BBC RADIO 4
BBC RADIO 4
The theme for this series of Ramblings is 'self-improvement' and for Toyah - who has always had problems with her joints, including a recent hip replacement - walking is the perfect exercise. She says it helps her keep her weight down and remain active.
Clare met Toyah at Croome Landscape Park, a National Trust Property famous for its stunning grounds designed by Capability Brown. Unfortunately Toyah was injured - 97 pantomime performances over Christmas had taken their toll - but, crutch in hand, the ramble went ahead.
By the end of the walk, during which Toyah discussed her serendipitous route into show business and forthcoming performance in a 'bawdy' show called "Hormonal Housewives", she actually felt better. Proof, she said, that walking is one of the best ways to remain healthy.
CLARE BALDING: The wind is howling and it's spitting with rain. Last night it lashed down! A massive storm! So we're very much keeping our fingers crossed we get away with it at “Ramblings”. I've come to a really magnetic park, and by that I mean it draws people from far and wide, all around Worcestershire they come to Croome, particularly on a Sunday, luckily it's midweek so not so many people are about.
This used to be part of an estate that was 14 000 acres and it stretched right across Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds. Now it's slightly more contained and run by The National Trust. And it's the favourite haunt of the person I'm walking with today.
Now this series is all about self-improvement and she walks for mental and physical fitness. Trouble is at the moment the physical fitness isn't great. She is a music legend, a broadcasting legend as well. She's written two books as well as recorded 13 Top 40 singles and 20 albums. She is Toyah Willcox and she is hobbling towards me. What have you done?!
TOYAH: Well, I've just done 97 Christmas shows (below, Toyah in "Sleeping Beauty" at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury) in seven weeks. And I started off in fantastic fitness and then towards the last week I just fell apart! My knees are bad and my left hip's bad but I'm getting better very very quickly.
And basically I'm 54 years old and I've overdone it. But it's fantastic to be out here and it's the best thing I could be doing. But there's absolutely no point in being still. The best thing in my condition, and I say to anyone who's slightly achy - is get out there and move. And that's what we're going to do today.
CLARE: And you don't mind the fact that it has started to rain again?
CLARE: We're going to call this hobblings rather than ramblings. We shall hobble away! Tell me about Croome because I've never been here before?
TOYAH: Well, I live very very close to Croome. I'm so lucky, I can get here every day and it's a place I come to to walk and recuperate. I'm generally always having quite a lot of surgery. I've got an artificial hip and I've had quite a lot of corrected work on my legs anyway. So - we need to go through reception into the park -
CLARE: Oh, right!
TOYAH: They like to draw you into the fantastic tea room which does the most amazing food which is probably a very good way of getting
CLARE: There's a big picture of the Earl of Coventry, the man who created Croome. And employed Capability Brown -
TOYAH: It's amazing what they did because this would've just been fields at some point.
CLARE: Look - they're waving at us from the shop!
TOYAH: Oh, it's very friendly here. In fact my best friend works in the shop, she's not here today. But I often have an Indian with her on a Monday night. So this is so local to me. So we're now approaching the main park and once it all opens out, you will get an instant feel of what Capability Brown has done.
There's manmade lakes, there's gazebo's, there's fantastic points of interest. And I've been living here for 11 years and still haven't discovered them all and that's something coming from a keen walker. Because when I'm in full fitness I do at least six miles in one walk which might not sound much to a healthy young person but to me it's an achievement.
CLARE: How vulnerable do you feel at the moment with something that is obviously causing you an awful lot of grief and pain?
TOYAH: That is an absolutely fantastic question! Because I was in London yesterday and felt so vulnerable hobbling down the street. I'm walking without a crutch at the moment but I carry the crutch because of my vulnerability. I can loose confidence in just being able to walk. Because I've had so many issues. Even on stage in the last week of the pantomime I decided to have a crutch on stage because of I was frightened of suddenly not being able to move. So vulnerability is quite an issue really.
