Facing up to Reality

Alice Eaton talks to Toyah Willcox about punk, reality TV and her recent facelift 

Most women would rather die than go public about any procedures they may have had at the hands of their plastic surgeon - but not Toyah Willcox. 

Unlike many of her contemporaries in the showbiz world who hotly deny any subtle touching up on Mother Nature's behalf, when Toyah decided to go under the knife for what she says was a much-needed facelift, she wasn't content with confessing the fact to a few close friends over lunch. She wrote a book about the whole experience and, in the weeks following the operation, was frequently quoted on television and in the tabloids extolling the overwhelming benefits the procedure has had in her life. 

This typical unveiled openness from the one-time punk princess is what promises to make An Evening with Toyah Willcox, being held this month at North Finchley's artsdepot, of which she is a patron, an event full of revelations and juicy gossip. 

"I always knew that I would have surgery from when I was a teenager," explains 47-year-old Toyah, when I call her Midlands home to find out more about the upcoming engagement. 

"I'd wake up in the morning feeling fantastic and would go to the mirror and the person staring back looked like someone who hadn't slept for a month. I have a lot of energy that is disproportionate to my age, and my face and the way I was feeling were growing apart at a rate of knots," she laughs. 

She admits the facelift has completely changed her life but is careful to point out that her motive for writing the book, entitled Diary of a Facelift, was not to encourage others to go down the same path, but to give an honest account of the whole procedure, stitches and all. 

"I work in an industry where I don't know anyone who hasn't had something done, but even my best friends don't admit to it. There is a lot on television about plastic surgery but no-one has ever asked the patient what it is actually like. The book is all about getting the body ready for major surgery as well as the recovery afterwards. I know a number of doctors who have actually given the book to people who are having major organ surgery as it shows them how to prepare for it and how to achieve maximum recovery." 

Toyah has also had a huge response from women who have already had plastic surgery as well as those thinking of taking the plunge. 

"I have had letters from women who have found it a huge relief to read that it is usual for the skin to take ten weeks before it is back to normal as there are times when you think you are never going to look normal again. I have also had women who wanted to know what it would be like to have a facelift and have read the book and decided against it, which is also a positive outcome." 

Although Toyah's experience with plastic surgery has been a completely positive one, she is quick to speak out against young girls changing their shape to suit the industry. 

"For me it was a completely personal choice - I couldn't live with myself. But I do have a problem with young girls having surgery to achieve bigger busts and having their skin pulled around before they are fully developed. This is the reason why we need to be more open about everything we do to ourselves." 

Despite this conviction, Toyah doesn't intend to go into too much detail about her surgery on the actual evening, mainly because she says a lot of the details may be too graphic for some audience members. 

"I experienced no pain from the surgery but some people have actually passed out when I have gone into details so I am going to be careful." 

There is no shortage of other material to go on when it comes to Toyah's career. Since springing onto the 70s punk music scene as a fresh-faced singer with spiky pink hair and an attitude to match, Toyah has never looked back. Hit records followed, including the aptly named Sheep Farming in Barnet, and she was soon to be seen in a number of prestigious stage and screen roles, including memorable appearances in cult films Jubilee and Quadrophenia, work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as sharing the screen with Hollywood greats Katherine Hepburn in The Corn is Green and Sir Lawrence Olivier in Granada TV's film version of The Ebony Tower. 

More recently, Toyah took the title role in the stage musical, Calamity Jane, on London's West End, and young parents and their offspring may be more familiar with the voice of Toyah offering the calming goodbye in the popular CBeebies series Teletubbies. 

Toyah puts her diverse career down to persistence and self-belief. 

"I am incredibly proactive," she admits. 

"There is a trait among actors to have too much pride to actually go out and get work. My agent says he has never known an actor like me. I have no qualms about calling up a TV company and asking if they have got anything for me. People generally have preconceptions of other people and this is a way of getting rid of them, otherwise I would have for ever been seen as a punk rocker." 

It is this tenacity that saw Toyah fighting for survival in the ITV reality show I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! 

"I absolutely loved the first series of I'm A Celebrity so I got in touch with the producers and asked them, if they were ever doing it again, to consider me." 

However, it proved to be more of a challenge than she realised. 

"It was incredibly hard because we were hungry and that drives you mad," she remembers. 

"I normally eat five times a day but we were being fed once a day and they took away any fruits or plants from the jungle so we couldn't even forage for food. It is very hard to stay civil when you are hungry and I had to learn to control my temper as all I wanted to do was eff and blind and smash the place up. If I had known I was going to be that hungry, I might have thought a bit more before volunteering myself but I am still glad I did it." 

With so many different career paths trodden, from actor, presenter, singer to reality TV star, it is difficult to pin down the real Toyah and that is exactly the result she hopes to achieve. 

"The industry is so corporate and the moment I feel I am conforming and fitting into the ideal', I take a job that goes against the grain. I love doing different things and am comfortable presenting anything, from sex to religion." 

So what is she most proud of? 

"I am not a retrospective person - I get up in the morning and deal with what I have to do. I don't operate through pride, I operate through zest for life. 

"But if I am proud of anything, it is of still being around." 

An Evening with Toyah Willcox is on Sunday October 16 at 8pm at artsdepot, Tally Ho Corner, North Finchley, London N12. Call the box office on 020 8369 5454 or visit www.artsdepot.co.uk

Hendon Times
13th October 2005
Thanks to Michael Cooney