Hello, I'm Cherry Healey and welcome to Women's Health - Breaking The Taboos, a podcast series from Channel Five. When it comes to women's health, there's one thing that we are really bad at and that's talking about it. Half the world is female. And yet our bodies, our body parts and our health issues are still somehow embarrassing, a little bit taboo

Well, in this podcast we're going to hear different celebrities opening up about a range of issues that can affect all of us, for menstruation to menopause, sleep to our sex lives. Nothing is off limits in this podcast

So off we go. My main qualification for hosting this podcast is being a woman, but sitting beside me, as ever, is someone who is way more qualified. She's been a GP for over 30 years, and a woman for even longer - Dr. Dawn Harper 

Today we're joined by a woman who was at the vanguard of punk, acted alongside Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier, has penned two books, presented programmes as diverse as “The Good Sex Guide” and “Songs Of Praise”, introduced the “Teletubbies” and became a YouTube sensation with her husband during lockdown, which gave me so much joy to watch

I'm referring of course to the living legend that is Toyah Willcox. She's with us, but she's not sadly with us in person, but we are lucky enough to be able to see her lovely face. Toyah. I know you're on tour at the moment. Where are you in the world right now?

At the moment I'm in the Midlands. I'm getting ready to play the Isle of Wight Festival. I'm on the road with Lene Lovich and Saffron from Republica. It's a woman's tour. It's called Electric Ladies (below). And funnily enough, we share a lot of information with each other

CHERRY: I've got some really close girlfriends but actually I'll be honest, I've never told them about vaginal discharge. This is not a conversation we've ever had or anything really intimate about sex even though we do talk a lot. Do you go there with your girlfriends? Are you really honest, is anything off the table?

TOYAH: There is nothing that is banned from conversation but I'd say the biggest conversation is menopause because I'm 63 and I was forced into menopause by hysterectomies when I was 51. And I know quite a few women who are still going through menopause and I even know women who cannot get HRT

So it's a big conversation about how to deal with it, how to live with it, how to use a natural diet as a way to improve the condition. So it is a very big subject amongst my friends on my cell phone

DAWN: Can ask why you were forced into a hysterectomy. What happened?

TOYAH: I had a condition called flooding. It was called flooding where you’re losing amazing amounts of blood very, very quickly. And I was giving a lecture at Leicester University on showbiz when it started. I managed to get to the car and I phoned my husband and I said “do I call an ambulance?” and he said “can you get home?” And through quite an amazing GP I was linked to a female gynaecologist at Cheltenham General Hospital, Helen Reddy. She saw me immediately

I had to have an internal scan which was not fun, but she was so fantastic about it and she said “right, tomorrow you have to have a radical hysterectomy, you're in trouble. There's a tumour growing into your bowel.” And it was the most frightening news I'd ever been given. And I said “I have three more shows to do on a tour. Can I do those three shows?”


TOYAH: Yeah. Work comes first. And so within five days I was in the operating theatre and this absolutely gorgeous woman, who had done 3000 hysterectomies up to that date, leant over me as the anaesthetist put me out, and she said “I promise you when you come around, you're going to feel the best you've ever felt in your life”

Now, I don't know if that was a placebo or, you know, a great deep bit of hypnotism, but I've never felt better since and it was an enormous operation. I had to be kept unconscious for 24 hours. I couldn't be moved. I recovered from it really well. Within three weeks I was making a movie. But it was a very testing time in my life

DAWN: Did you remove your ovaries as well? So were you pushed into menopause sort of overnight?

TOYAH: No uterus, no ovaries, everything gone

DAWN: Interestingly a lot of people don't know this - if you have your womb removed but you leave your ovaries in place you would think that your ovaries will carry on functioning normally and they will for a while

But women who have just had them removed tend to go through an earlier menopause and it's almost like nature knows there’s no point trying because there's no room there. So there's nothing to keep going for. But if you have your ovaries removed, you are effectively plummeted into menopause overnight. So how did that manifest itself for you?

TOYAH: Well, they brought me back into consciousness about 24 hours later, no pain whatsoever. But the nurse was begging me to let go off the morphine drip. She said I was just pumping it every minute. As soon as I came around, I was put on patches which are HRT. They put me on a low dosage of 25 and I'm now up to 75

But I can’t get them so I'm actually doing that trick of cutting my patches into quarters to keep them going. But I was immediately put on HRT within 24 hours of the hysterectomy

CHERRY: And you've had quite a lot of interaction with medical professionals over the years, haven't you?