So in Cambridge yesterday, I had a meeting with my hip specialist which was great, it was all good news and then I drove to London for another meeting and suddenly that vulnerability took me over and here I was among crowds near Oxford Street and people bustling and walking and pushing past, (I was) trying to cross the road quick enough on a pedestrian crossing without taxi drivers wanting to peep their horns!
And you do feel so vulnerable! And I'm not always like this – I'm very rarely like this and it really has made think about what it is like for people who are permanently disabled. So it's an eye opener.
CLARE: I'm incredibly impressed that you didn't pull out of this, honestly! Given your state and the fact that you've got loads of other things going on in your life – I thank you for saying yes to this and not pulling out – I'm thrilled!
TOYAH: Well, actually I'm getting better. Last week I was really bad, I've had lots of physio. I do physio night and day, lots of massages and I'm actually – I feel 60% better than I did last week. So it would just be weak of me to have pulled out today. I think you have to have challenges and you have to have goals and this became a goal for me to be here.
CLARE: And I've always known – Toyah Willcox is not a weak person! Not at all! We're going to emerge through the trees here and suddenly get the view you were promising me. There's a church on the left (below) and in the distance we can just see the Malvern Hills exposed before us. And the house there on the left?
TOYAH: Utterly fantastic! There's a lot of flooding here at the moment. So you actually can't distinguish the manmade lakes from the flooding! Because we've had these torrential rains and I think we're due a lot more. But there's two very remarkable manmade lakes, serpentine lakes, that take you up to this most magical Roman style gazebo.
At the moment we're looking at two more probably rain made lakes that shouldn't be here. But that's the problem with the countryside at the moment that the watertable is so high that you've got this water just not draining away.
CLARE: Is the church here used regularly or not?
TOYAH: Yes, it is used. I think it still has services, it has Christmas carols, it has concerts. Now, I regularly come to the concerts in the big house but I haven't been to the church yet. The church is magnificent, it's kind of perched on the top of the hill which why it's so windy. At the moment we're looking out over a dip into a valley. In the summer that's all wild flowers. They don't mow it. And it's staggeringly beautiful.
CLARE: Also don't you love the way Capability Brown and those who followed him used trees as points architecture really? You've got these beautifully positioned big Cedars with their plate like branches?
TOYAH: They take 200 years to establish themselves. What is absolutely fantastic and what I've always loved about the creativity and the gift of gardener - the garden's planted for future generations. And I think that's what so effective about Croome Court in particular. They're obviously having to do quite a lot of re-planting and put new trees in all the time but Capability Brown has left something for us.
CLARE: We're just trying to get over the bow of the hill here and out of the wind, it's incredibly strong! We're sort of leaning into it! Trying to not fall over!
TOYAH: I'd like to say how much I'm enjoying this walk, it's kind of making me feel a lot stronger, it goes to show that getting up and moving is so good for you!
CLARE: Hard at work here, a little digger to the side of the footh path we're on. Now when I did the introduction I just raced through a few of the things that you have done and it is extraordinary! I mean I obviously knew Toyah the singer pretty well and grew up with you being a huge name but the books that you've written and the plays you've done and the TV programmes you've presented – you've had such variety in your life!
Photo by PAC Photography
TOYAH: I've been very lucky and I've enjoyed that variety immensely. I've never felt trapped in anything I've done. I don't think I've ever had a job longer than three months. And that's not because I've been sacked – it's just because I've always been offered something ridiculously different every time I work. It's very interesting – in one year I was presenting “Songs Of Praise” and “The Good Sex Guide Late”. (Clare laughs) It was most extraordinary, I've never polarised audiences so much as in that year!
CLARE: You would've got a big crossover on that I wouldn't think?
TOYAH: No, but I got very angry letters! (Clare laughs)
CLARE: So do you think that comes from a sense of always wanting the next challenge? Or a fear of stagnation?
