My Body Myself

She was born just 26 years ago, the daughter of a wealthy antiques dealer in posh Edgbaston, Birmingham, where she was privately educated.

She has worked at the National and Royal Court Theatres, starred in films like The Tempest, Quadrophenia, and Jubilee and is soon to be seen in Channel 4's production of The Ebony Tower

Until recently, she slept in a coffin in a Battersea warehouse, which she shared with her former bodyguard Tom Taylor, now her boyfriend.

She has been known to kiss fans and then spit in their faces and draw blood from her own arm with broken bottles thrown at her

Who could she possibly be but TOYAH WILLCOX?

In her comfortable new home in North London, she talked to Maureen Stevens about fitness and health

"When it comes to fitness, I've done the lot. You see, I've had to. I was born with a bone deficiency disease and the problems grew as I grew. Looking back on it, I suppose that was why my parents sent me to all sorts of dancing and gymnastics classes from the time I was a toddler. But ice skating was what I really liked. When I was 10, I was working six hours a day at it and having lessons from John Curry's teacher. Then the blow fell: one of my legs had gradually become much shorter than the other. I had to give up skating, go into calipers and have several operations. It put paid not just to ice skating, but to several years of my life.

I'd had physiotherapy for years, but now it was intensive and the whole hospital atmosphere began to scare me silly. My back was very badly bent and they'd keep standing me up straight and slapping my bum and shouting at me. Doctors would twist my bones and it hurt. I used to scream and fight them all off. All this time I was doing ballet and swimming, whcih I think did me far more good. I think I might have straightened up naturally if I'd been left alone. But the doctors and nurses and physios just scared the life out of me. My stomach turns over to this day, just at the thought.

I've always had a weight problem. At school my nickname was Barrel, because I was so tubby. You see, I've got a wide frame but I never stop longing to be tall and thin. Do I really have to tellyou how tall I am? Well I'm just 4 foot 11. Yes I know it's a good build for singing but oh, I just long to be sleek and I know I never will be.

What with being short and fat and a cripple, they used to pick on me at school - until I decided to bash them, that is. Really, the only times I was happy as a kid was when I used to run away from school. I'd sleep all day in a barn and get up at midnight to raid chocolate machines and steal bread and doughnuts from outside bakeries. It was complete, animalistic freedom. And I loved it - much more than being famous.

In my teens, I had a spell when I was almost anorexic. It was the only time in my life when my body felt nice. But my father used to sit by me and make me eat. I used to hate my family, but I love them now.

At one time I was 10 and a half stone, and though these days I try to stay between seven and eight stone I can fluctuate between those weights in the space of a week, because my self-discipline simply isn't strict enough. My conscience nags me the whole time - in all ways, but especially about food. If there's chocolate or cake about... Oh I do wish I had more willpower!

The thing is, I like to overeat. But when I overeat and don't exercise, I feel terrible. When I don't overeat and do exercise, I feel better, look better and think better. I think faster and with more originality when I treat my body like an animal's body. You see, I believe we should all be a fraction hungry because, in the wild, that is what provides the instinct to survive. A few years back, for two days of the week I couldn't afford to eat at all. It was good for me - gave me a feeling for people on the dole. The trouble is that as my income's got more solid, I can afford to have more food around. And its become so much easier to eat out. When I do, I try to have only one course - probably boiled or grilled fish. At least I don't eat junk food anymore. I think in my profession you are in a position to set an example to people: to warn them about frozen foods and pies and every thing pre-cooked. I think for children to be brought up on junk foods is just dreadful because they'll become addicted to convenience foods and then the chemicals from those foods will be grown into their cells and into their bones.

About once a month I used to get blind drunk. I'd get so pissed, I couldn't remember anything. It all started when my family used to get me drunk when I was a kid, so that I'd make them laugh. It was lovely, staggering up the stairs to bed, hearing them all jolly and laughing. Later on, when I got drunk, I'd get everything out of the fridge, put it all round the bed and just reach out and eat. These days, I'm not so bad and try to stick to handfuls of peanuts, almonds or hazelnuts -nothing salty, though. Apart from that, it's just fresh fruit and vegetables. I never eat red meat because it gives me indigestion, and if I eat onions, I can't sleep for a couple of days.

Actually, sleep has always been a terrific problem for me. In this business, you often have to eat your main meal late at night. Then I have terrible nightmares - all about dead and rotting witches and people burned and hanged and all that. I wake up in total hysterics and have ot get up and walk around to prove to myself it's not true. But if I don't eat, I can't get to sleep because I'm so hungry. Often I go a whole week with only three hours sleep a night. I've got sleeping pills but I hardly ever take them because, if I do, it means I spend the mornings virtually unconscious.

I do my best work in the mornings so, whether I'm filming or not, I like to be up by seven. Nearly every day I do a workout at home. I just find it such a hassle to go out: buy a packet of Tampax and you're asked for your autograph, so Tom does the shopping. I've got a gymnasium at home, complete with cycling machine. I do at least 20 miles a day on that. And I do aerobic exercises. Also I do weight-training whenever I can.

I got into weight-training when I was preparing for Trafford Tanzi, a feminist play all about women wrestlers. The whole thing was fabulous, because it was purely physical. Also, it was one of my first plays and it was good to have a script to rest on. Not like being out there alone with the band. That's so scary, I throw up every time before I go on. For Tanzi we had gymnastics, judo and weight-training for 10 hours a day, beginning two weeks before rehearsals. It was fantastically hard, but they gave us every aid, including an osteopath. That was very helpful, I found. In the end, my body was really rippling with muscles. I honestly believe that muscuclar women are the women of the future. We want strong muscles to match out strong personalities.

I do find I need to be alone often, and for long stretches. When you're depressed, I don't see the point of inflicting it on others. I studied yoga and meditation at drama school but mostly, over the years, I've evolved my own way. That usually consists of being alone, looking inside myself and trying to work it out. Sometimes I'll go down to the bottom of my garden and cuddle my rabbit. Rabbits are so soft and gentle and dependant that they love to be cuddled. I call my rabbit Fatso.

Probably my mental image of myself is far worse than the reality, because I know myself better than anyone else does. After all, I see myself far more often than anyone else does.

I suppose I'm quite conscious of getting older. Your body changes: your skin and hair take on different textures. I do check in the mirror from time to time to see how my wrinkles are doing - I've got a very keen eye for such things. But I do try to keep myslef in good condition.

I try to make my diet a balanced one and I increase my vitamin intake when my body's most run down. I exercise continually because I have to: I live with the constant risk of athritis in my legs and hips, because of my operations. Already, I find that if I sit in one position for any length of time it is pretty hard to get up again. I am affected by the dampness of the English climate but, of course, there's nothing I can do about that. All I can do is keep my body continually moving.

I'm always changing my hairstyle. Quite often I change my entire image. After all, it's my body and I'll do whatever I like with it. I'm not interested at all in other people's opinions of me. They simply say what they think you want them to say. I know: I do it myself. I reckon the only reliable opinion is my own."

Fitness Magazine, September 1984