I just think I inherited quite dodgy DNA. I was born with what I believe is called W legs. Most people's can cross their legs, mine go the other way. Shallow sockets, shallow hip joints, pelvic dysplasia, and twisted spine

Really susceptible to any stomach bug going. I can remember - and I apologise for saying this - but I would be the child that would sit in class and projectile vomit without any kind of warning whatsoever. I'd be unconscious for days

And I think because of that I've had to work really, really hard to stay healthy. Really hard and I’m vegan. I hardly drink. I just drink tonnes of water - five litres a day, exercise all the time and I'm keenly aware of anything very odd going on in my body

CHERRY: I mean, you’ve got the reputation as the punk rock wild child. I saw a video of you in this kind of school girl wedding get-up and smashing a bride and groom at the top of the cake. “I refuse to be neat and pretty” (Video of "I Want To Be Free")

And so the reality is you've had a 36 year old marriage to this wonderful man. You're a vegan, you don't drink. It sounds like because of these medical issues you've had to be very in touch with your body

TOYAH: I think we can have very good ageing processes. And I had my hysterectomy around the age of 51. And then I had to have a total hip replacement on my right side the following year. So two major surgeries in quite a close time and then two years after that I got Lyme disease, which paralysed me. So I was determined not to lose the rest of my life to medical conditions

So around the age of about 55 I was vegetarian. I'm now vegan. I went to see a naturopath. I wear vitamin patches every day, highly intensive vitamins. So everything for me is about nutrition and absorption of nutrition to the max because I want to live until I die. So I've put a lot of work and a lot of research into how to have a really great old age

DAWN: You know, I love hearing you say that. In my practice we have a Christmas party for our over 75s and of course more people are living longer. We're all living longer and one of my (GP) partners said, “well, we're not really, are we? We're just taking longer to die”. And I was absolutely horrified but actually he did have a point

You want to live your life to the fullest. And you're beautifully open and that's absolute manna from heaven for me to hear because the more people like yourself with a high profile talk openly about medical issues, the easier it is for everybody else. You seem to be very at home talking about your medical history

I'm absolutely fine about it if it helps someone else. As a live performer, I get so many people come up to me and they tell me what they're going through. They discover that they're about having a mastectomy. They tell me these things and I tell them my history and the best way to recover and mind over matter. And also researching your surgeons

Dr Reddy said I had to have this emergency hysterectomy but she said “go away and research me” because I was terrified. I was really terrified of this 50/50 chance of surviving the operation because it was a big one because I was carrying a five pound tumour in me

She said “go away and research and tell me when you're happy” and I came back a day later and I said “I'm very happy with you. I have total respect for everything you've ever done”. And its taught me to research a lot and when I do go and see a GP and I hope I don't go too often, I do go fully researched. I write a page of the history of what I'm experiencing, about 10 key points. So my GP can go straight in there and understand what I'm going through

CHERRY: What I love about Toyah is that she's not just chat. You can see it and never more than in the most wonderful YouTube sensation videos, the Sunday Lunch series that you did with Robert (Fripp) over (below with Toyah) lockdown, which just blew me away. So you are energetic, you are creative

There's a real self confidence in the way you move. So whatever you're doing is working, you are living, you're vibrant. So can you tell me a bit about how that series came about? Why did you decide to do that YouTube series?

TOYAH: Robert is, I think, the biggest link to why we did it and slightly subconsciously we became very aware of people's mental health during lockdown and talking to my husband about this. I feel he was treating lockdown as an excuse not to move, he said he was just studying and it's a very, very sour subject now

I thought, well, I'm going to teach you to dance, I'm going to teach you to cook and we're going to film it. And it grew and grew from there. We went from 100,000 views on our very first film, which was me teaching my husband to jive, to now - we're up to about 67 million views online

CHERRY: 67 million views, in your kitchen. Although at one point you did wrap yourself in in clingfilm, I think we can call it clean. I mean that's not giving anyone else a chance. No one else can do anything. That's it. You've won. You've won YouTube

TOYAH: Well, there's so many things in the kitchen that you can do. You know, we use the tradition of British humour to explore rock music and explore themes

CHERRY: They're very open and you can see this beautiful relationship between you and Robert. Are there any tips for a close, intimate, vibrant relationship? You’ve been together for 36 years?

