Luca Dotti talks about his mother – Audrey Hepburn. The V&A, London, 10th September 2013
As a birthday treat I went to see Luca Dotti (Audrey Hepburn’s son with second husband, the Italian psychiatrist, Andrea Dotti) talk about his mother’s life in Rome, to coincide with the release of the book ‘Audrey in Rome’ by Ludovica Damiana and Luca Dotti, text by Sciascia Gamaccini.
The book, a compilation of beautiful photographs taken from Luca’s personal archive, film stills and publicity shots came about after UNICEF approached Audrey’s estate for a possible exhibition to coincide with the 50th anniversary of ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’. This exhibition eventually became ‘Audrey in Rome’ a collection of films, photographs, clothes and objects from Audrey’s time in Rome and was successfully staged there in 2011. The impetus for Luca to do the book was making a family album that didn’t exist.
An orderly queue formed in the tunnel next to the Victoria & Albert museum in London’s South Kensington, a truly mixed crowd ranging from tanned and suited business men to girls discussing the merits of the new Hairy Biker’s Diet book. We were each given a bar of Galaxy chocolate (the event sponsors) and told not to eat it until after. Apparently the recent Galaxy ad. featuring Audrey Hepburn actually contains real footage of Audrey Hepburn eating a Galaxy bar in Rome all those years ago, somewhat retouched, cleaned up and added to, but still!
Luca with tousled brown hair and a short beard wore a navy blazer, a light blue shirt with a dark tie, cream straight-leg chinos with scuffed suede shoes, all Italian I suspect, as was he. Proudly, ‘a Roman’ speaking English and charming with it, he is a graphic designer living in Rome with his wife and three children.
It quickly became apparent through Luca that his mother had loved Rome, making me think of the final scene in Roman Holiday (1953), when Princess Ann, played by Audrey slips from protocol answering the question:
‘Which of the cities visited did Your Highness enjoy the most?
Eventually replying: ‘…Rome! By all means, Rome.’
As a selection of images from the book flashed up on a projector screen behind the speakers, Luca was questioned about his mothers fashion sense and clothes.
“I didn’t know my mother as anything else but my mother, I only saw her in jeans and a T-shirt”
The book on the contrary shows Audrey in many beautiful outfits, on the streets of Rome, arriving at airports, on film sets, buying Sunday pastries and flowers, walking with friends and candid family shots. These are a rare treat as most published pictures of Audrey were publicity film shots.
Of the press and fame Audrey was both equally gracious and respectful saying: they are working just like me, these were the days before reporters were named ‘paparazzi’, she would put on a smile and let them do her work, one is able to see in several images that her family were not quite so at ease.
There are a series of photos of Audrey with her mother, that clearly show the family resemblance in the turn of an ankle. Luca was obviously fond of both his maternal and paternal grandmothers and spoke of them both warmly. His paternal Nonna can be seen just behind Mel Ferrer in a shot at the premiere for The Nun’s Story in Rome. Audrey’s mother was fondly known as Nonna Tea due to her very British habit of having afternoon tea, although she was Dutch. She was a popular granny among the children, always having great gifts, such as the latest superhero toy acquired visiting friends in America.
Audrey was married to Andrea Dotti from 1969 – 1978, they met on a yacht sailing between Turkey and Greece after her break up with Mel Ferrer, with whom she had her first son Sean in 1960. Audrey was quoted as saying: ‘if I am going to be married, I want to be very married’, Luca came along and Audrey became just that, ending her short yet highly acclaimed filming career to be a full-time mother. On being questioned about what his mother was like at home. Luca joked that he gets asked that question a lot, as if his mother was Spiderman or something, when all she was to him was a normal ‘boring’ mother at home.
Audrey was also an animal lover, she had a Yorkshire Terrier called Mr. Famous followed by another called Assam, later moving onto Jack Russells. She also kept a fawn, following the filming of Green Mansions in 1959 and named him 1p. The family joke was that Mr. Famous committed suicide through jealously of 1p.
Audrey’s favourite flowers were tulips (being Dutch by birth) and roses. Audrey told Luca the reason we as humans love flowers is because it is in our DNA, we recognise them as a signal that food will be coming. As fruit follows the blossom.
It came across that most of the ‘celebrities’ Audrey associated with became firm friends and were only know as such to the children within the family. Luca only knew Givenchy and Valentino for example, in this way.
Audrey often said she was very boring really, she did her own hair and make-up and her style was classic not adventurous, the beautiful clothes being mainly for filming. Audrey would crochet whilst waiting on set.
When Audrey Hepburn died prematurely in 1993 (aged 63) it was a shock for Luca to find out about the public side of his mother. For a while after her death he did not want to tell anyone who his mother was. Doing books for Luca has become cathartic, hiding the truth in life means you are being dishonest.
Audrey’s favourite lunch was spaghetti with tomatoes, she would even travel with Italian olive oil and spaghetti, saying you can always find tomatoes but good pasta and oil are not so easy. She ate pasta daily and would even request spaghetti pomodori in restaurants if asked.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund
After seeing the effect of Bob Geldof’s Live Aid in 1985, UNICEF became a huge part of Audrey’s work in later life. She was unaware, perhaps as we all were, how much a public face could raise awareness and bring aid to the needy. Audrey volunteered tirelessly as an Ambassador for UNICEF from 1988 until the end.
Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund
The good work continues today with the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund founded in 1994 by her sons, Sean Hepburn Ferrer and Luca Dotti.
The number of child refugees in Syria now exceeds one million.
Audrey in Rome is published by Harper Collins available here.
© Sara Hodgkinson 2013