actress, successful singer, forthright woman all
rolled into one. Maggie Monks traces the rise and
rise of Toyah Willcox.
Willcox has done what most of us dream about -
and could do if we had the courage.
kicked away the traces of a well-off upbringing
at a private school and left with only one
"O" level - in music. She left her
school in the Midlands "by mutual
agreement" after failing the other nine
had a lisp and a stammer and had special speech
therapy lessons to correct them, though the lisp
is still faintly audible. She weighed in at
around eleven stone, even though she's barely
five foot tall.
she runs two successful careers - in acting and
singing - and has slimmed down to under eight
stone. All that, and she's only twenty
discovered, after she left school, she suffered
from a form of dyslexia, but has now got over
that problem and has blossomed into one of the
most talked about young actresses on stage, film
lives with her boyfriend in North London. As she
has bad eyesight, she is nervous about using
public transport - she gets lost because she
can't see the tube or bus signs - he drives her
around everywhere, and acts as her
hair has been many colours, but she seems to
favour an eye-catching flame and orange mix, set
off by the flamboyant clothes which she spends a
fortune on. She buys some of them from Swanky
Modes and others are designed by a friend.
not hard to imagine why she draws stares from
passers by, and it was in just that way she got
her first break. A BBC producer saw her in the
street and asked her if she could act.
first she thought he was spinning her a line, but
he convinced her he really was a TV producer -
and she ended up in a play which led to more
was just what she wanted. She'd been studying
drama in Birmingham, financing herself by working
in a theatre and in clubs at night.
hit the punk scene when she appeared in the film Jubilee
- and the headlines when it was discovered that
she kept a coffin in her previous Southampton
home, which was an old warehouse. The papers said
she slept in it, but it wasn't really true.
was to regret all that publicity, because her
home was broken into several times afterwards and
many of her personal possessions were
she's small, Toyah's a fighter. And her careers -
both of them - are all important to her.
always believed women are superior," she
says. "I've never felt it necessary to prove
stage act with the band has been described as
outrageous, but Toyah feels it's the men who
stand at the front of the stage that look silly.
In the music business many people have put down
her singing, but Toyah shrugs that off. She's not
the type to get trapped into anything she doesn't
want to do. During a production at the National
Theatre, she was practically the only actress who
didn't have to take her clothes off.
hate showing my body," she said. Now she's
finding people are only too happy to see her face
in a production.
the courage to ask for what she wanted has been
Toyah's hallmark - viz her part of Monkey in Quadrophenia.
already well known in the London punk/rock
circuit when she and her band appeared in the BBC
TV's Shoestring, but after that her music
really took off with her album Toyah Toyah
Toyah and her singles.
she fits her life around her two main
commitments, touring with her band for one half
of the year and acting during the other.
performance in The Tempest received
critical acclaim from all sides. She played
Miranda, which she got through Derek Jarman, the
man who made Jubilee.
had read The Tempest once and it was the
only Shakespeare play I could read," Toyah
says. "Shakespeare doesn't half gabble on
her success in films and on stage doesn't mean
we'll lose Toyah to America. She has no desire to
would only go to America for a good reason,"
she says. "People are just there because
they can lead a life of luxury and I don't want
that. I like being on the move."
film actress Katherine Hepburn got on famously
with Toyah when they played together in the TV
production The Corn Is Green.
been parts like those that helped her avoid being
cast as a punk.
moved on from all that," she said. "I
suppose I just believe in being an
is certainly that - there aren't many people who
enjoy working so hard they don't believe in
go insane when I'm not working. I like to be
everywhere at once, in the right place at the
right time. I don't enjoy socialising very much
and feel lost at parties." Running one
career can be difficult enough, but Toyah's
boundless energy copes with both - though she
does find the music side harder.
never know what's going to happen next, it's
totally unpredictable. So more mental and
physical energy has to go into it."
the time she tripped onstage and hurt her ankle.
She carried on with the show but the ankle was
later found to be fractured. Doctors told her
she'd have to rest up for a couple of weeks - not
tried sitting on a stool for a couple of
concerts, but it wasn't long before the stool was
abandoned and she was bouncing around
hardly the kind of lifestyle a woman with a
family could pursue, but then Toyah doesn't see
herself as the traditional type of woman
part of the future," she claims. "A
modern woman who doesn't think like a woman. I'm
a female chauvinist pig because you have to be
tough to survive."
might not be like the usual type of woman in some
ways, but she does have some things in common
with girls in the street - like make-up and
takes me between half an hour to an hour to put
my make-up on." she says. "But I always
know what I'm going to wear. I work it out the
she has been known to go on spending binges,
sometimes paying as much as £500 a month on
clothes - and she takes hours over her
used to have long hair but it all fell out
because it was bleached so often." Now her
hairdresser only lets her have it bleached once a
taken a special kind of determination to get this
far. For Toyah to transform herself from an
awkward chubby child, who didn't do well at
school, into a successful actress and singer
couldn't be achieved without courage and a
single-minded ambition to do well.
Toyah would like to do something for other young
people. She wants to buy an old disused cinema
and turn it into a kind of recreation centre
where people could go to meet each other and
watch films, and do whatever they like to
far she hasn't had much luck. But knowing Toyah,
it won't be long before she gets her scheme off
Times Magazine, 1981