KEITH: She’s a belter. She fronted a band called Toyah and she’s coming into town to do a bit of pantomime this Christmas. Hello!

TOYAH: (on the phone) Hi! How are you doing?

KEITH: I’m alright. Well ... I’ve got man flu!

TOYAH: Aah! I’ve had woman flu ever since I was vaccinated against swine flu! (Keith laughs) I had my injection and immediately got flu!

KEITH: Oh dear! Don’t they say that happens though?

TOYAH: They didn’t tell me because I’d do anything not to have this because I sing every day and it’s not easy singing!

KEITH: Not really good, is it?

I’m looking forward to it going, it’s been six weeks now!

KEITH: Crikey!


KEITH: We’ll about about "Sleeping Beauty" in a sec –


KEITH: But obviously you’re a Midlands girl and Birmingham is where your heart is?

I only live 30 miles out of Birmingham and I go there at least one day a month. I like to take my husband and my mother to have ice cream in a very big department store (Keith laughs) at The Bullring and we have a whale of a time!

KEITH: Yes! Which school did you go to?

The school I went to isn’t there anymore – it’s still a school but it’s a different name. It was called Edgbaston Church Of England College

KEITH: Right, OK. And when you went to school, Toyah, did you want to be an actress then or something different?

I wanted to act and sing ever since I was about 7 years old. My mum took me to the Gaumont (cinema), I think it’s at the end of Corporation Street in Birmingham – she took me there 7 times to see "The Sound Of Music"

In those days the film would be at the cinema for about 6 weeks up to 6 months! And that was it. That kind of confirmed it for me that I wanted to act and sing

KEITH: So you’ve got Julie Andrews to thank!

I certainly have!

KEITH: You started at the Old Rep (a Birmingham theatre)?

Yeah, I went to the Old Rep Theatre School

KEITH: How did you get into that? Is it like a normal school – you just have to apply?

You apply but I was voted in because a non-blood relative uncle Jack Johnson, who is the head of BBC Pebble Mill, voted me in. He actually said to my parents when I was very young that that’s what they should do with me. That I was very creative and I’d be better off in a drama school than a normal school where you learn the three R’s (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic). Because I was dyslexic I just never fitted into that system. He could see that I was a total natural when it came to performing so he nominated me into the school

KEITH: And you were one of the first punks around, weren’t you?

TOYAH: Yes. Well, I thought I was the first punk. I started dying my hair and wearing clothes that I’d made that were totally outlandish around 1973-74. But I went to see a band called The Sex Pistols at Bogart’s in Birmingham around '74-75 and they were 300 other punks there so I suddenly thought wow! I’m not alone!

KEITH: Wow! Well, you were given with the title "Princess Of Punk" –


KEITH: What did that mean to you at the time?

You have to have titles for people to know who you are. I don’t really think I was a "Princess Of Punk", but punk certainly put me on the ladder to success and fame and I’m very grateful to it. It was truly an event and a kind of thing that was going around that was acceptable of everyone

But the thing is, I’m a middle class public school girl, which really doesn’t go hand in hand with punk rock. So the true punks have always felt that I never was a real punk because poverty wasn’t actually part of my upbringing. S although I’m called the "Princess Of Punk", it’s a slightly cosmetic name

KEITH: And what are your thoughts, if you like, on the fight against the establishment?

Oh, I like that!

KEITH: You like that?

TOYAH: The thing about punk – it made the fight against the establishment almost an velvet revolution. Punk was not aggressive, it wasn't bigoted. It was completely honest and completely transparent

I think in life we need that at every age we go through and every age group needs it. You’ve got punk to thank for that so I actually think it’s an incredible movement. And it’s still around today, it’s still very relevant to new generations

But I think here I am, at 52, and I want the choice as to whether I work or whether I retire. I choose to work and I’m really not at all enamoured at ageism that I come across so definitely I’ll fight against any institution that says I can’t work!

KEITH: Good for you!

