Audrey Hepburn: in clips

Published 1 July 2015

Before heading to the National Portrait Gallery's show that celebrates the icon, get to know the person behind the glamour.

1. Hepburn’s childhood

The breakup of her mother and father in the 1930s delivered the first major emotional blow to Audrey Hepburn. Her eldest son, Sean Ferrer told the BBC; ‘It played a vital role in making her more insecure than she needed to be.’

2. Growing up during the Second World War

When the Second World War was declared, Audrey and her mum Baroness Ella van Heemstra, moved to the Netherlands mistakenly believing that the Netherlands would take a neutral stance during the war. Within a year, the Nazis turned on the Dutch. The family suffered from malnutrition; grinding tulip bulbs to make flour. To contribute to the war effort, Hepburn (now a skilful ballet dancer) made secret performances to raise money for the Dutch resistance.

3. Roman Holiday, 1953

Despite a scholarship at Ballet Rambert, the status of prima ballerina was unattainable for Hepburn because of her weak constitution (the result of war’s malnutrition). As a result, she decided to concentrate on acting and, following several minor roles, was cast as the lead actress in Roman Holiday alongside Gregory Peck. It was a grand success and Hepburn became the first actress to win an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award for her performance in the film.

4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961

In 1961, Hepburn was cast in her most iconic role as Holly Golightley in Breakfast at Tiffay’s. In actual fact, Marylin Monroe was Truman Capote’s first choice. Monroe, however, declined the part. The film’s famous opening song went onto win two Academy Awards and Hepburn, an Oscar nomination.

5. Work with UNICEF

From the 1950s, Hepburn has worked with UNICEF, however she dedicated the remainder of her life to this work when she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF. Her first field mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She asked UNICEF to send food there during her visit to an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children.

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon is at National Portrait Gallery until 18 October. Get 50% off the exhibition's price with the National Art Pass.

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