Free The Spirit

When she was younger, Toyah used to hide behind an aggressive punk front. Now, at 26 going on 27, she explains why she wants the zaniness to come from within. 

The first time I met Toyah, five years ago, she was a punkette with a riot of orange hair. Today, we're in a photographic studio, bare except for two canvas chairs and a table with refreshments. She's dressed simply but stylishly in a loose jacket and trousers. Her style has obviously mellowed, but has Toyah? 

"I'm much more mature than I was five years ago, yes, but I wouldn't go as far as saying that I've mellowed with age. 

"When I was younger, I didn't understand people and I took offence easily, so I was always defending myself when I didn't need to. I don't do that anymore. 

"I know what I want out of life now and I won't stop until I get it. If anything, I'm hungrier than ever. 

Much to her dismay, people still regard Toyah as the punkette with orange hair, and not as the serious actress she has worked so hard to become, or the successful singer, a side of her career she is pumping much of her energies into at this very moment. 

She smiled when I reminded her of our first meeting, back in the days when people like her paved the path of outrage for others to swagger down after her. 

"I've no desire to be outrageous anymore," she says, laughing, "although I still like to keep ahead of fashion, I'm coming up to 27 now, and I'd much rather portray the image of a woman who knows what she's doing rather than someone who simply looks zany. These days, I'd prefer the zaniness to come from within." 

Why the long silence since your last single? 

"Well, I've changed record labels and that took about nine months - I won't bore you with the details. 

"Musically, I'd like to broaden out generally - I've always felt that my image alienated me from a wider audience." 

Have you ever used your image to hide behind? 

"I did when I was a kid. It got me attention and it kept people at bay. I don't hide anymore, and I don't have to lie anymore which I did when I was younger. 

"I was a compulsive liar - I used to make things up all the time just to have something to talk about! I don't do that now because my life is interesting, there's no need to lie about it. 

"I wasn't a very attractive kid, and I wasn't a very likeable one, either. I had absolutely no charisma. I was lonely and scared of everything then - I just didn't enjoy being young atall. I could never get on with people. My mind was thinking things that my mouth couldn't utter, so no one ever got to know the real me. 

"Looking back, I suppose I had an enormous communication problem from the time I was very small until I was 18. I liked people, but the words that came out of my mouth were always very aggressive. You can't imagine how frustrating it was. It meant there was no close contact with anyone, and no love. On the outside, I was a complete loner, but inside I was desperately trying to break free, someone who badly needed affection but who didn't know how to ask for it. 

"Dressing outrageously was simply a means of getting attention. I think most people go through that phase. There's nothing worse than seeing a kid with no identity whatsoever. 

"As you get older, you keep your identity but you smooth the edges down. It's a natural progression. Let's face it, there's nothing more ridiculous than seeing a 40-year-old woman with too much make up, and clothes that would suit a teenager." 

So despite the 'smoothed down image' you're still the same old Toyah underneath? 

"Oh, yeah! When I go out on the road, people will still see the same Toyah. 

"I couldn't bear to look the same all my life, though. I'll get bored with this look and then I'll move on. I've done the bright thing with the coloured hair - I was one of the first people to do it, and I'm quite happy with that. I only do things to experience them once. I don't want to stay in the same slot for the rest of my life." 

Is your latest change of image a calculated one? 

It is, if I didn't calculate, then other people would be in charge of my life and that's the last thing I need. I know exactly what I'm capable of doing and what I should be aiming for."

Life is all about learning, and I've learned more in the last 10 years than I ever did at school. I'd like the rest of my life to be like that - gaining knowledge in order to do all the things I want to, like writing scripts and producing films and albums. My life simply isn't a matter of singing and performing, going home and relaxing, and then going on a holiday on a glamorous yacht. Life to me is about gaining knowledge and experience, because there's a lot I want to do in the future, and I'm doing my homework now. 

There's no doubt that Toyah relishes the coming of her late twenties, and sees it as a chance to be taken seriously at last. 

"One of my problems is that I'm physically small, I have this doll-like image and the voice which is very naive. It makes it harder for me to be taken seriously." 