TOYAH: Well, it's both! Absolutely both! Also, I mean it does present the frustration of never feeling established in anything -
CLARE: But you learn from every experience -
TOYAH: Oh God, yes!
CLARE: It then forms the next one and you bring something different to it, you know.
TOYAH: Absolutely! I've learned so much by being on my feet, by being in front of the camera. I never learned at school. I was rubbish at school! I had no concentration, no interest and no respect. And actually all the learning and the development I've done has been as an adult - working. I've learned from the workspace.
And I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing but in my case – someone who is chronically dyslexic and slightly attention deficit – it's worked for me. I'd like to say we're picking up a good pace here which I didn't think we would!
CLARE: No, you're doing really well! You're striding out evenly and your sense of balance seems OK.
TOYAH: It's good, it's good.
CLARE: We're about to cross a flooded bit of foot path because the -
TOYAH: Do you know what? Are we able to cross that? I mean look at it! You can hear it from here! That's a torrent! It's a flooded fjord!
CLARE: I wish I'd worn wellies, not walking boots!
TOYAH: I know!
CLARE: Well, we've paused at this flooded point of the path -
TOYAH: Only because I refused to go over it! (laughs)
CLARE: Well, you haven't got waterproof shoes on so you can't!
TOYAH: And it's quite deep, it's surprisingly deep!
CLARE: Luckily Amy, who works here - is going to come down with a buggy and take us across. Which means at least we'll have a buggy on hand in case of your hips give out as well -
TOYAH: Well, I mean it's just going up that hill, I could probably dot it but then I'd pay the price the next day so … so yep, buggy it is.
CLARE: Well, you've got to be careful!
TOYAH: Yeah, I have to be careful.
A buggy arrives
CLARE: I don't know, maybe it's for us. Can we get a lift through the puddle?!
TOYAH: (to others in the buggy) Morning!
General hubbub - they get a lift
TOYAH: Thank you!
CLARE: Honestly, there was something quite comical about that! The puddle was only ten feet wide and I don't think ever on "Ramblings" we've had to call for help to take us across just this!
TOYAH: Well, I'm in trainers so I would've just regretted it!
CLARE: It's very funny! So that means now we're free and alright again, on terra firma. So when you survey the things that you have done and the life that you've had – what do feel is the most true to you and the thing you're proudest of or the most confident doing?
TOYAH: Ooh, that's such a good question! I'm permanently frustrated, I don't feel I've done anything in life and I don't feel I've made my mark. And I don't know why. I think partly being a woman in this industry is so different to being a man. I'm married to an exceptionally good musician Robert Fripp, who's band was King Crimson. And the praise and recognition he gets he gets he truly deserves but I will never get praise and recognition like that. Partly because I'm a pop - rock singer but I think mostly because I'm a woman and I hate to say it!
I've always felt that I could write an absolutely fantastic book or a fantastic script but I would be judged for being something else than being creative. So I'm always permanently frustrated as an artist. Part of my frustration is I'm incredibly self critical! Which comes from my mum. When I was born mum was very worried about my mobility. It was pretty obvious from baby onwards that I was going to be different in how I live my life. And she -
CLARE: So you had mobility issues right from then?
TOYAH: Yeah, yeah - I was born with – my legs were kind of clawed I suppose and then they straighten out as you grow. The condition I had corrects itself once you've grown into a teenager. But I had to be taught how to walk, I had have to have physio every day. Mum was always terrified of what would happen to me to the point of … how can I put it? She was very critical of me, you know.
"You must walk normally, you must stand normally, you must look normal." I mean that was the word she used the whole time coz she was just scared of what my life would be. So I think that as being ingrained in me that perfection is the only acceptable thing. You know - I'm very aware of my limitations!
CLARE: You're listening to “Ramblings” and today I'm in Worcestershire with Toyah Willcox in Croome Park and we're exploring little paths and I guess if you come here a hundred times you're not going to find every single route, are you?
