First-Hand: It was love at first sight for both of us: Patti Bratby tells how she met her artist husband John when she placed a lonely hearts ad

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The Independent Online
WE HAD absolutely nothing in common, nothing at all, but it was love at first sight for both of us. John was a tremendous intellectual, very well-read and so on. I was never much good at that kind of conversation and I wasn't interested in painting at all, and I am not now] He was 45 and I was 42 and we'd both been married before. John had five children and I had one daughter.

My ad came out in the Valentine's Day issue of Time Out in 1972 and I put in a kind of witty advertisement about wanting a Valentine, or something like that. I chose Time Out because I was teaching speech and drama at the time and had put an advertisement in for that, and while I was reading the classifieds I noticed all these fascinating lonely hearts and I thought 'I'd like to do that]'

I had loads and loads of responses. Most of them seemed to be engineers, which was odd, and all of them were nine-to-fivers which isn't really my thing at all, but I made some quite good friends.

John was the second person I arranged to meet. We met in a pub in London and I was an hour-and-a-half late because his directions were so awful and I had to come all the way from Kings Langley where I was living. He was waiting in the pub with a very beautiful young girl who was the model he'd been using for the day. But she scuttled off when I arrived. I remember that I was wearing one of those horrid smelly goatskin coats which were all the rage then and a floaty Indian dress. I'd got as tarted up as I could. John was in his one and only best suit, which he later got married in. I've still got that suit somewhere, in the back of a cupboard.

I was pretty nervous and found out later that he was terribly nervous too. He was an extremely shy person. He swore I hadn't really heard of him, that he was old hat. But I knew about him because he was famous in the Fifties, when we were both young. He'd advertised in Time Out himself before but he made himself sound far too high-flying, said he was a famous artist and a millionaire. He only had four responses]

Anyway, we were sitting in the pub when suddenly he went off to the toilet, and he was gone for hours. I thought 'I've lost him]' I was all ready to go when he re-emerged. Then he asked when he could see me again and because I had all the other dates from my advertisement lined up, I couldn't see him for three weeks.

For our second date, we went off to Rochester and walked around the cathedral and all the sites. I remember I was dying for a drink.

After that I expect I rang him up. I was the keen one and did all the running. He didn't have much confidence and it was hard for him to really believe how loveable he was. I think he fell in love with me because I fell in love with him.

And he was so loveable] The moment I met him in that pub I felt he was a kindred spirit. He wasn't at all good-looking, but our life together was really just one big romance. He loved to dress me up and paint me, our house is full of his pictures - on every wall] He liked me to wear leather particularly and he always chose my clothes.

We married a year after we met, in 1974. The moment John's divorce came through we rushed off to Shoreditch Register Office with a special licence. There was a great deal of publicity when we married and lots of jolly people came to our wedding, like Sam Wanamaker. I wore a pinkish dress. Everyone knew how we'd met because of the publicity and I expect some people disapproved, but no one said anything snide about it. But then how could they when we were so happy?

When we got married we lived in the coach house of the big house where his ex-wife was living, and then we moved to Greenwich. Finally we found the fairy palace of our dreams which was perched on a hill overlooking Hastings. John's paintings are all over the walls of every room. When he wasn't working we would go off to Paris or Venice and stay in very luxurious hotels and spend all our money]

I had put a lonely hearts advertisement in a newspaper about two years before I met John. It was in the New Statesman and I met a very different kind of person than the Time Out crew. I met a man through it with whom I had an affair for 14 months. We still keep in touch and I think he still advertises for partners although he is knocking on 80] After we broke up, he married a very beautiful young lady who was his fifth or sixth wife]

I don't know that I would advertise now, what with Aids and so on. It wasn't dangerous at all in my day, everyone did it] Never once did I feel frightened, I met some lovely people. But maybe I had a guardian angel looking after me]

Interview by Lucy Lethbridge

(Photograph omitted)