'You'll be very surprised: I'm going to marry you'

The time: November 1948 The place: Buenos Aires The woman: Susana (now Lady) Walton; Revelations

I'm Argentinian, born in Buenos Aires, and I've always been independent- minded. At that time it wasn't done to have a job, and when I took my job with the British Council as a link person between foreign visitors and Argentines, my family thought their name was being dragged in the mud.

Anyhow, I persisted, I had my job; and we got a letter from London office, telling us to take care of this eminent composer, arriving as a guest of the Performing Rights Society. They were trying to get Peron to sign the international agreement, because in Argentina everything was done on the radio and in the theatre, and books were translated and nobody got a penny.

The first thing I did was organise a press conference for William Walton in the Music Centre - the British Council had a very beautiful music centre. And it was so amusing, this press conference, because the head of the Performing Rights Society was Leslie Boosey, head of the publishers of William's - let's say - rival, Benjamin Britten. But they got on frightfully well. And because he was the president of the society, Leslie thought he should be at the press conference.

He was shorter than William and stood in front of him, so the journalists had to talk through Leslie Boosey, who answered most of the questions. "Who is the most popular composer today in Britain today?" "Benjamin Britten". William was in stitches; he thought it was the funniest thing, a press conference taken from beneath his very nose by Leslie Boosey, and he had time to look around.

I was at the back of the hall. To my intense surprise, the press conference finishes, William comes towards me, and says "You'll be very surprised to hear I am going to marry you." And I said, "Oh, don't be ridiculous, Dr Walton." It was so unnerving. He didn't know who I was, he didn't know if I spoke his language, if I was already married, nothing. He didn't know anything. We had not met.

He was very, very clever. For the next two weeks, he came every morning and took me out to see museums and do shopping. And he said, "Have you thought about it? Are you going to marry me?" I always treated it as a huge joke, ha ha.

Then one day he didn't say a word. I got very worried, and said, "William, something's wrong today. You haven't asked me to marry you." And he said, "Oh, I'm not going to do that. I've done it for two weeks, you've taken it as the hugest joke in the world, and that's it, thank you very much." And I said, "Oh dear, that's not very good. Maybe if you tried once more, this time is the lucky one." And so then we were engaged.

In those two weeks I got accustomed to having William there, and I thought, this is awful, I can't lose this man. That's why he was so clever, because he must have planned it.

I thought he was terribly attractive. Of course he was much older: he was 49, I was 22. There must have been an element of the strangeness, somebody from another culture - William was entirely British and I had never come into contact with that side of the world.

He was very witty, enormously amusing. He has a famous work, Facade, that is like a glass of champagne, and William was like a glass of champagne: you never knew what the next bubble was going to produce.

We married within a month in Buenos Aires, and my whole family fell down in a faint, because "What does this man do for a living?", and "You can't marry an Englishman", and "This is ridiculous, you're leaving everything, your friends, your background, everything". And I couldn't care a hoot what I was leaving.

We came to England and the day before we landed he said: "By the way, we're not going to live in London and have a good time, we're going to live in the Bay of Naples."

At the age of 17 he had been taken by the Sitwells, who were his patrons, to Amalfi on that beautiful coast south of Naples, and the impression was so strong that he never forgot it. So coming back from Buenos Aires, safely married, he thought, now at last I can do what I want to do, that is, to write music, sit down and isolate myself. So that's where we went. And that's where we stayed.

The Bay of Naples I didn't think much of - at that time it was complete chaos. There was no food on the island, Ischia: they still couldn't fish because of sea mines, so one had to send a little man over to Naples to buy carrots and essentials.They'd never seen butter, they'd never seen parmigiano, because they had goats' cheese to grate.

I thought, God, where have we got to? But William thought it was great, because he worked for six months without seeing a single human being - wives don't count. I embroidered for hours, I cooked, I shopped. When he finished Troilus and Cressida, after five years, I thought we'd return to London.

Not a bit of it; he wanted to continue. I said: "Darling, I quite agree, marvellous idea, but I must have something of my own. I can't live like this." So we started buying the land to build a house and I started the garden. I was always a bit of a loony for plants.

We came to London twice a year. William was given the Order of Merit, and at that time, the others were Kenneth Clark, Henry Moore, Freddie Ashton, Larry Olivier. All his friends were OMs; it was like a private club.

I wasn't musical, but I joined a choir, because I thought I must do something. William said: "But I have only married you because you have one virtue, that is not to know anything about music. Please keep it like that." So then, you see I relaxed.

Years later, I said, "William, how did you dare put your life on a razor- blade? You didn't know what this young woman would do. She'd never been to Europe - you don't know how people react. How did you actually have the courage to ask me to get married?"

He said, "There was no problem attached. I had a vision. I saw my life, you were in it, so it had to happen." I said, "Well, all right, have you ever had that vision before?" And he said, "Yes, I had this vision before."

And 15 years before, he had met the most unsuitable person who was a very beautiful woman, immensely wealthy, married, at the top of society, called Alice. They had 15 years of the happiest, adorable relationship. She was married, but her family was delighted that Alice was happy - - and she took care of William for 15 years. And then she died of cancer, in May.

So he came to Buenos Aires and, for the first time he was free to get married, and he had enough money to do so. As a young man he couldn't take any responsibilities because he didn't know where the next crust of bread was coming from.

We were married for 35 years and we built this marvellous property in Italy that has a lovely garden full of exotic plants. William decided he wanted the property to survive, to help young people. So I opened it to the public, and built a recital hall where there is a little Walton museum and where we have the masterclass every year. It is now getting better known - in fact on Ischia it is a thing to see now: the archaeological site, the old castle and us. It's very thrilling first of all to have this life, and now have this property as a memorial for Williamn

The fifth Oldham Walton Festival is in Oldham, 21-23 March (tickets, 0161-911-4072).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?