TOYAH: No, there's a lot to discover every time you come here which is so rewarding about this particular park.
CLARE: We've come down from the top of the hill, with the church long behind us now, Grimm Court behind as well. Walking along what I imagine is normally a stream but it's a torrent of a river because there's been so much rain.
We're going to pass through a gate, there's a big stone bridge and to the left a rather narrower stone bridge and there's swans over there and a group of people on an exploratory walk. Luckily the rain has passed and now we've got really bright sunshine and the puddles and the bigger flooded lake bit are all glistening silver.
TOYAH: It's actually warm.
CLARE: Isn't it?! It's lovely. You were telling me when you were born and having real trouble learning to walk. When did you first get into performing then because that's quite a bold thing to do?
TOYAH: I always was a performer, I was always outgoing and quite extrovert in a very strange shy kind of way. My mother a performer, my mother was a dancer and she was a professional from the age of 14. And it wasn't until she died that we discovered paper cuttings from her performances and reviews that she'd hidden away. She used to go on the road with Max Wall dance team. There was six girls in this team and they toured up and down the country.
So I think performing was in my genes. I went to a weekend drama school in Birmingham and then when I left school I went there for a year full time. But I got spotted because by this time I was a punk rocker with green and yellow hair, at a time when no woman was doing anything like that!
And a lady that worked in the wardrobe department at Pebble Mill was talking about this really strange exotic girl that walks around Birmingham with green and yellow hair to a director. And the director came and found me and gave me a role in a half hour play on BBC2 called “Glitter” (above) and my co-stars were Phil Daniels who went on to do “Quoadrophenia” with me and “Eastenders” and Noel Edmonds.
TOYAH: That was my first ever professional job. When that was shown on TV which was about 1975, could've been 76, no, 75, I was invited to join The National Theatre by Kate Milligan and Maximillian Schell. Kate was starring in Christopher Haddon's adaptation of “Tales From The Vienna Woods” and Maximillian Schell, the German film star was directing. They both watched “Glitter” and decided they wanted to give me a role and by the time I was 18 I was a member of The National Theatre.
CLARE: And you've never stopped working since?
TOYAH: And I've never stopped working since. Can we just perch here?
CLARE: Yes, let's. We've just come up to the orangery, there's six beautiful columns in front of it, huge windows and it's yellowie, big chunks of lime stone and it's all south facing so the sun is hitting and bouncing back and there's a real warmth off it. And in fact it's not called an orangery, it's called “Temple Greenhouse Um”. U-M, “um” -
TOYAH: (intrigued) Um?
CLARE: Yeah, “Temple Greenhouse Um”.
TOYAH: I've no idea where that word comes from …
CLARE: It says “not much is known about the Temple Greenhouse Um apart from the fact that it's made of limestone. (They both fall about laughing) I misread that! It's “urn”! Temple Greenhouse urn! (below) I think “um” is quite good actually! To me it would be Temple Greenhouse Um! (Toyah laughs) and we'd wonder where the urn is!
TOYAH: To me it will always be Temple Greenhouse Um! (Clare laughs)
CLARE: I love going through life as a bit of an idiot! And the best thing to do is just to say “I'm an idiot”.
TOYAH: It's healthy!
CLARE: Do you know what I mean?!
TOYAH: We're all idiots at some point!
CLARE: Exactly! We're coming into the protection from the wind now as we're amongst the trees, just starting to curve back and head slightly uphill. And you're doing really well!
TOYAH: I'm doing amazingly well. I think it's actually done me the world of good!
CLARE: So what's the plan now? Given that you say you change direction of jobs and change direction a lot through your life. Have you got a sort of forward plan? What do you want to for the next 10-20 years?
