MICHAEL PARKINSON: First, a young woman whose vocal style could not be more different from that we just heard. Her style is theatrical, some might say bizarre. Her commercial appeal has given her three hit records this year. As an actress she's appeared on stage, screen and television. She was nominated as the Best Newcomer in Films at the Evening Standard Awards in 1980 for her performance as "Miranda" in "The Tempest"
But this is the style that gets her into the Top 10 (The video for "Thunder In The Mountains" plays) Ladies and gentlemen, Toyah Willcox! You’ve changed your hairstyle since then

TOYAH: Oh yes, I'll take my wig off. It’s my real hair now

MICHAEL: That's a new one, is it?

TOYAH: It's not new at all. I've had this since I was about 15 years old - seven years

MICHAEL: When did you first start experimenting with your appearance?

TOYAH: Well, really it started when I was probably about 11 when I suddenly decided I wasn't going to wear any other colour for the rest of my life except black. And that's because I was just going through depression from growing up. I didn't like being told to wear uniforms at school and things like that

So I used to sneak into school in my uniform - with my report card - because I was one of the naughty girls and I used to have to have a report card to say that I turned up and then I used to get changed into all black and I used walk around like a nun (they all laugh)

A friend of mine, who is a hairdresser, said “I'll do your hair for free, but you've got to let me do to it whatever I want to do”. And I said, oh, okay. The first experiment he did was he shaved the back of my head and it didn't go down well at all with my mother

MICHAEL: I bet it didn’t!

TOYAH: Not at all! I had a great pointed fringe and I've got naturally black hair, which I don't like at all so I decided to dye it pink. And my mother almost killed me that day

MICHAEL: What was the effect that you had on the populace though - apart from your mum and dad - when you walked down the street with with a bald patch and all that?

It was frightening. The bald patch came at a time when I was at drama school. I used to have to catch the bus to school every morning and I'd stand there all innocently smiling, being a nice person at the bus stop but I just happen to look like a freak. So the bus drivers - you’d put your hand out and you just saw them waving goodbye. They’d just go "goodbye" … and there’d be another finger involved ...

DAVE ALLEN (guest on the show): Do you find people have made up their mind about you before because of your appearance?

TOYAH: They could see me from miles away

DAVE: Even now – do you feel people . . . ?

TOYAH: They expect me to be instantly aggressive. They expect ignorance and perversity and so on. Like bleugh . . . just (for me) to be really horrible

MICHAEL: But what was the reason though? Why you decide to adopt this  -

Quite simply I don't like the natural colour of my hair. I think mentally I'm a brightly coloured person. So I thought if you're going to dye your hair why the hell dye it blonde or something? Why not be honest about it and dye it your favourite colour

MICHAEL: You said that you were trouble at school - you went to a private school, to a Church of England School?


MICHAEL: You came from a very respectable middle class background -

TOYAH: I am respectable I’ll have you know! (they all laugh)

MICHAEL: She’s not aggressive, is she? (jokingly, they all laugh) Your parents were quite well off, weren’t they?

TOYAH: Oh yes. It was a typical middle class family (Toyah with her dad Beric, below). I had really a very strict upbringing. I wasn't allowed out on my own until I was about 10 years old. I wasn't allowed to talk to the kids in the street because they had Birmingham accents and at that time I was talking like (puts on a posh accent) “Mommy, could have some sweeties, please?” I was just incredibly naive. It was my first experiences in the outside world that made me realise how protected I was

I was genuinely quite shocked that each time I went on a bus with my school boater on (the school uniform hat) the girls from the other schools wanted to hit me. They were so aggressive towards me because they thought oh, she talks posh, parents have got money and they really disliked me for it. And that disturbed me greatly. When I first discovered sort of the class system, I just wanted to get out of that school

DAVE: Was there a conscious effort to join the other people?

TOYAH: I didn't want to be judged by my parents property or by the colour of the uniform I wore. I wanted to be judged because I was me

MICHAEL: It seems that you must have been an outsider not only outside school, but inside school?

