THIS WAS RECORDED AT THE LAUNCH OF HER AUTOBIOGRAPHY "LIVING OUT LOUD"
HOST: I’m actually thrilled to have Toyah Willcox here. I don’t think she needs any introduction. And talking to her will be Craig Astley, he’s the editor of the official magazine and website. Without any further ado, please welcome Toyah!
TOYAH: Hi there everybody! This is Craig who runs my website, he’s got an introduction but I asked him to come along because he’s been a fan of mine since he was 4!
CRAIG: This evening we’re going to meet a woman who’s nothing sort of extraordinary. Her career encompasses virtually every form of media from acting in cult films to conquering the charts. As the hits dried up she moved into serious stage acting and has recently become a highly sought after TV presenter.
Her CV is one the longest in the business which is why you’ll find it hard to believe she struggled to find funding for drama school. One of my favourite parts of the book is when Toyah meets a discouraging schools careers advisor. This woman tends to put Toyah down, telling her she has no future in showbusiness. Toyah’s response to the woman: "My name is Toyah Willcox you may want to remember it!"
And afterthought, a line in the book: "I thought if I don’t fame acting, I’ll find it in through robbing banks. Preferably hers." Fortunately for Toyah, fortunately for us and Barclays, there was no need to resort to this, (laughter) she was soon a household name. Ladies and gentlemen, Toyah Willcox!
TOYAH: Thank you!
CRAIG: Now you have been asked to write the life story, Toyah Willcox?
TOYAH: Ooh I was very flattered. I mean there is nothing nicer than being asked to write your life story. I think it’s – partly it is silly to write your life story at 42 but if I didn’t write it last year I wouldn’t remember it. It would just go – the memory would go if I had to write it at 80. I was asked by Hoddres (the book's publicist) if I would write it and I was very very flattered and I sat down the following day and started writing the book.
And it came very very easily. Memories were appearing in my head that never had in the whole of my life. I suddenly remembered my mother changing my nappy and I remembered the size of the safety pin and I always believed that when you’re doing something creative when the time is right the creative juices flow.
And it kind of happened with this book. And saying that the first three months it flowed it flowed and then after that the next nine months it was like pulling teeth. Because I’ve never written anything so long before and you know that once you pick the pen up you’re slave to that pen, you can’t put it down. And it’s going to go on and on and on.
It will keep you awake you all night. It will posses you. So it actually became a very interesting process of possession. It took me a year to write, the first half of the book I wrote by hand coz I’m computer illiterate and I’ve since learned to use a computer and second half the book I dictated coz I had to finish it in ten days.
I did write all myself but I had an absolutely fantastic editor called Penny Phillips who works with Will Self. And Will Self was in my first ever audience at my first ever gig in a synagogue where everyone was so drunk that no-one was conscious including me and I was the wealthiest in the band. So there’s been a lot of nice things that tie in – just tell me to shut up when you get bored, all right. Erm, next question?
CRAIG: Did you find it hard to relive some of the more difficult periods in your life when you were writing the book?
TOYAH: I tell you what’s weird about writing your own memories: it’s trying to find happy memories. It’s so easy to write about the bad memories and to think people are going to read this and I want them to like me and I want them to feel sorry for me. So it’s actually – I spent more time digging out the happy memories and there were things that I don’t want my parents to know obviously which I don’t mind the rest of world knowing! (laughs)
But I didn’t want mum and dad to know I got arrested Xmas Eve in 1979 (laughter) and spent the whole of that night in the nick. I don’t know if that stayed in the book but my parents have since read the book and they’re very happy with it but they haven’t talked to me about any of the really gory moments like the huge fight I got into in Deptford High Street where I got arrested after breaking the boss of my record company’s ribs. By mistake. Coz I was so drunk I hit the wrong person. (laughter)
CRAIG: Saying all that - could you tell us something that hasn’t made it into the book that had to be cut out? And the reason?
TOYAH: A lot had to be cut out. I just wanted to see the head of God of Vain here … the book had had two hundreds re-writes because of the lawyers and they said it’s not a kiss and tell book, but it’s a very truthful book about the industry. And something happened to me in 1991 which I’m not allowed to name names to but basically it’s the old rock’n’roll story that you come back from a tour and find that every bank account is empty and you haven’t spent the money. And that to be dealt with very carefully so a lot of those stories came out.
