The Big Interview

The days of the accepted rebel punk may be well behind her but Toyah Willcox can still be a bit naughty when she wants to.

Married to rock guitarist Robert Fripp, the founder member of the '70s dinosaur rock band King Crimson, who is 12 years her senior, Toyah is often desperate to spend a little time with her lover and husband of 14 years as busy work schedules keep them apart. So, instead of moaning about it, the pair sneak off to obscure destinations for a little "tete-a-tete'' to keep their marriage on track.

"Over the next two months, we have one week together in Santa Barbara,'' she announces.

"We do meet in the most obscure places - two months ago we met in a motel in Southampton. "It's a very flexible relationship, which is lovely. Originally we had a rule that we would see each other every three weeks, but that hasn't stayed. It's fine and we are both very forgiving if we can't make a meeting.

"I think the worst thing is when you are not seeing somebody and you end up getting lonely. I'm always surrounded by camera teams or script writers and I have to work hard to find an evening alone," she laughs.

Now a recognised TV presenter, Toyah Willcox has survived the treadmill of fame and is enjoying her fame more now than ever. But what has happened in her life and career should come as no surprise to her as she was given a trip to a fortune teller for her 21st birthday and, according to Toyah, he was uncannily accurate.

"You know the scary thing" says the 41-year-old actress and former pop star. "He got everything right."

It seems that not only did the mystic foretell how many hit singles she would have, but he also predicted some troubled times ahead with her manager. And he also saw a change of career on the horizon.

"He said: 'You're going to spend your time from your mid-30s to your 50s travelling - you'll be in a different place every week', and it came true.

"He made a tape recording of the predictions. I play the tape every year and it's still right after 20 years."

As the acceptable face of punk at the turn of the '70s and early '80s, Willcox had eight Top 40 singles. Most people of a certain age will recall her lisping her way through radio-friendly chants like It's A Mystery and Thunder In The Mountains, looking for all the world like an explosion in a paint factory.

But these days she is much more conventional, with her hair neatly clipped up away from her elfin-like face and dressed in grey trousers, sensible pullover and gilet.

She now presents BBC1's religious slot, The Heaven and Earth Show, on Sundays, and appears in children's BBC drama Barmy Aunt Boomerang - when she isn't jetting off around the world for the Holiday show.

She is brisk, efficient and businesslike - anything but a former rebel with a cause.

"My life is now much more rewarding,'' she reveals. "The rock world can be very insulated. It's a bubble of drugs, alcohol and hotel rooms, which has its limits. I was very disciplined, though. I couldn't go on stage for two hours then party all night. Most singers don't talk in the daytime to help their voice, but it's as dull as dishwater - the only exciting thing was being on stage. The rest got really tedious."

These days, Willcox is a strict vegetarian, only eats organic food and doesn't touch caffeine. "Cutting out caffeine took about 20 years off my face to start with," she says adamantly.

"Part of the problem of being dyslexic, which I am, is that your brain works very badly if it gets dehydrated. Water encourages the electrons in the brain to be more efficient and my short and long term memory have both improved.

"My sleep pattern has improved dramatically and my energy levels also ended up rising."

Born in Birmingham, Willcox is the third child of a joiner. She was born with a crooked spine, one leg longer than the other, a clawed foot and stomach trouble. At the age of nine she drank so much sangria at a barbecue that she collapsed with alcohol poisoning.

"My brother and sister kept feeding me sangria and telling me it was Ribena," she recalls. "I ended up drinking three bottles of the stuff."

Rather than putting her off drink, the experience saw her developing a taste for alcohol. She would sneak booze into her school, Edgbaston Church of England Girls' School, and by the time she reached 14 she had turned into every parent's worst nightmare. She could easily knock back a bottle of spirits a day, she was a heavy smoker, dyed her hair bright pink and started hanging around with bikers.

"I don't regret any of the rebellious teenage years, because it gives you a bit of contrast," she says. "I loathe people who purport to be saints - I don't think they exist. I think we all have good and bad within us and I think it's that battle which makes us interesting."

Currently completing her autobiography, Living Out Loud, she describes the book as revealing more "minx-like behaviour" than "sex and scandal".

"Writing about my childhood was very therapeutic," she smiles. "Even though I'm dyslexic, all my memories are clear. I've tried to write things which have never been heard before, even by my husband. When people read the book it will just confirm all those stories about my wild teenage years,'' she adds, as if trying to prove she really was a rebel after all.

This is Hampshire
30th October 1999