“I was summoned to have tea with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. We talked about the philosophy of punk.” In 1980, when Britain's royal family wanted “to see what a punk rocker looks like” they invited Toyah Willcox to St James’s Palace

Toyah, Princess Margaret, Queen Mother
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images | Ken Goff/Getty Images)

In the summer of 1977, punk rock gatecrashed into the mainstream consciousness in Britain when the Sex Pistols' second single, God Save The Queen, entered the UK charts at number 2 during the week of the official observation of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee: it's widely believed that the single was actually the UK's highest-selling single that week, but the official chart stats were deliberately 'adjusted' to ensure that the nation's most infamous punk band were kept from reaching number one.

As controversial as the song was, however, it seems that it didn't necessarily alarm the monarchy, for three years later, punk starlet Toyah Willcox was summoned to one of London's royal palaces so that Queen Elizabeth's mother and sister could see at close quarters “what a punk rocker looks like,” according to a new [paywalled] interview the singer has given to The Telegraph

The anecdote crops up in the interview, when Willcox is asked to select her 'best punk moment', and nominates the day in question.

She recalls: “One of the most bizarre moments of my life was in the middle of recording [1981 album] Anthem and I was summoned to St James’s Palace with [English fashion designer and political activist] Katharine Hamnett, who is an all-time rebel, to have tea with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. I was wearing a Willy Brown dress, and my hair was bright orange with yellow streaks. 

“We were told we had to say ma’am and curtsey, and the Queen Mother entered and sat on one sofa with another guest and Margaret sat on my sofa with me and Katharine and said, 'Oh Hello… we want to see what a punk rocker looks like', which was just fabulous, especially as I realised later that Princess Margaret was probably the original punk rocker as she just rebelled and rebelled and rebelled.

“We talked about the philosophy of punk rock and how it was opening doors for women, and she was fascinated, and I met her many times after that and she was a wicked and very sharp woman.”

Although Toyah never met Queen Elizabeth II, Katherine Hamnet did, in June 2011, when she received a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) medal from the monarch, for her services to the British fashion industry. Earlier this year, the designer made headlines when she posted a video to Instagram showing her dumping the medal into a dustbin outside her home, while wearing a T-shirt bearing the words 'DISGUSTED TO BE BRITISH'.

“I’m disgusted to be British for our role in genocide in Gaza,” Hamnet said in the video. “This is my CBE. It belongs in the dustbin, with [British Prime Minister, Rishi] Sunak and [Labour Party leader Sir Keir] Starmer.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.