Audrey Hepburn will probably always be remembered as the beautiful young woman standing outside Tiffany’s with a pastry in her hand and her heart on her sleeve, dreaming of everything the city of New York could offer her but ultimately, desperately seeking someone who would love her for more than her ‘it girl’ status.
Audrey was so much more than the epitome of elegance and glamour, with interests in the scope of charity as much as the arts. By the time she quit Hollywood to invest all her energy in working for UNICEF, she was far more interested in the stuff that unites humanity than the materialism that divides it.
Audrey the World Citizen
Audrey Hepburn was born in 1929 in Brussels, to a father of British-Austrian descent and a Dutch baroness. Owing to her father’s work, she travelled frequently, picking up five different languages (Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Italian).
In the 1930s, her parents became involved with the British Union of Fascists, her father moving to London in 1935 to work closely with this group, while Audrey and her mother continued to live in Brussels, moving to London in 1937 (her parents divorced the following year).
She described the separation from her father as “the most traumatic event of my life,” and indeed, it took her many years to connect with him, locating him in the 1960s in Ireland through the Red Cross.
Surviving the Nazi Invasion
When Britain declared War on Germany in 1939, Audrey’s mother sought to bring her daughter to ‘neutral territory’, Arnhem in the Netherlands, where she honed her natural ballet skills under renowned teacher, Winja Marova. However, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands the following year, causing the family great trauma.
Audrey’s uncle, Otto, was executed for allegedly forming part of the resistance movement and her half brother was sent to work in a German labour camp. She recalls the grave effect the Nazi presence had on her: “Had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves. We thought it might be over next week… six months… next year… that’s how we got through”.
Audrey and the Resistance
Audrey, always on the side of the underdog, worked alongside the Dutch resistance, carrying secret messages in her ballet slippers.
One day, she barely escaped with her life after being pulled over to the side of the road by Nazi officers, then set free. She also performed ballet to help raise funds for the resistance, in a series of silent events – the crowd was always instructed not to clap, for fear of raising the suspicion of German soldiers.
When she was 16, she volunteered as a nurse at a Dutch hospital, treating many wounded soldiers hurt in the Battle of Arnhem. One of her patients was a young British soldier called Terence Young – little did Audrey know that 20 years down the track, he would be directing her in the dramatic film, Wait Until Dark…
Words Marisa Cutillas