Revealing the ups and downs of a pickled past

Val Williams with a copy of her book, A Pickled Past.
Val Williams with a copy of her book, A Pickled Past. / SUR
  • Former hotelier Val Williams, who arrived on the coast in 1985, has recently published her memoirs

Valerie Williams has led an interesting life and she has travelled the world and enjoyed the beauty of such countries as India, Nepal, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and Iceland to name a few. A former hotelier, Val moved to Mijas in 1985, and since then, she has been one of the driving forces behind the Salón Varietés Theatre.

Not one to sit around and do nothing, during the lockdown she began a project that would result in the publication of A Pickled Past, an account of the trials and tribulations of her life.

Born in Malta in 1939, Val was just seven months old when her mother escaped the island with her two daughters and embarked on a perilous train route through Italy and France, finally arriving in London with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Val grew up in rural Wales, where she eventually bought a beautiful mansion house and converted it into a thriving hotel. Following the death of her husband, Val was left with three young children and a hotel to run, and so she eventually sold the business and decided to make a new life in Spain. She arrived on the Costa del Sol with her new partner in 1985 and the couple settled in Mijas. Her original idea of a quiet life in the sun was quickly abandoned and she was soon looking for a new venture to occupy her time.

One business venture saw the opening of the first Burger King restaurant in Fuengirola, even though she confesses to not liking burgers.

"I went into business with some Iranian business men and we eventually opened three branches of Burger King. I never eat burgers, so I don't really know why I did it," the bubbly 81-year-old tells SUR in English.

Val also took over the position as the social organiser for FOTA, the fundraising arm of the Salón Varietés Theatre. She would eventually become president of the association, but she stepped down last year. During her time with the organisation, she helped raise many thousands of euros for the theatre.

"I was 45 when I arrived in Spain and the theatre opened in the spring of that year. I took over the job as social organiser and I did that for eight years. I came back ten years ago, but I thought it was time now to hand over to a younger group," the cheerful patron of the arts explains.

Heartache and triumphs

However, being a workaholic with a kind-hearted nature, Val was still not ready to retire, so she spent the lockdown writing a daily post about her life on her Facebook page. Her honest, and often amusing, tales of adventure, heartache and triumphs became such a hit with her readers, she decided to publish a book on Amazon.

"Life changed for everyone when the pandemic took a grip. I was concerned about the many retired people living on their own. I felt I should do something to help those who were used to a good social life, but were confined to their homes. That began the episodes of A Pickled Past, a chronicle of my life from 1939 until 2020," Val says.

Val, who still possesses a strong Welsh accent, had never attempted a project like this, and she has no immediate plans to write another, even though she had "great fun" publishing her memoirs.

The book recounts her memories of hobnobbing with the famous at the Lew Hoad Tennis club, which, in her words, was the only place she would see her husband, "as he spent so little time at home".

Absolute pleasure

Val says that writing the book brought back so many wonderful memories (along with somebad ones), and she has been overwhelmed by the response.

"These episodes have brought me such absolute pleasure due to the wonderful support and interest from so many people. Many from the past have been in touch and it has made me sad and at the same time joyous. I used to get up every morning at 7am and write a chapter. I was so keen to get the next instalment to everyone. I never got writer's cramp, but I just couldn't write fast enough," she says, bursting into laughter.

With the book now selling well on Amazon, Val is still not ready to sit back and do nothing. Along with several friends, she has formed a new support platform (Simply Surviving) to help the local entertainment and hospitality industry overcome the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

She also intends to travel more once the pandemic is over. For now, she is content to enjoy life among the community that she has become such an important part of since arriving back in 1985.

"I cannot go anywhere now with this damn Covid. I have recently recovered from the virus and I am dying to travel again. I'll just have to busy myself the best way I can," she says.