining a punishing six month stint in the London stage production of Trafford Tanzi (in which she played a female wrestler) with the writing and recording of her new album 'The Law of Love'?
But Toyah makes light of the impossibly demanding schedule that
had her being thrown around for three hours a night ("I broke most of the bones in my right foot, fractured a rib and fractured an elbow") before shooting off to recording sessions that lasted till dawn.
"The only problem was coming down. After Tanzi my body was in such physical pain it was always about three hours before I could talk to anyone."
"The biggest challenge for me was to go to the theatre on my own and walk from the car to the stage door on my own. Before I'd always had bodyguards with me but I decided that this was a barrier I was going to break down.
"As a result I got to know a lot of the kids that waited outside for me. About 20 or 30 of them were waiting every night for five months and although I'd tell them what time I'd be arriving each night 'cos I couldn't stand the thought of them waiting, they'd always turn up two hours early.
"When the show started the majority would come in and see it every night but after a while they couldn't afford it so I'd go and chat with them outside during the intervals. But there was always a barrier there, I was always a star to them, I never became a normal person. I started to base my lyrics around them and because I'd go straight from the theatre to recrd the album, it is based on infatuations with kids ten years younger than me.
Toyah, the honourary teenager, worried about age?
"When you're in an egotistical business the battle understanding that it is inevitable you are going to grow old is something you start to fight very early on. I'm 25 now but I'd say when I was 23 I started to battle with the fact I was getting old."
Doing Tanzi might have brought Toyah up against the paradoxical problem of a pop star's age (ie. how do you become one of the kids when you are old enough to be their auntie?) but it also gave her a new approach to her live shows.
"For Trafford Tanzi I was onstage doing something that a lot of men find a very sexual act, which is an aspect of my life work as a singer I've found very difficult to cope with. It's taught me a lot about human emotions and how misguided I've been up till now.
"Y'see, on past tours I've been presenting myself as a sex object, in future I'm going to concentrate on getting on with the show as energetically as I can and stop thinking about being a woman, stop thinking about men in the audience and start thinking about my performance."
With nearly a year's absence from the chart limelight only just broken by the success of her single 'Rebel Run', it's not surprising that Toyah should have given a lot of thought to the nature and meaning of her success.
"When I lived in my warehouse in Battersea, I lent it to Iggy Pop for a while and it's where he and Bowie wrote 'China Girl' - my own claim to fame! I was in Wales at the time filming The Corn Is Green with Katherine Hepburn and when I heard Bowie had been at my place I nearly tore my hair out!
"Anyway, Iggy had just been dragged out of Berlin by Bowie to start his musical career again. He was such a beautiful, insecure little creature. He'd been going out with a girl called Mitsu who had died long after finishing the affair with him and I think that's what they based 'China Girl' on. John Cale came over to work with Iggy too and I remember just sitting there in awe of them all, all these insecure people who thought their careers were over.
"They didn't understand how strong their cult followings were in England. We were turning kids away at the door who were trying to get in to see them. Iggy never once understood his importance within our rock culture.
"And it isn't until now that I understand what Iggy was feeling. You go through a period when you doubt yourself, and I hit that period about a year and a half ago. I'm now coming out of that doubt and respecting myself as a person. I've decided to do everything to the best of my ability rather than worrying all the time about being desperately popular.
Ah, from the top of the commercial ladder there's only one place to go, and coming second to Yazoo's Alf at this year's Rock & Pop Awards obviously brought it home to Toyah.
But cosseted by the isolation and comforted by her satisfaction with the part of The Freak, the red haired lady is finding it easier to contemplate an acting career when her energetic job in music becomes too much.
"I think my priority and what I'll be remembered for is my acting because unless people have seen me live they can never understand what I'm doing as a singer and there'll come a time
when I can't carry on with the singing anymore. There's nothing sadder than seeing an ageing singer onstage."
But can a pop star ever make the sideways jump to credible actor?
The promotional type hype surrounding Bowie's recent flicks
would suggest not, and Toyah has a handicap - her strong image.
"Yeah, the problem with what I'm doing here in France is that I do look very much like 'me' within the film because of my red hair.
"But there will come a time when I shave my head and start growing my natural colour back. I tried it last year but I chickened out because I couldn't bear to see this black mass every morning ''cos I hate my natural colour.
"But there will come a time with my acting roles when they don't want red hair, and I hope that happens very soon because I need that excuse to get rid of it."
Toyah without her colourful barnet? Could this be the end of striking pop visuals as we know them? It certainly looks that way - especially now Toyah has started talking about being an album artist. So what's to become of the equally impressive videos that cast Toyah as some post-apocalypse queen of the Little People?
"Well, rather than present myself as a voluptuous little sex symbol, I've always enjoyed working in more masculine areas. That's why Tanzi was so much fun to do. Although it was outrageously sexual to do I found it very masculine and that's how I played it.
"Similarly, with my videos, the images I see and the images I get off on are warrior images. I know it will go one day and I'll start wishing I'd behaved a little more femininely but at the moment I love those images. If I was a foot taller I suppose I'd parade around like a model but I'm not and that might explain my obsession with elves. I've been studying them religiously and within the elf kingdom the females are the warriors and the men stay at court. The men are very tall and elegant and the women are the robust ones."
