Toyah Willcox interview by Sharon Cook

Work makes Toyah Willcox happy. And if current trends are anything to go by, she must be ecstatic.
So what drives this flame haired eighties icon to do more and more? 

We caught up with the diminutive Toyah, as she slipped on her thigh length leather boots for her latest stage appearance.

And no, not this time on the Hexagon’s stage as part of an eighties tribute tour, but to reprise her leading role as Jack in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. 

Toyah readily agrees life is all about new challenges – though this won’t be the first time she’s done panto, and Jack is a familiar role.

“I never feel as if I’ve arrived,” is the shocking admission from Toyah herself, who is an accomplished musician (vocals, guitar and keyboards), actress, songwriter and producer. 

With a shy smile she admits to becoming star struck when in the company of David Bowie and adds: “I don’t feel remotely that I’ve ‘made it’.

“Every stage of life is about a new adventure. Even as a child I could never believe that life started at 20, and finished at 30. The adventure is still on going,” said 49-year old Toyah, “Doing different things is very empowering.”

Indeed her career – which saw her bursting onto the screens in the anti-establishment David Jarman film Jubilee in 1977, followed by a highly successful music career from the late seventies with her band ‘Toyah’ (I Want to Be Free, It’s a Mystery) - has gone from strength to strength.

Acting roles have included anything from Shakespeare and Minder to Tales of the Unexpected and now as Billie Piper’s mother in the new TV adaptation of Belle de Jour. Music continues to be a huge part of her life – she is married to musician Robert Fripps with whom she conducts a ‘Transatlantic relationship’, so they can both pursue their own careers.

But Toyah has also evolved with such projects as I’m a Celebrity, the voice of the Teletubbies, her biography in 2000 ‘Living out Loud’ and her 2005 Diary of a Facelift – ‘I had the facelift to look well’.

She says life is an open book, that no one need go digging to find out any secrets and the best time of her life is ‘now’.

These disarmingly honest admissions are no surprise when you meet Toyah. She is friendly, offers us a coffee and then proffers the packet of mixed nuts and fruit she is nibbling from: “I’m trying to do a bit of a detox at the moment “, she grins, though she looks incredibly svelte and healthy.

Talking of her early career Toyah freely admits she had not had any life experience. “I was from Birmingham, then suddenly I was in London. I worked with heroin addicts, sex addicts; they were all phenomenal, wonderful people. That phase of life was so interesting. I learnt to keep my mouth shut because I’d not experienced what they’d experienced. They were complicated. Hedonistic. Derek Jarman, he only saw the good in people.”

Work has always flowed in Toyah’s direction, her trademark lisp never hampering her style: “I’m very pushy. I have no pride when it comes to asking for work. I ring people up all the time.”

She has worked with the likes of Greta Scacchi and Catherine Hepburn on a raft of high profile films and TV dramas: “I adore telly acting.”

Yet despite all the fame and glamour Toyah is grounded: “When I look at what a life should be, it should be about happiness. We’re pathetic in this country. People are very hard working, to the point where a lot of people don’t realise if they’re happy or not. If we had happier people, we’d be a happier society.

“For me work keeps me very happy. I’m restless. I like to be on the move.”

Age appears to fascinate Toyah, rather than scare her.

“A lot of people say they don’t care what people think as they get older, you are your own ‘kingdom’ at that point. 

“I think the facelift changed me. It’s given me tonnes of confidence. I feel more confident that I’ve taken control of something I wasn’t happy with.

“I’m always working on a project. I’ve got two books on the go, both non-fiction. And the nostalgia tours – well, it’s a holiday, that’s not work, it’s party time.”

Of Jack and the Beanstalk with The Proper Pantomime Company Toyah adds: “On many levels I love it (panto). It’s a cultural art and I enjoy it immensely. I love the challenge of working two shows a day.

“I love that you get three generations of one family in the audience. And I love working over Christmas. I would hate to have nothing to do at Christmas. I would rather do panto than non-stop concerts. Panto is more like family, you have a wild social time with the people you work with.”

On playing Jack Toyah said: “The challenge is bringing something to the show and for the audience to go away thinking ‘we haven’t seen that before’.

“I’ve played Jack three times. I want to entertain the audience as if it’s George Michael playing Wembley,” laughed Toyah.

To see if Toyah pulls it off Jack and The Beanstalk runs at The Hexagon, Reading from December 8- January 6.
October 2007