Meeting Sean Ferrer

Lisa Clifford
October 21, 2010

Audrey Hepburn's son talks about running the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund from his home in Tuscany.

 

 

 

Sean Hepburn Ferrer draws breath slowly and contemplates his answers seriously. He has a steady gaze and a solid presence. He is sitting at his dining room table in his home near Florence, where he lives with his Italian wife and three children. Sean's Tuscan villa is spacious but at the same time cozy, with a warm kitchen that invites large, relaxed dinners with family and friends. It is surrounded by vistas of rolling hills, olive and cypress trees. Sean Hepburn Ferrer, the only son of Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, says his mother loved being surrounded by greenery, too: ?My mother loved living in the country. She found solace and safety in it. I wanted to give that to my kids. They play outside with sticks and stones and make-believe.' Softly spoken, Sean's accent is predominantly American, but with a European tinge because he was brought up in Switzerland. He is also fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

 

His home is a beautiful setting for the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund, for which Sean works full-time as chairman. He created and founded it together with his younger brother, Luca Dotti, Hepburn's son from her marriage to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, and Robert Wolders, Audrey's companion for more than a decade. The fund raises money to educate children in five sub-Saharan countries. It also finances and contributes to dozens of children's foundations, societies, aid groups, abuse centres, care teams, hospitals and medical units. The money comes from the use of Audrey Hepburn's images, likenesses and trademarks, which he owns along with Luca.

 

When our mother passed away she left behind her body of work - her legacy - which we believe to be mostly her work for children. She wanted to be remembered for her UNICEF work and soon after she passed away, I was faced with the decision of what to do with her legacy. We treat the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund as a third brother or sister. So, at the end of the year, the AHCF has earned as much as I have or my brother has. It seemed like the fairest thing to do. She left three kids, we decided, not just two boys, but two boys and the children.'

 

Sean settles comfortably in his chair and explains how it works. ?The first thing we did was create a memorial fund at UNICEF. That memorial fund was dedicated to the education of children in five sub-Saharan countries. In all her years of travel, my mother found that those five countries were the most devoid of any kind of infrastructure. She felt that by educating people you gave them the tools that they need to fend for themselves. This program at UNICEF today has progressed from being the Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund to a global programme called All Children in School, for which we have created a series of events and licenses and books and fund raising campaigns.'

 

Sean goes on to say that a licensing business run out of an office in Los Angeles helps ensure that his mother's likeness is protected and that profits of its use are shared three ways with the fund. He marvels, too, at how Audrey Hepburn's imagery has risen in popularity and agrees her face seems to be everywhere: ?We're very happy about that and we try to mobilize that energy. As far as her fan base is concerned she has completely transitioned. When she passed away we started off with fans in their forties or fifties or older, but the majority of the base today is teenagers. It's extraordinary. We didn't plan that and I can't tell you how that happened.'

 

Sean attributes much of the rise and rise of Audrey Hepburn's posthumous popularity to ?the human being herself.' He says there's not much you can say about many of today's young Hollywood stars. ?They're very nice, making twenty-five to thirty-million dollars a film, then the next thing you know one of them is getting drunk or it turns out he did something bad, hits a photographer or didn't pay his taxes. There were no scandals surrounding my mother. So the picture is clean and can survive the test of time. People are asking themselves who they can really rely upon. It's the person who is crisp and modern, yet honest and reliable and there's not that many around.'

 

Surely it must be hard to see your mother's face popping up everywhere, to be constantly reminded that someone you love and miss is no longer there? It gives me joy to know that this affection is at least going towards a person who is worthy of receiving it.'

 

Sean stands to his feet and walks towards the dining room's glass doors. He opens them and looks at the lush green garden that surrounds his terrace. Looking at him, one would never guess that his mother was a woman described as gamine and waif-like. Sean is a big man, six feet four inches tall. However, there's a softness and deep-thinking wisdom in his voice that confirms his heritage. He waves his hand dismissively at the suggestion that Audrey would be very proud of her son. ?I have no idea. We decided that we couldn't drop the ball on her image or her likeness. Then you can't just take the money and not help other people with it. It can be an example and kids today are being inspired by what we're doing.'

 

Sean talks passionately. ?What we are doing with the fund is a grain of salt but it is a necessary grain of salt because it sets an example-if we can do it everybody can. Don't sit there and be judgmental that we are the sons of Audrey Hepburn and think we must be millionaires or whatever. That's not the point. It's not so much about what she left us in finances. It's what she left us as far as a legacy that really counts.' Around the room, discreetly placed photos of Sean's mother smile up from tabletops. In one of the shots, Audrey Hepburn can be seen tenderly cradling one of her sons. She always said her boys were ?her two greatest creations.' It's a sure bet that she would be enormously proud of what they have created.

 

 

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