Free Spirits - Teenage Kicks

What happens when rebels grow up?

Wanting to stand out from the crowd with unconventional clothes, hair and make-up is all part of adolescence, but some people take it further than others. M met four women who are proud of their 'wild child' pasts and got them to tell us if they've changed over the years

Toyah Willcox, 44, a singer in the early '80s, brought punk into mainstream pop. Today she's touring Britain in a production of the Wild West musical Calamity Jane.

'I knew from the age of five that I didn't like people telling me how to think. I really loathed being brought up to be feminine in someone else's image of  what femininity was. I was from a very middle-class background and I had to wear what my mother told me to wear -dresses. And because I wasn't academic, I was being educated to find a rich husband, which I found insulting. 

'I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone with an accent. The snobbery and resulting isolation infuriated me. 

'When I hit puberty, I used to physically fight with my mother - actually hit her -thinking if I fought she'd keep away. It made for hellish teenage years. I also stood my ground with teachers at school and became quite foul-mouthed.

'I first dyed my hair at 15. My hairdresser shaved my hair to about half an inch and dyed it blue, leaving a long, black, pointy fringe down to the tip of my nose. I thought it was beautiful but I knew Mum would hate it, so I went home wearing a headscarf. When my mother pulled it off, she burst into tears.

'In the early '70s, my hair together with my make-up - painted black eye sockets - made quite an impression. But it was all very negative. I wasn't allowed on buses, people wouldn't let me in shops, taxis wouldn't pick me up, people would laugh in my face. It upset me being prejudged on my looks. That was rife back then. If you dared to look different, people reacted quite badly, particularly men, who were threatened by it.

'Things changed when I got my band together and we appeared on Top Of The Pops with hits like It's A Mystery. There were posters of me in every shop on every high street. It was as if for the first time people were celebrating my unconventional behaviour.

'As I grew older, the band split, my acting career took off and my look gradually changed. As an actress, it's better not to have a strong image. Also, I didn't want to hit 40 and have pink hair or be accused of being stuck in the '80s.

'I don't think I've changed as a person though - I'm still an outsider. I don't live a normal life. I don't have children and, although I'm married, my husband Robert Fripp, who's a musician, doesn't live with me - I'm constantly on theatre tours while he lives in the States. So I don't feel I've conformed in any way. In fact, I'm a bit like Calamity Jane, the role I'm playing at the moment. In 1850, she was the original rebel going round dressed as a man, challenging the female place in society.

'But I have come full circle  in other respects. Originally, I rebelled to get out of Birmingham and away from my family, but I now look after my mum and dad. I bought their house and I make sure they're OK. It's fine as long as they don't tell me how to live my life - they learnt that lesson a long time ago!' 

M Magazine
18th January 2003