Early Life

Young Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn lived a modest life. Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston on May 4, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium, she was the only child of Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, an English banker of Irish descent, and his second wife Ella, baroness van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat.

Soon after, her father changed their last name to coincide with the surname of his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn. Therefore, she became Audrey Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston. Hepburn had two half-brothers, Jonkheer Arnoud Robert Alexander “Alex” Quarles van Ufford and Jonkheer Ian Edgar Bruce Quarles van Ufford by her mother’s first marriage to a Dutch nobleman, Jonkheer Hendrik Gustaaf Adolf Quarles van Ufford.

Although born in Belgium, Hepburn had British citizenship and attended school in England as a child. Audrey’s father’s job with a British insurance company meant that the family often travelled between Brussels, England, and the Netherlands. From 1935 to 1938, Hepburn was educated at Miss Rigden’s School, an independent girls’ school in the village of Elham, Kent, in the southeast of England.

In 1935, Hepburn’s parents divorced and her father, a Nazi sympathizer, left the family. Both parents were members of the British Union of Fascists in the mid-1930s according to Unity Mitford, a friend of Ella van Heemstra and a follower of Adolf Hitler.[9]

Hepburn referred to her father’s abandonment as the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin, Ireland, through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, she stayed in contact with him and supported him financially until his death.

In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing the Netherlands would be safe from German

Arnhem Conservatory Ballet

attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945, where she trained in ballet along with the standard school curriculum.  When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Audrey adapted the name Edda van Heemstra because an “English sounding” name was considered dangerous, with her mother feeling that “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in the occupied Netherlands was not an asset; it could have attracted the attention of the occupying German forces and resulted in confinement or even deportation. Edda was never her legal name, also it was a version of her mother’s name Ella.

Hepburn’s half-brother, Ian van Ufford, spent time in a German labour camp. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed acute anaemia, respiratory problems, and oedema. One way that Audrey Hepburn passed the time was by drawing. Some of her childhood artwork can be seen today. When the country was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed. Hepburn said in an interview she ate an entire can of condensed milk and then got sick from one of her first relief meals because she put too much sugar in her oatmeal. Hepburn’s wartime experiences later led her to become involved with UNICEF.

 

Information from http://www.biography.com

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