THEATRE PROFILE: Toyah Willcox

Claire Allfree meets 1980s punk star turned star of the West End stage, Toyah Willcox.

Toyah Willcox's West London house is painted bright yellow inside. The walls are littered with the kind of sun-shaped mirrors and moon mobiles you find in Camden market. She apologises for it being a bit of a mess (it is spotless): she's been away on tour for months and only got back two days ago. 'I couldn't rent it out, no,' she says, in response to my query. 'I believe in karma. I couldn't possibly take any money off anybody.'

Willcox has a reputation for being difficult ('Don't mention I'm A Celebrity; start with a question about Derek Jarman,' warns her publicist in advance) but in this instance it's unfounded. Tiny, with long thick blond hair cut in a heavy fringe, she is attentive and slightly anxious, keen to answer the question as correctly as she can. Of which there are many. Not least: what on earth are you doing playing Calamity Jane in the West End? But more of that later.

At 45, Toyah Willcox is showing no signs of slowing down. The former child punk revel with flaming orange hair is arguably the only pop icon of her generation who hasn't stopped working since the age of 17. More than that, her career is a curious patchwork of experimental theatre and film, cult movie Quadrophenia, TV work with Katharine Hepburn, film work with Laurence Olivier, punk rock, panto and presenting lifestyle TV shows.

'When I had my first hit single (the EP Four From Toyah, in 1981), I'd already established a respectable acting career,' she says. 'But the pop thing eclipsed that, and, well, people forget.'

Not Toyah. She had aways wanted to be an actress since watching Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music, aged seven. 'It wasn't anything to do with wanting to be a great stage actress; I just loved the idea of being loved and liked,' she says. Yet when she was growing up she went out of her way to be outrageous. 'I was like Marilyn Manson in Hicksville,' she says. 'A naive grotesque.'

It was precisely this paradox that attracted the late Derek Jarman, with whom Willcox made two experimental films, Jubilee and The Tempest at the end of the 1970s.

Back then Willcox had no idea it was Jarman who would end up providing her with the avant-art credentials she now holds so dear. 'I was so arrogant. I was a cult heroine in London. Everyone wanted me,' she says gaily. 'With Jarman I was like, whatever. But I miss him terribly.'

Willcox is, however, better known for the people she has worked with than for the parts she played herself. There doesn't seem to have been any discernible career plan beyond a drive to keep working. 'I have no snobbery,' she says.

'I'll happily do panto - people who work in panto are true artists. I'm desperate to work in a soap opera. I've been pestering Eastenders people for years. I hate elitism.'

Hence, then, I'm A Celebrity. 'I wanted to go on it as soon as I saw the first series,' she says excitedly. 'I love the idea of being physically challenged. But I also wanted to go on it to meet Danniella Westbrook. That woman is an icon.'

It's an odd reason to spend two weeks starvng in the jungle, but then Willcox is full of surprises. She simply loves performing and challenging herself. 'I want to keep achieveing thngs that are unusual for women of my age, and Calamity Jane is unusual,' she says. 'I don't think I will ever stop working.'

Metro - 17th June 2003
Thanks to Michael Cooney