And a lot of stories that I think you all know about when Jill Dando got shot, Jill and I shared an office and we were very close and I wrote a chapter dedicated to Jill and that had to come out because the trial starts this year of the suspected killer of Jill. And the stories that I had to tell leading up to the event of her death couldn’t be told because they said it would influence too heavily the trial. So it’s a sensitive book, it’s not a book that exploits other people.
But it’s a truthful book. And one nice thing that happened during the book and it’s to do with synchronicities. I hadn’t seen certain people for 20 years. One was a guy called Glen Marks who I was in a punk band with 20 years ago and I was turning on the Xmas lights is Whitstable last Xmas and a car, a big American Buick was driving me in an open top, I was in the back, it was an open top, driving me down the street trough the people to turn the switch on and a hand grabbed me and it was Glen Marks’ mother!
And she said "oh Glen sends his love" and I grabbed her and I said "give me a telephone number, I’ve just written Glen in this book an I want him to read it so he doesn’t sue me!" And these strange things have just happened! There is a school friend called Bina that I used to live with when I didn’t get on with my mum and I haven’t seen her for 20 years. She lives in Birmingham and five weeks, no, five months ago I was walking down Chiswick High Street and she came out of her house! And I’d written about her that morning! So lovely synchronicities which makes you think that this has to be right in many ways.
CRAIG: Was there any point in the book where you were tempted to travel up into fiction, wanted to re-write the story of Toyah’s life story?
TOYAH: No, bollocks, no! (laughter) It’s was too good! No, I mean I really tried to remember dialogue as much as possible, definitely. And there’s no point in going into things of fiction. I do think memories are elective though, and you do - obviously I’m remembering everything from my point of view but in certain cases because I wanted to be truthful about my mother and my relationship with my mother which was far from perfect I tried to write from her angle as well as mine.
Because of the huge generation gap. And we had a very violent relationship together. I was the violent person. And I didn’t want her to kind of suffer by the book and I hope I represented her very well. Coz she really was a wonderful woman with a child from hell.
CRAIG: Do you see writing as a new phase in your career? Do you wish to continue?
TOYAH: I am writing. Hodder have very generously shown interest in a fictional idea, so I’m writing all the time, I’m writing for newspapers and I’d like to see my English teachers face because I failed my O-level in English and I am dyslexic so it’s a lovely irony.
CRAIG: Many amazing people in your career from film greats, music producers. Is there anyone one person who’s influenced you, a known celebrity who’s given you inspiration and courage?
TOYAH: Derek Jarman, the film maker Derek Jarman I just love to death because he had no compromise. We went hungry when we made Jubilee (above). Jubilee was a punk film made in 1977 and it was made for something like £300 000 pounds. And to make a feature film even 20 years ago for that amount money was pretty difficult and Derek literally had nothing to eat halfway through the film, he completely run our of money. There was nothing in the coffers and he just refused to sell out and have any form of advertising or any form of sponsorship.
Everything offered to him might have diluted the message of the film he turned down. So his spirit I feel very fond of. He was a great man. And then Katherine Hepburn. Coz Katherine Hepburn just fell in love with me the first time I met her and I say that modestly because she actually admitted she did. I had to go and do an audition with 2000 other hopefuls for an American film called "The Corn Is Green" by Emlyn Williams.
And I had bright pink hair at the time and this is a period film. And my agent said "don’t turn up with your red hair." So I borrowed a wig from the National Theatre and I turned up at Eaton Square where George Cukor, the film director let me in and he introduced me to Katherine Hepburn. And apparently she saw my eyes and said to herself: "this is the girl."
So the next day I go along knowing I got the part, I get the big phone call saying I got the part. I thought sod it, I’m not going to wear a wig, I’ll just go with my red hair. And I walk in and George Cukor said would I like to take my hat off (laughter) and my hair was quite short back then and it was – it looked like feathers. And his face went ashen as to think "oh what have done, this is absolutely terrible!"
And he brought into see Katherine and he said "Katherine this girl has red hair" and she just grabbed me and in three hours we read through the play and she just had her fingers in my hair the whole of the reading. And she said (does a mock American accent) "oh Toyah if I could’ve done that in "Holiday", it would’ve just been wonderful! (laughter) She’s was just great! And when we were filming at Wembley, finishing off the film, my car would take me in at seven in the morning to have make-up done and we’d overtake her on her bicycle and she was cycling from John’s (?) Square.
