In my research, I read that your mother was superstitious. Is that true?
Yes, she was extremely superstitious. Not in a crazy way, but she had superstitions about everything, like dropping the salt, opening an umbrella in the house or leaving a hat on the bed. She was careful not to attract anything but luck. And she was always so on guard; having this experience with the war, she was always prepared that war or smething else could break through; she didn’t let us see that, but she would think that something can come and take everything away. It was a permanent lesson for us, as she reminded us that nothing is eternal.
And the last lesson she offered us was the way she confronted her illness. She was very calm and very aware that it was serious and she would lose her life, but she did her best. She was thinking of us, mostly. She was asking herself whether we were grown-up enough, whether everything was under control and we wouldn’t go through too much stress. She wasn’t thinking: Oh, my God, I’m going to die, I’m terrified. Her only worry was: Have I done a proper job with my children? Are they well, are they grown-up enough to be without me? An old-style mother. She always used to say: I had a beautiful, long, happy and lucky life. And the UNICEF career was a way for her to close this circle.
This was one of her most defining experiences. How did it start?
It was her second career. After the war she was saved by UNICEF, so her main motivation for working with them was that she had been through this experience. Her thought was always about the children – it could be children in Italy, in Romania, in Africa – she would say: If you walk on the street and you see children dying, you don’t ask yourself: Are they my children? You just stop and help. She didn’t do it as a star, she would say: I travel as a mother. That was a strong message.
She said one of her most important life experiences was on the field in Africa. She knew that what children needed was a helping hand, a smile, somebody who treats them like human beings. Because she was famous, people in wealthier countries would pay attention on what she did, and she was happy about it. She wasn’t happy about going to Hollywood celebrations just for the sake of it, but she was happy using her celebrity to help others. She said: If people pay more attention because I have a well-known face, that’s great, but she wasn’t going there as a star at all. And she would spend so much time preparing! She read every article about medication, vaccines, countries’ necessities etc. I saw her waking up at 5.00 o’clock in the morning and reading for her UNICEF campaigns, but I didn’t know how well prepared she was until I started to learn about her work for our charity fund. She studied a lot, she was an expert in everything she talked about. She didn’t rely on the fact that she was Audrey Hepburn. I think it’s something that says a lot about her, because people usually don’t prepare so much. It’s funny that in one of your e-mails you wrote to me that you needed time to prepare and research more for this interview, that was very professional of you, because most journalists don’t prepare very much. You made me think of my mother, she was like you in this aspect. She took things very seriously in her acting career, too, she would study and rehearse a lot, until she felt she was good enough.
What are your greatest joys about working for the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund?
We are a very small fund, but we try our best. Our greatest success, which has of course to do with my mother’s image, is that we are very good at raising awareness. We work in conjunction with many charities, UNICEF included, we support hospitals and schools in different countries. The book that recently appeared, Audrey in Rome, was presented during an exhibition in Rome to support UNICEF, and the money from the sales is going to charity.
We are very lucky to have my mother as an image, because when people open a magazine and see a photo of Audrey Hepburn, they stop. They read the article, they pay attention, and our mission is to remind them that anybody can do something good for the others who are in need. You can donate, you can help a poor child by offering a little portion of your income, like 2 % a year. It makes a huge difference. One thing my mom used to say is that people have to think about themselves when they help children. A child who suffered during a war or any other kind of cruelty is very vulnerable and is probably going to become an angry person as an adult. Then, my mother was saying: Not a single mother in the world wants to see her children die; but still, 18.000 children die every day from preventable reasons. When my mother started working for the UNICEF, there were 36.000. If we don’t put up a system where the poorest countries aren’t so vulnerable anymore, things will get worse for everybody else.
And when you think that sometimes it is so simple to help…
Yes, sometimes it all comes down to building a well close to the village, so people don’t have to walk for miles and miles to get drinking water. Poorness and hunger is a very rich soil for war. The UNICEF mission is about the children, but it’s the same like ecology; it’s a matter of preservation, it’s a way of taking care of our world. You cannot expect to have misery in one part of the world and be happy in your house. This misery is going to be part of your life, too. And one day this will become an emergency. So donating is like preventing, and it should be a normal thing, like cleaning up your kitchen. If you don’t clean your kitchen, in time it becomes a mess, doesn’t it? You don’t clean it only because it looks better, but because if you don’t, it can cause you some serious problems.
