Makes Her Tick?
When Toyah Willcox stormed the charts in the 80's
she became Britain's favourite rebel. But she's more than that. Martyn
Clayden caught up with her at the theatre, where she'd just finished playing
Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Did you enjoy the production? It seems Puck is
an ideal role for you.
Yes, it has everything that I enjoy doing and
exploring. Even though this was a period play set in the 1800's, I was
allowed to push out the boat with him - I used skate boards and a penny
You also played Peter Pan recently. Is it difficult
breathing new life into something so well known?
I think you're always conscious of that, but I'm
so ignorant of history I always put fresh eyes on things. With Peter Pan
it's became a tradition for the part to be played by a little girl in tights
being very feminine. I reversed that. My Peter Pan was rather aggressive
You've always been maverick and unorthodox. Did
that stem from a typical rebellious teenage youth?
It might have sprung from that. But I don't seem
to have a normal way of thinking. Even when I read scripts I read them
in a different way. Perhaps it's because my childhood wasn't particularly
normal. It wasn't tragic but I had some problems, mainly stemming from
a slight deformity in my right leg. At one point it became a threat to
my future. When I had a repeated knee infection, they said they'd remove
the leg. They didn't, of course, but I can remember the horror of shopping
for shoes when I was young - it highlighted my problem and I'd end up in
tears. I think it did make me hold people away from me. At school I became
a bit of a rebel - ostracised but at the same time hugely respected because
I made it clear I didn't want everything the school said I was being educated
for: college, university, an office job, family. From an early age I was
saying I was going to be an actress and singer. Some of the girls thought
I'd do it, but the teachers didn't.
Did your parents influence you?
I was completely independent of them. My father
was a bankrupt when I was seven. It took me a long time to recover from
it. To witness your parents being disabled by a monetary system makes you
Did it influence your decision not to have children
of your own?
Not really. I made that decision because I don't
have any maternal instincts of my own. It's not that I dislike children.
I'm surrounded by my friend's kids.
Were your parents artistic?
My mother was a dancer but she didn't really have
much of a career after having children. And she was affected by Dad's financial
position. They were mostly concerned with keeping their children in good
schools. Looking back, I should have been at stage school. That only came
later. Instead I was at an establishment whose only way of punishing me
was banishing me from doing art and music and drama. Their negativity actually
fuelled my determination.
Which came first - drama or music?
I was rocketed into the National Theatre at eighteen,
having been picked out of the drama school I attended. It was an incredible
leap. Almost immediately afterwards I started making movies. I made seven
before I had any huge musical success. It was the 1980's before the band
really took off with the hits like It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free.
You worked with Lord Olivier for the TV adaptation
of The Ebony Tower. What was he like?
He was just gorgeous. By the time I worked with
him he wasn't terribly well, but he had such fight and determination. He
was full of ambition, which was ironic in a man who'd done everything.
What are you working on now?
I've got a film company called British American.
I'm the British side and my business partner, Paul Springer from LA, is
the genius behind the company because he's the writer. We've got a film
called Travelling Light going into pre-production over the next twelve
months. It's about an all-girl rock band set only slightly in the future,
but these girls are pirates - reality pirates. We're aiming to shoot this
spring, so we probably won't ba able to release until the end of the year.
Would you say you were tamer than you were in
No, I don't think so. I've become more centered.
I don't waste energy anymore.
Do you set goals for yourself?
It's good to have strategies, but I do think they
can shackle you. I live day to day. I could book work for the next two
years, but then I'd feel as if I were in prison. I try to be a free spirit
in everything I do.