Rotten was a real gent, says Toyah
Former punk icon has always dared to be different
- The honest truth
Toyah Willcox arrives in Scotland next week to
star in Calamity Jane, the role made famous by Doris Day half a
Toyah, an '80s wild child, the pint-sized queen
of punk with flame red hair and a lisp, had hits with Itís A Mystery
and I Wanna Be Free.
Now the 44-year-old singer has re-invented herself
as an actress, TV presenter and writer. She lives with husband of 17 years,
former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, in Worcestershire.
Toyah has acted with Katherine Hepburn, presented
Of Praise, narrated Teletubbies and her current ambition is
to take Calamity Jane to the West End later this year. She has a
new single out in May, is working on an album and in her "spare time" sheís
writing a book.
Margaret Clayton caught up with Toyah between
rehearsals when she told us The Honest Truth about the life and times of
a punk turned musical comedy star.
What's the difference between your Calamity
Jane and Doris Dayís?
Fifty years. Her show was for an audience whoíd
just survived World War 2. Women whoíd worked in munitions factories were
being shoved back into the home - disgraceful. So Doris played her in a
conventional, feminine way.
Itís a true story. Jane was a cattle herder and
a scout for the US Army. She came from a violent background, became a prostitute
and an alcoholic. My interpretation is very different from Dorisís. I see
Jane as gutsy, an inspiration to modern women. Itís also an incredible
This is your 25th year in showbiz - how has
Iím still working really hard but my life is
more satisfying than in my 20s. I was pushed and pulled all over the place
in my days as a pop star - dragged to boring photo shoots, which I loathed.
I donít pine to be a pop star. Now I have more time to write songs. I value
freedom above all things and Iíve found that life gets 100 per cent more
satisfying in your 40s, because people give you space to be yourself.
What was good about being a punk?
Iím glad I was in that scene. It was about empowerment.
Punk gave everyone a voice - no matter who you were. Punk said, "Dare to
be different, your ideas are of value no matter who you are."
I worked with Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols
and he was an utterly lovely human being. A very gentle person. A man who
held doors open for you, yet the media demonised him. Thanks to the Sex
Pistols, we had an identity. Dressed as a punk I could walk down the Kings
Road behaving madly and it was great fun.
What was your childhood like?
I had a happy childhood in Birmingham. But I
was sent to an all-girls' school and loathed every minute of it. Schools
donít cater for individualists. Most of all I hated the gender issue. Iím
a person - not a 'girly' girl. Iím not remotely interested in handbags,
babies or shopping. My school life was dull and constricting. It made me
How would you describe your marriage?
Romantic. We spend months apart, working. But
Robert makes long complicated journeys just to spend a weekend with me
and itís wonderfully exciting. He left this week for LA to start a world
tour. We wonít see each other for three months, but I love having my own
life. I donít have to go home at night to cook. We meet up because we want
to be together - not because itís a routine. Neither of us can be bothered
with domestic issues. My home is whatever hotel room Iím staying in and
that suits me very well. My car is my travelling office.
As a couple, you decided not to have children.
Ever regret that?
Not for a minute. Iím not remotely maternal.
Anyway, I never waste time on regrets, looking back or thinking about the
past. I live fully in the present and look forward to the future.
How do you keep fit and healthy?
By working hard. Calamity Jane is a very physical
show - a nightly performance and three matinees a week gives me all the
exercise I need.
Apart from myself and one other cast member, everyoneís
under 24, full of energy, very talented and focused on the production -
not into sex or drugs at all. I enjoy their company, it keeps me mentally
and physically strong.
Is it true youíre a Buddhist?
My father was a Buddhist, so itís been with me
for 44 years. Buddhism is a very private but important part of my life.
What are you proudest of?
Acting is more important to me than singing now,
but I donít sit around waiting for the phone to ring offering me jobs.
I get on with writing. But Iím always proudest of what Iím working on at
the present. The adrenaline is still high when I come off stage after Calamity
Jane, so I go back to my hotel bedroom and enjoy being peaceful.
Who's the most extraordinary person youíve
Albert Finney. We were at the National Theatre
together and he was the wildest guy Iíve ever met. He was at the peak of
his acting career and was just so exuberant. You couldnít harness his energy.
We stayed up all night drinking and talking. We were wild and noisy and
made each other laugh a lot.
What do you think of todayís music?
I think thereís a lot of very exciting talent
around. I love live bands - U2 are my favourite. My favourite singer is
Bjork - I play her CDs all the time.
Your greatest pleasure?
Working and eating chocolate. I am totally committed
to work. I enjoy it more than anything and never bother with holidays.
I also crave chocolate and am capable of eating a box a day.
Your best and worst memories of Scotland?
I appeared in a play in Glasgow a few years ago
and remember just walking the streets looking at the architecture in amazement.
Iíd stroll along Byres Road in the West End just fascinated by all the
little shops with their unusual names. Itís a city with a rebellious streak
- I love it. Iíve never managed to see the Scottish countryside, but thatís
probably because the country bores me - Iím a city person.
The Sunday Post
19th January 2003