I BROKE FREE
As a successful singer and actress Toyah had
to learn many lines. But secretly, she was battling dyslexia and it was
ruining her life. In an inspirational interview, she reveals how pioneering
exercises freed her from misery
Pop star and TV presenter Toyah Willcox, 47,
suffered humiliation and deep depression because of her severe dyslexia
and learning difficulties.
Then a revolutionary treatment changed her
life. Here, Toyah who is married to musician Robert Fripp but has no children,
tells LISA SEWARDS her compelling story. . .
When I was a child, I was acutely aware that I
didn't fit in. I still felt the same as an adult. I couldn't spell, found
reading incredibly hard and was very bad at learning anything.
I remember filming Quadrophenia in 1979 with Sting,
and he was teaching me how to sing the backing vocals to The Police hit
They were simple and famous harmonies, but I couldn't
visualise the music or hear the rhythm.
So I ended up smashing furniture around the room
and banging my fist down on tables, saying: 'Sting, I will never learn
it. I can't learn in the normal way.' He didn't know I was dyslexic. Nor
did I admit it.
Back then dyslexia was never talked about. In
fact, I now realise that many very bright people, some really high achievers,
have lived with these problems throughout their life without ever realising
what's caused it.
At the time, David Bowie was using the 'cut up'
method to write lyrics. He took sentences, chopped them up, muddled them
up and put them back together again. I actually thought and spoke like
that, and when I used to try to say something, it would come out in a similar
Because I couldn't spell or read, I had a poor
vocabulary. If I spoke, people would laugh. To make matters worse, I also
had a lisp.
At school I was left alone by the teachers because
I was slow at reading, writing and maths.
The girls with sparkling repartee were the ones
who were always listened to. In my head I had equal ideas, but they just
didn't come out of my mouth.
In conversations I struggled to convey my thoughts
and went off on tangents.
So at school, I'm embarrassed to admit, I became
the bully; the disruptive pupil who wasted the money my father spent on
my private education by staring out of the window. I couldn't read a book
- it was just a blur of lines. My parents didn't know I was dyslexic. They
probably just thought I was lazy.
I developed my own coping strategies, even inventing
my own ways of spelling and reading. I learnt stock phrases for interviews
Because I couldn't rely on total spontaneity,
I'd rehearse a conversation, such as mentioning a newspaper heading and
saying 'Isn't this story fascinating?' to pretend I'd read it.
But my life changed beyond recognition in November
2003 following a revolutionary treatment called The Dore Programme, which
I believe has virtually cured my dyslexia. I've been so bowled over by
it that I'm now a spokesperson for the treatment.
The Dore Programme shows you that you are one
of millions in the same boat - regardless of how successful or otherwise
you are. It can help not just those suffering from dyslexia, but also from
dyspraxia, a condition in which a child is born with severe co-ordination
This can mean they have difficulty doing basic
things such as holding a pencil properly or doing up their shoelaces, or
have attention deficit disorder, Asperger's syndrome, poor sporting ability
According to The Dore Programme, these problems
all have the same root cause: an underdeveloped cerebellum.
This is the tangerine-sized part of the brain
at the base of the skull which processes information, governs balance and
makes it automatic for us to carry out actions such as following a line
of text. If it is not working well, it can also affect short-term memory.
The system was pioneered by Wynford Dore, a Coventry
businessman who decided to find a cure for the condition after his daughter,
Susie, tried to kill herself because of it.
He poured millions of his own money into finding
a solution. Research from a number of medical experts convinced him that
the cerebellum must be stimulated by physical exercises to function to
The treatment involves a number of exercises designed
to stimulate different parts of the brain with different combinations of
balance, eye movement, hand movement, leg movement and so on to unlock
the neural pathways that connect the cerebellum to other parts of the brain.
Once the brain rewiring has been done, it's permanent
and you don't get any regression.
Exercises include walking downstairs backwards
with your eyes closed, throwing a bean bag from one hand to the other and
standing on a wobble board or a ball.
It's basically a gym workout for the brain, which
enables learning to take place. It isn't a substitute for good teaching,
but enables you to learn and recall information automatically. Susie, Mr
Dore's daughter, has now completely recovered.
To take part, you go to one of the Dore Achievement
Centre's ten UK sites - the first opened in 1999 - to be assessed.
The tests are fun, not threatening, and involve
analysing how the brain reacts to different stimuli. One test involves
a machine that finds what strategy your body uses for balancing.
Its purpose is to single out the effectiveness
of a person's senses. If one is not functioning properly, it can seriously
The body uses three things to balance: the inner
ear (the vestibular); feelings from joints, muscles and bones; and the
brain, to which these feelings are transmitted.