Which makes a lot of sense when you see the elfin yet powerful figure of Toyah Willcox act the pop star for a few hours in between acting the Freak. In the nicest possible way, you understand, but the role playing becomes inevitable when the public image gets divorced from the private identity.
"Toyah four years ago was blatantly obnoxious and trying to get everyone's attention, but now I've got it I don't want it. If someone left me a castle I'd lock myself away in it and just send tapes out to my friends saying 'hello'.
Somewhere in the centre of France, stands a sleepy chateau covered in rich red Virginia Creeper and surrounded by green fields and hysterical Guinea Fowl, where the evening light casts a golden glow to the ancient stonework and shadows stretch languidly across the unkempt courtyard lawn.
Also standing in the centre of France and indeed in the centre of the same courtyard, is the tiny suntanned figure of Toyah Willcox, whose hot Italian pink hair perfectly complements the creeper on the wall, creating a cosmic colour symphony that leaves even the ear shattering Guinea Fowl speechless. (Yes, yeas, but what about the wacky quotes? - Dep Ed)
She's out here to film a television adaptation of a John Fowles short story, 'The Ebony Tower', with Sir Laurence Olivier, Greta Scaatchi and Rodger Rees. Toyah, who's back in the charts with 'Rebel Run', plays the part of The Freak, aka Anne.
"It's set in the sixties," Toyah explains, almost swallowed up in the cushioning of an armchair back at the hotel. She looks trim and relaxed and pleased, as birds twitter unconcernedly outside.
"The Freak is supposed to have red hair, which probably meant just henna in those days. So to update it a bit, it's been taken literally to mean pillar-box red or something.
"She's supposed, also, to be totally uninhibited as well, and walk around stark naked and things like that," Toyah grimaces. "But I said I wasn't gonna do that so I spent hours with the director being reassures that I
wouldn't have to."
Obviously people watching wouldn't see an actress doing what the part requires, they'd simply see Toyah Willcox in the nod and say, "Coorrrr!" right?
"Yes, that's right, and of course I didn't want that to happen," Toyah nods and clasps one knee. "Also I think it's far more effective to just suggest nudity, with, like, bare shoulders and back shots, which leaves the rest to the imagination, so that's what's been done."
At this point, a massive great brute of an alsation (dog, not a native of Alsace) pushes the door open and barges into the room, proceeding to roll growling with wild abandon on the rug.
"Nice pooch," I say, drawing my knees up under my skirt and eyeing le chien des les Baskervilles warily.
"Oh he's lovely," Toyah laughs, patting its fearsome snout fondly.
How are you getting on with Sir Laurence Olivier, then?
"He's beautiful," she smiles.
"Living proof that no matter how your body ages, your mind never gets old.
"He has this aura about him," Toyah frowns slightly as if wondering if this is the right word to use. "I mean, I don't swear when he's around. He would probably understand and be tolerant if I did, but I just don't.
"We all call him Sir," she adds to illustrate the point. "You can't get over-familiar with him - he's not the sort of person you can."
Suddenly, bored with the rug Fido exits through the French windows to assault the garden, thumping the coffee table with his tail as he goes.
Your new album shows a definite progression, I say, but I can't quite pin down what's changed. How have you progressed, do you think?
Toyah purses her crimson lips, thinking of the best way to answer. "When I did 'Trafford Tanzi', it really taught me a lot, and it inspired me to really explore the emotion of love.
"For the first time, I was really close to people, to my fans. I mean, usually I was bundled from car to building, from building to car surrounded by bodyguards and nobody could get near me," she explained with a slightly rueful smile.
"But doing the six months of 'Trafford Tanzi' I found myself able to say 'stuff that' for the first time and travel alone. That's where I got the inspiration for 'Love Is The Law'. It may sound strange, even a bit corny, but I really wanted to write in depth about the emotion of love because of the warmth I got from the audience."
What then did she uncover during the excavations?
"It's been said that love is a hungry emotion," Toyah says, carefully savouring the phrase like a particularly tasty sweet you don't want to finish. "Like, 'Broken Diamonds' on the new album is all about wanting someone and not knowing how to tell them or being ashamed to."
My attention is suddenly caught by two very real looking 'eye' rings on Toyah's small fluttering hands. Fascinated by this somewhat macabre sight, I can't help asking where she
"Oh, there's a bloke down Carnaby Street who I asked to make them for me. All his jewellery is like Tolkien stuff, 'Lord of the Rings' stuff."
She grins at my own abundance of silver, moonstone, gold and pewter that bleeped embarrassingly through the Heathrow metal detector. "I'm hoping to start designing jewellery soon. It'll all be sort of fairytale inspired stuff.
"I love all that," she smiles. "Fairies, elfins, all that...OH! there's this terrific book out by a Sylvia, um, dum de dum- thingumy that you should read, some American with a double barrelled name. It's brilliant, like fairytales but for adults."
It must sometimes feel like a difficult choice between acting and singing as you obviously love both, do you hope to continue to combine the two?
"Yes, I do love both, but really the singing can't really continue much after the age of 40, but acting is something I've always done and hope I always will."
NICKING JUNG: TOYAH
There was a time within living memory when a walk down the King's Road was an enjoyable experience, a remote period of girls trying to look like Julie Christie, and Italian restaurants decorated with clean, white lavatory tiles, in which film producers in gold bangles and safari suits weaved and twittered harmlessly at each other.
