Toyah on a determined health kick

Toyah Willcox believes in healthy eating and a spot of National Service. She tells Alison Jones why.

For someone who once seemed to be the very embodiment of anti-establishment attitudes and youthful rebellion as the princess of punk, Toyah Willcox holds some very surprising views.

The type of views that might have Daily Mail-reading Majors hurrumphing along in agreement. For instance she believes that a spot of National Service could shape up the country's teenagers.

That they are being mollycoddled and spoilt as they are left to entertain themselves at home with the latest gadgetry while the playing fields of England are sold off beneath them.

And that a little bit of familial structure and discipline can go a long way to guarding them against the dangers of drugs and casual sex.

"I was brought up in a very strict middle class family who made me sit around the table and eat and who talked to me about the dangers of drugs and of sleeping around. My parents took responsibility," says Toyah, speaking from her home in the Worcestershire countryside.

"My rebellion was more about freedom of choice. You have the choice to say no to drink and drugs and I was very aware of that."

We are discussing the car crash careers of Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse, who seem set on a path of self destruction that is threatening to eclipse their musical achievements and the promise of great things yet to come.

"I think young people need to go through a phase like that. I don't agree with it and I think they will hit a time when they regret it but I don't think you can tell young people how to behave.

"But it is not just about them, it is about the people who surround them. In my experience with friends who have had drug problems, you remove them from the community and the people who feed off their dependency.

"I think it is sad and hopefully it is temporary."

Even at the height of her punk period, when, after graduating from Old Rep Drama School and being cast as the nihilistic Mad in Derek Jarman's seminal cult movie Jubilee, she went on to form her own band, Toyah didn't entirely cast off the sensible attitudes of her suburban upbringing.

She was wary enough to see when the vulnerabilities of others, such as Sid Vicious, were being exploited "a lot of people enjoyed his demise because they were sitting back on their laurels making money out of him and the music industry was very aware of that".

And when the relentless schedule of touring started to take its toll, she formulated her own healthy eating regime and gave up a few of her favourite indulgences.

"Being on the road the whole time, which I was 25 years ago, was always a challenge. I was a vegetarian and it was impossible to find vegetarian food.

"Also it was all late nights, early mornings and environments that aren't great for your health, like aeroplanes and trains.

"I didn't want to keep being on antibiotics or going to the doctor's. I realised if I didn't eat sweets and I didn't drink I felt much better, so it was a simple process of elimination.

"I do feel deprived," she laughs. "I miss alcohol immensely. At the end of a long day, the thought of sitting down having a drink and forgetting everything is incredibly desirable but it is just not worth feeling bad."

The sacrifice started her interest in homeopathic remedies and complimentary medicines which continues to this day. And it is why she has agreed to open Birmingham's Natural Living Show at The Clarendon Suites in Edgbaston, next weekend.

The event will be backed with practitioners from the holistic world giving talks, demonstrations and holding workshops in such things as Reiki, Lomi Lomi, herbalism, astrology, Kabbalah and laughter therapy.

"I believe in a complimentary lifestyle," she says. "These shows attract people who are quite instinctive about their health. If you practice homeopathy long term you are aware that certain things lower your immune system.

"I don't drink - there is no point if you don't want to get colds or stomach bugs. I avoid processed foods, complex starches and refined sugars, all the demons of our diet in the Western world. It is really about prevention and balancing your body out."

She believes that complimentary medicines have been given validation by the fact that GPs will often recommend acupuncture, homeopathy or massage to patients, particularly those who are chronically ill.

"I think increasingly doctors want to wean patients off this pill dependency so we are becoming a much better culture like that.

"We tend to forget everything was homeopathic before the invention of penicillin. And before the Second World War the way you dealt with muscle pain was by cupping (a remedy that made headlines when Gwyneth Paltrow was pictured with brown circles all over her back, caused by a small cup which has the air sucked out of it by a naked flame, creating a vacuum).