How do people react when they meet you for the first time? 

"Some people find me very annoying, others want to protect me. It doesn't bother me too much, it's something I've learned to cope with. 

"Usually, they have so many preconceived ideas about me - that I'm loud and brash all the time or alternatively very giggly. It's up to me to break those ideas down." 

Toyah received a massive amount of publicity not so long ago following her nude scene in the TV Production of The Ebony Tower

Was appearing in the nude an embarrassing experience? 

"When I did Trafford Tanzi, by the end of the night, my costume was completely see-through, but people accepted that because of the situation I was in - I was playing the part of a wrestler and I'd been fighting all night, sweating buckets and so on. 

"In The Ebony Tower, the nudity was of a sexual kind, even though it was beautifully shot. My fear was that it would be taken out of context and it was. On the awards show, for instance, they showed that one scene. But I did that scene for the film and nothing else, and I'd hate those shots to be seen in any other context. 

"I'd rather not be seen naked in a magazine, but I accepted the fact that some weirdos might take pictures from the television and then print them in magazines. I'm slowly coming to terms with that, because I detest exploitation of any kind. 

"It hasn't happened to me yet. but as soon as I achieve any level of success, I expect the pictures to start appearing, and it'll upset me and make me very angry. 

"When it came to doing the actual nude scene, it didn't bother me too much. It was very relaxed, everyone was very nice about it because they knew we didn't want to do it - we were slugging brandy down! - but there comes a point where you have to swallow your pride and get on with it. 

"These days I take more care of my body. I used to put away a bottle of bacardi in social situations and then find myself lying down drunk. I'm teetotal now. I've never taken drugs and I won't tolerate people who work for me taking drugs." 

Are you happy with the way you look? 

"I don't regard myself as having a body beautiful. I think it's great when you see a beautiful man or woman naked, but I'm not one of them. I'd rather I wasn't judged by my physical nudity. I don't want someone thinking, 'she's a real turn-off without her clothes on, so I'm never going to listen to her music again'. People are very naive about things like that, so I have to be extra careful about what I do. 

"There are limits - I've turned down a heck of a lot of scripts because they exploit women. I refuse to make box office money out of scenes that are just heavy porn. I simply won't do that." 

On to home ground. Where do you live these days? 

"In Barnet. It's a three-storey Victorian house. I have a gym there where I can exercise and dance, and do my weightlifting. There's a recording studio as well, so I can work on my songs. I have a library which I use when I'm writing, and I have a room where I design clothes, purely as a hobby. I write in that room." 

What kind of books do you read? 

"I have a collection of all kinds of books, really, but the majority are on the occult, Egyptology and science fiction. I read up on all the things I collect - armour and occult artefacts like crystal balls and palmistry hands as well as Masai outfits and Masai jewellery. 

"I've always found the occult fascinating. Objects like crystal balls are incredibly beautiful, and I have them all over the place as ornaments. I'm addicted to literature on the occult, and the way people saw things centuries ago." 

Toyah's attitudes to her interest in all things occult has changed drastically - on that first meeting, she refused point blank to discuss it with me, regarding it as "far too personal". 

"Did I? That's because all the 'comic' papers mock it, sensationalise it and generally try to cheapen it. They want to make it out to be hocus-pocus, black magic nonsense, and it's nothing to do with that." 

For some reason, I'd got it into my head that Toyah was involved in a relationship with the guitarist in her band. She's not, but she was very nice about my slip up. 

"Oh, you mean Joel? That partnership lasted about seven years, then I decided to go completely solo. I've been with Tom, my present boyfriend, for five years now. He's a guitarist, but not in my band." 

With one relationship lasting for five years, and the other for seven, Toyah is obviously a person who commits herself rarely, but totally. 

"My relationship with Joel wasn't personal, it was a writing partnership. My relationship with Tom is the first really serious one I've had. It takes me a long time to settle down because I put my work first. 

"I treasure my independence and I'll fight for it tooth and nail, but I also like the solidity of my relationship with Tom. We know each other inside out. He's a pillar of strength to me, but I don't want him around all the time. I don't want to be chained to anyone. If another woman came into his life, I wouldn't fight for him. There's no way I'd battle with another woman over a man." 

