What Makes Her Tick?

When Toyah Willcox stormed the charts in the 80's she became Britain's favourite rebel. But she's more than that. Martyn Clayden caught up with her at the theatre, where she'd just finished playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

Did you enjoy the production? It seems Puck is an ideal role for you. 

Yes, it has everything that I enjoy doing and exploring. Even though this was a period play set in the 1800's, I was allowed to push out the boat with him - I used skate boards and a penny farthing. 

You also played Peter Pan recently. Is it difficult breathing new life into something so well known? 

I think you're always conscious of that, but I'm so ignorant of history I always put fresh eyes on things. With Peter Pan it's became a tradition for the part to be played by a little girl in tights being very feminine. I reversed that. My Peter Pan was rather aggressive and dangerous. 

You've always been maverick and unorthodox. Did that stem from a typical rebellious teenage youth? 

It might have sprung from that. But I don't seem to have a normal way of thinking. Even when I read scripts I read them in a different way. Perhaps it's because my childhood wasn't particularly normal. It wasn't tragic but I had some problems, mainly stemming from a slight deformity in my right leg. At one point it became a threat to my future. When I had a repeated knee infection, they said they'd remove the leg. They didn't, of course, but I can remember the horror of shopping for shoes when I was young - it highlighted my problem and I'd end up in tears. I think it did make me hold people away from me. At school I became a bit of a rebel - ostracised but at the same time hugely respected because I made it clear I didn't want everything the school said I was being educated for: college, university, an office job, family. From an early age I was saying I was going to be an actress and singer. Some of the girls thought I'd do it, but the teachers didn't. 

Did your parents influence you?

I was completely independent of them. My father was a bankrupt when I was seven. It took me a long time to recover from it. To witness your parents being disabled by a monetary system makes you incredibly independent. 

Did it influence your decision not to have children of your own? 

Not really. I made that decision because I don't have any maternal instincts of my own. It's not that I dislike children. I'm surrounded by my friend's kids.

Were your parents artistic?

My mother was a dancer but she didn't really have much of a career after having children. And she was affected by Dad's financial position. They were mostly concerned with keeping their children in good schools. Looking back, I should have been at stage school. That only came later. Instead I was at an establishment whose only way of punishing me was banishing me from doing art and music and drama. Their negativity actually fuelled my determination. 

Which came first - drama or music? 

I was rocketed into the National Theatre at eighteen, having been picked out of the drama school I attended. It was an incredible leap. Almost immediately afterwards I started making movies. I made seven before I had any huge musical success. It was the 1980's before the band really took off with the hits like It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. 

You worked with Lord Olivier for the TV adaptation of The Ebony Tower. What was he like? 

He was just gorgeous. By the time I worked with him he wasn't terribly well, but he had such fight and determination. He was full of ambition, which was ironic in a man who'd done everything. 

What are you working on now?

I've got a film company called British American. I'm the British side and my business partner, Paul Springer from LA, is the genius behind the company because he's the writer. We've got a film called Travelling Light going into pre-production over the next twelve months. It's about an all-girl rock band set only slightly in the future, but these girls are pirates - reality pirates. We're aiming to shoot this spring, so we probably won't ba able to release until the end of the year. 

Would you say you were tamer than you were in the past?

No, I don't think so. I've become more centered. I don't waste energy anymore. 

Do you set goals for yourself? 

It's good to have strategies, but I do think they can shackle you. I live day to day. I could book work for the next two years, but then I'd feel as if I were in prison. I try to be a free spirit in everything I do.

February 1996