EXCLUSIVE PICTURES AND INTERVIEW AT HER NEW HOME WITH HUSBAND ROBERT FRIPP - TOYAH WILLCOX - TALKS ABOUT SURVIVING 'I'M A CELEBRITY...' AND HER UNCONVENTIONAL MARRIAGE

Toyah's kitchen is a hive of activity as she buzzes around like a small whirlwind. She makes tea, chats with her father who has popped in for a visit, and tries to round up her husband Robert Fripp, who keeps disappearing into the depths of their large Georgian house. On the sideboard are several notes with "to do" lists written in her neat hand.

It is a pace at which the 45-year-old actress, TV presenter and singer seems to thrive. having only just recovered from her stint in the Australian jungle with I'm A Celebrity ... Get me Out Of Here!, she is about to take the show in which she is currently starring, Calamity Jane, to the West End. She has also just released a new album, Velvet Lined Shell, and is still settling into the home - suitcases remain unpacked upstairs - to which they moved a year ago.

At the same time, she is enjoying some quality time with Robert, the 57-year-old guitarist and co-founder of the seminal rock band King Crimson.

Theirs is a strange love story, and one of the most enduring and unconventional relationships in showbusiness. Robert proposed to Toyah a week after they met at the height of her pop-star success in 1985, and they married a year later.

"We didn't know each other terribly well - we used to joke it was an arranged marriage but we'd arranged it ourselves," he says. But they have spent most of the past 17 years apart. Robert is based in Nashville with his band, where he also runs a guitar school, and Toyah has stayed in England. She claims the most they've ever spent together in a year is 12 weeks, while he observes wryly: "It depends on the year you're looking at."

Both are driven by their careers and appear to cope with their separation. "While the work is there we have to take the opportunity," she says. This year, they'll probably only spend eight weeks together.

"There is an ongoing sense of grief to which there is no answer," explains Robert, while Toyah insists that "It's taken a long time, but I think I've made it work for me."

Despite the distance, they are comfortably affectionate with each other. She calls him "pud", he calls her "little luvvie". And although they may be opposites - he is quiet and reserved, she is bright and jovial - it's a contrast that works.

One sacrifice Robert has been prepared to make was to move from Dorset, where they have been based in the past, to Worcestershire, near where Toyah grew up. Set on the high street of a small town on the River Avon, which runs at the bottom of their manicured garden, the six-bedroom, 18th-century house has an individual style defined by the eclectic art they have collected over the years. It's a house where Toyah says she finally feels at home.

"As soon as I saw it I burst into tears as I'd never before walked into a house and realised I just had to live there," she says. Her parents live nearby - her father often pops by on his boat - and it's within easy commuting distance of London, where she will be spending most of her time over the next few months.

Taking a break from the photo shoot, we talk in the garden as two ducks take a dip in the fountain nearby.

Toyah, what made you decide to take part in I'm A Celebrity ...?

"I loved the first series - I thought it was the best telly I'd ever seen - and I wanted the physical challenges. What I didn't know was that they were going to make it psychologically harder, which caught me by surprise. We weren't allowed to do anything - we couldn't go for walks, explore or forage - so the boredom was extraordinary. But I've got absolutely no regrets - I feel very positive about the experience."

There were a lot of strong personalities in the jungle. Were you able to be yourself?

"I compromised a hell of a lot. But I didn't go there to fight with people as I didn't want to live with headlines for the next ten years such as 'Toyah breaks so-and-so's nose'. I wanted to be a good team member, not controversial.

"The only thing I was prepared to do - but didn't because it was far too cold - was strip off and streak as many times as possible. And knowing how much Fash (John Fashanu) didn't want me to do it made me more determined.

"I did look a mess though. I looked 50 years older, my hair was a matted mop - no wonder people didn't want me to streak! But I was the only one who didn't sneak make-up in. I looked at Linda (Barker) one day and said: 'You've got eyeliner on, you sneaky devil!' I wasn't tempted to borrow make-up - I might be naive here but I'm proud of my age and wanted to fly the banner for my generation."

Robert, how much did you miss Toyah?

"The most difficult thing was to watch my wife on television for 20 hours a day and not be able to speak to her. It was an irrational response, but I found myself being wound up. I was deeply upset and there was nothing I could do except send her good wishes from the distance.

"But as soon as I closed my suitcase to go to Australia, my grief lifted."

Toyah, did you learn anything from the experience?

