Star of the 1980s punk scene TOYAH WILLCOX is busier than ever. She tells Amy Carroll how she fell in love with Menton and why her apartment there is the perfect place to be creative... 

What is it about the French way of life that makes you feel you’re escaping to somewhere really special?

My first experience of how the French do things was in 1984 when I was filming The Ebony Tower with Laurence Olivier. We stayed in a ch‚teau in the Dordogne and it was all shabby gentry style. Even the countess, our host, had no pretensions. It was all about family, evenings eating home-made fish soup and chatting around the table. It’s the same in Menton. It’s sleepy and most visitors are retirees. There’s very little interest in strangers and the locals leave you to your own business. It’s so laid back and quality of life always comes before work. 

You’ve recently appeared on Masterchef and enjoy cooking at home. Do you take inspiration from the cuisine on the Riviera? 

I like trying out new recipes but out here, I’m not equipped for cooking. The culture is for eating out so, like most people, I have a tiny kitchen. I usually make a daily trip to the fabulous glasscovered market in the square. I buy fresh fruit and wonderful salad produce – most of which I don’t even know the name for in English because we don’t have it back home. Then, I usually eat on my balcony, enjoying the fabulous view over the harbour. 

You come out here to write. Apart from the obvious beauty of the place, what is it that brings out your creativity? 

Well, sleep isn’t something I aspire to and I love solitude. So, when I’m out here, sitting on my balcony until the early hours of the morning, I find it a great place to contemplate. The light in this town is incredible and the place just lends itself to being creative. I think I always have a sense of urgency when I’m here too. Even though the pace is relaxing and slower, and I can switch off my mobile phone and not worry about being interrupted. I know I’m only here for short periods of time so I click into super-creative gear to make the most of it. 

Is it true that Menton is popular with arty types? 

Menton definitely attracts artists. I found out about it because my percussionist has a place here. But it also has a strong French community and there are plenty of local sculpture artists, jewellery-makers and painters. The place seems to hold an interest for surrealists. I like that type of art because it takes you beyond real life; it’s not just a photocopy of what we see. 

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? 

I’ve never been comfortable on the beach but I love the outdoors, so I go for really long walks. You can walk into Italy from here. I also love buying antiques. I’ve found a shop that specialises in antique fairground pieces. The treasures you’ll find in there are absolutely astonishing – I’ve just bought a wonderful church mirror. I’ve discovered that if I go every so often, over the course of two or three months, I can barter a bit and eventually get a good price. 

How easy was it for you to buy your apartment?

The first time I came to look at property here I couldn’t afford anything and so I bought an off-plan apartment close to Nice, in »ze. Once I had made some money from renting that out, I looked again at Menton and fell in love with this apartment as soon as I stepped inside and saw the sea view through the French windows. I paid 345,000 Euros for it and only needed to do basic updating inside – painting, new flooring and the central heating. 

With the time you’ve spent in France, have any French songwriters made a lasting impression on you?

Not really. A lot of my work comes out of silence. I rarely even listen to music. I require non-interference and up here, 67 steps up from the old harbour, and three flights of stairs up from the front door, I’m incredibly high up and I can only really hear the church bells. It’s ideal for me. I love the place to bits.

France Magazine
Summer 2006