Remembering Derek:

Derek Jarman, artist, film-maker and radical, died of Aids in 1994. As Tate Modern screens his Super 8s as part of the Long Weekend, our correspondent talks to friends and associates. 

Toyah Willcox, singer and actress in Jubilee and The Tempest  

The actor Ian Charleson introduced me to Derek. He thought we were kindred spirits. Every generation has its oddballs and Derek and I were oddballs in the 1970s. He was an absolute radical in every way – artistic, sexual and political. When I met him at his flat in 1977, the first thing that surprised me was that every man in his flat was naked. I didn’t really know what homosexuality was, but he was living with a very beautiful boy, Yves, and there were two other boys in the shadows. We had tea. Derek asked me to look at a script under the sofa, which was for Jubilee. I took the part that had the most lines. In the early days he filmed all of us on Super 8.  

He called me after giving me the part in Jubilee to tell me there wasn’t enough money and my part had to be cut. I was absolutely f***ing devastated and he must have heard it in my voice because he put me back in and I strongly suspect he didn’t take his own fee for the film as a result.  

In my very first scene I had to jump into bed with Ian and another actor, Karl Johnson. I pulled back the sheet and they were both naked. I gawped. Derek shouted, “What’s wrong?” I asked whether it was really necessary that they were naked. He thought it was funny I had never seen male genitalia up to that point. After Jubilee, I was on benefits, a struggling actress, and once a week he would make me a lovely meal – mushroom soup and bread.  

Next I played Miranda in his Tempest. He had such a wealth of knowledge. If Jubilee had been all about the egos and a bit like working in Warhol’s Factory, this was much more Derek as a serious film-maker. He would rarely lose his temper. He might shout: “If I can fing do this, you can fing do this.” Then it was over.  

When I became a pop star a few people were keen to see me fail. Not Derek. He was always supportive. It was hard to keep in touch but Derek and I exchanged Christmas cards. His were always embossed with lovely drawings. Because he was always such an eloquent gentleman it was amazing to see those angry canvases he painted about dying and prejudice before he died. They affected me hugely: they conveyed the way people with a terminal illness must feel. I was desperate to see him but Keith, his partner at the end, said it wasn’t possible and I respected that. The one memory I really treasure of Derek is laughter. Laughter was etched on his face all the time.  

The Times
12th May 2007