Toyah Willcox on her traumatic childhood and unusual love life

I only see my husband a few weeks a year. But bizarrely, my marriage was saved by I'm A Celebrity

Toyah Willcox might not have won the recent series of I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! but she gained a far greater prize. She was able to spend a whole week with her husband, Robert Fripp, once she was voted out of the jungle.

That might not sound like anything special but, for a couple who have what can only be described as an unconventional marriage, it was a welcome rarity.

Since Robert (lead guitarist with the rock band King Crimson) and Toyah married nearly 17 years ago, they have led virtually separate lives. He lives and works in America, while she has pursued a career as an actress, singer and TV presenter in England. They snatch odd days together whenever possible, and speak every day on the phone. But on average they spend only 12 weeks of the year with each other. The reason for this strange state of affairs, says Toyah, is that each is a workaholic, fiercely independent and stubborn.

Although their marriage has survived these separations, the cracks occasionally show - such as the time when they didn't see each other for six months because of Robert's work commitments. 'That was the worst period of my life,' says Toyah. 'I was incredibly unhappy. I was angry and I made sure he knew it. I told him that if things didn't change, our marriage would be in trouble.'

So when she announced she was off to a remote part of the Australian outback for I'm A Celebrity, she insisted that he flew over to be there for her when she returned to 'civilisation'. 'I honestly didn't think he would come, but I told him that he had to be there for me - and he was. I might not have won the competition, but it did wonders for my marriage. We had a whole week together, and it was a wonderful time.'

When she initially went on the show, Toyah was a hot favourite to win, along with the ultimate victor, Phil Tufnell. As it turned out, she spent 12 nights in the jungle before becoming the fourth celebrity to be voted out by viewers. 'I was so relieved. I don't think I could have taken another three days in there,' she says. 'I was an emotional wreck because I hadn't been able to communicate with Robert for 12 days. It was horrible.'

Surprisingly, considering how outspoken and vivacious she is in person, Toyah allowed herself to be overshadowed by the other female contestants, TV presenter Linda Barker and model Catalina. 'The fact is that, at 45, I was very much the older woman - so the potential for flirting and being seen as a sexually interesting person wasn't there,' she says. 'I just felt that none of the men were at all interested in me.

'But I'm used to being overlooked. In my 30s, I was two stone overweight and felt totally invisible. It is a fact of life that men do not look at overweight women. So I've learned to cope with unflattering situations, and I think I exercised that to the full when I was in the jungle.'

She originally went on the show in a bid to increase her profile, and to raise funds for the charity Inspire, which helps people with spinal paralysis. She achieved both aims, generating £70,000 for the charity. 'The friendliness and warmth I've experienced since then has been extraordinary,' she says. 'And what it's done for me professionally is that when I open in London's West End in Calamity Jane, every casting director and producer is going to be in to see the show in the first two weeks.'

Toyah began preparations for the lead role in Calamity Jane two years ago, by letting her blonde hair grow down to her waist. As a result of the physical demands of the part, she has also developed a highly muscular body - which she is not entirely comfortable with.

'I'm far too big for my liking,' she says. 'I don't feel very feminine. I'm top-heavy and my legs are disgusting. With my blonde hair I think I look like La Cicciolina - that Italian porn star who became an MP.'

In truth, she looks toned, sculpted and supremely healthy, but she admits she has achieved this with some cosmetic help. 'For the past year I've had Botox injections every three months under my eyes. I've also had the lines around my lips filled in.

'Now I want to have a breast reduction. I'm only 5ft 1ins tall and I don't think I suit having a big chest. As I'm getting older, I would like to be flatter and more petite. It's pure vanity.'

Such insecurities about her looks hark back to her childhood. She was born with a twisted spine, clawed feet and no hip sockets, and her mother had to give her physiotherapy twice a day for the first 11 years of her life. 'My main disability is on my right side. I have this strange form of paralysis that means I can't always control my right arm and right leg. By the time I was 11, I had to have an operation to halt the growth of my right foot. It was adult-sized and my toes were like fingers.'

At school she had to wear a raised shoe, and today she still walks with a slight limp. the only time it really bothered her was when she began dating. 'My disability definitely contributed to my shyness. Men can be very hurtful. They would tell me I was too muscular or not graceful enough.

'In my teens, my hormones were raging but I didn't want ot be intimate with a man because I didn't want him to see my feet. I couldn't run around a beach or the house with my bare feet.

'Consequently I was a very late developer, sexually I was a virgin until I was into my 20s. Ironically one of the things that Robert loves most about me is my disability. His father had polio and has a similar gait to mine, which was one of the things that first attracted him to me.'

Growing up with a disability certainly contributed to Toyah's rebellious nature as a teenager. She would hang out with Hell's Angels and study satanism to annoy her parents; eventually she found a natural home in the world of punk. As a singer in the Eighties she had major hits with such songs as It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free, and also starred in Derek Jarman's films Jubilee and The Tempest.

Now, with her punk days well behind her, she concentrates on her career as an actress. After a difficult few years, she says, her 40s have proved to be the best time of her life. 'My 40s have been absolutely brilliant, but my 30s were awful I was in some kind of strange hormonal hell. I think I was going through a period of pre-menopause, and my body shape started changing. I was so much heavier than I am now, and I felt lethargic all the time.

'It was a decade of desire and non-achievement. I knew what I wanted but I couldn't quite obtain it. Then I hit 40, and suddenly I was getting what I wanted. So I created what I call a menopause diet. Now, I eat linseeds and sunflower seeds and lots of organic fruit and vegetables. I don't eat dairy or wheat products, and I've given up alcohol. As a result I've never felt better.'

In fact, she is becoming so self-confident that she recently stripped off for a stunning photo shoot in the Daily Mail, her modesty protected only by a map of the world painted on her body.

She is also due to pose naked for Good Housekeeping magazine, and hopes to become its first nude cover star.

Having sorted herself out physically, Toyah now plans to work on herself emotionally. She is determined to spend more time with her husband, and with that in mind the couple have bought a home near Stratford-Upon-Avon. They are also planning to buy an apartment in New York, as well as a holiday home in southern Spain.

'We are both still as obstinate as each other, but we are thinking of settling down with each other more. The past ten years have been about career-building for me, and now I want it to be about life-building and re-discovering my fun side.

'I have worked every day for the past 25 years, and it's about time I let my hair down and partied a bit more. I've almost forgotten how to do that.'

By Lester Middlehurst

Daily Mail
16th June 2003