For some years I had avoided the thoroughfare, and a return to it came as a shock, for a journey down the King's Road now seems like a trip on a ghost train in an extremely tacky and ill-kept provincial fairground. It was not only the bedraggled, whey-faced and lethargic punks, disconsolately lobbing beer cans at each other among push-chairs on the benches in the square; it was not even the fact that the waxwork models in the windows of the clothes shops were smoking joints; what finished the King's Road for me was the Hitler T-shirt.
It was in the window of a shop presided over by a gently smiling Indian matron. She was doing a brisk trade in chains, spiked manacles, armoured garters and such-like lingerie; clothing decorated with barbed wire and the words 'No Future' were apparently doing well. But the T-shirt had a flattering portrait of the Fuhrer on it and the words 'European Tour' with the dates 'Holland and Denmark 1939, France, 1940, England 1940 (cancelled)'.
So, after gazing in a sort of numb despair at the unacceptable end of the youth culture, I went into the office of the Music Management company next door. Among the golden discs and soft-spoken secretaries, I found Toyah Willcox, whose records turn over about a million pounds a year and whose hair has sunk from bright orange with black roots to a kind of discreet and reddish mahogany. We sat alone in the boardroom together because out in the King's Road she might expect a united onslaught by her fans.
'These shops full of manacles and Hitler T-shirts,' I asked her. 'I mean, how can you put up with the aggression of your sort of world?'
'It's all about playacting really, isn't it?' Toyah said hopefully. 'I mean, I used to wear a loo chain when I was young and that didn't mean I was a toilet.
'I was born in King's Heath, Birmingham in 1958,' Toyah said. 'My father was very prosperous with three joinery businesses. He called me Toyah Pepita; I think he liked the sound of the word. I was terrible to my mother. She didn't want me to play with the kids in the street in case I got a Birmingham accent. I was quite a violent child. I used to drink a lot of sherry I nicked from the booze cabinet at home, and from the head teacher's room at school. I was almost dyslexic, but I was very bright in Maths. When I became a woman, round about the age of eleven, I studied satanism and alchemy, black magic and Jung.'
'How did you get to read Jung?'
'By shop-lifting him round bookshops. My sister was a nurse and we both had bad poltergeist experiences. She used to see apparitions of people who died of cancer, and my father in the next room saw the same apparitions. Mum didn't believe in them. Of course, she slept in a seperate bedroom from my father. My sister and I both felt we were being strangled in our sleep. At the age of fourteen I offered myself to be christened.'
'What did the vicar think?'
'He thought I was an absolute nutter. But the Bishop of Canterbury confirmed me. It was quite a thing really. I knew the Devil existed and I didn't give a damn.'
Toyah left the Edgbaston C of E college with one O-level in Music. She had been hanging around with 'bikers' in Pershore since she was fourteen and in one Maths lesson the girl in front of her told her that Nick, Toyah's first boyfriend, had been killed on his motor bike.
'Nick was older than me. Nineteen. He was very brainy. He knew all about physics and he was a perfect gentleman. I was rotten to him really. He was the first person I loved who died. Now most of the friends I met biking are dead - heroin or car crashes.
'Nick and I never had sex.' Toyah seemed genuinely shocked at the idea. 'I mean, I was a virgin 'till I was twenty. I've only had two boyfriends since then. I'd never be unfaithful to Tom, my present boyfriend.'
'You're against love affairs?' I thought for a moment, nostalgically, of long-past dinners among the white lavatory tiles of vanished King's Road restaurants.
'I can't abide promiscuity. Searching for something you never find. Young people are all faithful now. They're very pure.'
'But how did you avoid sex among all those bikers?'
'I just frightened them off.' She smiled, a sensible, middle-class Birmingham sort of smile which I thought she might have inherited from her mother. 'I used to foretell their futures and freak them out.'
In 1975, the 'Early David Bowie period and just before the Sex Pistols', Toyah went to act in the old Birmingham Rep. She performed in Shakespeare and Noel Coward, worked in wardrobe, got a part in a television play and ended up in Tales from the Vienna Woods at the National. Lately she was acting in Trafford Tanzi and returning to the house where two of her band lived, to work through the night and record all day.
She finds it hard to sleep now; when faced with the fans who wait patiently outside her home, she finds it difficult to think of things to say to them. Sensible and extremely businesslike beneath the stolen thoughts of Jung, she realises that she can't stay trapped in a glaring hair-do and must provide for her future by acting.
Meanwhile we sat in the boardroom and I asked her about the punks on the benches outside.
'They're really quite gentle. They don't want trouble. Sloane Rangers want more trouble than them.'
'Do you care about politics?'
'I believe in education, of course. Oh, and dance, and the body perfect. All homes can be linked by computer. Music can be piped in like computer games. I mean, people will be able to answer the music back, mix it like you mix tracks in a recording studio, and dance to it. All these kids out of work, they can be into the body beautiful. Anyone can do it.'
'You don't think it would be better to cure unemployment?'
'You can't do that. You can't change society. Not without a revolution and England doesn't want a revolution.'
'What about the women of Greenham Common?'
'Oh, I support them. I'm tired of the press putting them down for being lesbians. After all, the public can choose Boy George, who's quite an androgynous person, to be Number One.'
