SUE: Any woman who's presented TV programmes ranging from "The Good Sex Guide Late" to "Songs Of Praise" is a woman who likes a bit of variety in her career I'm thinking. And that's definitely the case with our next guest Toyah Willcox. As well as writing books and appearing in feature films Toyah of course used to live here in Wiltshire.
She's had 13, I think, Top 40 singles but her appearance at the Trowbridge Arts Festival will a little bit different as it promises you'll get “Up Close And Personal” with the singer. So she joined me earlier. It's Toyah Willcox! (the studio team applauds)
TOYAH: (on the phone) Thank you for a wonderful introduction!
SUE: They love it really. They just love clapping. Now, I know you're on the road most of the time but what makes the acoustic shows quite sort of special? Apart from less gear to carry I'm thinking!
TOYAH: Well, of course! It's the harmonics for me because we're not competing with the volume of drums and it's obviously not competing with the kind of surreal volume of a huge PA. There's three of us one stage. Two guitarists and myself and we all sing and it means that the songs can breathe and the storytelling within the songs because I always, as a lyricist I'm a storyteller.
It comes to the front and it's fabulous. I absolutely love it! There's more subtlety and when I'm not actually singing I can tell stories to the audience and it's just intimate. People really love it. It's a warm, cosy environment and people just enjoy the written word as well as the spoken word I suppose.
SUE: It's quite interesting how the songs sound different but the same within an acoustic variation. We're going to hear “It's A Mystery” the acoustic version in a minute but that sounds brilliant as an acoustic version?
TOYAH: Well, yes. I think also it's still the same songs, they still have the same history, they have the same notes, they have the same key changes but it's totally different and I think it's totally magical and I think it allows people to discover the song again. People think they know the song but we're giving them a different harmonic relationship and they discover something new about that particular song.
Photo by John Weston
SUE: As well as hearing the songs you say you talk about your career as well and that strong image you've always had. That was kind of really useful because didn't that get you noticed in the first place with an acting job?
TOYAH: Yeah, when I started in the business 37 seven years ago, might actually be 40 years ago next year – women very much had to be kind of idolised image of women. Very feminine, very well dressed, covered up and when I came along I came long on the crest of punk and I wanted to be known for my image. I didn't feel conventionally beautiful, I didn't feel at all feminine so I created my own image and it was a game changer because it said that we need to be seen as individuals not as a small minority and image was very important for me.
And I do talk about that but my show is slightly tongue in cheek and irreverent. I don't go out there and kind of say how wonderful I am – I go out there and say how it is ... which is a tough competitive business, you never give up, it's a way of life and it's not about success, even though success is wonderful. It's about commitment and living the life.
And that's what I say to the audience and I tell them very kind of wicked stories about things that happened behind the scenes. The fact that you may see this brilliant award winning video on TV that we all risked our lives to make it because there was no health and safety back then. So it's a very open performance.
SUE: How did your hair survive the 1980's?
TOYAH: I have exceptionally good hair (Sue laughs). It's very very thick and very very strong and I'm still dying it now and I'm 57. I'm not sure how much longer it can take it but I still have exceptionally good hair.
SUE: If anything always bring exceptionally good hair to a pop career, that's what we always say.
TOYAH: It helps.
SUE: Your mum was a performer which I didn't realise and you didn't kind of realise the extent of that until after she died. Is that right?
TOYAH: Yes. My mother was a dancer. She started incredibly young, at the age of 12 and she was taught in the drama school. She only learned dance and acting. When she died we were clearing her cottage and we found her reviews and they started when she was 12 years old. Fabulous reviews in newspapers about her eloquence and delivery of lines and things like that.
When my father saw her for the first time she was in a dance troupe opening for Max Wall in vaudeville theatres and she kind of brushed that aside to become a full time wife. I think she found the business very tough and wanted the security of family life. I think the frustration was there all along, definitely as a mother just totally frustrated with the confinement of it all. And I definitely inherited a free spirit which she had suppressed to be a mother.
SUE: The show means a return to Wiltshire because you used to live at Broadshore, didn't you, for a about decade?
TOYAH: 12 years.
SUE: Yeah. So what are your memories of being a bit of a moonraker with us?
TOYAH: I love it. It was very special. I adored Salisbury, it's a fabulous place with incredible culture. And I come back regularly back to the area with the acoustic shows so it's always a lovely walk down memory lane. I think the exceptional geography, the nature, the beauty of the landscape, the soft rolling hills and the wonderful theatre that you get in the area. I have very fond memories.
SUE: We're delighted to welcome you back to Wiltshire this weekend and I imagine wherever you go you get recognised. I did read a story though that you once got recognised on your holiday in the Maldives? And it wasn't quite as nice and showbizzy as people might think?
TOYAH: The only thing I can remember about that holiday was that it was my last holiday and it was in 2001. There was a very drunken neighbour in the next hut, I don't know if this is the story you read because I don't often talk about -
SUE: It is yeah!
TOYAH: - You go to the Maldives to be anonymous and not be seen and we had a very drunken couple in the next hut who kept shouting “it's a mystery!” at us and we literally had to run out of the hut and hide on the other side of the island to avoid these complete drunks who wanted me to sing “It's A Mystery” for a week. So it just goes to show – don't go to the Maldives if you want a quiet time.
SUE: The Maldives tourist board are devastated to hear this news! But we're delighted! It's going to be a cracking evening. Toyah Willcox, thank you very much for joining us!
TOYAH: Thank you very much! I look forward to it.