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On the day we arrive at her west London maisonette, Toyah Willcox is preparing to fly off to Australia for I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! She is reflecting on having to battle her way through jungle life "with more SAS-style action promised this time round" in the company of Wayne Sleep, Danniella Westbrook and other fellow celebrities. Why do it? "It suits my exhibitionist nature," she states, refreshingly.  

The little flat gives further evidence of Toyah's exhibitionist nature. Gold discs, awards, album cover artworks and myriad Toyah! signatures cover the walls, while screenprints of her face rest on surfaces and her autobiography is prominently displayed on a shelf. Elsewhere there are crosses, seashells, and books on her heroine, Dora Maar, the lover and muse of Picasso whose own considerable artistic talent was submerged by the ego of her more famous companion.  

Toyah is using her time in the Australian outback to take a break from her lead role in a production of Calamity Jane, which comes to the West End soon after she returns. It was between rehearsals of the production that she made an album, Velvet Lined Shell, which is far heavier than what you might expect from a former presenter of The Heaven and Earth Show.  

"We're all into heavy music," says Toyah as she brings us tea and Hobnobs. "I love Nick Cave and PJ Harvey - and if anyone's inspired this album, it's her. We were rehearsing Calamity in Northampton from 10 until 6, and then I drove to Birmingham and worked through the night on the album. I'm spurred on by lack of time and needing to be somewhere else, so we recorded the tracks when we were hungry, tired, and wanted to do them as quickly as possible. It reminded me of my early touring days, when you would forget to eat, forget to sleep, spend all your money on alcohol and then do a gig."  

The rock'n'roll life goes hand in hand with hanging around for hours in smoky dressing rooms, but these days Toyah has done away with that, and her rock career must be fitted in around other commitments. One of the songs, all of which were written in the London flat, is Mother, a dark, lush mood piece that makes Toyah sound like a slightly menacing sexual predator. "I said to my musical partner, 'My problem is that I'm 44 and I like 20 year-old blokes.' He told me to write about it. But everyone I've played it to thinks it's about paedophilia. The problem is that people expect controversy with me, and they haven't got it really."  

Much of Toyah's musical choices are fashioned around having a suitable soundtrack for her regular aerobics workouts, and she finds that Marilyn Manson fits the bill perfectly. "He's a good one for aerobics, and a good one for kicking arse," she says. "We're big friends with a group called Tool who have the same ethic: breaking all the American taboos in a smart way. I think Marilyn Manson has a better take on America than Michael Moore and I don't think he's appreciated for his intellect. There's no range in his voice so I don't know where he can go, but as a performer he's so sexy."  

PJ Harvey's last album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, was the biggest guide for Toyah's own record. "She picks the right keys for her voice; she never goes beyond it into someone else's territory and that's very clever," she says. "I know that I'll try anything and that's my downfall, but she knows her territory and she claims it."  

Then there is Roxy Music, whose first three albums had a camp sense of humour that was lost in their later recordings. This may well have had something to do with the departure of Brian Eno, a long-time musical collaborator of Toyah's husband, Robert Fripp, and a good friend.  

"He's a really nice, kind gentleman who cycles round Notting Hill and whose main creative endeavours only ever go on inside his head," she says of the man who once combined a peacock feather collar, a bald pate and foot-long side tresses to remarkable visual effect. "My own teenage style was modelled on Barbara Hulanicki's Biba look, which was based around smart 1930s chic. Roxy Music crystallised that look and made it high fashion. You felt that they were living the dream."  

Toyah is hardly the first pop star to cite Bowie as an influence, but she is unusual in holding up his last album, Heathen, as his best. "It sounds like the last gasp of a dying man, and I mean that in a romantic way," she says. "Bowie has based his life around being youthful, beautiful and sexually attractive. He has understood the transience of that, for the first time, on this album. It is a moment of spiritual recognition and he has done it beautifully."  

Bowie asked Fripp to play on Heathen, having worked with him before on his albums Heroes and Scary Monsters. Four years ago, Fripp was working as musician-in-residence at the World Trade Centre and met Bowie there to discuss plans for his proposed album. To Toyah's great disappointment, he never did. "Bowie went to meet up with Robert a few years ago, and then we didn't hear anything apart from getting an email at Christmas," says Toyah. "But I think you can hear Robert's influence on Heathen. It has an organic feel, like the songs were written 12 hours before they were recorded. He's gone back to doing what he does best, and I have a feeling that he won't manage to do it again."

The Guardian, 2003