Tempest Fugit

The man from Penthouse had already left by the time I arrived, which was a great pity because it sounded like an interesting confrontation.

"Oh, I always get good reviews in Penthouse," Toyah reassures me. "When I did The Tempest - I mean, The Tempest of all films to get a review in Penthouse - it said, you must see it, to see to see Toyah Willcox's voluptuous body. I thought god, they must be hard up for good looking women!" The sleek, expensive person sitting opposite suddenly dissolves into a familiar Toyah cackle and the interview begins.

After a year off from making records, which she spent working on three films for television (including John Fowles' excruciatingly pretentious Ebony Tower, screened last December), Toyah's back with her latest single "Soul Passing Through Soul" following her recent hit, "Don't Fall In Love (I Said)" and an album to follow. The break has been a blessing in more ways than one.

"Oh yeah, I was totally disorientated. I was being followed by fans all the time, it was just driving me mad. I had to keep the curtains drawn in my house because I couldn't bear all these faces staring. So I took time off, I had to go away and think, do I really want all this, and I realised that I did. I had terrible withdrawal symptoms from singing and acting, and I thought, yeah it is what I want, I've just got to learn to control it."

And in another way, it's put her bubblegum past one more year behind her. After a career that's nearly ten years old, this cool professional in the designer suit is still waiting to be taken seriously. The new non-image will help too.

"All the trouble I've ever had has been caused through the image. I felt at one point that the image was alienating the audience from my songs. And the music's got to come first. The image is so transient, it'll be remembered for three months at a time and them forgotten and I don't want people saying, oh she's got red hair, the music'll be crap. I want people to see me for me, not red hair. I'm going to keep up with fashion, I couldn't bear not to do that - I'm too vain to forget about fashion - but the image has got to be secondary. Whatever I do, it'll be a spur of the moment thing."

Already this policy has run into a few problems though, like a photo-session the day before which had set out to capture the natural Toyah.

"They wanted an at home look, and I said, well it's going to be a lie because at home I don't wear clothes. I refuse to dress at home - at all. Unless a stranger walks in and I have to put a dressing gown on. And I'm not posing naked for anybody

With her 27th Birthday just around the corner, the transformation of Toyah has been an inevitable process. She cringes at the memory of the punky, speedy character of Kate in that episode of Minder, so kindly repeated the other week. The actress in her comes to the rescue again when I remark that her last single sounded like the kind of thing Elaine Paige would record.

"Really?" she says, opting for an expression of cool surprise, rather than flattening me, Trafford tanzi style. "It's very different to Elaine Paige. I mean, the image and the approach has got the calmness to it, but it's totally different because it's remained true to rock. It's still got a bit of the old me in it."

"And the character of the album is immense - it goes from the commerciality of the singles to really diverse political songs. And lyrically I don't think you'd get Elaine Paige singing about penises the way I do on this album."

"What I wanted to put across in the lyrics was that I'm slightly feminist, but I'm a feminist to a point where I think women should look like women - it's what their power is. I think a woman is dangerous when she's playing the sexy creature - as long as she knows what's going on up there in her brain. These sex kittens who haven't got a brain - it's just a waste of time - but when you see someone like Fiona Richmond who does know what she's doing, it makes it all much scarier."

When Toyah reveals that she bared her midriff on Pebble Mil At One, I start to recognise the parallels between her and Madonna. Both are known only by their exotic first names. Both are combining careers as singers and actresses. But most significantly, both of them started out with the same naked greed for fame. "In the beginning, I didn't care how I got it and I didn't care what the fame was for. I didn't think about credibility, I didn't think about people liking me, or anything like that. But slowly, through time, the value of fame has changed. When you're so famous you can't walk down the street without being mobbed by grannies, even. When the people who swear at you when you're on the telly in their living room come up and say they love you when they see you in the flesh - you know it's false. That wasn't what I wanted for the rest of my life."

"I want people t like me and to hear what I do, and I'd like to reach people. To write something that makes them feel something."

The obvious comparison between Madonna's global domination and Toyah's more home-grown success could also be made, of course, but for someone who left Edgebaston Church Of England School For Girls with a solitary O level in music to her credit, Toyah's not done too badly.

Her Barnet home runs to a gym, in the best Dynasty style, a design studio, two recording studios and a library where the workaholic likes to bury herself whenever possible.

"In the early years I was very lazy - I had to force myself to work. It was like a school syndrome - I'd had to do so much work at school, I didn't want to work anymore. But now I've got over that I can't stop working, I love it."

"I've had to put aside some energy for writing and mental activities which I've never been very good at doing, because I've always felt that my writing has suffered because of it - I'm always hiccuping along. I'd go rusty then I'd start writing again. So it's an exercise - I keep my mind going all the time in that area, because one day I'd like somebody to sit down and say, God she's a good writer - and I haven't had that yet."

"I take myself very seriously as a writer whether the critics agree or not. I think it's something I've learned to accept. In the early days the criticism just destroyed me, but now it has to be water off a duck's back. I know I'm getting there. I know that with time and with me getting older, one day I'll be a good writer. At the moment, everything's practice, but I'm not going to give up.

6 July 1985