46, Toyah Willcox felt that the world was already treating her as an old
woman. Here, the actress tells Christa D'Souza why she decided to have
a facelift and then write a book about it - complete with graphic photos
'I'm nobody's mother figure now'
As I pull into the train station, it is hard -
even from a distance - not to pick out Toyah Willcox immediately. It's
not just the bright red hair - it's the childish, stocky figure, dressed
in head-to-toe black and pogo-ing from foot to foot because of the cold.
So this is the heroine of my punky teens. I have
spent all weekend with my nose stuck in her new book, Diary Of A Facelift,
which describes in deliciously gory detail the 11,000-euro operation she
underwent in Paris last year. Rude to stare, I know, but it's going to
be hard to avoid it. After all, what does a woman of 46 (that's just two
years older than me) look like up-close after she's had a facelift?
If the book's cover is anything to go by, she
looks wonderful: a veritable Botticelli, with her long blood-orange locks
and enigmatic half-smile a million years away from the pouchy platinum-blonde
she was in I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here. Or indeed from the Mohican-haired
headbutter of the late 1970s and early 1980s. But a photograph is a photograph:
I want to see the real thing.
Ah, and here it is... looking, if truth be told,
not quite as nubile as her book cover suggests, and a little - well - bright
in her thick layer of foundation and pink lipstick for this gloomy Black
Country light... but amazing, none the less.
Her skin, even with all that make-up, has a surreal,
luminous quality as if it has been lit from inside and, apart from some
tiny lines when she smiles (which she does often, if not with abandon),
her face is wrinkle-free. That slight turkey wattle, so unforgivingly show-cased
on I'm A Celebrity, has disappeared, and her neck forms a perfect right
angle with her pretty, pointy chin, making me instinctively want to give
the underside of mine a few pats with the back of my hand.
And the scars? When we reach the first set of
red lights, she happily lifts back a bank of hair and shows me what merely
looks like a bramble-scratch behind her left ear. It is only when she parts
the hair that I can see what her clever surgeon, Dr Olivier De Frahon -
the man rumoured to have been behind Silvio Berlusconi's "fresh" new features
- actually did.
Starting the incision just in front of the ear,
he traced it around behind and then went way back into the hairline - which
allowed him to lop off the excess skin, reposition the muscles around Toyah's
sagging jaw-line and tighten her neck. The incisions he made below the
lower lashes, for the eye-lift she was so desperate to have, have left
"What's so fabulous", says Toyah, in that faintly
Brummie lisp we all know from Teletubbies, "is that I don't feel so vulnerable.
Before, it was like every bit of emotional baggage I'd ever experienced
was etched on my face for all to see: now, it's not there and I can be
who I like, which is what actresses are supposed to be able to do, right?"
Oh, and there's one other thing she's had done
which has made a huge difference. Can I figure out what it is? No, no idea.
"Look, can't you see?" she says, giving her hair a girlish toss. "he made
them smaller! people don't realise this, but ear lobes sag - they get longer
and bigger as you get older. See, subliminally, men know this just like
they subconsciously know that it's a woman's hands or her neck which tell
her age better than her boobies. My little lobes, I'm sure of it, make
a big subliminal impact."
It was exactly this time last year that Toyah
found herself lying in an operating theatre on the outskirts of Paris,
with a drip in her arm and tears running down her face. She was possessed
by a fear so acute, as she puts it in the book, that "I could feel it oozing
out of my armpits".
This stemmed partly from the fact that, three
years earlier, she'd had to go under the knife to have an infected contraceptive
coil removed - and then had trouble coming out of the anaesthetic. But
she was also recalling the words of her astrologer, who had not very helpfully
told her that the moon would be in Aries on the day of the operation, and
that meant sharp knives making mistakes.
But nothing could dwarf the excitement she felt
at the prospect of losing her jowls and bags - as her heroine and fellow
Brummie Sharon Osbourne had done before her.