TOYAH: I was definitely an outsider. I had an incredibly bad lisp. I used to stutter, and I wasn't clever with words whatsoever. I was also very fat. The school bullies, who would come up to me, and they were quick with words, and I sort of just would stand there and go I want to get them back and I used to get so frustrated I just used to burst out crying

And one day, after spending many years treading school every day, because I used to get bumped a lot and pushed around, I thought I just can't take this anymore. I'm going to jump out of a window or I'm going to kill someone. So I walked into the classroom to two particular girls jeering at me. And I sort of (puts her first up) yeah, come on then ... and I just snapped and picked up the chair and wolloped her

DAVE: And you were fat at the time? So there was a lot of weight behind it? (they all laugh)

TOYAH: Yeah! But the sad thing was I had to do it that way. I couldn't do it with words. I disagree with that kind of violence greatly. But ever since that day, I was never picked on again. And I was the girl that everyone came to to sort other people out

I think that actually happens. I think where you're put to a point where all you can do is go forward -

TOYAH: I was so frightened

DAVE: People tend to leave you alone because you're breaking the rules. I remember getting chased by three kids and I thought what am I doing? I saw a big stick on the ground so I picked it up and I ran back towards them and they scattered because what was I doing?

MICHAEL: You’re the hardman. How did you in fact get into the business? Was that an ambition when you were at school?

TOYAH: Oh, it was an ambition. It started at a very early age, at about nine years. I was a dreadful liar at school. I was so bored the whole time. I just used to tell lies such as sorry I'm late, my mother got eaten by a shark (they all laugh) I used to get people buying presents because they thought I was leaving school the next week to go make a movie. And it kept the whole of this nine to five syndrome exciting because I hate that kind of timetable, that schedule

I like to be totally unpredictable. I wanted to act and sing, I wanted to do both. But the greatest thing I wanted to do was sing. The reason I wanted to do that is because I was such a nervous child that I couldn't even sing in a choir. It meant so much to me that my voice would go and I'd shake and everything. I was quite a pathetic kid really. I went to drama school every weekend from the age of 14 upwards and when I left school with my one O Level, I went to drama school full time

I was so well known in Birmingham because I looked like a freak. I mean to me I didn't look like a freak. To me I was just a nice colourful person, but to everyone in Birmingham I was either a prostitute, a mass murderer, or a complete hippie. It was just unbelievable. But my first break came when a director called Nick Bicât was trying to find someone to cast in play

It was a half hour play for the BBC and he wanted a newcomer who could sing and he couldn't find anyone in London apparently so he came up to Birmingham and was asking around "do you know any sort of young girl that stands out in a crowd?" (Dave laughs, Toyah pokes her tongue at him) And the wardrobe department at the BBC, who knew me because I used to do extra work there to help get a bit of money for drama school, suggested me and the director came to see me and I got the job

MICHAEL: And then of course you got the into the National Theatre very early on. How did you fit into the National Theatre looking like -

TOYAH: I’ve got to say it was wonderful. I don't like the building very much because it looks the same. It's all corridors and I used to keep getting lost. You'd run off stage for a quick change and find you're on the wrong floor. And you go which floor am I on and you could never find out until you found someone and said "excuse me, could you tell me where I am?" and you'd get a witty answer like "you're in the National Theatre" (they all laugh) You'd always be late for your cues on stage

I was the youngest in the company. The loudest in the company. I think in the National Theatre you're supposed to be a woman. You're supposed to have etiquette and to be silent until you're spoken to. But I instead was running around screaming at the top of my voice and being very vulgar because I am quite a vulgar person when I’m happy

My dressing room, I shared it with six other girls. You used to look out into this well, all the dressing rooms aren't sort of surrounded and you could look up to the wardrobe department and scream for your dresser or you could look across to the next dressing room and watch the men get undressed. They used to do the same with us

