On The Line - Toyah Willcox

She's come a long way from a rebellious young Brummie punk to ubiquitous TV presenter. But it's not really a mystery, as Graeme Virtue discovers

What are you up to these days?

I'm doing a TV show in Scotland called Barmy Aunt Boomerang which is a 15-part children's comedy drama. I play the ghost of an Australian soap star that can walk through walls and stuff like that. It's filmed very much like a soap opera. It's wonderful in that it parodies a lot of things that you see in soaps. It's very funny and it's incredibly enchanting.

How did you research the part? Did you watch Neighbours non-stop?

Well, the thing I found about Neighbours is that they no longer sound Australian; they almost sound anglophile. When I was a child, we had Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. And Skippy had (adopts really deep Australian accent) a really deep Australian accent. I thought, if I was going to play an Australian soap star with an English accent, the children weren't going to get the cultural differences. So I based my voice on what I remember from Skippy. So my accent is slightly coarser than the ones you get in Neighbours.

Have you managed to hold your accent throughout the series?

I think so. No one's said anything about it. But I've had so much fun doing it because an Australian speaking alongside a Glasgwegian accent makes it even funnier; even lines that have no humour become funny, because of the timing of the words.

Had you acted with so many kids before?

No, that was a brand new challenge and I have to say I was dreading it and it's been absolutely magnificent. The kids we've had have been so bright and tough and sassy that I've spent many a day just sitting listening to them because they're really on the ball and very, very funny. And just full of a lust for life.

You've done an impressive range of work in the course of your career: music, films, theatre, TV, panto...

Well, I've been around a long time. But that's the way I like it; once I've done a job I like to go right across the spectrum to do the next one.

Like presenting The Good Sex Guide Late one year and then doing Songs of Praise?

That's one of my proudest achievements. I have a very forgiving audience. And funnily enough, I had no trouble doing the Sex Guide at all, but my loyal fans were slightly horrified when I did Songs of Praise. My take on it is that everyone has the right to tread a spiritual path, and just because you've presented Songs of Praise doesn't mean you've suddenly become a happy-clappy or dogmatic religious person. 

So how did you handle making the transition from sex symbol to sex therapist?

I tell you what I was most nervous about with the Sex Guide: I'm incredibly shy, and I don't like men making passes at me. It's the one thing I can't handle. And I was really, really worried that men might think I was readily available and start hitting on me. But it didn't happen and I was so relieved.

They were probably quite scared of you.

I think I like the fact that men are scared of me and I want to keep it that way. If anything, I could be walking down the street and someone would stop me and tell me about their marital problems, which I found really sweet. There was this wonderful man on the show called Dr Ian Banks whom I adored, and he got surrounded by a whole gang of rastas on a tube train. He thought he was going to be mugged, but all they wanted to know was what to do about impotence! 

Maybe they should get them on to Songs of Praise.

I don't think sex and religion work that well together. People that watch Songs of Praise tend to be over a certain age and they're not so interested.

You and your husband Robert Fripp are said to have one of the most stable marriages in showbiz...

That sounds like an ominous curse.

What's the secret?

The secrets are things that people wouldn't be willing to follow. We don't have children and I think children do change a marriage. Neither of us wants a family. And I think because our careers are so separate and our lives are so separate, a lot of our friends say we're still having an affair, we're still dating. We see relatively little of each other, so the time we spend with each other is so precious that we spend a lot of it laughing rather than arguing. The other side of that coin is that one day we will actually live together, but will we actually get on? We've never done it.

You'll just have to keep travelling and working around the world.

Yes, because there's no way I'm washing his socks. He actually has a lady that does all his washing, but I think life's too short to spend washing people's underwear.

Finally, how do you feel about the current Eighties revival?

I don't feel a part of it. I've had hundreds of offers to do concerts, which is great, but I still do quite a lot of live shows anyway. But I'm not being included on any of the compilations, and that's partly because the record company which owns my material is reluctant to re-release it for some reason. It's great to have all these offers, but I don't quite feel a part of it. I mean, I'm so happy for Culture Club. I think it's working for them. They're good writers, and I think Duran Duran have always been good writers. Those two groups in particular, I think it's lovely to see them around again.

Sunday Herald, 2000