"The worst was some of those young men you have
to work with as an actress," she says, as we drive down her local high
street and into the driveway of a Georgian town house. "I noticed they
were beginning to treat me almost as though I was a - yeeeuch - mother
figure, ignoring me in their conversations because they thought I wouldn't
understand, making me have to butt in to be heard. They don't do that anymore,
In fact, nobody does that anymore. Take the time
she was on a shopping trip in London the other day, and popped into the
Sloane Street branch of Stephane Kelian. "I thought the sales lady was
looking at me in a funny way, " she says, snorting happily, "and then as
I'm handing over my credit card, she suddenly shouts: 'Wait a minute, I
know who you are - you're Toyah Willcox's daughter!'"
Then, there was the time a van driver reversed
down Savile Row the wrong way to get a better look, and mistook her for
Davina McCall. "Davina McCall," whispers Toyah reverentially. "Now, if
that's not a compliment, I don't know what is."
I am now sitting in her ultra-tidy, teal-accented
country kitchen that overlooks the River Avon. Just down a pathway are
two cottages she also owns. In one of them, her parents live; in another,
her husband of 20 years, the musician Robert Fripp, is pottering about.
They are both much happier here in Worcestershire, where she was brought
up, she says, than they were at their previous home - Cecil Beaton's old
cottage - in Wiltshire.
There, she says, she used to get so lonely, what
with being childless and Robert living half the year in Nashville; but
here, she is around people all the time who seem to enjoy having a star
in their midst; some of them have even taken to caterwauling "It's A Mystery"
outside her door when the pubs empty. So far, she adds, everybody's been
far too polite to say anything about her new appearance; the shop-keepers
tend to make discreet comments instead about how nice her new haircut is
or how much weight she has lost.
While a pot of cauliflower and parsnip soup that
Toyah made earlier is warming on the Aga, she makes some fresh coffee -
"I don't touch the stuff, but my husband loves it" - and sets up her laptop
to show me all the carefully catalogued photos which she had Robert - obliging,
unsqueamish fellow that he is - take at every stage of the process. "Look,"
she says, pointing to a picture of her face swaddled in bandages, with
day-glo yellow rings around her eyes that are so criss-crossed with stitching
they can hardly open. "That's me straight after I came round."
The next shows her entire face bandaged-up, with
just a tiny slit for her nostril and mouth; the next with the bandages
off and her vermilion hair matted to her head like glue... On and on, she
takes me through this ghoulish photographic odyssey - the most bottom-clenching
shots, for me, being the ones in which she's bent her head down to show
the big metal staples embedded in the back of her scalp. It all looks so
painful that it could put a less greedy person than me off their soup.
But, as Toyah is quick to insist, apart from a
soreness in her throat from having her jaw clamped open for five hours,
and a slight tugging when Dr de Frahan sewed up the holes where the drainage
tubes had been, there was no pain: not one iota from start to finish. If
anything, it was the frustration of having to keep still for so long (the
doctor made her stay in Paris for a week) that was the hardest ordeal.
Oh, and not being able to chew properly.
Indeed, by the fifth day, she had lost 6lb (a
lot, considering that she weighed only 7st 13lb to begin with) and had
resorted, in desperation, to sucking on cheese and onion Pringles - "the
only ones that worked because they were so flat in shape".
When I asked what has impelled her to tell the
world about the operation, what has given her the courage to reveal such
graphic, unflattering pictures (after all, the facelift wasn't a freebie,
and privacy, she says, is of the utmost importance to her) - she insists
that there was never a question of keeping it a secret.
"This was such a terrifying, major leap in my
life, there was no way I wasn't going to share it, no way I wasn't going
to do my bit about all those bad guys in Yugoslavia - well, that doesn't
exist anymore, but you know what I mean - or those companies who combine
plastic surgery with safaris, and women pay all this money only to meet
their surgeon when they're knocked out. I also feel that it shouldn't be
something that anybody should be ashamed of.
"I know women who feel imprisoned by their looks,
prejudiced against, and would love to change them but wouldn't because
their husbands don't approve. Well, that's bloody bollocks, isn't it?"
By her own admission, Toyah - the youngest of
three children - has always felt an outsider in the looks department. Born
with a twisted spine, clawed, over sized feet and an under developed left
side, she had to be put into a plaster cast for the first six months of
her life and wore one shoe higher than the other for most of her school
days. Much shorter than all the other children (she is now just 5ft 1ins),
sporting an embarrassing 32D chest by the age of 10, and a bit on the plump
side to boot, she was relentlessly teased.