SONG: I Want To Be Free

KEITH: The music of the Toyah era is going through a bit of a resurgent?

If someone had said to me 20 years ago I’d be playing arenas and stadiums and theatres and clubs again – all in the same week – I would’ve not believed it. But it’s been a fabulous decade!

KEITH: You’ve done a fair chunk of telly as well, haven’t you?

Well, yeah, I do telly all the time! I’ve got about 4 booked this week. I do a lot of presenting, mainly for the satellite channels. But I do occasionally work on the BBC and Channel Five

I’ve just done a drama documentary for ITV's Living TV called “Gayle Tuesday The Comeback”, which was great fun. It was me, Harry Hill and quite a few other great names. So I’m very lucky – I have a very varied career

KEITH: How did you first get into telly and were you nervous sat in front of the camera?

Very first time I sat in front of the camera was "ITV Today", the six o’clock regional news programme. I was a hair model for a store in Birmingham and they had me on because my hairdresser, who was a Birmingham boy, was exhibiting my haircut in a hair competition. That was around 1972 - could’ve been '74. I was terrified! Really scared. I loved it!

KEITH: (laughs) "The Good Sex Guide?" You were up for that as well, weren’t you?

TOYAH: Yeah, I presented that in '94

KEITH: How did that come over? How do you feel about that? Because obviously sex is like a dodgy subject? How far do you go? How much do you talk about it etc? How did you feel about presenting that?

TOYAH: In '94 you didn’t have the internet so it was even more taboo. I got the job because no one else wanted it! (Keith laughs) I think they’d done rounds of all the established presenters and at the time I was presenting "Holiday" for the BBC. I was doing "Songs Of Praise" and I was about to start the "Heaven And Earth Show" so I had a really broad spectrum of what I was presenting and it was hugely respectable

I think it was very brave of them to come to me and they’d been around everyone slightly younger than me including people like Davina McCall and Dani Behr and I just said yeah, I’ll do it! I was a little nervous because I didn’t want people to associate me with promiscuous sex. I married and I’ve been married for 25 years and I’m no swinger in this town!

I was bit nervous about it but it was fabulous! It was good fun and everyone I met was fantastic! All they wanted was advice and openness about a subject matter that’s kept us on this planet for billions of years! So it was a lovely experience

KEITH: We get it every year and you were part of it – the "Get Me Out Of Here"– the celebrities? ("I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here" on ITV, below)

Oh! I don’t watch lots of telly but I watched last night! Oh! It’s so good! (Keith laughs) It reminded me when I went into the jungle. We were taken in two helicopters and the pilots are phenomenal! They fly virtually tip to tip. I can remember saying to Phil Tuffnel, who I was in the helicopter with, "we’ve got to ask them to further apart!". I was really scared! I thought we were going to crash! And Phil was going "please can you not fly so close to the other helicopter?"

It’s astonishing that talent of the helicopter pilots and watching it last night I thought this is magnificent! It reminded me of the really enjoyable aspects of doing it. It was high technology – otherwise it was a pretty miserable experience! (Keith laughs)

They keep you hungry, they try to make you fall out and distrust everyone around you. And you’re cold! It’s not warm out there. So you’re cold and wet most of the time. But boy! I think it’s a programme that gets it right! It is a massive opportunity

KEITH: Would you do it again?

Yeah, I think I would because when I went in, not everyone got to do those really outrageous trials. I was in the second series and the top three that were left behind ever got to eat anything. But they’ve started to put everyone in the trials now from day one. I would definitely go back in because I want that challenge

SONG: Brilliant Day

KEITH: What about your recent walk to Beijing?

That was to raise money for Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer hospital in Australia. I did it with Olivia and Dannii Minogue. We were flown to Beijing and we had five flights across the two weeks. We started in Beijing at the Great Wall an we ended up in Mongolia. Obviously it’s a very long wall, thousands of miles so we had to take 5 domestic flights to drop us off at certain parts along the wall

KEITH: Crikey!