'Do you think we're all going to be blown up?'
'Oh no.' Toyah smiled, I thought for a moment, optimistically.
'Disease will get the world before then. Disease spread by all the sexuality.' She gave a brisk, Birmingham tut of disapproval. 'Mother Nature'll sort the people out! After that we'll probably need a bomb to clean up the disease.'
And then one of the soft-spoken secretaries came to usher Toyah out of the boardroom into her car. Miss Willcox was, as always, businesslike and unfailingly cheerful. I was left peering uneasily into a future where sex is a killer and the unemployed dance incessantly to the computerized music piped into their homes, and the massacres in Beirut are no more than a sick joke on a King's Road T-shirt. Of course, by then Toyah Willcox will have left the scene and be back acting in the National Theatre.
Character Parts by John Mortimer
Originally from the Sunday Times
Be Proud Be Loud (Be Heard) is not just a successful Toyah single; it's something of a personal anthem, too, the lyrics pretty well summing up her attitude to life. It's about having a confident, positive attitude; about having motivation; about not being manipulated. And it's an attitude she's keen to get over to her fans: "A lot of unemployed kids are fans of mine, and when they come to see me, I tell them to be proud and to take life in both hands."
Toyah is certainly very much in charge of her own life. Some time ago she dispensed with her manager, and now looks after her own affairs. "I'm managing myself, and it's hell. I never realised how much managers do, but I'm happy because now I can organise everything. I am terribly organised, but it's me who does that, nobody else." When Toyah found that her knowledge of law and accountancy was lacking, she set about learning, with the help of teach-yourself tapes.
She has great confidence in her own abilities, and likes to pack as many things as possible into her schedule. She'll happily go without sleep if she's enjoying working on a project, and that could be any one of a number of things: writing songs, writing music, recording, planning her stage shows, making videos and doing promotional work. She's also keen to design make up, jewellery and clothes that mirror her great sense of style: "I want to sell outrageous day clothes of good quality."
And then, of course, there's her acting career. Toyah Willcox left school with just a music O level, and went to Birmingham Old Rep Drama School. After only a few months she got a part opposite Noel Edmonds in a TV play, Glitter, then went on to act with the National Theatre and to appear in films like Jubilee and Quadrophenia.
In 1978 she formed a band, and in just a couple of years had collected single and album hits and been voted top female singer in numerous pop polls. She'd also acted as a chat show hostess, and headlined tours in Britain and Europe.
Toyah really comes alive onstage. Her gigs are nothing short of real events, combining her powerful songs, dancing and stage sets. "I listen to my fans," she says. "That's where my heart is, It's great getting feedback off an audience."
When she recorded her live album Warrior Rock at the climax of her 1982 summer tour, Toyah had microphones in the audience to capture the atmosphere: "What's the point of doing a live album if you don't get the atmosphere created by the fans?"
So what of the future? Toyah has plans for more writing, singing, recording, acting - oh, and she plans to conquer America, too. "I think I'll write down my life story when I'm sixty, when I've done a lot more and I'm more fulfilled. I think I'm definitely one of those people who improves with age." That life story should make interesting reading, for under that mop of colour-of-the-week hair there's one talented lady...
Did You Know... that Toyah once formed a band with Adam Ant and his ex-wife Eve Goddard? The band was called The Maneaters, and Adam and Toyah planned to write the music, but they split after a row: "Our egos just went bang."
Is Toyah her real name?... "Yes it is. There's a town in Texas called Toyah (it means 'water' in Indian). The neighbouring town is Willcox, so that must be where my mum got it from - it was definitely her who named me."
Of all the oddball characters in the music business - and there are certainly some strange eccentrics, let's face it - Toyah Willcox must come out as one of the strangest of the lot. As far as Toyah is concerned, controversy and being shocking is all part of her game.
But beneath that mop of bright orange hair (today it's orange, tomorrow it could be purple, bright yellow or sea green and silver, whichever way the mood takes her) lies a tough little nut. She's nobody's fool, our little Miss Toyah.
Born in Birmingham of middle class parents, she was public school educated. But ended up at 18 with no school qualifications except an O-level in music.
She then went briefly to Birmingham Old Rep Drama School. Two months later she was offered a part alongside DJ Noel Edmonds in a BBC play called Glitter, and then a year later, somewhat surprisingly, was acting with the National Theatre, spent nine months with them, and never went back to drama school.
In 1978 she got together her own band and went out simply as Toyah. Since then, she's done an assortment of things - been out on the road as a rock star, has hosted TV shows, been a subject of a TV documentary, and had parts in films like Quadrophenia and Jubilee.
Toyah does exactly what she wants to do. She has created the 'Toyah look', offbeat fashion gear, and bright coloured hair, done in different styles every month.
On stage, she really comes alive. She sings those mystical-sounding songs in a strong, gritty but sometimes haunting voice, and she dances around as though in a trance. She became the darling of the 'in-crowd' and was looked upon as one of the pop fashion trendsetters.
At one time, she even formed a band with Adam Ant and his wife Eve Goddard. "I formed an all-girl band called The Maneaters, with Eve Goddard and Adam Ant. Adam and I were going to write the music, but that split up after a big row between the two of us. Our egos just went bang."