And that was to Wembley. And she would’ve been about late 60’s then. Perhaps a little older. And she had Parkinson’s disease. So she was remarkable. And because she shook you always thought what is she going to be like on camera but on camera she could control the shaking. And then after that as soon he’d shout cut she’d go back into the typical Parkinson’s kind of characteristic physical behaviour. She was great.
CRAIG: (a child is screaming in the audience, inaudible) - ... Got involved in Band Aid and Live Aid. If you had been, your musical career would’ve taken a different turn?
TOYAH: No, I don’t think so. It was a management decision at the time of Live Aid, I would’ve happily done it. I asked my managers if I could do the recording at Abbey Road and they said "no, we don’t want you involved with charity work." I mean that is the sign of 80’s, as well.
They just felt I should only be seen doing premium work and that was very damaging and I don’t think I could’ve done anything to got out of the cycle of destruction that caused all my career because I was working with the wrong attitudes and it took about ten years to get out of those bad habits.
CRAIG: So do you see yourself specialising in TV now or does "the whole world taste good" which is a quote from the book, still apply?
TOYAH: How do I see myself? I think I’ll be starring along side Brad Pitt, doing a love scene next year! (laughter) I haven’t got a clue how I see myself. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to just always be ready, always be trained up, always be capable and just see what happens. And the thing is when you make plans those plans really get in the way of the future reaching out to grab you.
And I think I now believe the future kind of reaches back and pulls people into the future. And if you plan too far ahead there may be special things in life, those wonderful accidents that lead you into completely surprising new areas of life, just cannot happen.
I know what I’d like to do. I’d to do more TV film and TV acting and I would like to do selective singing but I can’t force it. The creative space has to be right. And what I mean by that: the creative space with the book was right and I hope I don’t have to write another one ill I’m 80 and my brittle my brain is still working. So I’m trusting the creative process more now and my instincts rather than forcing things to happen.
CRAIG: Can we take some questions from the audience now, please? Anyone?
MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE: (inaudible) ... On your website that you might be forming a band to go on tour? Where and when will it be?
TOYAH: Well, we’re in talks at the moment to put the original band together. That’s Joel Bogen, hopefully Phil Spalding, Nigel Glockler sadly doesn’t play drums anymore, he’s damaged his elbows to badly to play. But who knows, by March next year he might be able to do. We’re hoping Adrian Lee will be well enough to play, I think he has ME. And if not, Keith Hale is going to be the keyboard player, who wrote "It’s A Mystery" and myself. And we’re looking at March next year.
MOTA: A national tour?
TOYAH: We’re looking to do a national tour and we’re looking to do some recording.
MOTA: Are you coming to Ireland?
TOYAH: Are we coming to Ireland? Of course! (laughter) What part of Ireland, where are you from? Belfast, oh definitely! I mean it’s a question of who ever want us and whoever thinks that a 42 year old woman can still rock! (laughter) I know I can rock, but …
MOTA: Any ideas on the venues?
TOYAH: At the moment we’re looking at large theatre venues but we’re trying to angle it into a different direction. That’s why it didn’t happen this year. We’re looking at something slightly bigger. We did ask Adam Ant to come out as a double package but Adam has happily settled in America and is doing production work and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to come out on the road again.
So might ask Hazel, Hazel O’Connor (below with Toyah in 1982). Who I saw last week. Who is now working in a completely different musical area. She now works with a harp player and an African percussionist but that possibility is still there. Any more questions? (to a member of the audience) Hello!
MOTA: When you say recordings – new recordings?
TOYAH: New recordings, yeah. The band is actually, well Keith and few new band members are actually in the studio now doing some (inaudible). So hopefully … (to a member of the audience) Hello!
MOTA: Hi, I’m from Botswana and I just wanted to try and confirm something for myself coz where I’m from there is a family who live there and throughout my life, 20 years I’ve been friend of theirs and throughout my life they’ve been bragging to me about being related to Toyah Willcox … and I just wanted to know if it’s true? Combes is their surname. (laughter)
TOYAH: Are the Combes family in Botswana related to me? (laughter)
MOTA: They come from the Pygmy area (?) -
TOYAH: Sorry they … ?
MOTA: They come from the Pygmy area (?) in Botswana
TOYAH: Er, do you know I really can’t answer that! (laughter) My father was on a war ship that went kind of all over Africa and the Med and around as a conference in World War Two. I don’t know what he got up to ... (laughter) But I mean who knows! I wouldn’t even know how to trace that!