Then there was that lisp, so unmistakable that
when she dials a call centre somewhere in India, the operator says: "Wait,
that's not Toyah Willcox, is it?" It didn't help, somehow, that her mother,
a former dancer, was so tiny and light that "she never, as she liked to
tell me, used to leave footprints in the snow".
Carefully, Toyah adds: "My mother had a very hard
life herself. She also tended to live her life through my experiences,
but it's probably fair to say it was she who taught me to value anxiety,
rather than joy; to believe that if I had a dream, it couldn't possibly
come true. I'll happily admit I've got Body Dysmorphic Condition - you
know, when you look in the mirror and see either a very fat person or a
very thin person or a very ugly person. It's just when I look in the mirror,
I see my mother's fears."
Like a lot of patients who end up having a facelift,
Toyah had been having regular Botox injections and the filler Restylane
inserted into her lips (like her unlucky friend Lesley Ash) by a specialist
on Harley Street. To supplement these beauty aids, she went to see a "facial
consultant", Linda Meredith, who gave her skin oxygen treatment and massage.
But none of this seemed to be producing a radical improvement, and her
skin was never going to return to its 20-year-old state - when it was admiringly
described by Katharine Hepburn, her one-time co-star in the 1978 film The
Corn Is Green, "as like the inside of a shell".
Genes, she thinks, had a part to play. "No matter
how much I dieted, exercised, gave up caffeine, alcohol, sugar, fat, carbohydrates
and chocolate," she writes in the book, "I still couldn't improve my looks."
She thinks it was starring in the West End production of Calamity Jane
- "all that leaping about a stage, doing a big sing eight times a week"
- that probably did her face in for good. But although she had already
seen a few Harley Street surgeons (one told her that he wanted to peel
her face right back to her scalp, "like that John Travolta film Face/Off")
no one had a good enough spiel to convince her.
All this changed when Toyah was introduced to
de Frahan by Meredith, and went to see him at his temporary consulting
suite at Claridges. Within a few months, Willcox found herself boarding
the early morning Eurostar, armed with the loyal Robert, a suitcase full
of scarves and sunglasses and every conceivable potion from Boots (including
syrup of figs, because she didn't want to strain any facial muscles while
going to the loo).
Since that day, says Toyah, she has not looked
back. She's been cast in two "big American movies" - one of them co-starring
Gene Hackman - she's headlining at the 1980s-themed Wasted festival this
summer and, more importantly, neither of her agents is calling to say that
"the character parts are just around the corner, if I'll just be patient".
Indeed, she quips, the only thing that would throw her now is if the part
calls for a shaved head.
Now that she is fully recovered, and the reaction
has been so positive (when she told her dad, he asked her why on earth
she hadn't done it before), she says she is definitely entertaining fantasies
about having just a bit more. A tummy tuck, or a breast reduction, perhaps
- because she has always regarded "bee stings as the ultimate in femininity".
"I suppose it's like childbirth, "she muses. "You
forget what you've gone through in order to do it again. But Robert says
absolutely not, I've got to leave my boobies alone - and I agree with him.
Bodies, to me, aren't so important now, anyway.; it's my face which ultimately
counts more to me as an actress."
Would she, then, ever go through all of this again?
"God, yes! When I'm 60 or 70, I'll definitely be going tighter. I love
how Anne Robinson looks! I love how Joan Rivers looks! And, besides, I
like the notoriety of it all - it's like sticking two fingers up to the
world and saying f--- you.
"Before I had the op, people treated me as an
old woman," she adds more earnestly. "I could see it in their eyes - the
lack of interest, the irritation. No, really - I promise you it was there.
Even worse was when strangers saw me from behind, assumed I was in my teens
- people do because I'm so little and bouncy - and then saw me up front
and did this kind of "don't look now" double-take.
"I'm sure that's why I used to get overly aggressive
and act sometimes like bloody Boadicea attacking the Romans. Now that my
face matches my personality, I feel I can allow myself to be more of a
serene person - let that femininity, which I've hidden for so long, come
out. That's a very, very empowering feeling, you know."
The Daily Telegraph
News review on Saturday
Saturday 12th March 2005