TOYAH: It was astonishing. When we were in Mongolia there was an incident where we were all on a bus and we were all white people on a bus, being dropped off in the Gobi desert where the wall starts. It’s still the original wall, it’s all mud and straw. A bus passed us at a check point in the middle of nowhere, middle of the desert

Why there was a check point there I don’t know and in the bus was Mongolian laborers. They’d never seen a white person before. It was one of the most magical moments because you just thought they were looking at aliens!

KEITH: Really?

They just clued to the window of their bus and were laughing their heads off and we asked our translator why they were laughing and he said “Mongolians find you ugly!” (Keith laughs) It was lovely! We were waving at them and talking to them. Oh, we had such a lovely time! I thought they were utterly beautiful. But they said they found us ugly! (both laugh)

KEITH: Fantastic! You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

Oh, it was great! They were laughing but they were friendly. They weren’t insulting us or anything like that. I wanted to spend the whole day with them, it was just magical!

KEITH: Before we get onto the panto, which is coming to Malvern, I’ve got to ask you about your ghosts in your house? We do ghost hunts and recently spent the whole night in Shrewsbury in the Prince Rubert hotel. I actually saw ghost

Did you manage to photograph it?

KEITH: No, I didn’t. It was there for about 4 seconds and that was it

TOYAH: I’ve actually got a photo of a ghost next to me

KEITH: Really?!

Which someone in my band took. He was there as a sceptic, on a ghost hunt and it was a digital camera and when it came out there was a lady in purple standing next to me and that just convinced him. With my house it’s been very quiet for a while but yesterday we had something very eventful happen which we just can’t explain. It’s to do with a pairs of shoes in our scullery which are outdoor shoes

I never undo the laces, I just slip my feet into them and go out into the mud. Well, yesterday they’d all been moved, the laces were undone and the laces had been pulled length ways each side of the shoe in straight lines. I said to my husband "I know I’m getting old and I know I’m forgetful but I did not do that!" And then we found bottles of wine had been completely rearranged. So every now and then we have something that’s eventful but it hasn’t been like that for a while but it started up again last night

KEITH: Wow! Fantastic. I’ve seen the TV programme when the team came into your house ("Living With The Dead") and found it ever so interesting. Like I said, we do a regular ghost hunt on this show and I thought I’d just ask you about that

I love it, it doesn’t spook me at all. The house I live in is absolutely beautiful. I love being here, I’m alone virtually all of the time in it so it doesn’t frighten me when something happens. It just doesn’t frighten me. But we’ve got one house down the road which has been sold quite a few times and everyone who lives here knows it’s too haunted to live in! (Keith laughs) Whenever we walk past you can actually see the particular haunting

Everyone in my town has seen it. It’s a woman who died here in the 1950s. She was a publican, she was an alcoholic and she died in a upstairs loo. You can see the windows on the High Street. We go for a nice mile long walk every evening and every evening you can see it! It’s always a topic of conversation "did you catch it in the window last night! Yes!" This house is always up for sale, no one can stay there!

KEITH: Fantastic! We set up all the equipment in the Prince Rupert hotel and there is one room where a woman hung herself because there was a bit of a, let me say, marriages and mistresses going on etc. People used to fall out. This woman killed herself hundred years ago by hanging from a rafter

TOYAH: Oh, that’s sad

KEITH: This bedroom - you open the door and you go down four steps, double bed in front of you against the wall. The room is actually shaped because it’s in the roof, so you have to sort of lean to one side. And in the roof there is cutout with a window and in this cutout there is a table and a couple of chairs

We set up all the gear in there and the room was sort of semidark. One of the guys lay across the double bed, then the two guys sat either side of me. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and I was tired’ish and we were having a conversation. All of a sudden I opened my eyes and there was this woman on the side of the bed, with her elbows on the bed and it was looking at me!


KEITH: She looked like Demi Moore when she was younger. She had a flowery puffed up skirt on with puffy shoulders and she had a bonnet with lace on it. She looked at me and then I rubbed my eyes again and she was still there! Then she sort of dissolved. The reason I noticed her was because she was in front of my mate who was on the bed. I could only see his head and his legs, not his torso because she was there!

