From Punk To Perfect

Toyah tells Gill Chilton why being a woman in showbiz ain't easy...

Her photos don't do her justice. The neat, slight young woman who sits opposite me has a warm smile and a surprisingly peachy complexion, which shines through her light make up. Toyah Willcox, once the punk industry's leading sprite, the woman who launched her own range of weird, wacky make up and inspired a host of tacky fashions, wears a mauve, well-tailored trouser suit and high stilettos. These days, any tarty brilliants are reserved for the stage and photo sessions. At ease, only her hair - brightly dyed, bar dark roots - gives the game away. 

"I know I used to look outrageous," she grins, "but it was just fashion and part of what kids were going through at the time. Now I see seventeen year olds and think they look a mess!" Toyah, 28 next May, isn't, however, feeling her age - "It'll be my first decade in the entertainment business" - and she couldn't be happier, dividing her time between singing and acting. "I thought I'd be married with kids at twenty three. Yet, at the moment, I have absolutely no intention of becoming a mother. But how can I speak about the future? If my boyfriend, Tom, were to become fatally ill, for instance, I wouldn't think twice about having his child. In life, because destiny is so unpredictable, you say what you want and aim for it, but a hundred different things can happen." 

In Toyah's instance, destiny has been ably abetted by dedication and determination. Her acting roles have progressed steadily, from a punk in Jubilee, to guest appearances in Minder, to major roles in The Tempest, Tales Of The Unexpected and the much acclaimed Ebony Tower with Sir Laurence Olivier. Her recognition as a serious musician is envied. She's also had a clutch of hit singles. "I've had my fashionable time in the charts, now I sell albums." 

Charming, confident and totally in control - "I feel I owe it to myself to know how the law, economics, and dress designing works" - and you'd never guess how tough this chirpy 4ft, 11in. sparrow has found it to worm her way to the top. A light-hearted feminist - "because I like men too much" - she's quick to point to the difficulties her sex has brought: "On tour the solitude is horrible. Men lunge at you all the time because you're a girl. On stage, you'll always get some piss artist trying to grab your boobs. It's hell." 

In the early days, it was even worse. "The age-old syndrome goes on. Landlords say, "I'll let you play my pub if you sleep with me." At just 18 and forming her band from fellow drama students, she found it both "gruelling and humiliating".

It was five years until It's A Mystery gave Toyah her first top ten hit, and brought with it sell-out tours and a succession of successful albums. Now LP's nine and ten are in the preparatory stages. "I aim to write forty songs a year," she says doggedly. "I like to get ahead, working on a new album even before the preceding one is released. A good song will survive time. Also, were a good film to come up, I'd be putting a noose around my neck if I didn't have the free time." 

To ensure her quota is fulfilled, Toyah sits down from ten until six in her office, pen and piano to hand. "If you wait for inspiration, you can wait a whole year," she reasons. "I've trained myself to use my subconscious. I write whatever comes to mind as soon as I wake up." 

Her office is the top floor of the Barnet home she shares with Tom. But work doesn't stop when she hits the lower decks, often to exercise in her gym. "Although mentally drained, I have a lot of physical energy left. I put on Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Simple Minds and dance all night. I also keep a notepad in every room to catch ideas. Writing has become so instinctive now I don't need to look at what I'm doing. Often I find my scrawl has overlapped the paper and run on to the carpet!" 

Staunchly private, hers isn't a lifestyle aglitter with parties and their instant smiles. "I'm never happy in a room of strangers. Tom is a musician, but entirely separate from me. I'm independent, and when I close our door at night, that's when our relationship works. Friends, Tom's mainly, drift through our house, but it's up to me if I want to socialise with them." 

Her self confessed vices - laziness and greed - are hard to believe in the face of her vigorous routine. "I could easily sit in front of the telly for a week, and binge on sweet things," says she whose lifestyle dictates she's always on the go, and whose diet - "I like to eat very little, mainly fruit, rice, nuts, honey and vitamin pills" - ensures she'll never regain the weight she shifted for success. 

Genuine and likeable, ask for favourite memories and her smile softens. "It was Christmas Eve, nineteen eighty-one. The audience were drunk and the stage covered in men's knickers. We were playing Whistle Test live to a twelve million TV audience. Afterwards I was so excited I didn't remove any make-up or brush out the backcombing for three days!" 

To talk of the past, however, is uncharacteristic. She intends to continue with music for a further decade, "because I've yet to break any rules", then concentrate on acting. 

Curiously, what Toyah wants most isn't love, money or happiness, but "for things I've done to still be here when I've snuffed it". Perhaps it's the reasoning behind her motto: "You're only as good as what you've got to offer tomorrow..."

Express Magazine, 1985