She has a confidence about her which is almost frightening. "I've always had a lot of confidence in my own ability," she says. "A lot of kids go to an audition and they are so frightened that they blow it. I go up there on stage and tell them I want to do this and I am going to do it that way - all right? And usually it is."
Top Of The Pops Annual
Toyah Willcox is a mistress of disguise, both as an actress and a singer. For both her highly successful careers she carefully plans each new look, starting with a fresh hairstyle, then changing her make-up and clothes. Johnny Waller talked to human chameleon.
"When I was a kid I had long black hair and looked very Chinese. When I see pictures of me as a baby, I think I look exceptionally pretty. But from the age of six months, I was a bit ugly. And after the age of three, I started becoming really ugly.
"I had such thick black hair I looked wild, like a wolf-child.
"You don't become aware of being pretty or ugly until you become aware of your sexuality. I didn't care about myself until I was twelve.
"Then I felt fat and ugly.
"I was always getting into fights, getting scars all over me. One of my first ambitions was to be a muscle woman. At the age of about seven I wanted to be like a man.
"From 12 to 14 I really cared about my physique. I was pissed off with god because I didn't look like my best friend.
"I was a very cruel girl. I used to pick up boys and drop them each week. I only had one boyfriend that I cared about. When he went I didn't bother going out with anyone until I was twenty.
"I was eleven when I started wearing make-up. I saw a picture of Lou Reed with blond hair and great black eyes, so I started copying him. Then Marc Bolan came in - I used to have a glitter teardrop on my cheek.
"I was fifteen when I started dyeing my hair. I went dark blue - and I've been every colour since. The movie of The Rocky Horror Show and David Bowie drove me to dye my hair.
"A year afterwards The Sex Pistols played Bogarts in Birmingham and I went down to see them. Suddenly I was among people that looked like me. That was great, because up until then I'd been in complete solitude.
"I've been flitting in and out of images since I was at school. When I go to my hairdresser I say 'My god, I'm bored. What are you going to do about it?'
"The dye comes after the cut, and then the clothes.
"Fun was the reason for doing it, not so that I could earn lots of money. As soon as someone copied me I changed.
"This is my natural colour now, and I quite like it. For the first time I've gone shopping and no-one recognised me. I'm starting to write the new album now and I need a source of inspiration. What could be better than going back to a form of normality?
"When I did Jubilee (Derek Jarman's punk film, 1977) I had my head shaved. That was very aggressive looking.
"I started growing it because I had a boyfriend, so I became aware of men again and wanted to look a bit more feminine. I got fed up with people shying away from me because they thought I was going to be aggressive. It made me feel very isolated.
"I grew it until the 'Blue Meaning' LP, 1980, when I had a geometric cut with a pointed fringe, very Space 1999 (the TV series). I was into an Egyptian phase at the time and I thought it was a modern interpretation of the Egyptian look.
"But during that tour I had a lot of hair pulled out at the back, when I kept falling into the audience, so I had to have the whole lot shaved off again. That coincided with the play Sugar And Spice in 1980.
"By the time of 'It's A Mystery' in 1981, it was growing back again, but it took the whole of that year.
"Since then I've grown my hair as long as I could, also going through different colour changes - pink, orange, black tips...
"By 1983 and Trafford Tanzi (the wrestling play Toyah starred in) I'd got it to its longest and its best. I was beginning to look like your normal Farrah Fawcett-Majors type because it was so stylish and feminine. So I had the sides shaved off to look more street level and aggressive.
"I had to change my hair in 1978 for Quadrophenia (the mod film) when they cut it in a '60s style and bleached it white. I hated it - really hated it.
"For the new film I'm making with Lord Olivier (The Ebony Tower) I had to go tomato red. I was yellow before.
"I had my doubts about Trafford Tanzi, not only whether I could do it physically, but could I bear to be seen in a skin-tight costume?
"I'm so self conscious of my physique. In fact Tanzi gave me the confidence to do Ebony Tower, because all these people knew what I was like underneath - and it did me the world of good.
"I normally tend to wear baggy clothes, so it got me out of the rut.
"See, my mental image of myself is a complete deformed freak. Tanzi made me accept myself as I am. I was living in the protected world of the pop star and it brought me back to reality again. It made me realise I'm only one on the vast anthill of the overpopulated world.
What was the best Christmas you ever had?
The best Christmasses ever was when I was a kid because I had the security of my family and all the traditions were kept. I used to get tons and tons of pressies. Up until the age of ten I was having really good christmases.
I spent one Christmas in complete euphoria after doing the Drury Lane Whistle Test which was two years ago. It was such a wonderful night. After we'd done it Tom and I drove down to his parent's estate and people were running out of their houses to tell us how much they'd enjoyed it. I can remember driving home to Birmingham that night and it was snowing. Everything was just wonderful and I remained on a high after doing that show for about ten days.
What's the worst Christmas you've ever had?
The second year of living in London. I was living in a mouldy old bedsit with no money. I couldn't get back to Birmingham. I couldn't afford the train fare. So I went busking on christmas day in Trafalgar Square and I got arrested. I got enough money to phone dad up and say 'Happy Christmas', put the phone down and start crying. Someone gave me the train fare to Birmingham and I went up on Boxing Day. I swore I would never spend another Christmas away from my family again.
What's your ideal Christmas?
