How We Met: 55. Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp

Caroline Boucher
Saturday 10 October 1992 23:02 BST

Robert Fripp (46) started the rock band King Crimson. He has guided this highly successful group through several incarnations, run guitar seminars, lived for a spell in New York and recorded with artists such as David Bowie and Brian Eno. He married Toyah Willcox (34), on his 40th birthday. As high profile as he is low, Toyah combines successful singing and acting careers. Her films include Derek Jarman's The Tempest and Jubilee. The couple live in the late Sir Cecil Beaton's Queen Anne house, near Salisbury, when not pursuing their separate schedules across the world.

ROBERT FRIPP: My life really began when I met this little creature and she became my wife. It was like an arranged marriage. We didn't know each other, but it was perfectly clear to me within a week of knowing Toyah that she was the woman I wanted to be my wife - just as I knew within a fairly short time of having a guitar in my hands at the age of 11 that this was going to be my life. We got to know each other within the commitments and vows of marriage.

We met at the same charity lunch, first in 1983 and then in 1985. At the first one, I was ushered in to the celebrity enclosure and realised that a photo was about to be taken of Princess Michael of Kent, Toyah and myself. I was very busy backing away when the Princess extended her left arm and yanked me back into the picture. Needless to say, when it appeared next day I had been cut out - apart from an unidentified arm.

On the way to the 1985 lunch in the car, Toyah agreed to help me with a record I was doing for a school in Washington. I returned to America and continued to organise my guitar craft seminars, which were a runaway success - they were unstoppable. But there was one week in the calendar I simply could not fill, regardless of what I did. Everything else was fully booked except for this one week in October 1985. I'm not superstitious, but it became quite clear to me that this was an indication I was supposed to be in England that week. So I arranged for Toyah to come down to Dorset to do the recording and, within that week, I realised that she was to be my wife. I was completely bowled over by this wonderful little woman.

We're still learning to live together, and the first three years were hard. I was a bachelor; there were enormous adjustments to be made, and it was important to find and create a home together. There's also the generation difference - Toyah is 12 years younger than me and her generation is a lot sharper and quicker. We got married in 1986 - two days before her 28th birthday and on my 40th. Looking back on my own life between those ages, I know how much I changed.

I had to learn to hear what my wife was saying, and listen to the intention rather than the words because she will use a hundred where one would do, she has a far higher energy level than I do. We went to a therapist in New York - because we were invited to, rather than because we were in trouble - and she sat between us and interpreted each other's questions and answers, and said we spoke entirely different languages.

We do, however, both value our solitude and we have separate spaces within the house. We share the kitchen, the breakfast room and the bedroom. When I particularly feel the need for total solitude I will go on a retreat. I went on a ten-month retreat in 1975, and a three-month one in 1984, and I may feel the need to go on one next year. The 1984 one was to let the future present itself, because I'm a musician trying to work on instincts and hunches - an intuitive feeling that a jazz musician would naturally understand and a bank manager wouldn't, and I've come to realise

that my life changes radically every

seven years.

Our work causes us to be away from each other for enormous stretches of time. It's not that easy, but it's better now because we're more solid. My wife is wonderfully jealous, although anyone who knows me sees this middle- aged man moping around when she's away, because I've no interest whatsoever in any other woman; my interest

is exclusively in her. I'm not jealous,

because it doesn't occur to me to be,

it is not something I would give energy to and also because I trust her.

TOYAH WILLCOX: Robert and I shared the same managers and we met at a charity lunch. On the way there, in the chauffeur-driven car, he asked if I would narrate a story on an album he was making for a school in Washington, and I agreed. I went to Dorset to record it and there was an immediate attraction - he later told me that he had predicted three weeks earlier to friends in New York that he was going to meet his wife.

He was instantly adorable - a gentle, traditional, old-worldy gentleman, which is unusual in the music business. I'd been living with a boyfriend for five years and met Robert during the break-up. It was a particularly ugly parting, because my partner was living in my house, didn't want to leave and didn't want to end the relationship. I wasn't on the rebound, the split had started four months before, but meeting Robert was a great help.

I wasn't in awe of him, and I knew nothing about King Crimson because I'd been into punk and David Bowie - although, ironically, Robert had worked with him. He's very self-effacing, to the point of refusing to be lit onstage, and, equally, he knew little of my own background. I don't think he fully understood the popularity I had - I was a bit of an icon at the time we met. It wasn't really until much later, when he came with me to Sainsbury's and saw the shoppers' reaction, that he realised I was quite famous.

He bought a bottle of champagne and made me propose to him, by asking me questions: 'What would you like?' to which I'd say, 'Well, I'd like to see more of you.' That's the way he always does things - I'll use a hundred words where he'll use one. We lived together for nine months and then got married in the church in the Dorset village where Robert lived. Unfortunately we were spotted by a photographer who was covering a big house sale right by the church, and the whole thing turned into a huge circus. It was particularly bad the next day because they just wouldn't leave us alone, so we had to flee the house.

Robert had wanted us to live together for three years before getting married, but I could see how potentially difficult that could be, because he was commuting to America every two weeks, and I was so in need of him I could envisage having a broken heart every fortnight. Now I've come to terms with being apart for so much of the time and I find it exciting, but we make a point of seeing each other at least every three weeks.

At the moment I'm spending long periods in Berlin working with an experimental rock band, rehearsing from seven at night until seven in the morning, and my life is so topsy-turvy that my work stops me missing him. I phone him up to five times a day - when I was working on a film in Belgium recently, my phone bill for two weeks was pounds 140. Fortunately I love travelling, the feeling of packing my suitcase and going somewhere, especially to meet my husband, and at the moment that feeling outweighs my love of children. I love them, I love my friends' children, but I value my freedom more. I was sterilised recently after being ill, and although it's a reversible operation, the will isn't strong enough at present.

A lack of interest in children has nothing to do with my background. I grew up in Birmingham, I was the youngest of three, and I was a real pain. I had a great relationship with my father, but I was really awful to my mother - to the point of once going for her with a pair of scissors. If the New Age travellers had come along, I'd have run off with them because I hated being at home, hated being at school, and was ill a lot - digestive problems and shallow hips. Last year my mother was very ill with a growth in the throat, and when you become painfully aware of your parents' mortality your attitude changes. Now I'm able to hold conversations without reacting against her. They both love Robert, and we've built them a cottage at our home in Wiltshire. But I think it's easier to get along with your in-laws, on the whole - I really love his mother.

Robert and I never argue - we're too stubborn - we just fall silent and put our feet down and don't budge. The only time I'll dispute a point with him is if I think he's being used and abused and needs protecting. I'm a terrible flirt - I'll wind down the car window and shout at boys standing at bus stops - but Robert's quite used to me, and that's as far as it goes.-

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