Yeah, they fade, don’t they?

KEITH: Yeah, they fade. She was there for about four seconds and he was talking to me and I went "shut up a minute! I’ve seen a woman lying in front of you!" What a fantastic experience that was!

TOYAH: Well, I’m glad you’ve seen it!

KEITH: I’m looking to see another one!

It is life changing, isn’t it?

KEITH: Absolutely!

SONG: Thunder In The Mountains

KEITH: You’re coming to Malvern, doing "Sleeping Beauty"

You’ve frightened all the kids away now!

KEITH: (laughs) Oh noooo, I haven’t! Have you done pantomime before?

TOYAH: Gosh, this is about my 18th I think! (above, Toyah and Jack Ryder in "Sleeping Beauty" at Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 2004)

KEITH: Oh, I see. Was is it about pantomime that is so magical?

For me I love the history of pantomime. I could go on forever about this but it basically started when Shakespeare wrote "Midsummer Night’s Dream" and "Comedy Of Errors" to perform to the royals after their weeding feasts. Then around 19 … I haven’t got the hat on when "Peter Pan" was written but when J.M Barrie translated "Peter Pan" to go on stage the first performance ran for five hours because the scene changes took so long. So he put magicians, jugglers and entertainers in the scene changes and that was how pantomime evolved

It’s now far slicker and I think it’s gone through a revolution in the last ten years where we’ve gone back to storytelling rather than selling products and having stars selling their latest hit singles on it. It’s now about the power of storytelling. I love it for that. I love the tradition of it but also as a performer I look out and I see three generations of one family and it really is very nice for them to trust in me as a performer and to be there

I just love it. It’s exceptional and it’s a very special part of people’s Christmasses and it’s a special part of mine as well. So I started doing panto around '93 and I’ve only had one or two years off in that period so I’ve done it every year

KEITH: Excellent! And "Sleeping Beauty" is a great story?

TOYAH: Yeah, it’s fabulous. It’s very much a little girl’s story. As in all pantomime good wins over evil. I’m playing the "Wicked Fairy" and I always find the evil character –

KEITH: Have you got an evil laugh? A wicked laugh?

TOYAH: Ooh, you bet. I will have a wicked laugh, definitely. Don’t ask me to do it now, I’ll just cough! Yeah, I do have a big evil laugh

KEITH: Hehe! I like that! "Sleeping Beauty" 16th December to the 9th January at the Festival Theatre in Malvern. I can’t let you go without giving your gigs a mention as well –

TOYAH: Oh, thank you!

KEITH: Because you’re working hard, touring. 2nd of March The Cavern Club, Liverpool. 20th August, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire and 23 October Jack Rabbit Slims in the Wirral

TOYAH: Keep an eye on my website toyahwillcox.com because I think 40 dates have come in since you’ve looked at my diary! It’s a very full year because it’s the 30th anniversary of an album I had called “Anthem”. So we start gigging February onwards

KEITH: So you’ll be doing “It’s A Mystery” and all that?

Oh yeah. Birmingham Music Heritage have just booked me to play in Birmingham but I can’t say too much about that, I want them to announce that but that’s in May

KEITH: Fantastic

TOYAH: Well, actually it might all not be up on the website because we’re sitting on it till the New Year but I’ve got a very busy gig year next year which is fabulous

KEITH: Can we talk you again half way through next year and see how it’s going and –

TOYAH: Oh yeah, please!

KEITH: Then we can publicise a bit more and see if you’ve been spooked by any more ghosties?

TOYAH: Absolutely!

KEITH: Good luck with the pantomime, good luck with the gigs in the new year and send my regards to Robert (Toyah’s husband)

TOYAH: I will, thank you very much!

KEITH: Toyah Willcox, thank you!

TOYAH: Thank you!


SONG: It’s A Mystery


Post a Comment

<< Home