But the striking thing about most people with
learning difficulties such as dyslexia is that their brain hardly uses
any information from the vestibular.
Another test looks at what happens to your eyes
when you're trying to track a moving light. The cerebellum is known to
control some eye movements directly related to reading and writing.
The eyes of more than 90 per cent of people with
learning difficulties are uncoordinated. So when they're trying to read,
the information is absorbed in a scrambled way.
Equally, when they try to write, their hands don't
follow an automatic pattern, because they have little memory recall of
how each letter is formed and it becomes hard to develop a consistent handwriting
The programme also gives you a dyslexia screening
test for spelling, reading, writing and memory, as well as neurological
tests to make sure that there is no other reason, apart from the underdevelopment
of the cerebellum, that is causing the problems.
The first assessment takes about three hours and
the second, six weeks later, about an hour-and-a-half. You are reassessed
every six weeks until your cerebellum is working to full capacity, which
usually takes up to two years.
At the end of each testing session, the computer
works out the best exercises for each individual and in which order to
kick-start their neural pathways.
You're then allocated two exercises every day
in a carefully prescribed order. These are simple and can be done at home
in about five minutes.
I started with some basic exercises such as spinning
in a circle and then trying to sit on a big gym ball. If I had tried to
spin around three years ago, I would have been sick - apparently, many
dyslexics and dyspraxics suffer from travel sickness, a sign that the cerebellum
isn't working as it should.
I did my exercises religiously for three months,
twice a day. The effects were immediate. My life improved within a week
of starting the exercises and suddenly the dam wall started to come down.
I have hardly stopped writing since the exercises
began to take effect, which is incredible considering writing was once
the bane of my life, and my spelling has improved dramatically.
Now I feel my life is speeding up. In the past,
I'd have days of being completely frozen in a creative mental block and
unable to do anything. My dyslexia had a terrible effect on my songwriting.
If I had creative moments, they lasted only an hour, Now the prison door
is unlocked, I feel I can work whenever I need to.
Even though I still have certain blocks on names
and certain words I can't understand or spell, I no longer get cross. In
the past the majority of my energy went on being frustrated.
Now I have learned that this is a wasted emotion.
Crucially, my social skills have improved beyond belief.
I used to be lonely socially and felt everyone
hated me. But within three weeks of starting the treatment I became immediately
confident and now feel able to go up and talk to anyone. My verbal memory
recall has been transformed and I can hold conversations without going
off at tangents.
I'd always fly off the handle because I couldn't
communicate my ideas well enough. That's gone now. My vocabulary is broadening
Whereas I'd read a book a year, I now read a book
a week - I'm getting through all the bestsellers - which I find staggering.
I now manage my own finances and spend four hours
a day just on managing my investments - several years ago I would not have
even tried to read numbers.
I no longer have black days filled with the frustration
of not being able to read or write. I've learnt that, because I'm dyslexic,
I have a smaller amount of working memory, so if I had a negative thought,
I didn't have so much brain space to bring in compensatory thoughts to
Just remembering lists was a problem, so I was
getting very frustrated, angry and depressed.
My husband, guitarist Robert Fripp, cannot believe
The Dore Programme is not a quick fix, because
it takes dedication. However, the course made me instantly happy because
I've got the stepping stones to a better life.
The system is also being used by many sportsmen,
such as Scotland rugby star Kenny Logan. It is thought to be particularly
helpful for sports involving hand-eye co-ordination such as football, rugby
and cricket, as it can dramatically improve players' awareness of the ball
as well as their awareness of other players on the pitch.
Mr Dore plans eventually to help big-business
executives improve their memory and motivational skills and is even researching
balance and memory problems in old people, including reducing the effects
of Alzheimer's disease.
For me, it has opened a prison door I thought
was locked for ever.
The revolutionary Dore Programme is the result
of Wynford Dore's desire to find a cure for his daughter Susie, who tried
to take her own life because of her dyslexia.
In devising the programme, the millionaire businessman
from Coventry followed his instinct that the root of the problem was physical,
rather than educational.
Inspired by a book about learning difficulties,
he hired an educational psychologist, a GP and flew in the book's author,
a New York psychiatrist, for the research - in his garage.
Technology that was first used by astronauts,
who suffer a form of temporary dyslexia in space, was used to develop the
Dore Programme of exercises.
Research is continuing and the University of Oxford
and University of London this year supported his conclusions.
In one study at Balsall Common School in Coventry,
the reading abilities of the 40 pupils who had the treatment improved by
300 per cent.
'My aim is for this to be available on the NHS
so we can tackle problems before they develop into a crisis like with my
daughter,' says Mr Dore
30th December 2005