Public Images

Toyah Willcox is a mistress of disguise, both as an actress and a singer. For both her highly successful careers she carefully plans each new look, starting with a fresh hairstyle, then changing her make-up and clothes. Johnny Waller talked to human chameleon. 

"When I was a kid I had long black hair and looked very Chinese. When I see pictures of me as a baby, I think I look exceptionally pretty. But from the age of six months, I was a bit ugly. And after the age of three, I started becoming really ugly. 

"I had such thick black hair I looked wild, like a wolf-child. 

"You don't become aware of being pretty or ugly until you become aware of your sexuality. I didn't care about myself until I was twelve. 

"Then I felt fat and ugly. 

"I was always getting into fights, getting scars all over me. One of my first ambitions was to be a muscle woman. At the age of about seven I wanted to be like a man. 

"From 12 to 14 I really cared about my physique. I was pissed off with god because I didn't look like my best friend. 

"I was a very cruel girl. I used to pick up boys and drop them each week. I only had one boyfriend that I cared about. When he went I didn't bother going out with anyone until I was twenty. 

"I was eleven when I started wearing make-up. I saw a picture of Lou Reed with blond hair and great black eyes, so I started copying him. Then Marc Bolan came in - I used to have a glitter teardrop on my cheek. 

"I was fifteen when I started dyeing my hair. I went dark blue - and I've been every colour since. The movie of The Rocky Horror Show and David Bowie drove me to dye my hair. 

"A year afterwards The Sex Pistols played Bogarts in Birmingham and I went down to see them. Suddenly I was among people that looked like me. That was great, because up until then I'd been in complete solitude. 

"I've been flitting in and out of images since I was at school. When I go to my hairdresser I say 'My god, I'm bored. What are you going to do about it?' 

"The dye comes after the cut, and then the clothes. 

"Fun was the reason for doing it, not so that I could earn lots of money. As soon as someone copied me I changed. 

"This is my natural colour now, and I quite like it. For the first time I've gone shopping and no-one recognised me. I'm starting to write the new album now and I need a source of inspiration. What could be better than going back to a form of normality? 

"When I did Jubilee (Derek Jarman's punk film, 1977) I had my head shaved. That was very aggressive looking. 

"I started growing it because I had a boyfriend, so I became aware of men again and wanted to look a bit more feminine. I got fed up with people shying away from me because they thought I was going to be aggressive. It made me feel very isolated. 

"I grew it until the 'Blue Meaning' LP, 1980, when I had a geometric cut with a pointed fringe, very Space 1999 (the TV series). I was into an Egyptian phase at the time and I thought it was a modern interpretation of the Egyptian look. 

"But during that tour I had a lot of hair pulled out at the back, when I kept falling into the audience, so I had to have the whole lot shaved off again. That coincided with the play Sugar And Spice in 1980. 

"By the time of 'It's A Mystery' in 1981, it was growing back again, but it took the whole of that year. 

"Since then I've grown my hair as long as I could, also going through different colour changes - pink, orange, black tips... 

"By 1983 and Trafford Tanzi (the wrestling play Toyah starred in) I'd got it to its longest and its best. I was beginning to look like your normal Farrah Fawcett-Majors type because it was so stylish and feminine. So I had the sides shaved off to look more street level and aggressive. 

"I had to change my hair in 1978 for Quadrophenia (the mod film) when they cut it in a '60s style and bleached it white. I hated it - really hated it. 

"For the new film I'm making with Lord Olivier (The Ebony Tower) I had to go tomato red. I was yellow before. 

"I had my doubts about Trafford Tanzi, not only whether I could do it physically, but could I bear to be seen in a skin-tight costume? 

"I'm so self conscious of my physique. In fact Tanzi gave me the confidence to do Ebony Tower, because all these people knew what I was like underneath - and it did me the world of good. 

"I normally tend to wear baggy clothes, so it got me out of the rut. 

"See, my mental image of myself is a complete deformed freak. Tanzi made me accept myself as I am. I was living in the protected world of the pop star and it brought me back to reality again. It made me realise I'm only one on the vast anthill of the overpopulated world.

No.1 Magazine
24th December 1983