Rebecca Lewis Lalatta: the art of bridging cultures
Eclectic by nature as many British as well as Sardinian women, Rebecca Lewis Lalatta has been living in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, for over 20 years. With a degree in social sciences from the University of Edinburgh and several years of training as a flautist at the Royal College of Music in London, she juggles a career in the luxury travel industry at L’e Marquis (she is Regional Director of Sardinian Luxury) and a life-long passion for classical music.
The heart of the Trio Aria music ensemble, with whom she has played all over Europe, Rebecca is also the founder and director of a cultural society called Settimo Suono (“Seventh Sound”).
After bringing 110 Carabinieri and 88 horses from Rome to perform for Her Majesty the Queen during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle, she has been awarded the honorary title of “Benemerita” of the Arma dei Carabinieri, becoming the first woman in history to play with the force’s famous Fanfara band.
Mother to William and Thomas (18,16), she is an unconventional super-busy woman who is never too busy to say no to an afternoon tea break. Her motto is: “I love my job!”.
What brought you to Sardinia in the first place and what keeps you here?
I first came to Sardinia in January 1995, after graduating from the University of Edinburgh. I was twenty two years old and, after my degree, had qualified as a TEFL teacher in Cambridge. My initial plan was to stay in Cagliari for just six months, to learn Italian and explore the island whilst supporting myself teaching English.
After six months, though, my Italian was still in its early stages. I had studied French at school, but soon abandoned it to concentrate exclusively on Italian. Being a musician, I was familiar with all the musical terms, but these didn’t help much in everyday life.
I decided to stay in Cagliari for another academic year. I enjoyed meeting a range of students, from children at a primary school in the mountains, to managers at local businesses, and a colourful array at evening classes. Although it was fascinating to meet so many lovely people, I didn’t feel that teaching English was my vocation.
During my first year in Sardinia, I rented an apartment on the top floor of a palazzo in the old town. I met the “man next door”, actually on the floor below, and he became my husband! We have two sons, William and Thomas, who are 18 and 16. Instead of staying for six months, I’ve now been living in Sardinia for twenty two years, precisely half my life!
Business woman, PR maven, musician, mother of two, you wear several hats and successfully cultivate your many talents. How do you manage to balance pressure and creativity in your life?
I love the freedom of working for myself, not being restricted by office hours or any one physical space. To do my work, I need a computer with a fast internet connection and a telephone. I thrive on changing activities, so after sending emails and concentrating on business, I’ll then move to a different space to practise my flute. Very often when I’m playing, I’ll get ideas for my work and projects, so keep a pencil and notebook handy to write them down. I need both activities, and they seem to nourish each other. This perhaps reflects the duality of my cultural experience, moving with ease from one to the other.
Being able to manage my own time, I can schedule meetings, and fit everything around them. Sometimes meetings are local in Sardinia, sometimes I have to fly to mainland Italy or other places in Europe. The beauty of living in Cagliari is that the airport is just a ten minute drive from home, so I never waste time with long commutes or heavy traffic.
I find that my work and projects, both musical and non, have a wave-like form, where the pressure can mount considerably, with many things culminating at the same time. These are the moments I cherish the most, and am energised when riding the crest. The quieter moments are more of preparation and daily maintenance, which is enjoyable but with fewer adrenalin rushes!
Among the rest, you have even found some time to shake hands with Queen Elizabeth II. Tell us more about that experience.
This was my most ambitious project to date! In fact in 2012, I shook hands with HM the Queen at her home in Windsor Castle in May, and Buckingham Palace in October. It was the year I turned 40, so rather special!
In May 2009, I’d accompanied the Queen’s first cousin, Prince Michael of Kent with his wife, when they came to Cagliari for the Sant’Efisio May Day celebrations. On that occasion, we saw the equestrian display, the Carosello, performed by the Mounted Regiment of Carabinieri who’d come from Rome for the first time. It was a spectacular event, and Prince Michael was keen to take it to England. He put me in contact with the director of the Royal Windsor Horse Show, and the General of the Carabinieri for Sardinia put me in contact with the Commanding Officer of the Mounted Regiment in Rome.
