This time, last weekend (23rd September), I was in London having flown down specially to go to Christies for the pre-auction viewing of some of the personal belongings of the iconic actress. Yes, I know, you’d think I had money! Forever prone to such impulses – I blame my mother who, in turn, would blame her mother – I knew, from the moment Becca sent me the online link advertising the auction, that we had to go. I do not regret it for one minute!
Growing up, I loved old films, and more often than not, on a Saturday afternoon, my mother and I would watch Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart – the list is endless – in some classic. I remember them all, particularly Bette Davis and, of course, Greer Garson in Mrs Miniver (that just came back to me). Indiscreet, too, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, is one of my all-time favourites … pure escapism transporting one back to a time when gentleman were gentlemen and ladies appreciated that. Suffice to say, although aware of Audrey Hepburn, I vaguely remember watching Roman Holiday and Gregory Peck seemed to make more of an impact, at the time – no surprise, there!
Fast forward to the present and a world which barely resembles that post-war era forever captivated in these old movies. The actors and actresses of that golden era have all but gone and, generations on, we hanker back to the past. Nostalgia is everywhere, so much so that it is only a matter of time until some poor child must answer to it! I jest, perhaps, but the point is, in a world devoid of elegance and class, Audrey Hepburn – and all that she embodies – is a shining light; she has become an icon and deservedly so.
‘Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.’ Audrey Hepburn
My daughter, Becca, has always loved clothes and fashion and possesses an innate style and elegance all of her own. She, too, has always loved Rome and, as a classics teacher, has lived and worked in the city. No surprise, then, that Audrey Hepburn is high up on that pedestal. Images of Roman Holiday abound and, in recent years – for personal reasons – the film has claimed a special place in my heart, too. Of course, we had no choice but to make that pilgrimage to Christies!
I opened an ‘account’ with the auction house, online, to the great hilarity of my friends but it merely meant that I was kept up-to-date. I viewed the hundreds of items to be sold and the estimated value of each secretly hoping that I could afford – ridiculous choice of word – something for Becca: her old phone had an estimate of £400-£600. Even typing that makes me laugh, as you will understand later, but I couldn’t help but think how much fun we would have telling people we had bought Audrey Hepburn’s old phone to replace our own which is, genuinely, defunct!
Expertly masterminded, Christies ensured the publicity was such that the hype surrounding the auction continued to increase. Select items were showcased on This Morning including her working script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s complete with handwritten annotations. Note, this had an estimated value of £60,000 – £90,000. Holly, meanwhile, happily tried on a ‘diamond’ tiara, described as ‘colourless paste’ worn by the actress in, both, The Nun’s Story and Two For The Road with an estimate of £7,000 to £10,000. Interestingly, there were several items of jewellery in the catalogue of items for sale, the majority of which were of the costume variety. Audrey Hepburn had no interest in material value and, ironically, considering she will forever be synonymous with that little black dress and pearls, none of the pearls were real.
The excitement was tangible but, throughout, I questioned the fact that there had been no mention of the proceeds of the sale going to charity. Yes, her two sons had, together, selected the items to be auctioned claiming that there was only so much they could keep and, rather than remain in storage, it was their wish that the public, her fans, have the opportunity to own something which had belonged to her. All very plausible but, sadly, not laudable. Audrey Hepburn is as much remembered for her tireless work for UNICEF as she is for her nineteen films. Could her sons truly be selling her personal possessions for profit?
Becca and I walked through the door of Christies, King Street, last Saturday afternoon, and into another world. Greeted, politely, at the door, there was no queue, no charge and, climbing the elegant, sweeping staircase, it was as though we had stepped into Audrey Hepburn’s closet. Tastefully presented, the first thing which struck me was the fact that her clothes were on mannequins and not enclosed in glass cabinets; her shoes, her suitcases, her phone were openly displayed. It was busy but one really wasn’t aware. The lighting played to an atmosphere of reverence and sheer awe as one moved through her life depicted in photographs, personal letters, scripts, personal belongings and, of course, her outfits and shoes. Photographs were permitted but didn’t seem enough. How does one commit to memory the actual feeling of seeing her script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s with all her notes; her ballet shoes in a rainbow of colours, her pearls and that stunning ice blue Givenchy dress? I think Becca and I were the last to leave. We didn’t want to, neither did we know how. It was an absolute privilege to be there though we knew that the dream of owning any of the items on display would remain just that, a dream. All were destined for the hands of the professional buyers, obvious by their white gloves and notebooks.
We left, our lives enhanced and our moods lifted. Champagne at The Ritz seemed suitably fitting and they, obligingly, charged our phones as we people-watched and re-lived it all. We had bought both the small and large catalogue – the latter being the most sumptuous book – and Becca had all but cleared the shelves of beautiful postcards, depicting iconic images, to which one was invited to help oneself. Not only would we never forget this day but I was confident that it would be, ceremoniously, recorded in my bank balance!
The live auction took place on Wednesday (27th). I had itemised one or two things in the catalogue the night before – there were two promotional programmes for Roman Holiday estimated between £100 – £150 – and then, of course, there was the phone! I was to discover, however, that one had to register to bid at least 48 hours before and so it was not to be. I just crossed my fingers that everything would go for an extortionate amount. I need not have worried. Becca discovered that one could sign in, online, to follow the bidding: that is, one could see a still of the item and then the bids increasing by leaps and bounds. So exciting but also somewhat gladiatorial; complete strangers bidding ridiculous amounts for personal possessions which, collectively, represented her life; piranhas picking at remains. She deserved so much more.
Congratulations to Christies. Congratulations to her sons? Their mother’s annotated script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, alone, realised £632,750; her Givenchy pale blue cloque satin cocktail gown, £47,500; a collection of Roman Holiday stills, courtesy of Paramount, £87,500 and the ‘colourless paste’ tiara sold for £43,750. If only I had registered in time, I could have bid for the two promotional programmes for Roman Holiday or her telephone … and sung for my supper! The two programmes realised £4,750 and ‘my’ phone, £17,500! The BT call out charge of £125 pales into insignificance; a staunch return to reality … and oh so dull.
I shall, forever, be grateful for the privilege of seeing ‘Audrey Hepburn’s Personal Collection‘ and, on reflection, I am thankful that I was not part of the circus which ensued. I have spent some time researching her life, prior to writing this, and it is truly fascinating. I knew relatively little about her: a famous actress renowned for her elegance and simplicity, encapsulated in that iconic image of sophistication in the little black dress and pearls; forever inextricably linked to Rome, she died of cancer at the age of 63, devoting her last years to UNICEF. Worthy of respect? Definitely. The real Audrey Hepburn, however, was so much more.
‘Within the present lies the past.’ Audrey Hepburn
Born in Belgium in 1929, the daughter of a Dutch Baroness and an English businessman, her mother took her to Holland, when Hitler invaded Poland, believing it would remain neutral. Audrey was 10 years old when the Nazis invaded in 1940. Two of her uncles were taken from their homes and shot; one brother was sent to Germany and the other, hidden. She learned to cope with hunger, fear and deprivation through art, music and dance and, by putting on secret shows, she and her compatriots raised money for the Dutch Resistance, acting as messengers and risking death in the process. Her life story, alone, was deserving of an Oscar and her personal possessions most certainly deserving of a museum. No longer an option, one can but hope that the fortune raised in her name will, in the end, be used as she would have wished.
‘I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles.’
This is Trish, signing off.