"It taught me a lot about myself. I loved going to sleep with nine people around me. I'm alone a lot of the time and I felt safe and secure - I slept the best I have in 20 years. I learnt that I adore city life, I adore stress but I don't make enough room for friends in my life because I'm constantly on the move.

"And I learnt that my husband is 90 per cent of who I am - and I felt that so intensely I was almost ready to walk off the show. Because he's always on the phone and I can always make contact with him, I suppose I've taken his presence for granted. But to be in almost imprisonment made me think, 'My God, this man is my life. He is someone I can't live without.' I didn't appreciate that before."

Did it make you think about changing your relationship?

"I'd love to change it but he'll never change. He'll always be off. I'm not saying he does it deliberately but he's nomadic, it's in his make-up and I can't enforce him to stay."

If it's only work that keeps you apart, why can't one of you make a sacrifice?

"No way. he can't make a sacrifice because he's got a great brain and he's got a lot to do yet. I love acting too much to ever give it up and I don't feel as if I've achieved my ambitions yet. If I got signed to Warner Brothers for five years, then I'd probably feel more relaxed. But I don't feel secure in my career and would be too nervous to take six months off."

What binds you together?

T: "I genuinely think we're soul mates. We're incredibly comfortable together, and as I get older I find him more attractive. I think he has a lovely, distinguished quality about him."

R: "We have a committed marriage. On our wedding day I made that commitment and I never doubted it."

How do you manage to maintain a level of intimacy?

T: "I do miss the everyday stuff. We love walking around cities hand in hand, having lunch somewhere or snuggling up at four in the afternoon and having a snooze. I do miss all of that but it's never a problem getting back to it when he's home. Time hasn't damaged or jaded anything - the intense emotions are still the same. We never feel like strangers. Seventeen years ago it might have been a bit, 'Hello, who are you?' but not now."

R: "I appreciate that on the outside our marriage may look strange. I think the way we make it work is that when we're together, we're intensively together, and when we're apart we're intensively professional. The qualitative aspect over-rides the quantitative aspect."

What's been the toughest time in your relationship?

"About three years ago he was based in Seattle, developing an internet company. He'd be on the plane home and would get a call and he'd have to go back straight away. I was going for months without seeing him and that was very difficult. We always have this thing that when we say, 'Come home', we mean it. I was quite down about it - I felt numb, nothing meant anything to me - food didn't, my work didn't. I thought, 'This is not living - come home for goodness' sake, I'm not a nun.' He was around for three months and we really explored the problem of those moments and learned through it. I felt life was not meant to be spent just missing someone."

What about jealousy - do you trust each other?

"I think at our age we've got over it! I trust him implicitly. When we were first together it was awful because he worked with all his exes so they were permanently there. But I've chased them all off now!"

Why haven't you ever been to Nashville? Aren't you curious to know where he lives?

"No, because Nashville's somewhere I've never wanted to go. I'd go bonkers because I know it's a quiet environment - I like buzz and lots of activity. I know all his friends very well and the doors are open - they'd love me there. But when he's there he's in the studio all the time and I'd have a lot of time to kill - I've got better things to do.

"There are other places of work where I wouldn't go, as I know the type of people he's working with. There's one place in particular where there are ex-girlfriends and I won't go there because, even after 17 years, I know I'd be aggressive with them.

"But I meet him in New York, about two or three times a year and I'm looking for a house there, so I think I'll be spending more time in the States in the future."

Do you feel you've missed out by not having children?

"In periods of war, I've often thought: 'Should I adopt children?' Especially when you see these tiny things suffering so much. But then, I've got to think about the reality of the person I am when I'm not working and I'm not happy. I've never wanted a child in a house where they can sense someone is unhappy or feeling trapped. So I've explored it. But genetically I never wanted to give birth - I know that."

Why are you so work-driven?

"I think I'm looking for a level of achievement I haven't reached yet - especially as an actress. I'd love to feel that I could just amble around at home and wait for the right script to come, but I don't trust that process. I find you have to drive things along and be dedicated - at least I do."

How are you enjoying starring in Calamity Jane?

"It's brilliant, excellent - a really happy show. It's taught me so much about stage singing, comedy and general fitness and gives me a chance to show off as a character rather than as me, which is the way I like it."

Are you happier as you get older?

"My 40s have been more comfortable than any other time. I think you reach an age of no return and if you're financially independent that gives you a great sense of power.

"Also, as I get older I don't care about others' opinions - I care more about my own. I think there's an awful lot of hindsight when you get older and you realise you are your own best guide."

Hello!
24th June 2003