Toyah Rocks On With A Vampiric Twist

Toyah Willcox tells Emma Pinch about the feminist message in her new show and album

It was inevitable that one day – or, rather, one sunset – pop star Toyah Willcox would morph into a vampire.

This is the woman, after all, who doesn’t sleep, is on nodding terms with the undead, and, judging from the evidence, likes to bite life firmly in the throat.

This year Toyah, 50, has her first studio album in 14 years, has created Toyah TV, has walked the Gobi Desert and the Great Wall of China with Olivia Newton John and Danni Minogue, and is on an arena tour as a hard-rocking vampiress.

Vampires Rock, by Steve Steinman, is set in a New York club called Live and Let Die. It’s the year 2030 and the undead are among us.

Toyah’s character is a femme fatale devil in high-heeled boots belting out classic rock anthems. The former high priestess of punk is, in her own words, “a bit of an attention seeker”, so it’s a plum role.

She describes it as a sort of Rocky Horror Show, songs from the likes of Bon Jovi, Meatloaf, AC/DC, Led Zep and Twisted Sister, providing a narrative, with plenty of pyrotechnics and costume changes.

“Vampire Rock is about a 2,000-year-old Baron Von Rockula and he wants to trade my character, The Devil Queen, in for a younger model,” enthuses Toyah. “It’s the same old story that women have to live with right through their lives. But it goes down so well,” she confesses, with her infectious lisp.

“Baron Von Rockula has found this new young protegé and it’s about the battle between the three of them. It’s very tongue-in-cheek.

“My character is very manipulative, always threatening to kick her husband out and beat up Pandora. She’s pretty vile but audiences just love it. I get such huge cheers.

“It’s full in your face. There’s so much Nosferatu in it.”

Being thrown over at a certain age, with no intention of going quietly, describes Toyah’s own battle.

Lesser God, which opens the show, was a song she wrote in protest at women getting a raw deal. “Women are treated like second-class citizens, never more so than in religion,” she says. “The title speaks for itself. Because I’m a woman, am I made by a second-hand God? If women ruled the world, I think it would be a very different world.”

Though she says she entered it with her eyes open, there are few industries more sexist and ageist than showbiz.

She felt compelled to get a facelift after Jonathan Ross criticised her sagging looks on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. But, in typical Toyah style, she followed it up with the gruesomely honest Diary of a Facelift. The public reaction touched her profoundly.

“Funnily enough, it’s one of the strongest things I’ve done in being accepted as a human being. I just get people coming up to me daily, thanking me for that book. Women of my age say ‘Thank you for being honest’.

“When I had my facelift, in the next room to me in Paris was a very famous supermodel having her skin lasered and resurfaced for this L’Oreal shoot for skin cream. It’s this whole thing that women, within the cosmetic industry, are constantly lied to to spend their money, and it just makes me so angry the industry does that. I actually think the book set a trend for being more open and honest about things.“

A childhood spent with severe illness – she had a twisted spine and club feet – left her extremely health conscious. She shuns alcohol and smoking, and gives talks about how to maintain health to enjoy an active middle age.

Her achievements this year were “very consciously” to send a message to women her age that they could do it, too.

“I’m really so dead against smoking and drinking, I don’t socialise in the company of people who do those either. I’m really very strong about it; it’s cost me a lot of friendships.

“If you plan and you work hard and you keep your health, there’s no reason you can’t have a fantastic life. I see people destroy themselves by 30. Really you should hit 50 and have a fantastic time.”

Her new album, In The Court of the Crimson Queen, pushes further the defiant message.

“There’s one song called Angel in You which is about bagging the boy you never slept with in your 20s. And it’s about I’ve been meaning to do this for years and I’m leading you up the stairs to wonderland. The only theme is I never denied my age and never calmed down either. I wanted to write sexy rock songs for my age group.”

She’s so emphatic and vivac- ious, it’s impossible to see how she does it all without sleep.

Yet she’s been a chronic insomniac since 14, and says her body has just adjusted to it.

“It doesn’t mean I’m up partying all the time,” she says. “The thing with insomnia is once you lose daylight your brain is as hopeless as someone who sleeps. You’re literally in suspended animation. In the summer it’s fantastic because you only get about three hours of darkness. Once you’re in the winter months, it’s about wading through mud.

“About once every two weeks I manage to sleep and it’s really good solid sleep. I’m OK if I sleep between 8am and 10am, I can survive the day and that’s the only time I survive the day properly.”

Toyah shares the wee hours with ghosts that haunt her home, which lies in the shadow of Pershore Abbey, in Worcestershire. It’s a situation she’s airily matter-of-fact about.

“I live in a very old house in a town renowned for hauntings. You see them in the road. It’s where I live, there’s a lot of history.”

The internet has been a blessing: “I get up and go to my office and pester people with email. People are very imp- ressed when they get an email from me at two in the morning. Until they realise I just don’t get any sleep, they seem to think there’s something superhuman about it.”

You can hardly blame them.

Liverpool Daily Post
October 2008