Eighties Punk Icon Toyah is 51 – And Feisty As Ever

Punk icon Toyah was edgy, vibrant and outspoken in the eighties and you’ll be pleased to know, she is still as feisty as ever.

The multi-talented singer, actor, television presenter and author, now 51, was a pleasure to talk to.

And she can’t wait to come up and perform in Whitehaven as part of the star-studded Here and Now concert on August 15.

“Whitehaven will be new territory for me, I have performed in Ambleside and Carlisle before,” said Toyah.

“Here and Now is incredibly successful around the world. It is hit after hit of pure nostalgia.

“And the audiences are getting younger and younger because eighties music is so popular, the audience is always smiling from beginning to end.”

So what makes it appealing to a younger audience?

“I think that teenagers have discovered eighties music for themselves. People have knocked the eighties and that’s done nothing but make them want to know more about it. It was written for teenagers, by teenagers.

“It was a decade of image and the songs were very strong, as was the fashion – for men and women.

“I do think that the songs were made for stadiums and because of that the open-air arenas work very well with this music – it’s very anthemic and very personal.”

Toyah’s eighties career was phenomenally successful, resulting in hit records including It’s A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. In fact, she has had a total of 15 Top 40 singles and four gold and platinum albums.

“It was a fabulous time,” she says. “When you are young and have that kind of fame, it is everything that you want. It is extraordinary because you could not go anywhere without being mobbed.

“There weren’t many women doing what we did then. We were on a crest of a wave, we were making women strong and opinionated.”

Toyah was brought up in a middle class family and was public school-educated.

“I was told to get married and have children and that was the most terrifying message,” she said.

“What someone like me did for women was to say go your own route and seek out your ambition.”

Everyone remembers Toyah as the petite powerhouse with a distinctive voice, flame-coloured hair and striking make-up.

“For me, a way of being remembered was to have very distinctive hair colour and I used that to effect. I lived it, it was totally me, I did it 24 hours a day, it was a statement of individuality.”

Toyah, who is married to international guitarist Robert Fripp, has always come across as open and honest and she rarely shies away from talking about a subject.

I asked Toyah whether her having a facelift was down to the pressure of keeping young in a world of celebrity.

“Pressure is very personal. People constantly tell you that you are the wrong height, you have the wrong hair colour, but I don’t hear it.

“You do something for yourself, you are the holder of the purse strings. I don’t believe in this outside pressure.

“Everyone I know is so strong-minded that you cannot tell them how to look.

“Having said that, I think that it is utterly wrong that the fashion industry only uses a certain size of woman.”

Toyah talked openly about plastic surgery in her book Diary of a Facelift.

“People are dishonest. People who are astonishingly rich have plastic surgery as a statement, to hold themselves apart from the rest of the world and then refuse to admit that they have had it.

“I think that this is stupid because all it allows is bad plastic surgery to be carried out.

“I thought, well let’s talk about it, I was one of the first people to be honest about it.

“I do believe in honesty. I do a lot of speeches and I could not stand up there in front of women and lie. Women are lied to so much, they need to know we are equal.

“I cannot see people turned into an underdog and I hate people to be undermined – men and women.”

Featuring in cult classic film Quadrophenia, Toyah has been in more than 10 feature films and appeared in more than 30 stage plays.

She also stars in ITV drama Secret Diary of a Call Girl, in which she plays Billie Piper’s mother, and she is about to tour this year with hit stage show Vampires Rock.

In a nutshell, she has never stopped working and doesn’t intend to.

“I like working,” she said. “The bottom line for me is that I have something to do the next day. I cannot bear having nothing to do. If there is not enough acting going on, I make sure I am writing music.

“I see myself as a cottage industry, I am an acquired taste which gives me a comfortable kind of fame.

“I like being creative. In the nineties, I was almost exclusively presenting TV. I’m much happier when I’m writing music, creating something unique.

“When I am acting, that is very satisfying. I keep thinking I have to earn a living. I love acting and it suits who I am today.”

Toyah’s latest music project is The Humans which she describes as “slightly avant-garde”.

“It’s like film noir of music – dark and secretive. It’s a pure spiritual project, it is not a Toyah project.”

She has teamed up with Bill Rieflin of REM and they recently played in Estonia at the request of the president and first lady.

“Bill and I went out there and wrote on the spot. When we went out we hadn’t sold a ticket, but then within four hours they were all sold.”

Despite everything Toyah has achieved over the years, there is still much more to be done.

“I have no intention of retiring, I am in a job where I cannot wait for the next project. I haven’t achieved what I want to achieve.

“What I achieved for music in the eighties I achieved then. Now, as a woman in her fifties, I see so many doors of opportunity that are not being exploited.

“I want to act 24/7 around the world, there are countries I want to go and perform in, I am still very driven, I like having new adventures and all my successes have come from having that attitude,” she added.

Toyah’s energy is infectious. She’s still quirky, she is a champion of people and is thoroughly charming.

One thing is for certain, we can expect to see plenty more of her and I am sure we won’t be disappointed.

Whitehaven News
June 2009