Punk Princess

While the reality TV generation might know her only as a star of Iím A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, those with longer memories know better. Toyah Willcox, the punk princess who became an 80s icon, has done it all. 

From acting on the West End to presenting Songs of Praise, she has become a star of stage, screen and concert hall - her unique voice and high-energy performance style winning her the Best Female Singer accolade at the 1983 British Rock and Pop Awards. 

Long before Toyah was a pop star, however, she was an actress. Indeed, by the time she scored her first Top 40 success with the anthemic Itís A Mystery in 1981, the diminutive performer had not only worked with the National Theatre but had also left her mark on the movie world, appearing in Derek Jarmanís seminal punk epic Jubilee and the cult classic Quadrophenia. 

Still, for many, itís for her music - songs that roused a generation - that Toyah is remembered. As such, it is hard to believe that when the Best Of The 80s concert tour hits Edinburgh next Wednesday and Toyah stands in the wings ready to rock the Playhouse, it will be exactly 22 years since she last bounded on to the very same stage. For Toyah, however, it will be as if sheís never been away. 

"I donít feel that Iíve stepped away from anything that much to be honest," says the singer who shares the Best Of The 80s bill with Clare Grogan of Altered Images, Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot from Curiosity Killed The Cat and Nick Heyward. 

"Weíre all reinventing what we did in the 80s. We have the most amazing band, they are great musicians and they are reproducing what we did 22 years ago. I stand in the wings and watch Ben and Clare and Nick and Iím having a f***ing great time." 

The Edinburgh gig will be the tenth in a 20-date tour and the 46-year-old, who has lost little, if any, of her youthful enthusiasm and energy, is holding up well, although being back on the road is proving a "novel" experience. 

"I canít tell you how good itís going," she says. "I thought that four such diverse artists wouldnít work, but itís bizarre. Ben is almost like a soul/reggae artist; Clare is incredibly true to the early 80s with that very off-the-wall contemporary sound; Iím very rock and then Nick is dance, almost. But itís working well just because we are all so different." 

Birmingham-born Toyah is no stranger to the Capital. The singer first toured here in 1979 with her eponymous band to play the legendary Tiffanyís - a venue she revisited the following year. With their star continuing to rise, Toyah graduated to playing the larger Odeon in 1981, before packing the Playhouse just 12 months later. 

More than a decade later she returned to the city. However, this time it was Toyah the actress who commanded the Festival Theatre in the 1993 national tour of Peter Pan and then in 2000 she made her Fringe debut as Dora Marr in Picassoís Women at the Assembly Rooms. 

Toyah last visited the city two years ago as tomboy cowgirl Calamity Jane, next week she promises sheíll sport a very different look. "A common statement that has been falling from my lips is Ďas I get older I seem to be wearing lessí," she laughs. "I tell you, my outfit . . . I walked on stage on the first night and the audience screamed. I was like a mini-version of Cher but without the long legs." 

The screams were a reaction to her costume which she has described as being a "dinky little number that only needed a metre of material to make." 

"Iíve been starving for a month because this costume has a 20-inch waist," she says. "Itís reminiscent of a little circus girl in Victorian times, except Iíve taken the innocence away and added a little S&M - it leaves nothing to the imagination. 

"I saw it on a transvestite and said ĎI have to have thatí. So I went to a costume maker in Manchester who makes clothes exclusively for men to look like women and said: ĎIím really sorry. I know you have never made a costume for a woman and you donít know how our busts really go or how our crotches are shaped, but I have to have this costumeí." 

As a bonus, just for the Playhouse gig, Toyah will also be wearing a "special" kilt made for her by Edinburgh kilt-maker Howie Nicholsby. Itís just one of a number of surprises planned for the night. 

"Weíre supposed to do 35 minutes each, but we are all over-running," she confesses. "Weíre doing all our singles. Claire is doing her singles and favourite tracks and Iíve added a Guns and Roses number because I think itís quite unfair to expect Claireís or Nickís fans to sit through songs of mine they might not know, so Iíve added Sweet Child of Mine and the audience go absolutely bonkers." 

Sweet Child of Mine is one of the three musical surprises the singer has planned . . . the other two sheís staying tight-lipped about. 

Perhaps surprisingly, considering her success in the 1980s, Toyah reveals that the last two years of her life have been the busiest. She has performed 446 shows to over half a million people - 11 of these shows were part of the Here and Now Concert Tour where she realised her ambition of playing Wembley before a crowd of 16,000 screaming fans. 

Alongside all of this, last year she took time out to survive 12 days and nights in the Australian jungle for last yearís Iím A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here. 

Before embarking on the Best Of The 80s Tour last month, Toyah confided to fans reading her website (www.toyahwillcox.com) that she was "straining at the bit to be on the road again." 

"I havenít been on a tour bus for approximately 18 years and I want to know if I can do it without irritating the do-da out of everyone," she wrote. "Although I do at least four gigs a month, Iím never on a tour bus. 

"This whole concept of being on a bus with your bag of laundry driving until four in the morning and eating chips - I havenít lived like that for 22 years. You just have to surrender to it and it has novelty value so far." 

And when the Best Of The 80s tour bus pulls into the Capital on Wednesday, Toyah predicts that her 1981 Top Ten hit I Want To Be Free will be the song from her set that drives everyone wild. 

She laughs: "Itís hysterical because here we are singing about schooldays and the whole audience are up on their feet screaming their heads off. Iím also doing Jungle of Jupiter which is mind-blowing but I Want To Be Free somehow turns the whole of my act into a riot." 

By Liam Rudden 
Edinburgh Evening News 
Thursday 14th October 2004