I'd love to spend Christmas in Sweden in a vast snow vovered forest in a beautiful wooden chalet by a lake frozen over so that you can ice skate on it. I'd have a horse drawn sleigh for transport and no one except, really it should be Tom, but in my mind it's Bowie, though I'd run a mile if it ever happened.
How many Christmas cards do you send?
Would you believe five thousand? I have my own printed up and it takes me a month to sign them. I send them to all the fans, DJs, record companies, even journalists.
Number One Magazine
OF THE WILL
Toyah Willcox, whose career as an actress moves up another notch this Sunday when she appears in a TV adaptation of 'The Ebony Tower' with Lord Olivier, has got where she is by extraordinary willpower, which even overcame a physical deformity in childhood.
Her hair is the real giveaway. Suddenly the colour is straight Monroe rather than marmalade. Toyah Willcox, the young singer and actress once called 'the priestess of punk', has just dyed her famous flamethrower orange locks a fairly restrained shade of blonde. It is one sure sign she is going straight. Punk looks like being a thing of the past.
Even though she will still have her red hair when she stars opposite Lord Olivier in Granada Television's version of John Fowle's short story 'The Ebony Tower' on ITV next Sunday, it rather conceals the truth about her now.
'Being blonde is more enigmatic, it gives you a sense of charisma,' she says. It may also make you look more like a star.
For, as she puts it herself, 'The girl I play in "The Ebony Tower" may be called The Freak , and she may even look like a freak, but deep down she is the sanest person in the story.' Very much the same could be said for Miss Willcox.
No matter how bizarre or outrageous a face she has presented to the world since she first emerged in 1977, at the age of 18, she has always held surprisingly conventional views. She neither drinks nor smokes, does not take drugs, and disapproves of promiscuity. Toyah Willcox may have ridden the crest of the wave of punk rebellion, but she has never been taken in by the more destructive elements of its nihilism.
She was even apprehensive about appearing nude in a scene with Olivier in the 90-minute television play. 'You see I have this very immature attitude to nudity and sex,' she explains softly, a distinctive though slight lisp in her voice. 'I think it should be kept for just one man.' She has had only two serious boyfriends, and insists she did not discover sex until she was 20.
'So when I did the picnic scene I kept thinking "This is me naked, not The Freak naked", and I had this awful image of people stopping their videos to look at me. But I wanted to work with Laurence Olivier so badly that I thought that should come first.' It is not exactly the remark most people would associate with a member of punk's aristocracy.
But this 4ft 11in tall Birmingham born girl, whose real name actually is Toyah Pepita Willcox, has always defied classification. She declines to fit into the stereotypes. She may have struggled up through the raunchy world of one night gigs in small rock clubs, but she says, 'Some men used to think that just because I was in a rock band and wore sexually attractive clothes, I was available. I wasn't.' It led to her being nicknamed Miss Prim by some in the music business.
Toyah Willcox did not mind that in the least. It meant someone was taking notice, and she has always taken her career very seriously indeed. 'It's my religion,' she says. 'It keeps me sane.'
It is a single-mindedness which also led her to establish a seperate career as an actress alongside her rock singing. So in the past six years she has not only released six LPs and had a series of Top Five singles in Britain - her records bring a turnover of more than £1m a year - but she also has appeared in films, including The Corn Is Green with Katherine Hepburn; starred in Clare Luckham's stage comedy Trafford Tanzi as the female wrestler; and made many excursions into television, including the BBC2 series Dear Heart. As a result she has not only been voted Top Female Vocalist for her records, but also Most Promising Newcomer for her acting.
Brisk and businesslike, she says, 'Keeping two audiences means I can be a different person for each one. The audience for my acting wouldn't dream of buying my records, and the rock audience only watches me act because they can't see me on tour.' She does not like to leave things to chance.
Nevertheless she has begun to realise, as the playwright John Mortimer puts it 'that she can't stay trapped in a glaring hair-do'. He believes she has to 'provide for her future by acting' and calls her talent 'phenomenal' in 'The Ebony Tower', which he adapted for Granada Television, just as he did for Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.
Toyah Willcox's achievements are all the more remarkable, however, when you realise that she was born with a deformity which meant she spent her childhood 'walking almost doubled up, with my bum sticking out the back'. She was forced to wear a two-inch built-up shoe on her left foot.
'All I wanted in the world was to walk normally,' she recalls.
So for the first 11 years of her life she was sent to hospital every six months for agonising traction. But the deformity and its treatment fostered the indomitable fighting spirit that has driven her career ever since.
Born in May 1958, the youngest daughter of the owner of three prosperous joinery businesses, she fought the world, and her family. 'I wanted to be the centre of attention, and to be that I had to fight my elder brother and sister all the time. I can even remember pushing my mum into the pantry one day and locking the door when I was nine. And I wouldn't kiss and make up. I stopped kissing my mum and dad when I was seven, and I haven't kissed them since'.
By the age of 11 she was refusing to wear the built-up shoe, and to go to hospital, and she was forcing herself to walk normally. Although she still admits, 'When I see myself on screen now all I see is this thing which limps and lisps, and I cringe, I really cringe.'
With some of her father's carefree characteristics - 'he could go out for a paper and not come back for two days' - at 14 she had started drinking ('nicked sherry') and going round with a group of bikers. By 18 she had left her Church of England School for Girls in Birmingham with just one O level, in music. 'I would have slit my mother's throat to get what I wanted then,' she says, 'and I would have slit other people's too'.
