Willcox is back on the road and singing old songs but that doesn't make
her a has-been.
The pop singer and TV star moved on from her punk
days years ago but that won't stop her taking a trip down memory lane
When Toyah Willcox steps on stage she trembles
with fear. "I suffer from terrible nerves," says the 43 year old who's
been singing, acting and TV presenting for more than two decades but still
can't shake the shakes.. "I've learned to accept it. I can't eat, I can't
speak. That's the way it's been for the past 20 years and it's much worse
when I'm singing."
This prompts the question: "So why do it?" Her
answer is equally obvious: "Because I love it and once I'm onstage I'm
OK. The nerves turn into some kind of hyper energy."
Toyah will have to control her inner demons when
she goes on the road in the spring for the Here And Now Tour 2002, which
will see her on the same bill as volatile Eighties pop idol Adam Ant. She
wasn't overly worried when he was recently sectioned under the Mental Health
Act after being accused of allegedly pulling a gun on pub staff. In fact,
she thinks he may have been larking about for the sake of publicity.
"Of course I'm concerned about him," she says
with a sly smile, "but Adam is very clever and part of me feels that he's
making the most of the exposure he's going to get this year. He's gonna
go on that tour as a hero."
Toyah probably knows what she's talking about.
She doesn't class Adam Ant as a friend but they've been on first name terms
since they appeared together in Derek Jarman's 1978 punk fantasy film Jubilee
and, throughout the eighties, their paths frequently crossed at the Top
Of The Pops studios. Between them they notched up some of that decade's
biggest hits and, providing Ant gets his act together, they'll be revisiting
those hits on the eight date tour.
Toyah is surprisingly tiny, at just under 5ft,
and remarkably slim but she fills the room with passion about her work,
conviction in her opinions and a roof quaking laugh. She's also refreshingly
honest. When I ask her if she's appearing on the tour - also with Belinda
Carlisle, China Crisis, Howard Jones, ABC and three members of Spandau
Ballet - for the money, she rolls her eyes: "I just think it's a fantastic
opportunity for me to play arenas," she explains. "Every artist wants to
play those kind of venues and I don't think I'll ever get the chance again."
Toyah will sing four or five songs including It's
A Mystery and Thunder In The Mountains, drawn from her back catalogue.
It must be frustrating not being able to promote
the new material but she is realistic about the nostalgia. "When you sign
on for a tour like this you know what's expected, so there's no point being
frustrated with it. I still perform new songs in other places. I spent
the whole of last year touring."
Some of the acts on the bill will be making a
comeback from the obscurity into which they rapidly vanished. When did
you last hear of Howard Jones or China Crisis? Toyah's last. albeit minor,
rock success was in 1987, when Echo Beach reached No 54 in the charts,
but she's never been out of the public eye - acting in everything from
panto to Shakespeare, presenting everything from holiday slots to Songs
Of Praise, even voicing the intro to Teletubbies. Suggest that her career
might have seen better days and she's liable to hit the roof.
"I may be singing old sings but I'm no has-been,"
she says indignantly. "I'm on telly nearly every day for God's sake. The
tour's not about being has-beens. It's about the good humour of what that
music means to people. There'll be no one strutting their stuff on that
stage believing they're about anything except nostalgia."
Does she expect the show to be taken seriously?
"Do you really think we're going along thinking this is some massive relaunch
of our careers?" she asks, annoyed.
In any case, she is very happy with where her
career is going. "My success now is much more rewarding," she says, "I
enjoy it more, I'm more in control and I'm wealthier. The manic fame thing
happened to me at the right age and I loved it, but it's not what I want
now. You can't live like that for ever and remain sane."
Toyah says she's been incredibly busy. She has
more television projects on the boil, is putting the finishing touches
to her new album and, after Here And Now, will embark on a seven month
tour in a major musical that she is not yet allowed to name. She is even
working on a novel about the aftermath of war.
Her defiant self-confidence, coupled with genuine
talent, has clearly played a part in her survival. Born in Birmingham in
1958, her childhood dream was always to sing. She learned opera at school
from 13 to 17 but always had her eye on the pop charts. "I liked that teenage
thing of being a rock star," she recalls. "My idols at the time were David
Bowie, Alice Cooper and Roxy Music."
A happy child, rebellion began at the age of nine
when she took to stealing gin and getting drunk. She also got into a lot
of fights and played truant. Later she was sent to an all girls school
and hated it. Conformity was a concept she just couldn't stomach.
"I was being weaned to either go to university
or marry a rich man and I just hated that idea," she says. "The idea of
travelling or being an artist or sculpting was dismissed and we were made
to see ourselves as being mad for not having any desire to lead a conservative
Salvation came in the form of the Sex Pistols
and punk rock.
"When punk came along I felt as if I'd found my
place in the world. Until then I'd felt like a complete alien. I went to
see the Sex Pistols in, I think, 1975, by which time I had bright pink
hair and was used to people laughing at me in the street. I went along
and there were 300 people looking exactly the same. I thought, 'My God,
I'm not alone'. It was such a wonderful feeling."
She had her first hit when she was 22 but never
embraced the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll side of the business. "Drink
and drugs not only affect you creatively, they can cause huge mental problems
and I just didn't want to go there. I wasn't prepared to be a victim for
the sake of a voyeuristic audience. I was a woman, remember, and you had
to have these attitudes otherwise you were just seen as a tart. I wanted
a career, not a reputation for being a sleep-around."
So how did she resist temptation? "There was no
temptation for me because the blokes were so ugly," she laughs. "This was
a time when men wore medallions and all they had on their minds was a one
night stand. They were revolting."
Having a stable marriage since the age of 28 has
helped. Her husband is guitarist Robert Fripp, of rock band King Crimson,
with whom she often works but doesn't share a full-time home.
"He's a remarkable man," she says. "He's kind
and non-aggressive, gentle and rather feminine and I like that. Because
of our careers we're both financially strong and independent, which means
a lot. I could never live out of anyone's pocket. I enjoy my time with
him as much as I enjoy our time apart." That's just as well. She has five
homes in Britain but he lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and she's been terrified
to fly since September 11. They didn't see each other for three months
after that, until a gap in his schedule allowed him to fly over.
She talks about being in love but regrets not
having played the field when she was younger. "Because I married having
very little sexual history it made me very insecure. I married a man with
a very famous sexual history and I think that, if I'd had more experience,
I wouldn't have been threatened by that. It took me about five years to
get over it."
She has no regrets though, about her decision
to be sterilised in the mid nineties. "Absolutely no regrets. I've never
had any maternal instincts. Just because I'm a woman, why should I want
She gave up drinking two years ago because, despite
her tiny frame, she felt she looked too fat on camera. "Working in telly
you can't afford not to take care of yourself. There's always someone else
who can do your job and, as you get older, the industry is less interested
in you because it's so youth-oriented. I don't drink, I don't smoke. I
don't even drink tea or coffee and I do an hour's aerobics every day. If
you don't look good you're not going to get work."
That's why she's planning to have plastic surgery
this year. She points at areas of her face and neck that she wants nipping
"It's got to be done because I want to work. I've
heard that if you start when you're 43 it lasts longer, so I'm looking
into it. You have to look at how your parents have aged and my dad is as
lined as anything, so I'm pretty sure I'm gonna go that way. I'd better
do something about it soon."
It's not really necessary - Toyah Willcox has
survived the decade of excess remarkably unscathed.
11th Feb 2002