As someone who has settled into a long-term relationship, what do you think is the essential ingredient for happiness? 

"Not leaving after your first argument!" Toyah laughed. "In the first three years of our relationship, we physically fought. It was hard at times, but we never split. 

"We don't fight atall now. Even if I'm in a stinking mood and I lay into him, he doesn't answer back, and vice versa, whereas in the old days we would have had a real fight. It's all down to give and take." 

Are you a difficult person to get on with at times? 

"Of course not!" she laughed. "Seriously, though, I know I can be difficult when I'm working. I need to be left alone the  - I can't communicate under pressure, especially when I'm touring. 

"Usually, I go from the hotel to the dressing room, out onstage, back to the hotel, and to bed. Everyone steers clear. I can't cope with friendly chit chat because I'm too tense. If I had people with me who wanted to communicate on a friendship level, I'd fall out with them because my mind would be on my work the whole time. 

"Even when I'm appearing on TV, people tend to leave me alone because all I can think about is the audience I'm about to play to. I don't have time for people who want individual attention." 

It sounds like a tortured existence. Is it? 

"It's a disciplined existence," Toyah corrected me with conviction. "If you don't discipline yourself, you end up surrounded by people who destroy you. 

"I don't even talk on the road, because all the time you speak, you're ruining your voice. I just zip my mouth shut all day, and that's tortuous because obviously you meet people who want to talk to you. If you want to sing at night, don't talk during the day. You have to let your vocal chords heal after a show, because singing in a concert rips them apart. 

"For things like room service, I have a notepad and write everything down. Most of my fans know I don't like to talk, but if I really have to, I keep my voice to a whisper." 

Enough of Toyah the committed performer. What of Toyah the woman? Can you see yourself being married with 2.4 children? 

"If kids are involved, marriage should be involved. It takes two people to make a child, and they should be committed to each other. I believe a child should be brought up by its mother and its father, and that's where marriage comes in. Religion doesn't enter it really. If I had a child, I'd have to be married, I wouldn't have one otherwise." 

Being involved in a long-term relationship is only a short step away from marriage, isn't it? 

"Not in my book. I don't play by the rules because I like to be free. It's my freedom that makes me close to Tom. I don't want to be owned by anyone, and even if I had a kid, I'd feel it was imposing on my privacy. I'd rather wait until I'm much older." 

Aren't you old enough to have a child now? 

"No, I'm enjoying life and I don't want a child. I don't have any feelings for children atall. I'd like one eventually for the genetic eternity of it, to carry my family on, but I won't be pressurised to do so until I'm ready. I don't have any pets because I don't want to acquire the habits you get into, having to feed them three times a day and generally looking after them." 

It's obvious that even at 26, the idea of an ordered existence has as much appeal to Toyah as a cross in a vampire's wardrobe. She smiles at her own distaste of all things routine. 

"I hate it! I eat when I want to, and I hat knives and forks. It's something that always upset my parents - they used to thrust them into my hands but I wouldn't use them. If I'm in a restaurant I'll use a fork, but that's all. 

"I eat mainly raw food. I'm a vegetarian through choice, because I don't enjoy meat very much. I eat fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and that's it. Oh and fish, I love seafood." 

How domesticated are you? 

"I find the process of cooking boring. If I have people round for a meal, though, I'll sculpt food for them - I love doing that. 

"At home, I feed myself, and Tom does his own food. If I want a cup of tea, I don't like being made to feel I have to ask everyone else if they want one. It's the same with food, I usually go to a room to eat in private. 

"When I was at school, it was really awkward, so I stopped having school meals and just went off by myself. I need to be alone sometimes and I can't eat with other people if I'm under pressure. I love eating out, though - Japanese, Malaysian and Italian." 

Some people might say that eating raw food with no knife and fork is a sight more freaky than orange hair. 

"I know! If only people could see me at home. Everything is clean and ordered, but as for social routines, I have none atall." 

That's not completely true, because she offered me another cup of tea.

Etcetra Magazine, June 1985