Toyah Willcox

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Talented singer and actor Toyah admits her pop stardom was literally a case of “life imitating art”, coming soon after she was cast in a BBC play as a wannabe pop star who breaks into the Top of the Pops recording studios.

Speaking at the Rewind 80s Festival in Henley-on-Thames, Toyah recalled her first acting break aged 18 in the BBC play Glitter, playing alongside Phil Daniels, who was later to act alongside her again in the cult mod film Quadrophenia.

Toyah said: “I was spotted on the streets of Birmingham around 1973/74 because I had green and yellow hair! A director asked me to come and audition with Phil Daniels, and to play his girlfriend in a BBC2 drama and I got the part.

“The biggest irony was that I was playing a girl who wrote a song and broke into the Top of the Pops studios to sing the song in the studios; so talk about life imitating art!

“I was pretty instantly well known as an actress from the age of 18 and I was very successful as an actress right up until 1981 when I started having hit singles. I was the hottest name in the acting industry after I started at the National Theatre.”

After her break into acting, the flamboyant performer proved to be an unstoppable force in the pop world too, with 1981 proving to be her most pivotal year; as well as enjoying three top ten hits with It’s a Mystery, Thunder in the Mountains and I want to be Free, Toyah enjoyed LP chart success with Anthem reaching number two.

She also topped the Smash Hits Readers’ Poll in two categories – Best Female Singer and Most Fanciable Female – knocking the popular Kim Wilde into second place.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Toyah has clocked up eight Top 40 singles, released over 20 albums, written two books, appeared in over 40 stage plays and 10 films, and voiced and presented numerous television shows.

Her biggest acting break came when she was cast as Monkey in the classic 1979 hit film Quadrophenia, acting among a stellar cast including Phil Daniels, Sting, Ray Winstone, Timothy Spall, Michael Elphick and Leslie Ash.

Commenting on the film, which was directed by Franc Roddam and based on The Who’s sixth studio album of the same name, Toyah said: “It was absolutely fantastic. Frank Roddam did an incredible job of directing and The Who were present the whole time and were totally encouraging.

“We absolutely honoured it and loved it. I was around 21 or 22 at the time.”

Toyah is thrilled and excited to be revisiting her role of Monkey and working alongside some of the original cast of Quadrophenia for a new film entitled To Be Someone – based on a book of the same name by Peter Meadows.

The film continues the lives of many of the original characters from the influential cult movie and sees Toyah reuniting with Phil Daniels, aka Jimmy, who Trevor Laird (Ferdy) and Mark Wingett (Dave) for the spin-off.

Commenting on the film, Toyah said: “It’s not actually the new Quadrophenia film, it’s a film called To Be Someone and it’s based on a book that someone wrote 30 years on from Quadrophenia. It goes into production this year, but we’re actually not allowed to call it Quadrophenia. It’s the same cast but we’ve moved on four decades.”

Toyah’s character Monkey has taken on a more racy role since her days as a modette – in the new film she works in the sex industry as a madam and is also a swinger.

The colourful Rewind festival – awash with neon legwarmers and vibrant costumes – is an appropriate gig for Toyah, who has enjoyed a lifelong love of colour; from dying her hair as a rebellious teenager to enjoying her hobby of painting.

She said: “I think colour is just generally very important – it lifts people’s moods and I think people want to express themselves and it’s pretty obvious at Rewind that people use colour to do that.

“I’ve always loved art because art is self-expression and I just love being creative. It doesn’t mean that I am good at it but I am more interested in doing art than say, doing mathematics! I paint all the time – I try and paint every day. I work mainly in watercolour, acrylic or ink. I do it as a self-therapy. It helps you to get focused.”

Asked what she thinks of today’s music, Toyah said: “I think it’s great. I think technology has helped music evolve and change and I just think it’s absolutely brilliant.”

And her advice to today’s new breed of musical talent? – “I keep stressing to people “write your own music.” It’s about expression, it’s not about success, it’s actually about expression, so just keep writing,” she said.

* As well as working on the new film, Toyah’s music is appearing in Crime & Punishment: A New Rock Musical and also has a cameo role in British horror film #swiperight

She also appears in several upcoming gigs including Loud, Proud and Electric on 9 September at the N1 Centre, Islington and Acoustic, Up Close and Personal on 6 October at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire. For more details see her website at www.toyahwillcox.com

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