Created on 31st July 2008
The name Toyah Willcox conjures up images of wild hair, outlandish makeup and the distinctive voice and vibrant energy of the 1980s chart topper and star of cult classic Quadrophenia. But what happens when you grow up and grow old. Stung by media criticism of her looks, Toyah made the life-changing decision to embrace cosmetic surgery and have a facelift in 2004. What makes her stand out is her honesty about her experiences, giving comfort to many women who feel distanced from those in the public eye who claim to be all natural while secretly indulging in every age-defying treatment available.
How long had you been contemplating cosmetic surgery before you had your facelift in 2004?
I had been considering cosmetic surgery since my twenties. Like a lot of young people I had been unhappy with what nature had given me. My eyes always looked tired and I felt there was room for improvement. But the prospect had scared me because in the 1980s not much was known about cosmetic surgery. In fact, the only things you heard about were the horror stories of procedures that had gone wrong. You never heard about the successes.
It is a common complaint that show business is a hard business to be in as an older woman. Had you started to notice an impact on your career?
I decided to have the surgery for me. But since I have had it I've never been busier. In my business, having surgery shows a commitment to your work. My music career has gone from strength to strength, mainly because promoters want to see sex appeal. As for acting, well cameramen insist on you looking your best whatever your age. I suspect that casting agents feel the same too, even to the point that you being overweight can be a problem for them.
Was my career slowing down because of my age? No, I have always been fantastically busy. But I was starting to get press purely based on my appearance and not about my talent. All they seemed to talk about was how I was ageing.
You've had an enviable career working with acting greats from Katharine Hepburn to Sir Laurence Olivier to being in the cult classic Quadrophenia. Were you worried that a facelift could affect your ability to convey emotion and, with it, your acting career?
There is no reason that a facelift should stop your face from moving, although a bad one might. Botox injections can affect facial mobility. I've had an exceptionally good lift from a surgeon who mainly works on actors' faces. He was aware that I needed to look natural and be able to convey emotion. He was also aware that I wanted to look vital and refreshed. That said, I did worry about the outcome of the surgery because nothing is guaranteed.
Due to a childhood history of illness and operations, you admit that you were a very anxious patient. What advice would you give to other patients beset by nerves?
The trouble with surgery is you relinquish control. This can be very upsetting. I would advise nervous patients that they've covered all the areas that they can control. If you smoke, give up well in advance of any surgery. If you drink, give up, or your body will have problems healing. I took arnica before and after surgery. This is a homeopathic remedy that helps minimise shock to the body.
I also detoxed and only ate fruit and vegetables, with fish every other day, for a month before the operation and after, until I was fully healed. Diet is just as important as the surgery. After the operation I also got up and walked as much as I could; the body needs stimulation and functions much better if you can be active.
As for the pure nerves you get as you are wheeled into surgery: deep breathing! And remember, pain management is incredibly good these days and I didn't experience any pain at all.
What did your husband feel about your decision? In your book, Diary of a Facelift, you mention women who have gone behind their husbands' backs and had procedures in secret. Could you have gone through with the operation without his support?
I would have gone through with the surgery whether I had his support or not. Luckily, most of the women my husband knows have all had facelifts. He works in the music business in America, where surgery has become as normal as taking a holiday. But I was determined to have surgery no matter what anyone said. It is a deeply personal choice and one that no other person should affect unless they believe you have a bad surgeon or it could endanger your life.
Reading your book, it was amazing that the conspiracy of silence on cosmetic surgery extends to within showbiz circles, with people very reluctant to admit even to other insiders that they have had procedures. Why do you think this is?
I believe in complete transparency in life generally. If someone cannot tell the truth I feel they are a hypocrite who doesn't give back to society. Surgery has a snob value to it. Those with money think it is part of their status, but I believe that it will become so commonplace in the future that no one will bat an eyelid about it.
What really shocked me was that no one was prepared to say who the good surgeons are; after all, people's faces are the most precious asset we have in society. How many people do you know who don't actually judge a book by its cover. We are all judged on our faces, therefore we must only let responsible surgeons touch them. This should be shared information, available to everyone.
Why do you feel that facelifts are taboo in a way that breast augmentations aren't? Is ageing the last taboo?
This baffles me. I would hate to have large breasts! Breast lifts and implants tend to be popular in a younger age bracket who still feel divorced from the ageing process. We are an ageist society, so it doesn't surprise me that facelifts are disrespected, but remember that there are also some spectacularly bad ones around. You don't tend to see bad breast jobs because clothes cover them.
We live in a society where people very rarely sing the praises of growing older. No one tells you it's great to have freedom, money and wisdom which is what age usually gives you. I wouldn't swap my age for all the gravity-defying boobs in the world. But people fear ageing and they always will because we never educate ourselves to value every decade we are privileged enough to experience. Ageing can be great if you are fit and well.
What has the reaction been since the operation? Were your peers more horrified that you were open about the procedure than the fact you'd actually had a facelift?
I haven't had any adverse reactions at all, except one bloke on a building site who shouted at me that it wasn't very great. Then I saw his beer belly and thought, ‘well, neither are you'.
When the book came out, ninety per cent of my friends either admitted they'd had some surgery or wanted to know where to go. It just needed someone to put their hand up and say ‘this is how it is done'. As for work, my career has become the busiest it has ever been.
What has been the reaction of the general public?
The public are hugely supportive. A lot of daughters, in their twenties, have told me that they bought the book for their mothers and have thanked me for often putting their mothers' minds at rest. Because sometimes, after reading the book, people realise surgery just isn't for them.
You are also candid about having had Botox. Are there any more treatments you are planning now the facelift has been such a success?
I have Botox three times a year, but never enough to completely freeze my face. I am just training my muscles not to create deep lines. It is possible not to have full-strength Botox. After all, I do need to move my face in my job.
Also I have Sculptra filler to lift my cheekbones. During the menopause women can lose facial fat, which is ageing in itself.
The operation took place in February 2004. Four years on, are you just as pleased with the results?
The results are fine, but you still age. No surgery can stop you ageing. Recently, the elasticity of my skin has started to go, which I think is due to the menopause, so I will give it another three to four years then think about further surgery perhaps.
What advice would you give to someone contemplating cosmetic surgery?
Try and visit a surgeon who has worked on someone you know and like the results. Surgery isn't always the only option; Sculptra can help a lot in filling out deep lines. If you are overweight, get the weight off before you contemplate surgery. Excess weight is not good for your health and certainly changes your face.
You do need the support of those who love you. You can feel quite vulnerable both before and afterwards. When I came round from five and a half hours of surgery my husband leant over the bed and told me that he was totally there for me. That makes a huge difference.
For the latest news on upcoming events and gigs, check out the official website at www.toyahwillcox.com