MOTA: Separately, we don’t see many famous people there, I just wanted to know at the end of this would it be possible to have a photograph taken with you to take back to my family?
TOYAH: Of course. Anyone who wants a photograph with me, just get your 50 p’s ready (laughter) And as long as I can visit you in Botswana for two weeks for free!
MOTA: More than welcome!
TOYAH: OK. It’s a deal, OK! Anyone else? Hi!
MOTA: (inaudible) …double bill with Adam Ant?
TOYAH: It wasn’t that this guy is saying that’s he’s surprised to hear that I’d do a double bill with Adam Ant. Adam and I got on very very well in Jubilee. I mean Adam helped me write "Nine To Five". I formed a band with Adam’s wife called the Maneaters and my ego was completely out of control and the band was slowly becoming an exclusively a Toyah project and Adam said I had to get out of the band so I hit Adam. But things like that are forgiven. When you’re young you tend to hit people (laughter ) I don’t do it anymore. I’d work with him, I think it would be a fantastic bill. I’d love it. Anyone else? Hi!
MOTA: You’re famously rode through Liberty's (department store in London, below) on a horse, then shopping. If you were to ride through any shop on a horse now, which shop would it be?
TOYAH: If I was ride on horse through any shop now it would have to be Borders (laughter) Either that or Thortons chocolate shop with a huge butterfly net!
CRAIG: Is there any more questions?
MOTA: The Minx album, doesn’t get much mention. How do you feel about that period?
CRAIG: (To Toyah) How do you feel about Minx?
TOYAH: The Minx album. I don’t know, I kind of enjoyed making the Minx.
MOTA: It doesn’t feature in any compilations?
TOYAH: Well, the Minx was owned by CBS and they put it on the Portrait label so that label is actually deleted so it might mean the product is deleted. And frustratingly artists don’t get that much control over back catalogue and as happens in kind of old musical war a lot of stuff is signed away. But I’m just getting ownership back of "Ophelia’s Shadow", "Prostitute" ... (asks Craig) You know what else? You know more than I do.
CRAIG: "Desire" –
TOYAH: Desire and I mean who knows maybe one day I’ll be able to get them back, the laws are changing that allow writers to own their own material. It’s one of those weird things in the music business, the last person to own the rights of their material is the actual creator. Why do you ask? Did you like the Minx?
MOTA: Yeah, I did actually. Just didn’t know much about it.
TOYAH: Oh good, good.
CRAIG: (To a member of the audience) Have you got a question?
MOTA: Yeah, what about the, it’s same question, The Blue Meaning? Is that likely to come out on CD? Coz it was (inaudible)
TOYAH: Is it? It was on – right, The Blue Meaning, the second album I made. OK. Apparently, rumour has it that people are walking into record shops asking for my products. That hasn’t happened for about 15 years. And it’s lovely. I mean it’s really good news, I mean careers are cyclical and it seems there is a new audience out there as well as a lovely dedicated audience who are here tonight.
So it’s very highly likely that through demand and change of technology that yes, things will be available again. And obviously if I make the effort to go on the road then there’s a market. So I’ve just got to pull my finger out, get those vocal chords going. You’re not suppose to agree! (laughter) (looking for the next question) Hello at the back!
MOTA: When is the new album?
TOYAH: When is the new album? (laughs) Well, if the band are on the road in March hopefully there’ll be something happening. I’d like to start off with the EP format again. Because I just felt that was so uniquely Toyah at the time coz we were doing EP’s and I might just look at a special format, a new introduction format if we are going to be doing regular gigging. (to a member of the audience) Hi!
MOTA: Are you going to do innovative stuff like "Prostitute" or are you just going to go back to 80’s throwbacks -
TOYAH: OK, am I going to do innovative stuff like "Prostitute?" There’s a huge audience for the 80’s throwback stuff and I’m not going to deny them that. But on a more personal level with the internet developing the way it is, where one could quite privately and exclusively release that on the internet alone - I would do more innovative stuff like Prostitute. Because I wouldn’t have to worry about serving the commercial market.
But also that innovative stuff can be very self-indulgent and I don’t want to get back into that 80’s self-indulgence that I know I experienced and I know I expressed. So if I do do it I want it to be the right place at the right time. Anyone else? Right at the back, you’re going to have to shout!