People listen because we are called “Audrey Hepburn,” because she was a beautiful person and has been a fantastic inspiration to many. Our message is: Listen, but listen for a good cause, because it’s better for you, it’s good for your heart. Helping the others is helping us. We do our best, we try to respect my mother’s memory and wishes. And its good for the new generation, we have many young fans.
So much has been said about your mother… Is there anything that people don’t know about Audrey Hepburn?
It’s quite the opposite. But one thing that people usually don’t associate with a Hollywood actor’s career is hard work. My mother was an extreme hard worker. Sometimes, because of the way we live, we tend to associate Hollywood with an easy-going life. Everybody’s successful, everybody makes a lot of money and doesn’t worry about a thing. No, Audrey Hepburn always worked very hard for her career and for being a mother. She was saying about herself that she was lucky, but the truth is she worked very hard. It has also been a great lesson for me too: if you want something, you have to really work for it, wake up early every day and pursue your goal. This is important especially for the young generation; life is not just about being pretty, being well-dressed and glamorous, and hoping that things happen. This way you will have a very empty life and a good chance of failure. My mom believed in work and behind every one of her projects there was a tremendous amount of work.
When she was very young, she had trained to become a ballerina; she used to say that ballerinas’ training is the hardest physical work you can imagine. And it helped her push her limits and learn to work a lot to get where she wanted to. To me she was an easy mother; not always, but most of the time we had a great relationship. And she would tell me: Your work is to go to school. I buy you books and pencils and everything you need, but you also have to do your job. She taught me to try hard, to be demanding of myself.
What else did she teach you?
She would always think about poor and sick people and she used to say you can never complain, because there will always be somebody with bigger problems than yours. Today the message in the media is that there are people richer and happier than you, living a great life, with sport cars, private jets, parties… But what she would say is: Be happy with what you are and try to improve your life and other people’s lives with what you can. And stop looking at that minority with an apparent better life.
I’m sure many people thought and still think your mother had this enviable life, too.
Oh, yes. When you think about my mother, you probably think she was this glamurous Hollywood star, with an easy life, with lots of money… Not at all. For many reasons. In those times it wasn’t like today, when stars make fortunes by being in the movies. Back then they were working for the studios, and acting wasn’t a profession to make millions of dollars.
What were Audrey Hepburn’s daily pleasures?
My mother loved to be at home with her family and her dogs. Cooking, gardening and sometimes having good old friends over. She loved to take long walks in the country side or in the city, almost everytime with her dogs.
Is it true that she didn’t like pastries? I read it wasn’t a pleasure for her to film the scene in front of Tiffany’s, where she had to eat a croissant.
Not at all. She loved to cook and eat madeleines, but I’m not sure she loved croissants. She was more a whole bread kind.
Also, is it true that she used to smoke a lot?
She did smoke, but by old standards not a lot (today anything above one cigarette is too much). She started like most of her generation, right after the war, as cigarettes and chocolate were part of the Liberation. But she never finished her cigarette, taking only a few puffs from each.
If she were alive today, what do you think would make her proud of you?
She always said to me: Whatever you’ll choose in life, I’ll be proud of you. Mothers always are. I keep this close to my heart when I have doubts. She would have loved her grandsons for sure.
What reminds you of your mother?
Many, many things. Mostly nature and its scents. We shared a very good nose for perfumes. Also, the devotion for work and family, beside a terrible stubbornness.
And what do you miss most about her?
The peace that she was able to share. Her voice. Having a mother and a grandmother for my sons.
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Luca Dotti is Audrey Hepburn’s son from her second marriage, with Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti. He was born on the 8th of February, 1970. This spring, two decades since his mother’s passing, Luca Dotti – along with HarperCollins publishing house – lauched the book Audrey in Rome, which is a wonderful tribute to the beloved actress and much-imitated style icon during the twenty-year period she made Rome her home. “A private album of rare snapshots—many never published before—of Audrey Hepburn in her everyday life as a citizen of the Eternal City, Audrey in Rome is a treasure for every fan of her films and her impeccable, timeless style. With an introduction by Dotti that reveals Audrey’s private side and three photo-filled chapters organized by decade, the book captures the actress as she strolls around the city alone and with family and friends, walks her Yorkie, Mr. Famous, has breakfast in Piazza Navona, visits the local florist, and more. The book also contains set photographs of the films she made during her Rome years (Roman Holiday, War and Peace, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and of the famous clothes and accessories that helped create her iconic look. Irresistible as the actress herself, Audrey in Rome opens the door to Hepburn’s personal world.” (HarperCollins)
Audrey Hepburn - Luca Dotti
You can order Audrey in Rome on Amazon.Semnat de Corina Stoica