Valerie Susie Langdon was born in the gutter – and stayed there – until the night in 1878 when she walked into the bar of the Horseshoe Tavern in Tottenham Court Road and met Henry Meux, the feckless, dissipated and weak-willed heir to a brewery across the street. The two married, in haste and in secret, to the predictable horror of Henry’s mother, a granddaughter of the Marquess of Ailesbury. ‘I never for an instant thought it possible that Henry should be mad enough to marry any lady of that class.’ Later she was to learn that to an embarrassingly large number of young men about town her new daughter-in-law was known to have worked as a dance-hall hostess in Holborn, under the name of Val Reece.
The opening move in Val's campaign to conquer London society was to make Henry present her with jewels ‘worthy of her birth and station’ – a necklace, bracelet and tiara costing £10,000, a sum nearer £1,000,000 today. Next she paid a call on James McNeill Whistler in his Tite Street