"Cupping removes lactic acid, which is incredibly painful if you have it stored in your muscles. When I was in Calamity Jane in the West End, I had it done, but it is not cheap."

Forty-nine year old Toyah's dedication to pursuing as healthy a life as possible and using natural remedies should, one would have thought, prepared her well for spending time embracing nature in the jungle in Australia, when she starred in I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

However, she had reckoned without the deviousness of the show's producers and the fact that seeing famous people suffer makes good television.

"They deliberately didn't let you take in anything you relied on. The whole point of it is that you break down and become something other than what you are in the outside world where you have all your crutches to lean on. So we weren't allowed to take in anything."

She was in the second series, eventually won by Phil Tuffnell, where Anthony Worrall Thompson led a protest over the contestants lack of food.

"I don't eat three big meals a day I eat six very small amounts a day," Toyah explains. "They (the producers) knew that is how I feel well and normal and they didn't allow me to do it. I was only allowed to eat once a day and they weren't interested in how I was feeling.

"It was a test of nerves. Eventually, four days in, when my eyes were clouding over and I couldn't see anymore, they got a doctor up to the boundaries and he said I had to be able to eat every two hours so he was sneaking me biscuits.

But it wasn't making me feel any better because in there you weren't having a balanced diet you were living purely on protein, so I felt pretty ill."

When she came out, rather than being given a few weeks in a spa to recover, Toyah flew straight back to Britain to star in Calamity Jane in the West End.

Though Toyah's acting, presenting and stage work seems to have taken precedence over her singing, she is still devoted to music.

"I do it 20 hours a day! I am making a solo album and I am off to Estonia in one hour as I am on a world tour at the moment," she protests.

She releases her first ever digital single on Monday, Latex Messiah (Viva Le Rebel in You) and the image on her website shows she's lost none of her desire to shock, as she is clad in skin tight PVC with a wig/headdress like Beelzebub's horns.

So it is surprising to hear that she has always felt the need to need to conform to showbusiness ideals of beauty as being slim, toned and fresh faced, although she is refreshingly up front about it.

When she underwent a facelift a few years ago she wrote a book about it.

"I knew from the age of about 20 that I'd have one, and I had hit 44 or 45. I had no qualms or second thoughts about it whatsoever. I think it is about maintenance, about looking your best. I don't think it is about looking younger, nipping and tucking is about looking well and vibrant.

"I have a healthy lifestyle but I am always concerned about weight because in my line of business it affects getting employed. If you are overweight you don't get booked to do concerts, you don't get booked to do TV. Weight is incredibly important, as shallow as that sounds. It is the first thing a producer looks at."

In spite of this, Toyah still sees herself as an empowered individual because she is creating her own work and opportunities through her music, not relying on the phone to ring with acting offers.

"I think I have a strong work ethic," she confirms. "I am painfully aware of my limitations and I always want to improve.

"I don't rely on anyone else to give me what I want in life and to live like that you have to be responsible for yourself."

Which is why she feels sad for young people today whose creativity and ambition is not being encouraged. Instead they are being nannied and indulged into apathy.

"The whole structure of this society is so people earn and bring money back into the community. People are educated and go out to work.

"We are not having children for them to go shopping and play computer games! We are having children to be a responsible part of the community. I think the Government has let them down. The day they allowed schools to sell playing fields for property development was absolutely wrong.

"And this whole culture where you can be sued if a child hurts themselves in the playground, it is just stupid. I can remember standing in goal playing hockey where the ground was frozen solid and breaking my teeth. I didn't complain about it and no one worried for me.

"Our parents generation grew up during a war and it had the effect of galvanising them. Everything we see now is happening far away, Africa, Iraq, we are desensitised to it. Kids are just not seeing that they are responsible for their own future and that is not only cultural, it is political as well.

"We have to give teachers more power and nurses more power and go back to the values of the mid 60s which was a Labour government, so why haven't we got those values now? I am incensed by it."

Somewhere in middle England, there is a Major hurrumphing his support.

IC Cannock
26th October 2007