It took until 2012 to procure funding for the event, which was sponsored by Ferrari, with its apt prancing horse and, for the first time in history, the Carosello performed in Britain. We took 88 horses from Rome to Windsor, and 110 Carabinieri. I flew with 90 Carabinieri in their beautiful uniforms, from Rome to London, on an Alitalia flight, as the airline had also backed the project, offering special fares. Being escorted by 90 Carabinieri was almost not enough that day. As we landed in London and left the ‘plane, I banged into an old student of mine, who was the pilot!
The Carosello performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle, where we stayed for eleven days. There were people and horses from all over the world, united in Windsor to celebrate 60 years of reign. A small group from each country was invited to the Castle for afternoon tea (delicious!) with the Queen. She shook hands and spoke to everyone present, which was an experience in itself, as I don’t believe I’ll ever again be in the same room with such a vast representation of humanity. There were Inuits, Aborigines, Chileans, Indians, Cook Islanders, three African tribes, Pakistanis, Italians, Mexicans, Australians, Azerbaijanis, New Zealanders, Maoris, Ugandans, Omanis, Canadians, as well as famous actors, television personalities and royalty.
I was invited to Buckingham Palace in October 2012, for a cocktail reception. The Queen wished to thank all those who had taken part in organising events in her Jubilee year. I was also invited to a third reception, but, thanks to the Italian postal service, the invitation took one month to be delivered, arriving the afternoon before the event, so I missed the party.
If you could have her here, where would you bring her?
The Queen is famously passionate about horses and still enjoys riding aged 90. I would invite her to visit Sardinia in the spring, when the countryside is an explosion of colours and scents. I’d take her riding through the mountains, vineyards and along the beaches. Sardinia is a paradise for horse lovers!
Any particular new challenge or adventure that you are looking for this year?
In December 2016, we launched the Sardinian Luxury website. We are already receiving requests from around the world for high end villa rentals during the summer season, but also in spring and autumn. As well as promoting the best properties on the island, and creating “Mamma mia” experiences for our clients, we are delighted to be able to promote excellence in Sardinia, to give something back to the land that has given me so much. We have the best producers of olive oil, wine and food, beauty products, and human resources with the most talented chefs on the island, artists, artisans, musicians and designers. Part of our profits are donated to a local charity, the Peter Pan Onlus, that takes care of autistic children and young adults when they leave the education system.
We already have a good base of products and people on the website, and I’ll look forward to creating the most complete portfolio of Sardinian excellence, to share globally. We have great contacts with the international press, who are always interested in discovering secrets. Sardinia is one of the world’s blue zones, with a large number of centenarians on the island, and high profile longevity studies being conducted, especially with research institutes in the United States.
Music-wise, a challenge I’ve set for this year, is to take the amazing Carabinieri Fanfara band from Milan on tour to Canada, to take part in the country’s 150th anniversary celebrations. I am lucky to be the first woman to play with the Fanfara, so this project is doubly interesting, as I could help organise the tour, and also play my flute with the band.
As a musician, what inspires you most about living in Sardinia?
I’m inspired by the beauty of Sardinia, the open spaces, the sea, sunsets, winds, the wilderness of some areas. There’s music everywhere here, and a strong feeling of timelessness. The island is also a breeding ground for excellent musicians. My great friend and flute teacher, Salvatore Saddi, has produced more principal flute players in Italian orchestras than any other professor nationwide. We organise private concerts with world class musicians for our clients in their beautiful villas, which is a true luxury.
Your personal definition of Sardinia is...
All photos (except those with HM and Prince Michael) have been taken by Luigi Bloise.
The portrait of Rebecca on top of the page is a watercolour by Sardinian Luxury artist Pink Harrison.