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Audrey Hepburn: Life beyond Tiffany’s

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Look back at the fashion and film of the 1960s and there is one waif-like, pixie-featured figure that will peer back at you from behind large dark glasses, beneath a wondrous hat and adorned in impeccable clothes. Audrey Hepburn has long since been an international icon of fashion and is now reminiscent of a more elegant bygone age. However, beyond her skills on screen and her ability to carry off that Tiffany’s diamond (one of only two people ever), it is the character of a woman whose hardships began young and whose heart remained large that so captivates her admirers.

Born in 1929 in Belgium as Audrey Ruston, she and her family moved frequently between Belgium, the Netherlands and England, finally choosing to reside in the Netherlands on the outbreak of World War 2 in the hope that the country would remain neutral in the conflict. That wasn’t to be, though, and by 1944 her uncle had been executed and her brother was in a Nazi labour camp. Where oppression came, resistance followed, and soon young teenage Audrey became a supporter of the local network. She helped by dancing - using her skills to raise money for the resistors in silently appreciated ‘black performances’ - and by using her trusty pushbike and apparent innocence to courier messages. All before the age of 16.

‘The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.’

Through dire times during which she suffered deprivation of all kinds, Audrey put her life on the line to help overthrow the brutal Nazi regime that had rampaged across Europe.

Towards the end of the war, the Dutch Famine of 1944 caused Audrey, and thousands more, to suffer severe malnutrition, which would have lasting effects on her figure and overall health, as well as severe sickness. So stricken was the area that tulip bulbs were being eaten and grass added to bread in order to try to survive what have must have seemed to be the impossible. It was at this time that she experienced and saw for herself the incredible work of international aid agencies to help areas in dire straits, leaving an indelible mark on her character.

‘Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you’re exactly the same.’

Films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Funny Girl and Sabrina helped seal Audrey’s star status and she soon became an icon of fashion and film. Despite this, she contended with issues to do with body image - her nose was too big, her feet too big, she was too tall (given that she had wanted to be a ballerina) - but she never let this stop her. Even her incredible fear of water was overcome for her work (even if a couple of crew members had to be in the pool on standby in case something went wrong).

It was later in life that Audrey turned her focus to UNICEF, with a mind to give back for that help she had received as a teenager. Becoming a Goodwill Ambassador in 1989, she worked tirelessly to spread awareness and encourage support all over the world. It was for this work she was awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, and continued to travel and work for the cause so close to her heart right up until her death in 1993.

Though her life was cut short by cancer, Audrey’s growth into a multifaceted icon continues, transcending eras. So whether encouraged to audition for something that terrifies you, help out with charitable work or simply pick up your own bottle of L’interdit and a pair of large sunglasses, there is always something about Audrey to help inspire...

‘Opportunities don’t often come along. So, when they do, you have to grab them.’

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