Have Enjoyed Not Being Bound To One Medium"
career spans thirty years of music, theatre, film
and TV and she shows no sign of slowing down. The
irrepressible Toyah Willcox comes to Birmingham's
Alexandra Theatre in November as the Devil Queen
in the hit show, Vampires Rock
an Eighties icon, she was up there with the best
of them. She blasted onto the pop scene in a
blaze of neon hair, outrageous fashion and
powerhouse energy. The punk princess from
Birmingham, who came in with a bang and made you
sit up and listen with hits like Its a
Mystery, sung with her trademark lisp.
And, while Madonna may hold the reputation for
being the mistress of reinvention, Toyah Willcox
must surely rank as one of the most successful
A glance back over her 31 years in the business
shows just how effectively the recording star,
who enjoyed superstar success on the pop scene as
a song writer and performer, simultaneously
managed to carve out highly successful and
prolific theatre, film and TV careers with a
longevity that is extraordinary.
Her range has been epic, seamlessly moving from
rock and pop albums to films such as the
groundbreaking Quadrophenia and theatre work
including the Taming of the Shrew, Emile
Zolas Therese Racquin, the award-winning
comedy Three Men and a Horse, and the lead role
in the major national touring production of
Calamity Jane, which was nominated for an Evening
Standard Award for Best Musical.
As she explains, having parallel careers has been
her aim from the very start.
I always wanted to sing and act, but I
never wanted to combine the two at the same time.
That was quite unusual a few years ago, as people
had to focus on one thing. As I grew older, the
bindings loosened, the Svengalis and managers let
go, and I found that incredibly liberating. I
have enjoyed life ever since, not being bound and
gagged to one medium.
Thirty years ago there was a snobbery that
kept people away from doing that. Now major
A-listers are doing TV series and soaps -
perceptions are changing.
Toyah has continued to push the envelope
artistically ever since. This autumn, she is
playing to full houses with a UK tour of the hit
theatre production Vampires Rock, which has been
compared to The Rocky Horror Show of the
Eighties. Set in the future, its a
rock-comedy bloodfest of vampires, fantastic
sets, costumes, dance and pyrotechnics, set to a
sound track that includes some of the most iconic
rock hits from the likes of Meatloaf, Bon Jovi,
Alice Cooper, The Rolling Stones and Queen. Toyah
stars, opposite Steve Steinman, as the Devil
Queen and spends a good deal of the show wearing
skin-tight rubber costumes, thigh-high boots and
skyscraper heels. The production comes to the
Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on November 6.
It is wonderful. A great fun show which has
a massive cult following, says Toyah.
"I did it last year and it has been upgraded
and changed a bit since then. Its just
perfect for this time of year when the nights are
As well as Vampires, with her trademark
unstinting energy she is also juggling a stream
of other projects. Her group, The Humans, has
just released a digital single, a remake of These
Boots are made for Walkin, and an album, We are
The Humans, and then there is her film, Three to
Tango, which has recently been having its press
showings. She describes it as being very much
aimed at a Sex and The City market, and low
budget British but with a big budget feel.
Its about three women who are
celebrating their fiftieth birthdays. They meet
up and decide to help each other make their
dreams come true to become successful career
women. It is very motivational about single women
in their fifties, she explains. Toyah plays
one of the three leads, along with leading female
actresses from Canada and South Africa. Christmas
will see her in panto in Sheffield, and then in
February she starts a UK tour before heading off
to America to record a second album.
Originally from Birmingham, and now living in
Worcester, Toyah says she has a special affinity
to the second city. I feel very connected
to Birmingham. My dad passed away recently. He
did a lot of the joinery work in the arts centre
of Cannon Hill Park and also many major buildings
in the city and those memories mean more to me
than ever before. I love Birmingham.
Her acting career started in Birmingham, when she
attended the Old Rep drama school in the 1970s;
its a place she remembers fondly. It
is a magnificent theatre with so much atmosphere.
I loved being there. For a long time I had a
fantasy of buying it and turning it into a
commercial theatre, but it was not financially
possible, she says.
Her acting career has since included diverse
roles ranging from appearing alongside greats
such as Katharine Hepburn in the film The Corn is
Green, and Sir Lawrence Olivier and Great Saachi
in Granada TVs film version of The Ebony
Tower to appearing in the seminal punk film
Her pop career was at its zenith in the Eighties,
with highlights of the decade including a
platinum album, Anthem, and chart successes
Its A Mystery and I want to be Free.
Christmas 1981 culminated in a Christmas Eve
concert from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane,
screened live as The Old Grey Whistle Test
Christmas Special, and in 1982 she won Best
Female Singer in the (then) Rock and Pop Awards
(now The Brits). Over the next two decades, she
continued to record, release albums and tour the
world, while keeping up a phenomenal schedule of
TV and theatre work.
Her theatre work has included leading roles such
as Miranda in Derek Jarmans version of The
Tempest, which won her a nomination as Best
Newcomer at the Evening Standard Awards, and on
TV she has done everything from The Good Sex
Guide Late to Songs of Praise, dramas,
documentaries, and even voicing the intro to
In all, she has had 13 top forty singles, has
recorded twenty albums, appeared in over forty
stage plays, written two books, made ten feature
films and presented hundreds of television
programmes. She was the subject of a This is Your
Life programme with Michael Aspel in 1996 and was
awarded an honorary doctorate by the University
of Central England in recognition of her
distinguished achievements in performing arts,
media and broadcasting in 2001.
I am grateful for the Eighties, she
says. I believe in living in the present
and building the future, but I totally realize
the Eighties have made my life possible. And the
decade has a new respect now. All we musicians
played to huge audiences then, and we still get
huge audiences now. I am very grateful for that.
I opened the Rewind Festival a
celebration of Eighties music in
August to thirty thousand people. To set that in
context, when Oasis broke up, they played to
In the past she has displayed an openness about
herself that many women would consider brave;
sharing details of her body and health, including
writing about her facelift and even diarising her
pioneering bum lift in the media.
Avant garde, from the very start of her career,
Toyah has never balked at standing out from the
crowd or from being experimental in her work. One
of her early singles, Be Proud, Be Loud, Be Heard
reflects that attitude.
I have always fought to make myself
heard, she says. But Be Proud, Be
Loud, Be Heard was not only about me and the fact
that I had a voice; it was embraced by the gay
community. I believe punk helped make gay culture
accepted as it is today. And now I say it because
I believe everyone should have a voice."
Despite her heavy work schedule, Toyah does
manage to get a little time to herself
occasionally, and its invariably spent on
the computer: Every spare minute I am
surfing the Net. I do a lot of research, for
example medical development on arthritis and
osteoporosis because of my age. I am the
archetypal silver surfer!"
Keeping fit and healthy is also important to her,
she says. You invest in your future by
eating well when you are young, and I have always
invested in my health through good diet. For
energy, the worst thing you can do is overeat, so
I always keep my calories about the same. I do
not drink or smoke, I do not do any
weight-bearing exercise, being over fifty, but I
do do Pilates.
Boundless energy notwithstanding, she does
foresee a time when she will have to pull on the
reins. But she has a back-up plan. I will
have to slow down eventually my voice will
not be good. But I think I will still be writing
I write all the while horror is my