She got a place at Birmingham Old Rep Drama School - 'although I didn't realise being in a play was a chance with harmony with other actors, I thought it was just a chance for Toyah to show off.' Two months later she was offered a part in the television play Glitter opposite Noel Edmonds, after the director had spotted her in the street. On the strength of her performance she was invited to join the National Theatre in London, to play Emma in Tales From The Vienna Woods in 1977. She never went back to drama school.
'The National was my training,' she says confidently. 'You can't learn other than by experience. You can be taught technique but the magic of the work has to come from you.'
The National also lead to her first film, Derek Jarman's Jubilee, and allowed her to form her first professional rock band, Toyah, which one critic memorably described as 'heavy metal without the moustache' . Precocious and well organised, she was unstoppable. For the next six years she could do nothing wrong. Not only did 'everybody want a punk girl in their plays', in the words of one producer, but her recording career went from strength to strength.
In 1984 she called a temporary halt to both careers, and decided to concentrate on acting, making two television films - Murder, The Ultimate Grounds For Divorce with Roger Daltrey, and Movie Queen with Annie Ross - both of which are to be shown shortly. She had taken the typically self-concious decision to step back from rock music. 'I was worried that I'd had too much exposure and that a backlash might start against me.' She plans to launch herself back into rock and roll next year with four singles and an album recorded for CBS.
The comparative inactivity has done nothing to still the demons that have patently always pursued her. 'You see, the only way I can communicate with people is through performing. I don't give very easily in personal relationships, and in social relationships I'm hopeless. I just get bored very very easily.'
She is unfailingly honest and direct and admits: 'Anybody in this business really wants to rule the world. I want my name on every tongue.'
Then she pauses, and goes on, 'Giving people that kind of pleasure is wanting to be loved.'
So Toyah Willcox can explain her gradual trip away from the extremes of punk with characteristic matter-of-factness. 'To me punk was about freedom of opinion,' she says, 'not being stuck in other people's worlds, with other people's ideas. But I think you've got to fit in with the society you live in. I didn't choose to live in England, I was just born here, but I've decided to fit in with it. If I went around saying, "destroy this" or "destroy that", I'd be intimidating people.'
She has settled into a comfortable London house, complete with its own gym - 'I'm worried that one day I'm going to be stricken with arthritis' - and has given up smoking and drinking: 'They're just excuses for not having willpower and concentration.' Three years ago she explains, the strain of her career was making her want to drink all the time. She has also become a vegetarian. 'I also don't believe in any form of execution now, or any form of murder, and I don't believe in killing animals.'
For the past four years she has lived with her boyfriend, Tom, who also acts as her bodyguard - 'I've never been unfaithful' - but she is not contemplating getting married or having children. 'I actually have a phobia about having children, I just couldn't go through all that agony.'
Then she adds; 'But if a woman hasn't had children then her sexual drive comes first, and I think that's very destructive. I spend my sexual energy on stage.' The words are so measured, so controlled, they are almost eerie, as if she sees herself as a performing puppet.
Yet beneath the careful, self possessed phrases, a chirpy, cheerful young woman is trying to get out. Tempting though it may have been to see Miss Willcox as no more than the 'neurotic golliwog from the wilder end of the Kings Road' that John Fowles described in his story, she is not, and never has been, a freak. Under all that hair, of whatever colour, there is a conventional and ambitious brain. Punk was never exactly what it seemed.
MY BODY - MYSELF
• She was born just 26 years ago, the daughter of a wealthy antiques dealer in posh Edgbaston, Birmingham, where she was privately educated.
• She has worked at the National and Royal Court Theatres, starred in films like The Tempest, Quadrophenia, and Jubilee and is soon to be seen in Channel 4's production of The Ebony Tower
• Until recently, she slept in a coffin in a Battersea warehouse, which she shared with her former bodyguard Tom Taylor, now her boyfriend.
• She has been known to kiss fans and then spit in their faces and draw blood from her own arm with broken bottles thrown at her
Who could she possibly be but TOYAH WILLCOX?
In her comfortable new home in North London, she talked to Maureen Stevens about fitness and health
"When it comes to fitness, I've done the lot. You see, I've had to. I was born with a bone deficiency disease and the problems grew as I grew. Looking back on it, I suppose that was why my parents sent me to all sorts of dancing and gymnastics classes from the time I was a toddler. But ice skating was what I really liked. When I was 10, I was working six hours a day at it and having lessons from John Curry's teacher. Then the blow fell: one of my legs had gradually become much shorter than the other. I had to give up skating, go into calipers and have several operations. It put paid not just to ice skating, but to several years of my life.
I'd had physiotherapy for years, but now it was intensive and the whole hospital atmosphere began to scare me silly. My back was very badly bent and they'd keep standing me up straight and slapping my bum and shouting at me. Doctors would twist my bones and it hurt. I used to scream and fight them all off. All this time I was doing ballet and swimming, whcih I think did me far more good. I think I might have straightened up naturally if I'd been left alone. But the doctors and nurses and physios just scared the life out of me. My stomach turns over to this day, just at the thought.