TOYAH: Yeah, but out of that 36 years (Toyah and Robert on their weeding day, below) we've probably only physically been together for two years as we were both touring musicians. And in lockdown we were suddenly together for 24 hours a day. We've always been great talkers. Robert and I are really great friends. And we're very, very different psychologically and intellectually

I'm instinctively very bright. He's intellectually very bright. And I think we complement each other. He is very good explaining something to me when I make terrible malapropisms, which I do virtually every other day. I think our secret of talking is incredibly important. And sensing that someone is bottling something up. I really do know when he's hiding something from somebody, and he's sitting on a stressful event that's coming in through email and I say, “come on, tell me what's going on”

We both live and work in an industry that demands a lot of constant observation and surveillance of what is going on. And a lot of contact with fans and it can be as rewarding and stressful in equal measures. During lockdown a lot of regular fans were passing away because of COVID or suicide. And we just felt that our communication with each other had to have a certain quality that enrich the people who are interested in us. And believe me, we are capable of big rows

CHERRY: Well, that's a passionate relationship that is active, isn't it? When you don't do it, there's something numb about it, I think. So you have a very intimate, close relationship. And what about sex in menopause? How are you finding that? How's that side of your relationship?

It's a really interesting one. I mean, it's a fantastic question because obviously, having had a hysterectomy, I thought sex would stop. So I went around all my girlfriends who admitted having had a hysterectomies and said the sex was great because it was without complications. So I had to kind of relearn all of that because of the scar tissue after my surgeries, not only the hysterectomy, but also the hip replacement

I had to have a lot of physio to get mobility back and to trust what my body was going through. And I'm carrying a lot of scar tissue which can be treated with massage and stuff like that. So it was relearning, and our sex life became more communicative in that I had to tell my husband what the experience was like and that he didn't have to be a superhero in bed

We had to find new ways around intimacy. And he was very good about that. And I think if ever we've had a problem, the problem is we have to stop laughing

CHERRY: Because there's something … so as you get older, Dawn, I think there's there's a real myth that once you hit a certain age, if you go through menopause, sex is over and it doesn't seem to be the case. What are your experiences of women talking to you about sex and menopause?

DAWN: I think sex in menopause is as individual to a woman as pregnancy, as periods, we all experience things very differently. Toyah, you touched on something there that is so relevant, though. A lot of women, over half postmenopausal women will suffer with vaginal dryness, which will make sex uncomfortable

And Toyah was talking about her scar tissue from her operations and how that meant they had to rethink. And of course, for most of us - not everybody - some people enjoy a bit of pain during sex - but for most people, pain is not an enjoyable sexual sensation

And so if it hurts, if you're not talking and I think the absolute success of your wonderful marriage is absolutely the communication because if you're not talking, the natural thing to do - if sex is uncomfortable, is to try and avoid any form of penetration. And the next step on from that is to avoid any kind of intimacy in case it leads to penetration. And then you can find that you're in a sexless marriage

Now there are lots of very happy sexless marriages. And I think that there is nothing wrong with having no sex in your 50s 60s and 70s. And there's nothing wrong with having sex every day in your 50s 60s and 70s. As long as you are both enjoying it at the same time, and what we often find, and I'm generalising hideously - I know that most men need to have sexual contact in order to be loving, and most women need to feel loved in order to feel sexy and so you can see that once that starts to go the wrong way ...

CHERRY: I do relate to that. Do you enjoy that physical nature of relationship?

TOYAH: We had to rediscover a way of being intimate and we discovered it by just kind of very tender tickling finger stroking, which we both really love

CHERRY: Isn't that the most divine form of physical communication when you get that, when you're really intimate with someone and you're that close and they're just stroking you and it feels amazing?

TOYAH: And it's very animalistic and we discovered that that form of intimacy led to almost much more enriching sexual experience. It's brought us closer together and I'd say that physically we're closer now than we ever have been

Nothing is perfect, timing isn't always perfect but I never want him to feel that he isn't attractive to me. We are really, really tactile with each other

DAWN: It's so good to hear that you're enjoying that. How is your sex life - has it changed over the years because that's a 30 year period where you've kind of watched and observed how it changes within a relationship?

