Fame and Fortune: Toyah Willcox

Toyah Willcox, 49, shot to fame as a punk rock singer in the 1980s and went on to establish a TV and theatre career. She lives in Worcester with her husband, rock guitarist Robert Fripp, 61, and spoke to Mark Anstead 

How do you think your childhood experience influenced your attitude to money?
Initially my childhood was very affluent. My father inherited three very successful joinery factories and although our five-bedroom house was in an ordinary road in Birmingham, it was the biggest house in the street. We used to drive a new Rolls Royce every year.

When I was seven years old my father was hit badly by a slump in the stock market and he lost everything. Our standard of living dropped dramatically, but he managed to keep the house and keep me in a private school, which was a big achievement.

How did that affect you?
It partly contributed to my strong drive to be financially secure and independent. That and people telling me I would never achieve my dreams. 

I am dyslexic and they all laughed when I said I was going to act and sing and get out of Birmingham. 

To this day I find if people doubt me it is incredibly motivating.

Are you cautious with money or liberal with it?
I'm incredibly cautious because I've seen how easily you can lose it. I don't know who gave my father his advice, but they should be shot. 

Back then stocks and shares were phenomenally successful, but he didn't spread his investments. I have learned from that. 

I always travel "cattle class" because I don't see the point of spending thousands of pounds just to sit in a chair. I don't see holidaymakers on those flights, I see business people saving money like me.

Have you been in debt?
Yes, many times. When I was at drama school, it was a constant struggle to meet my rent payments and I was so poor at times all I could afford was a Mars bar. Friends kept me going - people like film director Derek Jarman would say, "Toyah, come round for a meal". 

Poverty is frightening and anyone who profits from other people's hardship, like landlords, deserves to rot in hell as far as I am concerned.

Has being better off made you happier?
I think I'm only happy when I'm under a certain amount of stress and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I really enjoy the pressure.

How do you separate responsibility for finance with Robert?
Everything is separate. We have a complicated way of working out who pays what.

What's your best buy?
An apartment I bought in the south of France last year overlooking the harbour in a very old town. There are 67 steps up to it and I love it to death. In France, property prices are still rising and attractive properties like mine are hard to get. 

The French always want new-build, so it's really just the Swiss, Dutch, British and Germans who go for character homes. 

I think its value has doubled already, but that's partly because the euro is so strong. 

I bought another property in France four years ago for 200,000 and that has also doubled in value. I let it to a company executive and I will let this new one when I've finished renovating it.

But you said you would never be a landlord? 
Yes. I've changed my mind, but only because I went to the richest area of Europe and let to people who work in information technology companies who I know can afford it. That gives me no moral qualms, but I still have problems with the idea of letting in England. 

I find it easier to be a businesswoman in France where I am not known. I'm about to buy another property out there and my investments will form a small specialised business.

How many properties do you own?
I have two riverfront properties in the Midlands, which I bought in 1999 and 2000 for 147,000 and 170,000. My parents live in one and the family uses the other for holidays. 

I also have a one-bedroom house in Chiswick I bought in 1994, which I will never get rid of because I can't envisage buying into London again. In England I am mortgage free so there are no worries about making them pay.

What's your worst buy?
In 1985 I bought a studio flat in Chelsea for 159,000. Then, during the really bad property slump of 1990, it fell into negative equity and I had to sell for 142,000. 

My mortgage had shot up to 17,000 a year because of interest rate rises and I was panicked by my advisers into selling it. I wish I had hung on for another year - it is now worth 2.5m. All I needed was 12 months to get control of my finances and I could have ridden out the storm.

In what other ways do you invest? 
I put about four hours a day into managing my property portfolio and share portfolio. Investments can be fluid and I want to know what's happening all the time.

Do you invest in individual savings accounts (Isas)?
Yes, I have four and I always put my annual maximum amount in. I look upon them as my hidden pot.

Do you use high interest savings accounts?
Yes, but I bank with Lloyds TSB and they've been very good to me so I just use whatever savings rate they have. 

They realise I need a relationship with my bank where I can phone and get through immediately if I suspect fraud.

Do you bank online?
I prefer to go in and see what's happening, but it's getting to the point where it is going to be too expensive banking the old way.

Do you have many credit cards?
An American Express, a Barclaycard and a Marks & Spencer MasterCard. A credit card is more convenient than carrying cash.

How do you tip?
My husband says my purse screams whenever I open it. I think I'm a fair tipper, but not if someone has been a s**t.

Do you get involved in finding the best mortgage deals?
I've had more sexism dealing with banks in this country than anywhere else. When the Bank of Scotland started up in the 1980s I went to see the manager, but he wouldn't talk to me - he wanted to see my husband. They burned their bridges with me.

Are pensions a good idea? 
Yes, I used to have 20, but I amalgamated them recently and put most of them into a SIPP. I was hoping I would be able to invest the whole lot in residential property, but I can still do commercial property. 

I still have three other pensions - the Legal & General one has done particularly well - but the rest is in the SIPP, which I manage.

Toyah will be releasing her new album, In the Court of the Crimson Queen, later this year.

The Telegraph
29th March 2008