Why being on Big Brother would be a real calamity

Toyah Willcox on her reality TV experience, and who her fantasy jungle mates would have been

Toyah Willcox curls up on her sofa, cups a large mug of herbal tea in her hands and for a minute or two looks relaxed. Then the phone rings. A few minutes later it rings again. And again. And again. Lifes been like this for Toyah ever since she appeared in I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! The instant they landed back on home soil, many of the celebrities were whisked away for five-star treatment after enduring the dirt and deprivation of the jungle. For Toyah, it was business as usual.

She is playing the title role in the musical Calamity Jane, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End on 12 June. And she's been so busy with the thigh-slapping, rip-roaring show she hasn't had time to pamper herself. 'But I've been eating like a pig,' she grins. 'I think I've been panic eating because I don't want to feel hungry, but I've lost weight since I got back through being so active on stage.

'The biggest irony is that, while we were rehearsing in the dance studio, I discoverd Wayne Sleep was downstairs choreographing Carousel. I thought to myself, "Bloody hell, can't we get away from each other?"'

As someone who admits to detesting dirt and bathing four times a day, Toyah seemed an unlikely volunteer for the jungle adventure of I'm A Celebrity. But she was determined to do it because she's a huge fan of reality TV. 'I love all that stuff,' she says with wide-eyed enthusiasm. 'They're what cookery shows were in the 1990s - they're the new rock 'n' roll.'

But being a media lab rat proved harder than Toyah ever imagined. 'We were very disorientated, very hungry and had very low energy. I didn't like being filmed in that state. 'It was weird to be so closely observed, and it felt as if we were under a bell jar. The crew listened to every word we said, yet we had no idea what they were showing and what kind of programme they were making. I desperately wanted to keep my dignity, but they even filmed us going to the loo.'

Toyah, 45, has watched only brief snippets of her time in the jungle, and didn't like what she saw. 'It shocked me how wretched I looked,' she says. 'I felt I'd aged through the experience, so as soon as I got back I took loads of vitamins. But I've no regrets. If it had been warmer in the jungle, I'd have done the streak, which I'd promised the producers. That would have been hysterical,' she grins.

Toyah has always been different. She was born with curvature of the spine and an incomplete hip socket, so one leg is two inches shorter than the other, and she's a petite 5ft 1in. She studied drama at the Old Rep Drama School in her native Birmingham and won critical acclaim as an actress in the cult hit Quadrophenia, and in The Corn Is Green, alongside Tinseltown legend Katharine Hepburn. Her biggest fame, though, came as a singer in the 1980s, when ahe was as well known for her shocking rainbow-coloured hairstyles as she was for her hit singles. But the former punk princess has also provided the soothing voice-over on Teletubbies and presented Songs Of Praise. Even her West London home is unusual, with its feng shui layout, Buddhas, gold discs and album covers hanging on the warm yellow walls.

The best word to describe Toyah is unconventional. Take her 17-year marriage to musician Robert Fripp, 58, for instance. He spends most of his time in America, while she lives in the UK. They have seperate bank accounts and, even when they're both in Britain, they live in seperate houses. 'We didn't plan it this way,' explains Toyah, blushing and giggling at the mere mention of her husband. 'He's quite nomadic and is always on the move. And I want my career - and my career is here. It suits me now, but it didn't in the beginning because I missed him a lot. When you marry someone, you want to be with them. But now my work is very focused and I can fit a lot of things in during the day because I don't have to get home to my husband. I can go anywhere, any time without having to check with someone that it's OK. And I'm not coming home and cooking - I don't enjoy that kind of environment.

'Instead, we have this romantic lifestyle where we meet in lovely places like Australia, Paris or America. We don't deal with any of the drudgery like builders or bills. And that makes our time together really rewarding. But I'd like to live together eventually.'

Toyah's attitude towards having children might raise a few eyebrows, too. After suffering two miscarriages in her twenties, Toyah was so certain she didn't want children she opted for sterilisation at the age of 27. 'It was definitely the right decision,' she insists. 'Very, very rarely I've wondered whether I could adopt, but I'm just so ill-prepared to share my life with anyone. I think that, unless you've got a real, screaming maternal instinct, you shouldn't have children.'

So, with the nation gripped by the child-like antics of that other hugely popular reality TVshow, Big Brother, Toyah will watch with insider knowledge. 'I've always thought Big Brother was difficult,' she says. 'I don't think I'd like being confined for so long with so many people. But I do have more respect and empathy for the contestants now.'

Toyah's fantasy bush mates
Forget Phil and Fash - given the choice, these are the celebrities Toyah would choose to rumble in the jungle with...

David Bowie - 'I wouldn't mind being stuck in the jungle if he was there. I'm very passionate about art, and he's big on it, too.'
Brad Pitt - 'Ahhh, now he'd be there purely for sex. I'm sure he'd be very good at chopping down trees and making fires, but that's not his real appeal.'
Ewan McGregor - 'Because of the accent, because he can sing and because he could save me in times of trouble. And he looks as if he'd be good at removing spiders.'
Esther Rantzen - 'She wouldn't compete with me for the attention of David, Brad and Ewan, and I'm sure she could keep them all in check.'
Dame Edna Everage - 'She could keep us laughing in times of low morale, and wash my underwear.'
Liam and Noel Gallagher - 'They'd fight all the time, and that keeps the adrenalin up.'
The Beverley Sisters - 'They'd upset Dame Edna. They sing all the time, so they could entertain us.'
Singer Patti Smith - 'She's off the wall and speaks her mind, so she'd be sure to wind everyone up.'
Dame Judi Dench - 'I'm a huge fan, and I would hope some of her talent would rub off on me. I'd enjoy grovelling around her.'

Woman's Own
30th June 2003