MOTA: You’ve already covered this and I apologise. How did you meet Derek Jarman and get involved in Jubilee?
TOYAH: OK, how did I meet Derek Jarman and get involved with Jubilee? I was in the National Theatre in a play called "Tales From The Vienna Woods" (below) and there was an actor called Ian Charleson there who went on to star in "The Chariots Of Fire." Ian thought that I was someone that Derek, a friend of his, should meet and he took me to tea on Tregunter Road in Fulham at Derek’s flat.
And Derek was a lovely man, he invited me in, made me a huge mug of coffee and sat me down and there was a script under the sofa and I think it was called "The Queen Is Dead." And Derek picked this up and said "it’s a punk movie and don’t know what we’re going to call it. But it’s fun, it anarchic" and he threw it on my lap and he said "pick any part you want."
And this is man who’d never met me, never seen me act and knew nothing about me. So I picked Mad because she had the most lines in the film. (laughter) And Derek then said "of all the characters if any have to be cut because of lack of money, it’s going to be Mad. Because she is superficial, she doesn’t serve a purpose" and I said "how wonderfully anarchic, I still want it."
And about a month later he did have to cut Mad from the film and I was so upset because this would’ve been my first feature film but Derek gave up his fee on the film so I could play Mad. And that fee was a meagre £300 so can you imagine a director kind of living off that? I mean I could live of it, I was an artist. I was being fed everyday, I mean it didn’t matter. So that’s how I met Derek.
MOTA: Did you get paid?
MOTA: You got the £300?
TOYAH: I got the £300 which would’ve been Derek’s kind of living money. And after that Derek became like a surrogate father because he knew what it was like to go hungry and so did I. And we used to meet every Saturday. I’d get the number 27 bus from Finsbury Park to (inaudible) and we would eat soup together. Soup that he made out of the carcasses of the chicken he had that week. It was such a nice thing to do though. Enjoy our poverty together! (laughter)
MOTA: It was good soup?
TOYAH: It was good soup, he was a good cook.
MOTA: That’s the way to do it!
TOYAH: Yeah, that’s the way to do it. Anyone else?
MOTA: (inaudible) … You were kicked out of acting school? For damaging the building?
TOYAH: No no no, it’s in the book, darling, it’s in the book. Was I kicked out of acting school for doing damage to some building? I was actually at the National Theatre and really did pot around a lot, I was a very high spirited person and there was some wheelchairs backstage in the corridors and a girlfriend and myself discovered you could have a backwards wheelchair race.
And I wheeled myself into John Gieldgood’s private parts. But I didn’t get chucked out of anywhere. John was actually brilliant about it. He kind of laughed and he did call me The Animal. I was known as "The Animal" in the National Theatre.
MOTA: How high pitch was the laugh?
TOYAH: It was a high pitch laugh, yes. (laughs) (to another member of the audience) You were going to ask something?
CRAIG: Can we make this the last question?
MOTA: I wanted to ask, the Mayhem studios, it was a squat wasn’t it?
TOYAH: Mayhem studios in Battersea wasn’t a squat, it was an ex British railways store house which I paid rent on. Yeah.
MOTA: I wanted to ask (inaudible), did you have to break in?
TOYAH: How I cracked having a squat? Oh no no no, didn’t have to break in or anything, they were giving it away, it was peanuts. And we did it up and turned it into a business. So is that it? Have I got to shut up now? (laughter) Craig still looks four years old doesn’t he? (laughter) Tell us about your first gig Craig?
CRAIG: First gig? City Hall, Newcastle, 1993. I met you when I was four years old.
TOYAH: Can you remember it?
CRAIG: Yes, coz you couldn’t find a pen (laughter)
TOYAH: Oh, those first impressions are always everlasting -
TOYAH: And were you singing along to everything?
CRAIG: I was so small I actually had to have cotton wool put in my ears because the support band was so loud, I probably would’ve had damaged ears for the rest of my life.
TOYAH: I had to say this about Craig, I went to a private memorial service of a friend of mine three months ago which only I knew about and Craig managed to put on the website. I mean he knows things about me that I don’t know! How do you do it? Is there a webcam in my house or something?
CRAIG: Yeah, secretly installed (Toyah laughs)
TOYAH: OK, well look, we’re going to do some singing now and thank you to everyone who’s come along, it’s been great to see you all, it’s lovely. So how do we do this, do people just queue up? (gets up) Thanks everybody!