Toyah Story

Is Toyah Willcox a busy woman? Does Michelle Obama love a cardigan? The pop star/actress/writer/performer never seems to stop.

Twenty albums, 40 singles, movies, musicals, pantomime, Shakespeare, Songs of Praise; just reading about it is enough to make the rest of us feel like idle, useless slugs.

“I’ve been in the business for 32 years so I’ve managed to cram a lot in,” she says, modestly.

And cram it she has. Since her first appearance all those years ago in Jubilee, Derek Jarman’s chronicle of everyday punk folk (via the days of Elizabeth I to London in the 1970s... hmmm...) Toyah has enjoyed a diverse and fast-flowing career, as well as becoming one of those celebrities about whom few have a bad word to say.

“People think they know me which is absolutely fine,” she says. “People are very friendly and I don’t think I’ve ever done anything which is questionable, or wildly offensive. I think people feel familiar with me. It’s very rewarding.”

We are familiar with her appearance on everything from I’m A Celebrity, through to her blockbusting album, Anthem, her appearance in Quadrophenia and her happy marriage to Wimborne boy and King Crimson legend Robert Fripp. If we go along to the Pav-ilion next month we can become familiar with her all over again as the Devil Queen in the rock musical Vampires Rock.

Toyah loves it. The musical has been going for around five years and is already a cult, she explains. This is partly due to its exuberant costumes and staging but also because of the music – banging favourites from the likes of Queen, Meat Loaf, Bon Jovi and Suzi Quattro.

“I love the music, it’s a great show, doesn’t cut any corners, it has wonderful production values and is very visually exciting,” she enthuses. “I took Vampires Rock because it allowed me to slot my imagery into the show. I just brought in all my own costumes; 10 inch shoes, that kind of thing.”

Images of Toyah’s outfits include one of her dressed in spray-on red devil costume for her role as the Devil Queen. “When you make your entrance in that outfit, the audience rise to their feet,” she says.

Toyah’s enthusiasm is infectious and she is a breath of fresh air in this ageist world. “I’ve never made any secret of my age, I’m 51,” she declares. Likewise, she’s never made any secret of the fact that she had a facelift a few years back. “I didn’t want to look tired,” was her explanation.

“I’m one of these people who thinks that every decade adds a new dimension to your career, rather than takes it away, and I think that attitude helps a lot.”

She believes that as they get older, people get richer as characters so: “I always look on it as a door that opens. Because of that I think I’m always good at phoning up people saying why don’t we do this or that, rather than thinking; oh my god, it’s the end of the world, which it isn’t and it never is.”

She believes you have to fight negative attitudes. “You have to look at what you’ve got, not at what you don’t have. There’s an awful lot of people out there in their 50s who want to know that life is still for living and sometimes think it’s people like me who have to kind of say that, or prove it through our work. So I’m quite happy to do that.”

Toyah feels there is plenty for her left to do. “Everything presents a new challenge and new ideas come in because of that.” For instance, she’d love to do more costume drama and you can just picture her in a big BBC adaption of Dickens. But her favourite thing is writing songs.

“I always love the writing process and being in the studio. I love it because it’s really, really private, it’s something you do before it goes to the public.”

The only thing she wouldn’t enjoy, she says, is not being busy. Not much chance of that.

Bournemouth Daily Echo
September 2009