Where There's A Willcox There's A Way...

If Toyah Willcox made a new year resolution in 2009 to be a queen she got her wish granted – twice

And she begins next year as she finishes this one, beneath a brash crown as the Wicked Queen in Sheffield's biggest panto, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

"I love it. I haven't stopped laughing. My voice is tired from laughing," says the '80s pop-star- turned-actress of her regal role.

"Playing the Queen means that no matter what mood I'm in, whether I decide to play her sweetly, play her nastily, or predictably, it works because the audience knows she's bad which means no matter what I give them they will see me as a bad person."

While being in panto right up until Christmas Eve meant a mad dash back to her home in Worcestershire to be with family, Toyah is enjoying working in one of the country's most "remarkable, versatile, quickly- changing cities."

Her character is in stark contrast to some of her previous roles in the likes of British comedy film The Power Of Three and Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, in which she played Billie Piper's mother.

When Snow White concludes at The Lyceum Theatre on January 10 she will return to her Devil Queen spot in the touring theatre musical Vampires Rock.

Toyah is still making and performing music of her own, under her name and with her band The Humans, which features Bill Rieflin from REM and her husband Robert Fripp, formerly of the iconic band King Crimson. They released an album late summer while Toyah's put out In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Fripp's album In The Court Of The Crimson King.

In Snow White the singer, who made her name with 15 top 40 singles and gold and platinum albums led by iconic hits such as It's A Mystery, joins a cast that includes Sheffield comedian / radio presenter Toby Foster and top dame Damian Williams.

"I really believe people who do panto should only do it because they respect the genre, otherwise you're watching something very cynical," she says.

"Panto is about family, it's about the fight between good and evil, it's about representing to children not only the power of theatre and the magic of live performance but also what family and Christmas is about.

"Christmas should be about encompassing every culture but the values are in the family unit. Not everyone has children but we have parents, grandparents and all of that. When I look out there and see the audience I see groups of elderly people who are coming to watch something that makes them remember their childhood; I see three generations of a family. Panto is about embracing this wonderful season of positiveness that celebrates birth, so for me it's something I take incredibly seriously."

Not to mention the responsibility of lifting audiences after the Boxing Day lull.

"Luckily I have never been in a cynical panto which is 'grab the money and run'. I really respect theatres who don't just do it as some horrible commercial thing to promote another product.

It is a genre that is utterly special and only in this country."

Of course, it is a far cry from Toyah's pop music heyday, although she is still in demand in that guise.

"I never thought when I did Top Of The Pops that when I was 51 I would be doing panto. Then I never expected I'd be opening a festival to 30,000 people or be an award-nominated Shakespearean actress.

"When I was doing TOTP that's all that existed for me. I never thought beyond the age of 30, so everything I have done since has been a total surprise. My life is very colourful and very diverse.

"You have other dreams but you learn to let go of them, but if you let go of your childhood dreams they come back to you eventually but also other unique things can come in. If you live with these youthful ambitions they eat you alive. They're right to get you started but then you need to let go of it to let other extraordinary things happen.

"When I was 20 I wanted world domination, I wanted only to play arenas, to win an Oscar.

"That will only happen by some happy accident or because I'm willing enough to try new things. If all you think about is winning the Oscar you're not going to get there because you've got to find different paths to your destination all the time. So I'm one of these people that will take a tangent at a drop of a pin. Very little of what I do is planned."

As well as touring her music alongside other '80s artists around the nation's castles, arenas and stately homes, she has presented a Tonight programme about insomnia, appeared on Mastermind, penned two books and appeared in 10 feature films and 30 stage plays.

One thing Toyah is clear about is where her acting ambitions lie. "I have no intention to play a goody unless they pay me a lot of money," she laughs. "They really are dull and I don't do it convincingly."

The Star
1st January 2010