Next door to us was Sir John Gielgud. And one day I was very late, the clocks went back and I forgot about it and I was late for the performance. I opened my window and shouted “where's my (bleep) dresser??!” I was really panicking and I was going “come down here for God's sake and help me!” And I got this phone call and I picked up the phone and there’s this very posh voice on the other end and he said “excuse me, miss Willcox - did you know this is the National Theatre?” I went “of course I know it’s the National Theatre!” and I was looking across to see if one of the men were phoning me

And he said, “well, this isn't a zoo. So could you stop acting like an animal please, Miss Willcox. You're in the National Theatre”. I was about to swear down the phone. I was going oh come off it! Who is this? And there's no men on the phone in the dressing rooms opposite and I suddenly realised it was Sir John and I went as white as a sheet and I thought my God, what am I going to do and I just went "I'm very sorry" and I put the phone down and I never shouted again in the National after that day

DAVE: The ghost of Sir John hovering -

TOYAH: Yeah! He's the sort of person you instantly respect

MICHAEL: What about the things that run side by side in your life? The actress - you work in the National, you’ve done Shakespeare, you shoot movies and that sort of thing and then the pop star. Is there a conflict in your life about the two?

TOYAH: The only conflict is there's not enough time in the day to everything and I've got to do both. I'm trying to prove desperately that to act you don't have to look stereotype. I can look like this and still be an actress. Because I just plunk a wig on my head to hide the hair and everything. I love acting and I love singing but the only conflict is there’s just not enough time

I must confess, to be honest, as the father of young people playing your music . . . I am sort of baffled by its appeal - if I were to be frank … Do you have a purpose, like Dave said, as an entertainer, whose purpose is to entertain and to perhaps instruct people. Do you have that same purpose in your performance?

TOYAH: Oh, yeah. My purpose isn't so much political. There's so many problems in this world and kids are always being reminded that when you leave school there's going to be no work, or you're going to get mugged in the streets or something. I want kids to come along to my concerts and to forget all that. I want them to enjoy themselves. Because no matter how much unemployment (there is) etc etc you can still enjoy life. Life is very valuable

I try to put that respect, that self-respect across to my audience that don't go around beating up black people and things like that. That's not what living is about. Living is about just being very happy and coping and being with each other and helping each other with your own problems. I know what you're getting at. You think the lyrics are very diverse -

I think they're quite aggressive, some of them … and despairing

TOYAH: I don't sit down to write and think oh, I'm gonna write about this today. I sit down with a pen and paper and write the first thing that comes into my head. I find that me being aggressive and abusive to myself on stage gets the tensions out of the kids. They sit and watch me do that to myself - what they they feel like doing half the time - and it sort of allows them to relax

MICHAEL: Isn't there always a problem of course with this unfortunate group of kids that you say you want to relate to … When they look at you onstage - famous, wealthy. Do they disassociate themselves from you because you've got what they -

TOYAH: Oh God - they don't dissociate themselves at all. Number one, I do not put a barrier between me and the audience. Those audiences are - sounds a bit patronising - but they're my brothers and sisters, and I go in among them and I sort of touch them and they touch me, and that communication is so valuable. I'm nothing special. I'm flesh and blood like them. I have the same problems like them. I may be famous, but it doesn't mean you have the money. I just want to communicate with these kids. Get them to forget about all the horrible things

MICHAEL: Do you think as you get older that the rebellious streak will soften?

Oh God! I hope not!

MICHAEL: You will be middle-aged with a mortgage?

TOYAH: Put it this way: I suddenly became famous this year and I've aged 20 years this year and it shows because the workload is much heavier. I don't think I will conform any more than I have. I've only conformed to sell more records really so I can keep the band going and that to me it's not too bad a sellout because that means I've got money to make albums, which I can be diverse on. If I ever have children it will be when I'm in my 30s I suppose … but I really would pity them because I get bored of things so quickly (they all laugh)

MICHAEL and DAVE talk over each other

MICHAEL: Don’t change the hair on your head. Not for the moment anyway. Toyah Willcox, thank you very much indeed

Watch the interview HERE


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