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Express: Rebel With A Cause

June 29th, 2024

Born with club feet, a twisted spine and a lisp, all too often Toyah Willcox found herself the butt of the joke. But having exploited this outsider status to find fame as an actress and singer, she had the last laugh. And she’s still chuckling…

In a remarkably eclectic career spanning almost 50 years, peroxide princess Toyah Willcox has topped the pop charts, illuminated the silver screen with movie legend Katharine Hepburn and even dressed up as a giant vegetable with members of the Royal Family. And today, as she celebrates her newfound status as an unexpected social media sensation, with more than 120 million views of her YouTube channel, the 66-year-old is in a characteristically defiant mood.

“My rebellion has always been that I just don’t fit into the norm,” she says from the once-haunted Dorset home she shares with her online partner in crime, King Crimson guitarist and husband of 38 years, Robert Fripp. “And I never will. I don’t think like other people. I don’t move like other people. I’m unique.”

And for Toyah, who first came to public attention in 1979 as the party-loving Monkey in the iconic British mod film Quadrophenia, before launching a hugely successful pop career in the early 1980s, the roots of her distinctive, often-confrontational creativity lie firmly in her challenging childhood.

“Growing up in Birmingham I was disabled and I was treated as disabled, even though I was physically very, very strong,” she explains. “I had a twisted spine, my legs were twisted, I had club feet, and my family referred to me as ‘Hopalong’. I also had a very bad lisp and dyslexia, but even though people would laugh at me, I had grand ambitions and grand ideas from day one.”

Toyah recalls always being the butt of the joke to the people around her. “And that made me grow into a monster – and that monster grew daily,” she states with the ghost of a smile. “My ambitions grew daily because I was being set up for failure from the moment I could speak, but people didn’t see the person I knew.

• The full interview is available to read online here.