It changes hugely and I also want to add I really enjoy exploring him for lumps, because every man must explore their genital area and he doesn't so I do it

DAWN: You provide a service

Another thing we just laugh our heads off about, but I explore every part of him intimately for anything that's wrong. And then I tell the doctor, so I just wanted to add that. I mean, my doctor knows when they get a call from me, it's usually about my husband

And I say “my husband will not tell you this, but I found this or, you know, his bodily functions are not what they should be”. I really do keep a check on him because he is 76 and I want him around while I'm alive

DAWN: Your intimacy is multipurposed. Does he even realise that this is what you're doing?

He just thinks he’s having the best time. “Oh, God, is it that time of the day?” No, he does realise

CHERRY: You’re very bossy, good

TOYAH: I'm very controlling of his health. And he does realise it but I think he enjoys it. It always leads to other things

DAWN: You know, I said earlier I thought you were the perfect patient. I think you're the perfect relative as well, Toyah, because so often actually it is the wives, girlfriends, partners who report issues with the men in their lives

TOYAH: We just have such a phenomenal health system. I'm having a mammogram tomorrow on the NHS. We have sent bowel testing kits in regularly. I do mine as soon as they arrive and it takes me a month to get my husband to do his. I actually have to sit with him and make him do it. And I think we are so blessed with the NHS and how they still care for the elderly. You know, don't take it for granted

DAWN: Toyah, thank you so much for that. Would you believe that those tests that we send out and all we ask is you to give us a sample of your poo … OK, there might be nicer things to do with your mornings than collect your poo but over half of those tests don't get returned. And it's the simplest test to do and it really could save your life

CHERRY: So why do people come back again to the embarrassment of it?

DAWN: I think there are a number of factors. Some of it is embarrassment, not wanting to physically collect your own thing. The other thing is we're all incredibly busy. And sometimes we put our own health on the back burner. But one thing about the NHS and I'm so with you, Toyah, we are so lucky to have the NHS, but we all know that it's under strain and it's under financial pressure

If the NHS is offering you a test, whether it be a smear test and a bowel screening test and mammogram, just a health check - it is worth doing it because we know there's good evidence that it's well worth doing. So actually, this is a really lovely thing to be talking about because we should all be prioritising those things

TOYAH: Can I just add, I've seen three people pass away from bowel cancer and you don't want to go there. You really don't want to go there. Don't let anything hang on so long that you can't be saved from it. A cancer is curable if you catch it earl

Yeah, that's such an important message. I think there is an element perhaps that people don't want to know

TOYAH: But that's really scary. I actually find it really scary checking my own breasts

CHERRY: I understand that. You know, sometimes we can all do the ostrich can't we?

DAWN: But it's curable if it's found early, and bowel cancer absolutely falls into that category. So however frightening that may be, if you've got symptoms like bleeding from passage or alternating diarrhoea and constipation or abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss, those sorts of symptoms mustn't be ignored because if we can make a diagnosis early, we can cure you

I would say this is down to the embarrassment thing as well. If you delay seeking help, you potentially might make it more difficult to be treated and at worst you might find that actually you're in an incurable situation

CHERRY: I wonder if talking to a friend and saying “I'm worried about this, I've got the poo test. Can we do it together in different rooms but let's do it together” … Maybe there's strength in numbers and there's probably ways of breaking that fear. Dawn, I just want to talk to you about some of these stats we've got

This is about the frequency of the sex women are having before and after menopause. And it says that 24% of postmenopausal and menopausal women reported that they never really felt like they wanted sex and 41% in frequently felt sexual desire. Is that something you're seeing in your surgery?

DAWN: Yes, and I think female libido in particular is very complicated. Sometimes it will be a relationship problem. Sometimes it will be a time problem. You know, if you're up all night with night sweats and you've got poor sleep pattern because of the menopause bed very much becomes for sleeping in and you're tired and you don't feel like it. I mean, you said Toyah, that after you'd had a hysterectomy you felt the best you'd ever felt -

CHERRY: Why is it that? Why she felt the best she ever found?

