Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp are a rock star couple turned lockdown YouTubers. Actor and musician Willcox, 64, rocketed to fame during the punk rock era, appearing in cult movies such as Quadrophenia, before releasing 80s hits such as It’s a Mystery. Meanwhile, Fripp, 76, is a founding member of King Crimson, and has collaborated with artists including David Bowie and Brian Eno. Both prolific musicians, they launched the successful Sunday Lunch video series in 2020, in which they cover classic songs in their home in Pershore, Worcestershire. Toyah is performing across the UK this summer: on the electric ladies tour in June; and at Let’s Rock – The Retro festival from May to September.
This photograph was taken on our wedding day in 1986, which started off really dull and rainy, but as soon as we got to the church the sun came out. Robert was terrified. I was enjoying it, but very nervous: I had to keep the ceremony secret so photos weren’t leaked to the press. Sadly, the papers got wind and we were chased by paparazzi for two days afterwards. They were banging on the car door, shouting and saying that if we didn’t let them get a picture they were going to print a bad story about us. It wasn’t fun.
There were only about 15 people in the church, just family. I couldn’t be seen buying anything bridal, so I got a ballgown from a local dress shop. I prepped all the food for the reception myself – chickpea curry, rice and pasta salads. The most terrifying part was that it was such a commitment. We were both thinking the same thing: are we ready for this?
Robert never expected to get married, and I’d only been to one wedding in my life. To go through the ceremony was so official and regimented. It was a very strange feeling for a punk rocker. Robert wanted medieval vows about beasts rotting in the field, whereas the one thing I really wanted was to leave out the “I will obey” line – the vicar insisted that it should be in.
Back then, everything was from Robert’s point of view. He came from the 60s – from having multiple girlfriends all at once, lots of casual sex, whereas I’d had none of that. He was a global rock success and his world only included him and his band. I came from my world of punk and complete independence. It was an unlikely match, but he was the first person I had met who wasn’t trying to dominate me as a female and was meeting me as a human being.
Robert and I met while working together on a charity performance. We talked nonstop and didn’t sleep for a week as a result. He told me he realized immediately I was his wife from him; we were engaged after a week and married nine months later. But at the time I was trying to extricate myself from a horrible relationship. Organizing the wedding to Robert was incredibly stressful, so getting to that church was oddly the calmest moment I’d had in a long time.
For the first 30 years of our marriage Robert never saw what I did beyond the home environment. It’s since lockdown – during which I’ve released an album and created our Sunday Lunch YouTube videos – that he has realized just what I do. Getting him involved with the videos was an experience. He has a reputation for being stubborn, but over the years he has become kinder and more fun. I was worried Robert wasn’t moving enough, so I said to him: I’m going to teach you how to dance. We started with a jive and I quickly realized this man can play 11 notes a second, but he can’t tell left from right. I posted the footage and within five minutes we had 100,000 responses from around the world. We’re up to more than 65m views.
Robert and I have never really relaxed – there are no beach holidays. For 36 years, we’ve talked about doing Route 66, but I need to accept that won’t happen. What we have done is built something as artists that means the world to us. We are completely dedicated to our work, and it’s what keeps us going.
We would like to renew our vows, and if we do he’s paying for a dress, the ceremony and reception. That sounds unromantic, but he has to take part this time. Not homemade chickpea curry. We’ll do it the right way.
I’m sure if I could remember being born it would be a level of terror on a couple with my marriage day. I knew I loved her, but I didn’t know her very well. And here I was committing my life to this person.
When we first met we were followed everywhere by the press. So the wedding had to be a private family event. This was to some degree undermined because the Abbey House in Witchampton, Dorset, opposite the church where we were being married, had a big auction taking place at the same time, so there was a lot of national press. A local photographer saw that something was going on, and pounced. After the wedding ceremony we fled from the church.
My approach to living has always been one of challenges. I surround myself with pointed sticks. One of the strategies I’ve always used is to spend money that I don’t have. I then have to go out and earn the money back. It has had my wife twitching. However, the past two years have been the only time that I have found comfort; cohabiting with my wife on a daily basis. We have little moments of intimacy: 30 minutes in a wonderful tea shop in town, where I am able to listen to my wife telling me what she’s been thinking about.
What I’ve seen in the past two years – what I already knew but had not participated in as fully – is the depth of my wife’s creative vision. There is something very other about her. I often say that she came from the planet Zarg. But I have also seen how difficult it is for a very short woman of a certain age to be seen, heard or acknowledged. These days I am copied into her business emails from her, because if she I am not there’s a high chance she wo n’t get a response.
It hasn’t always been that way. When Toyah did It’s a Royal Knockout in 1987, I was sitting next to a banker who was supporting the event. He said to me: “Does it ever concern you that you’re simply an adjunct to your wife’s fame?” I said: “No, it’s never been an issue for me.” She is the star in this household, there’s no doubt about it, and I do not answer it for a moment. I’m here to support her. Even if it means donning a tutu, going down to the river at the end of our garden and dancing as well as I can to Swan Lake.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism