Toyah Toyah

Now I know you'll find this hard to believe but once upon a time, well a couple of years ago actually, Toyah Willcox - yes Toyah the actress, movie queen and pop singer who's just had a whole range of makeup named after her - was so fat and grim that she bore more resemblance to the back end of a 49 bus than a number one star. 

"Oh God, I was unbelievably big," she now laughs at the memory, "people used to go urgh! What's that that blob? I think the worst time to become fat is when you first become conscious of boys and you suddenly realise how grotesque you are. I was enormous at the time of the making of the film Jubilee and that's really when it hit home. I felt like a nice intelligent 18 year old and looked like a 30 year old fatso." 

Toyah's answer to that problem, undertaken in her characteristically determined way was a strict diet which, apart from occasional festive lapses, she still sticks to. And although she put on half a stone over the christmas holidays (she reckons she'll soon jog that off), you can see how it's worked. From her flame coloured barnet to her black leather boots, 23 year old Toyah is looking every inch the star. But it's not only her career fortunes that have changed. OK, now there's the constant chatting up and the on stage gropers to contend with, but there's a pretty good chance that she'll marry Tom, her former body guard, before the end of the year. 

"But if I do," she confides, "I'm going to keep it completely secret for the sake of my other half and his family. It can be very hard to cope with all that publicity." 

Not that publicity seems to worry Toyah herself. The girl who first came into the public eye in the punk film Jubilee and the Who's mod romp, Quadrophenia has plans for 1982 which she hopes means the light of fame will be shining on her for a good while yet. She's about to start work on the follow up to the Anthem LP which is scheduled for a release in May (a single should be out sometime in April), there's also weekly Kenny Everett type appearances in Dear Heart, BBC2's forthcoming teenage version of Not The Nine O'Clock News and, just as soon as they get the local council to agree, an open air Toyah spectacular booked for the summer. 

On top of all this, the five foot bundle of energy has agreed to star in three full length films - a rock horror musical, a spoof on her own life and a detective story. 

"The most definite ones are the horror story and the spoof on my life," she tells me with a toss of her magnificent mane, "the detective story is more pie in the sky. We've got the finance for the spoof movie and we know the people who want to shoot it. I'll be writing it myself with some others. The reason it's going to be a spoof is I really think I've got a lot of life left in me yet so I don't want to do a book or a film on my life. I won't even be called Toyah in it, I'll be called Vulcan. It's really about aliens planting something on this earth to rip record companies off. It's just total comedy and has some really obscure humour." 

"The reason that the movie came up," she continues, "is because the horror movie is going to be X rated and the majority of Toyah fans are very young. The horror movie is about a singer who goes round murdering journalists and management, just the type of people you want to murder in this business. Originally we were going to do it in the East End of London, but then we realised the market for the movie would be Japan and America, so we thought we'd better shoot it in New York." 

This lady's a sharp operator. And that's the key to her success really. No matter what detractors - and there are plenty of them - say about Toyah's artistic merits she's got faith in her capacity and sound business principles to back it up. "I plan to take the money I'm making from the make-up side of my career and channel it into video," she says very definitely in her cockney brum manner, "I intend buying a cinema one day to make into a video station." 

This seemingly naked ambition puts a lot of people off the obviously hard headed lady, but for Toyah these dreams are not part of any world domination scheme but a bid for control over her own life. "These are just little ideas really," she explains, "but I've got to be financially well off to do it. I want to be independent when it comes to money. I really hate having to crawl up someone's backside to make something. I'm one of those people who has to create ideas on the spur of the moment or it goes stale. I'm only business minded in that I don't trust a soul, not even my manager. I won't sign for something unless I approve of it. The reason I'm like this is to survive, having been ripped off early in my career. So rather than lean on anybody with my trust I just do everything myself. If a mistake is made I've only got myself to blame." 

In a tough business in an even tougher world, Toyah knows what she's doing and has got a pretty clear idea of where she's going. Fiercely defensive of her musical and artistic integrity while accepting that the band are better live than on record, she still finds it hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for her success, and certainly doesn't see herself as some special gift from the Gods.

"When I'm performing live I see myself more as the Roman Gladiator who is very strong and very powerful but can't walk out of the arena. He's got to fight his way out," she asserts, "I'm there not only to entertain 3000 people, but to prove to 3000 people who I am. I start off on tours which are only a month long at the moment, and I stop eating and sleeping for a month, I slowly grow old and run down within the space of those four weeks. So it's very important for me to go out and prove myself, especially being female, and I do think my band area very good live band, but I still dread touring because you cannot go out and fail, when you go on you've got to be good." 

"My energy comes from anger and before I go out on stage I wind myself up so much that not even the band will come near me...I just make myself feel really insignificant...I feel a total, feeble old bag but I just go on stage and go Bleah," she waves her arms dramatically round the room, fingers scratching like witches claws, " and explode...I perform because I'm desperate just like those kids out there. A lot of kids come to see me because they think I can answer some of their teenage problems 'cause I sometimes show that desperation that we all go through in our teens. I try to get the kids to exhaust themselves so they'll go home and feel all the tension's gone." 

"The only time I lose my cool on stage is when you get the occasional teenage boy who really doesn't know why he's there, whether he's come to watch a sex object or hear a singer, and he tries to grope you in the rudest places. I just bash him over the head with the microphone stand," she concludes calmly. 

"I'm one of those people who likes to go ghost hunting," she says and I suddenly notice the eyeball ring she's wearing on her finger and recall her earlier spooky themes, "I like to be frightened by myself. My favourite haunt used to be Highgate Cemetery. I used to go there just after the last satanist attack when they dug up the old part of the cemetery and hung skeletons everywhere and they were spearing squirrels to the trees." 

Toyah's music is less chilling now but the taunts that her singing is an unfeeling squeal continue; taunts that she maybe able to act but she's a lousy singer and always will be. Naturally she defends herself to the hilt, but confides that she wishes she had more time to devote to the acting side of her career, playing everything from TV's Shoestring to Stratford's immortal Bard. "I'd really like to be acting in lots of little plays everywhere," she says, "especially on television, rather tan having to do one big movie and make a spectacular event." 

Critics apart, Toyah creates a tremendous rapport with her audience and commands tremendous loyalty and affection from her fans who see her more as a friend than just another pop star. "On Christmas Eve we drove up to Birmingham and I had this enormous box of fan mail," she recalls, "I couldn't sleep that night so I went through it all. It's incredible what they buy you. I don't know where they get the money from. Someone had made a bronze statue of me. And a lot of kids buy me crosses like the one I wear on stage or they make themselves. I keep all the things and nail them to the wall in case I ever meet them after the show." 

Toyah Willcox puts two time limits on her career, one when she's feeling down which says that the good times are already over, and the confident estimate which sees her carrying on to about 40. All the same, she says the familiarly fiery waif Toyah the red haired terror will last another five years before a new incarnation takes over." 

"I'm becoming more robust in everything I do," she declares. Today is obviously a good day. "It's not confidence through success, It's learning to grow up." 

And there you have it my friends. The secrets to the Toyah success story. Times have changed from when the dumpy Midland's girl used to frighten the wildlife for miles around. Toyah not only no longer looks like a 49 bus anymore, she's got the satisfaction of knowing she doesn't have to ride the bloody thing either!"

Star Shots Magazine, 1982