DAWN: There will be lots of different reasons. First of all, if you were losing that kind of amount of blood, you would have been anaemic and so therefore lacking in energy, perhaps there was a baseline worry in the back of your mind that this is what had happened

You know, what's going on? Why is this happening? And you've alleviated that because you've had a diagnosis. You've had treatment and you've been given a cure, but also suddenly you were put on HRT

What we do know for a lot of ladies going on HRT can really give them that emotional and physical boost that they feel is lacking and so I think probably for you, Toyah, there were a whole load of influencing factors that suddenly went wow! I feel like a woman again and I feel I've got a zest for life again and I feel energised and I feel ready to tackle the world and it's a lovely story to hear that you were looked after like that

CHERRY: I think there's another myth that as you get to a certain age, you have to give up the joy in your body. The idea of feeling sexy and wild and free and Toyah, obviously when you were younger, that's one of the things that you were known for

But that seems to have stayed in your YouTube videos. You you dress up, you enjoy yourself, you're physically free, you're sexy, you're sexy as hell. How have you maintained that part of the videos?

TOYAH: I only do this in the kitchen with my husband. I'm not on Fan Zone, I don't don't do it privately on camera for anyone else

CHERRY: There should be nothing wrong with a woman's body whatever age she is

TOYAH: Age is an extraordinary experience. It should be a spiritual path as well as a physical path. And I really believe that if we have more visibility of age in every area of life, from advertising of makeup, clothes, etc etc people won't be so afraid of the process of ageing

CHERRY: Absolutely. One thing I really want to talk to you about - because I stand with you on this subject very closely - high fiving you loudly and in a big way - is you are quoted to have said and you told me about having a facelift. You talk openly about all these things

And there's a story about when you had your facelift and a sort of famous supermodel, having laser treatment, and she was just about to do a shoot for skin cream, even though she was getting her face lasered and resurfaced and you talk about how the beauty industry lies to women. How people don't talk about having filler, or having facial treatments and then they bring out a tub of olive oil and say this is why (they look like that) but it’s a lie

TOYAH: Plastic surgery 40 years ago was something that was expected of women to prolong their career. And I was first taught to get surgery under my eyes to get rid of my wrinkles when I was 25. And I was quite insulted by that but it wasn't as insulting as not being able to find the surgeon to do it because no woman would tell me about it

And I think we have to be very, very open about who is best at it. Who doesn't rip people off, absolutely loves after care. And you need surgeons who tell you to stop

DAWN: I couldn't agree more. That's so so true. But I really applaud you for being so honest because I am increasingly seeing young women in particular but men as well, young young lads, who are putting filters (in photos) on and so on

That young people are constantly bombarded with this sort of body beautiful perfect imagery, which means that they are almost trying to achieve the impossible all the time and the impact that has on their mental health. If you're using a filter, you look better than you do in real life

TOYAH: So I've had two facelifts (Toyah in 2005, just after the 2nd facelift, below) My last one was very, very major. I had reconstruction on my cheekbones and around my eye sockets. Major major surgery, and the reason I did that is so I will age better. I won't ever look younger, I will age better. And I wouldn't recommend anyone ever goes through that kind of surgery. It was brutal

But my surgeon is the best in the world. And I'm so grateful for what he did for me. But I still have wrinkles and I still have ageing skin. And I think I look 64 but I look a good 64 and it's the filters that I feel are doing the damage because the filtered image is not realistic

I couldn't agree more. I also agree with about recommendations so that people go to registered practitioners who are good, who have a good body of work behind them. And we can only do that if we're honest. There's also an idea that everyone who gets fillers and botox goes extreme whereas actually you often don't notice people who've had a little bit and that's good

The whole point is to most people, I think, get these treatments in a balanced and good way and they feel better about themselves. And of course good skincare, sleep, a good diet exercise, looking after your mental health. These are all part and parcel - you can't go and get a facelift and then smoke 20 cigarettes a day and drink five pints and wake up and expect to look good

CHERRY: You've got it, it's got to be the whole package. But little things with registered practitioners and people doing their research. It does make a big difference, a huge difference to how you feel about yourself. Toyah, how do you feel - you're in your 60s now ... What is this decade going to be like for you? What is being a sixty year old woman like nowadays?

