Audrey Hepburn was born to an English father and Dutch mother in Belgium, May 4th, 1929. Her father’s job as an insurance agent meant the family often moved between England, Holland and Belgium. In 1935, her parents divorced; one reason for this was that her father was a Nazi sympathizer. The divorce was very traumatic for six-year-old Audrey; she would later say it was the most traumatic incident of her life.
After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Hepburn’s mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, relocated her daughter back to Arnhem in the hope that, as during the First World War, the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack. While there, Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945. She had begun taking ballet lessons during her last years at boarding school, and continued training in Arnhem under the tutelage of Winja Marova, becoming her “star pupil”.
After the war ended in 1945, Hepburn moved with her mother and siblings to Amsterdam, where she began ballet training under Sonia Gaskell, a leading figure in Dutch ballet, and Russian teacher Olga Tarasova.
Later in 1948, Hepburn moved to London to take up a ballet scholarship with Ballet Rambert, which was then based in Notting Hill. After she was told by Rambert that despite her talent, her height and weak constitution (the after-effect of wartime malnutrition) would make the status of prima ballerina unattainable, she decided to concentrate on acting.
While Ella worked in menial jobs to support them, Hepburn appeared as a chorus girl in the West End musical theatre revues High Button Shoes (1948) at the London Hippodrome, and Cecil Landeau’s Sauce Tartare (1949) and Sauce Piquante (1950) at the Cambridge Theatre. During her theatrical work, she took elocution lessons with actor Felix Aylmer to develop her voice. After being spotted by a casting director while performing in Sauce Piquante, Hepburn was registered as a freelance actress with the Associated British Picture Corporation.
In 1953 she was cast in her first major supporting role in Thorold Dickinson’s The Secret People (1952), as a prodigious ballerina, performing all of her own dancing sequences.