Companion : /kəmˈpanjən/ one that is closely connected with another
A waifish figure and large, brown, doe-like eyes; a tiny, cinched in waist and sweet, elfin features; a willowy dancer’s body, slight but strong from years of ballet training—always graceful and ever ladylike—it is difficult to believe that this beautiful woman, both inside and out, would wait almost her entire life to find true love but—when she did find it, it was truly great . . .
Audrey had previously been married twice, both relationships formed over a common interest. Her third and greatest love, Robert Wolders, began no differently—both had experienced tragedy in their life, and both wanted to help people. They had both acted and both decided they preferred the simpler life.
Above: Audrey in her dressing room during the filming of Sabrina, 1954; her famous embellished flats are sitting on the chair on the right. Photographed by Mark Shaw.
First meeting in 1980 at a dinner party held by a mutual friend, Robert (or Robbie as Audrey so fondly called him) was suffering after the recent death of his wife, and Audrey, by her own account, was ‘not in a happy place’. They immediately bonded, and realised remarkably, how much they had in common. They stayed in close contact after that night and finally, six months later, announced to the media they were an ‘item’.
“We met at a time when we each had gone through trials, but we knew exactly what we wanted—togetherness.”
— Robert Wolders
“Whether Audrey was in jeans and a bandana or all dolled up for the Oscars—she was so beautiful that you couldn’t bear it.”
— André Previn
March 21, 1956: (L-R) Award presenters Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly waiting backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre, during the 28th Annual Academy Awards. Photographed by Allan Grant for LIFE magazine.
La Paisible, “the place of peace”, the home where Audrey spent the last 30 years of her life
Moving to Audrey’s estate, La Paisible, in Tolochenaz, Switzerland [a remote village in the foothills of the Alps], the pair lived a somewhat quiet & simple life — raising Audrey’s youngest son Luca, tending to the large gardens on the estate, and eventually, as Luca grew older, dedicating much of their time to UNICEF. Robert described their routine as: rising at 7:30am to a piece of toast spread with Audrey’s homemade jam, until noon working in the dining room on UNICEF matters — lunch consisted of greens from their own vegetable garden, a slice of gruyere & crusty bread — then in the afternoon, a nap and a brisk walk through the vineyards across the street.
Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn rehearsing for Funny Face (1957). Photographed by Richard Avedon.
“If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all.“
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” —Audrey Hepburn
Roman Holiday, 1953
Their life was peaceful, uncomplicated, and most importantly, they felt ‘safe and hidden from the world’– which, considering a life previously hounded by the media and paparazzi, was beyond perfect for Audrey.
Above & below: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961
With George Peppard, kiss in the rain in the final scene of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, 1961
Despite their now trouble-free and intensely private life, the media still often speculated over the possibility of the two marrying. In 1989, in an interview with Barbara Walters, Audrey described the nine years she had spent with Robbie as the happiest years of her life, before exclaiming “Took me long enough!’ Walters then proceeded to ask why they never married, to which Audrey coyly replied “We are married, just not formally”.
In 1987, Audrey’s two sons had both moved away from home, and Audrey was officially appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Robbie accompanied Audrey on all of her UNICEF missions, and often documented the trips by taking numerous photographs of Audrey working tirelessly on the field trips. With most of their years spent assiduously working for children’s rights the pair slowly began to tire — Audrey’s eldest son, Sean recalls how Audrey would half-heartedly vow to cut back on UNICEF then say, “but I’ve just got to do this one trip”.
In the famous blue silk cloak, back of a taxi with Fred Astaire, Funny Face, 1957
In September 1992, after returning from relief work in Somalia, Audrey felt awful and believed she had contracted a stomach-bug. After a few days, the pain had become so intense, that Robbie rushed her to the hospital for testing . . . The results were bleak — the doctors had discovered cancer of the appendix, which had spread through Audrey’s abdominal area. Doctors immediately performed surgery, however, even after, announced she had little time left.
“I believe in manicures. I believe in overdressing. I believe in primping at leisure and wearing lipstick. I believe in pink. I believe happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and… I believe in miracles.”
Photographed by Mark Shaw
Audrey’s only desire was to return to La Paisible for her last few weeks, but she was too weak to fly on a commercial aircraft — instead, Robbie arranged with Audrey’s dear friend, designer Hubert De Givenchy, to borrow his private jet to transport her home. The entire jet was filled with fresh flowers, and Robbie stayed by Audrey’s side the entire flight home.
At Le Paisible, white wicker filled the master bedroom & fresh sprig blue Porthault linens covered the bed
“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” —Audrey Hepburn
The next few weeks were spent exactly as Audrey wanted⏤with her beloved Robbie and two sons by her side, short walks in her garden, and a traditional family Christmas. Robbie & Audrey talked, contemplated life and love, and came to terms with their future.
The library at La Paisible took its colors from the painting of watermelon slices by Rufino Tamayo over the pink sofa; a modern Parsons table and desk are paired with a Spanish rug in pinks, woven stools and a Windsor chair.
Audrey died on the 20th of January 1993, quietly in her sleep — and Robbie, despite knowing it was inevitable, was heartbroken.
Funny Face, 1957
Shortly after her death, Audrey’s friend and co-star, Gregory Peck recited Audrey’s favourite poem, which she herself had recited to Robbie many times before:
I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times… In life after life, in age after age, forever. My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs, That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms, In life after life, in age after age, forever.
Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age-old pain, It’s ancient tale of being apart or together. As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge, Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time: You become an image of what is remembered forever.
You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount. At the heart of time, love of one for another. We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell- Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.
Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever: Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life. The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours – And the songs of every poet past and forever.
—Unending Love by Rabindranath Tagore
The love story between Audrey Hepburn & Robert Wolders was not filled with grand gestures and showy displays of affection — it was a companionship between two people who had experienced tragedy and heartache, and realised the most simple things in life are the most important. Their great love story was built on friendship, a gentle passion, and a deep appreciation of love in its purest form.