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