TOYAH: Well, that's an interesting one because I'm 55 this year and still singing a lot, I tour a lot, I do a lot of shows. And the voice is either going to behave or not behave just because of the maturity of my age. I imagine as long as the notes are still there and the voice is still sounding good that I will sing as long as I can but I'm quite philosophical that might be a shorter period than one expects. I might get to 60 and think "actually I shouldn't be doing this anymore".
At the moment a song of mine, which I co-wrote with Simon Darlow, who I been writing with for 35 years, called “Sensational” is on the Weight Watchers campaign. We wrote it four or five years ago and suddenly it's been picked up on that national campaign and it looks like it's going to picked up by a major (record label) and released as a single.
CLARE: Oh, great!
TOYAH: So you can just never predict what is going to happen. This year I'm doing a lot of acting. I start a tour of a show called “Hormonal Housewives” (below) next week and it's a comedy, it's a three hander and I'm looking forward to that a lot because -
CLARE: And who is that with?
TOYAH: Julie Coombe has written it and she also stars in it. She's a wonderful Scottish actress/writer, a really good comedic actress of the physical the theatre type. It's going to be a lively show, very boisterous. I haven't actually done a comedy since 1998 when I did “The Live Bed Show” for Arthur Smith so I'm really looking forward to this a lot.
I think it's the best thing you can do, the winter months, is to do comedy. But it's naughty, it's bawdy, it's like Chaucer for women. And – oh look! I'm going to walk on a flowerbed! And we've just come
up to -
CLARE: Look ahead as well – massive puddles sort of chained together! But I reckon your safe if you go left onto that flowerbed there and then cross over and go to the right - I think we can -
TOYAH: Probably – that's what I'm going to do. (Clare laughs)
CLARE: How to pick your way through a flooded field and park!
TOYAH: Do you know what I – I think we'll be OK.
CLARE: We've come to a dead end and it's rather unfortunate because there was a sign a way back saying “gate closed” and I didn't really take it seriously! (laughs) "No, the gate won't be closed!" And having made our way through the flooded bit and up to the gate that will take us up to the church on our way back – it's all locked!
Right, we've been inventive – indeed creative and climbed round the side of the ha-ha, a spiky fence, clinging onto it. Toyah - you lead way because I wasn't going to say to you “oh, why don't you climb on that fence!” (Toyah laughs) When you can barely walk! You did it!
TOYAH: I'm feeling great!
CLARE: Oh, good!
TOYAH: It just goes to show doesn't it? Tell the brain what to do and it will do it. Fantastic! I just love the fact that we've done something that The National Trust really frowns upon!
A man approaches
CLARE: Oh no, we climbed the fence and I thought you were going to come and tell us off!
MAN: Oh no no! I left the lock just hanging … (he laughs)
CLARE: Well, you fooled us!
TOYAH: We've never seen it so flooded -
MAN: I know, I know! I just got a report that that has gone up by a foot. So I'm going down there now.
TOYAH: Yes! Well we took a buggy over that because we were scared. Have you ever known it this flooded?
MAN: No. I was here a couple of years ago when it was really bad but never this sustained.
CLARE: We survived and thank you for not telling us off!
MAN: I was like “I left it open and they can't get in”! Cheers then!
CLARE: That was the premises manager, I knew that coz it said that on his badge. We've got one more gate to go to the path back towards the cafe.
CLARE: Cake and coffee! Or cake and tea!
TOYAH: I haven't had cake since Christmas Day!
CLARE: Oh, you must have it!
TOYAH: I've been so good!
CLARE: Thank you so much for coming today and the fact that the walk actually made you feel better than worse -
TOYAH: I am walking twice as fast as than when I arrived and I actually feel very normal in my body. I'm grateful to you because I'm feeling the best I've felt all week!
CLARE: Good! Well, hopefully that's put you back on the route to recovery and you'll be walking your usual six miles a day and feeling fit and fantastic!
TOYAH: Definitely! Thank you!
CLARE: Thank you Toyah!
You can listen to / download this
episode of "Ramblings" HERE