TOYAH: Strangely, and I never expected this – I’m at my most successful and I didn't expect that. And the great irony of not knowing about lockdown going on for two years. It's given me the time to reinvent myself

And that's extraordinary because out of this very terrifying event of never knowing if I’ll perform live again as a musician has allowed me to write a Top 30 album. It's allowed me to create. I usually trend in the Top 30 worldwide with Sunday Lunch every week

CHERRY: I’ll just say right now - obviously the people listening to this can't see eye to eye but I can and you can see on YouTube - you look amazing. And also the energy coming from you is joyful. The myth that as we get older we have to sit down and shut up. No, no, we do not have to sit down and shut up

TOYAH: Thank you very much

CHERRY: I have to say I think you're living proof of that phrase 60 is the new 40 and good on you and you clearly know how to look after yourself

The greatest healer I've discovered is water and always just drink pure water. I find there’s two things that reset my body - no, three things: sleep, I try and drink five litres of water a day. I don't always manage it - and apples. When I need to reset my blood sugars or if I'm just feeling low energy, I eat an apple and it really does keep a doctor away. It's the most incredible thing

DAWN: I'm going to add to that list and you've got it in bucketfuls and that's a positive mindset. And I really do think that has a massive influence on our our overall physical and mental health. You come across as a very physically and emotionally confident lady. As a young woman did you feel that strong? And if not, what would you say to your younger self?

TOYAH: Thank you for asking that question. I don't feel that strong in myself now. But what I realised is it's my body. And deeper inside me is the truth of who I am. So when I was a young woman, when I felt physically confident I was always knocked down by people who didn't find me attractive

And in the music industry and even in the acting world if people see you're not confident they manipulate you and I've realised quite late in life that having inner confidence gives you power. I don't feel I look like Kim Kardashian or Madonna. I don't like my legs, they could look a lot better. But you know, the confidence is something that has to be very deep inside and I say to everyone beauty is deep inside

It's deeper than skin and you deserve to feel confident and you deserve to believe in yourself and you deserve a place in the world. And if you have that confidence, it doesn't matter. The body you're born in, just be blessed by the body you're born in and look after it

CHERRY: I absolutely love that message

TOYAH: I have a very wise auntie who I was speaking to recently and we were talking about how freedom is being able to go on holiday and having tonnes of money is freedom and she said “no, freedom is inside you. It's mental. It's about being able to feel that you can handle situations and that comes with therapy, sleep, a good diet and conversation and knowing yourself" and I thought how that is freedom, mental freedom and self confidence

CHERRY: You're right, that does give you a power, Toyah. It absolutely does. Now we have to wrap up, sadly. I feel like you've given us so much wisdom and so much joy and insight. Is there one more nugget of wisdom or one tip that you can give to our listeners about how to live a good healthy life mentally, spiritually, emotionally

TOYAH: I have a lot of people contacting me who have no confidence and I always say to them that every single human being born onto this planet is unique. We're all a miracle. We are on a planet in the middle of a universe we know nothing about. There's no such thing as an insignificant life. You are all utterly unique

So I give that as a nugget of wisdom. But I also say drink water. Don't add anything to it. Just drink pure water. Your body is begging for it all the time

DAWN: I'd like to add something to that which actually I think links in to your self confidence comment and that is be kind to yourself. I think sometimes we're all a bit too self critical. So yeah, be kind to yourself and do something to make yourself smile every day

CHERRY: So water therapy, good sleep, intimacy. It's lots of stroking. Check your poo. Check your breasts. Be conscious. And that's the whole ticket, isn't it?

TOYAH: And talk about death. Because it's a really scary subject

CHERRY: I think that's a really interesting tip because it is a scary subject, but if we will talk about it a bit more maybe we'll break the taboo and that's the whole point of this podcast, too. You’ve been the most fabulous guest, thank you so much for your time and your energy and your wisdom and I can't wait to see what's next for you

TOYAH: Thank you so much. I've really enjoyed it, really good fun

DAWN: Thank you so much, Toyah

CHERRY: So that's it for this episode of Women's Health - Breaking The Taboos. Dawn? What did you think of Toyah? Wasn't she a sheer tour de force, positive energy and actually just such a voice of reason and reassurance to not actually women of her age but to younger women as well

DAWN: Yeah, she's really grounded and going to go and drink a huge pint of water after this


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