I've always had a weight problem. At school my nickname was Barrel, because I was so tubby. You see, I've got a wide frame but I never stop longing to be tall and thin. Do I really have to tellyou how tall I am? Well I'm just 4 foot 11. Yes I know it's a good build for singing but oh, I just long to be sleek and I know I never will be.
What with being short and fat and a cripple, they used to pick on me at school - until I decided to bash them, that is. Really, the only times I was happy as a kid was when I used to run away from school. I'd sleep all day in a barn and get up at midnight to raid chocolate machines and steal bread and doughnuts from outside bakeries. It was complete, animalistic freedom. And I loved it - much more than being famous.
In my teens, I had a spell when I was almost anorexic. It was the only time in my life when my body felt nice. But my father used to sit by me and make me eat. I used to hate my family, but I love them now.
At one time I was 10 and a half stone, and though these days I try to stay between seven and eight stone I can fluctuate between those weights in the space of a week, because my self-discipline simply isn't strict enough. My conscience nags me the whole time - in all ways, but especially about food. If there's chocolate or cake about... Oh I do wish I had more willpower!
The thing is, I like to overeat. But when I overeat and don't exercise, I feel terrible. When I don't overeat and do exercise, I feel better, look better and think better. I think faster and with more originality when I treat my body like an animal's body. You see, I believe we should all be a fraction hungry because, in the wild, that is what provides the instinct to survive. A few years back, for two days of the week I couldn't afford to eat at all. It was good for me - gave me a feeling for people on the dole. The trouble is that as my income's got more solid, I can afford to have more food around. And its become so much easier to eat out. When I do, I try to have only one course - probably boiled or grilled fish. At least I don't eat junk food anymore. I think in my profession you are in a position to set an example to people: to warn them about frozen foods and pies and every thing pre-cooked. I think for children to be brought up on junk foods is just dreadful because they'll become addicted to convenience foods and then the chemicals from those foods will be grown into their cells and into their bones.
About once a month I used to get blind drunk. I'd get so pissed, I couldn't remember anything. It all started when my family used to get me drunk when I was a kid, so that I'd make them laugh. It was lovely, staggering up the stairs to bed, hearing them all jolly and laughing. Later on, when I got drunk, I'd get everything out of the fridge, put it all round the bed and just reach out and eat. These days, I'm not so bad and try to stick to handfuls of peanuts, almonds or hazelnuts -nothing salty, though. Apart from that, it's just fresh fruit and vegetables. I never eat red meat because it gives me indigestion, and if I eat onions, I can't sleep for a couple of days.
Actually, sleep has always been a terrific problem for me. In this business, you often have to eat your main meal late at night. Then I have terrible nightmares - all about dead and rotting witches and people burned and hanged and all that. I wake up in total hysterics and have ot get up and walk around to prove to myself it's not true. But if I don't eat, I can't get to sleep because I'm so hungry. Often I go a whole week with only three hours sleep a night. I've got sleeping pills but I hardly ever take them because, if I do, it means I spend the mornings virtually unconscious.
I do my best work in the mornings so, whether I'm filming or not, I like to be up by seven. Nearly every day I do a workout at home. I just find it such a hassle to go out: buy a packet of Tampax and you're asked for your autograph, so Tom does the shopping. I've got a gymnasium at home, complete with cycling machine. I do at least 20 miles a day on that. And I do aerobic exercises. Also I do weight-training whenever I can.
I got into weight-training when I was preparing for Trafford Tanzi, a feminist play all about women wrestlers. The whole thing was fabulous, because it was purely physical. Also, it was one of my first plays and it was good to have a script to rest on. Not like being out there alone with the band. That's so scary, I throw up every time before I go on. For Tanzi we had gymnastics, judo and weight-training for 10 hours a day, beginning two weeks before rehearsals. It was fantastically hard, but they gave us every aid, including an osteopath. That was very helpful, I found. In the end, my body was really rippling with muscles. I honestly believe that muscuclar women are the women of the future. We want strong muscles to match out strong personalities.
I do find I need to be alone often, and for long stretches. When you're depressed, I don't see the point of inflicting it on others. I studied yoga and meditation at drama school but mostly, over the years, I've evolved my own way. That usually consists of being alone, looking inside myself and trying to work it out. Sometimes I'll go down to the bottom of my garden and cuddle my rabbit. Rabbits are so soft and gentle and dependant that they love to be cuddled. I call my rabbit Fatso.
Probably my mental image of myself is far worse than the reality, because I know myself better than anyone else does. After all, I see myself far more often than anyone else does.
I suppose I'm quite conscious of getting older. Your body changes: your skin and hair take on different textures. I do check in the mirror from time to time to see how my wrinkles are doing - I've got a very keen eye for such things. But I do try to keep myslef in good condition.
I try to make my diet a balanced one and I increase my vitamin intake when my body's most run down. I exercise continually because I have to: I live with the constant risk of athritis in my legs and hips, because of my operations. Already, I find that if I sit in one position for any length of time it is pretty hard to get up again. I am affected by the dampness of the English climate but, of course, there's nothing I can do about that. All I can do is keep my body continually moving.
I'm always changing my hairstyle. Quite often I change my entire image. After all, it's my body and I'll do whatever I like with it. I'm not interested at all in other people's opinions of me. They simply say what they think you want them to say. I know: I do it myself. I reckon the only reliable opinion is my own."