VILLAGERS living in a picturesque parish where Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn grew up have revealed it might not be as lovely as first thought.
Oscar-winning actress Hepburn spent her formative years at a small private school in the idyllic village of Elham, near Canterbury in Kent.
Its centuries-old pubs, nearby North Downs landscapes and historic links to Charles I and the Duke of Wellington have won the parish praise.
And it provided a haven for British actress Hepburn when sent there as a child in the 1930s by her parents who remained across the Channel in Europe.
She went on to become one of Hollywood's most enduring stars, with films such as "Roman Holiday" – for which she won a Best Actress Oscar in 1953 – as well as "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and "My Fair Lady", performing songs such as "Moon River" and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?".
Yet modern-day residents in Elham suggest she might be disappointed by the "isolated" and "boring" surroundings left behind.
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Hepburn arrived there in 1936, finding lodging – along with her mother, Dutch baroness Ella Van Heemstra – with a local woman called Mrs Butcher.
She spent three years in Elham, attending at a boarding school, before reuniting with family in the Dutch city of Arnhem.
The Kent village she left behind now has a population of 1,509 and has been hailed as a pretty place to live, 14km south of Canterbury and 8km north-west of coastal Folkestone.
Yet those there now fear the village is proving a turn-off, especially to youngsters.
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Retired nurse Linda McGuiness, 70, has lived in Elham for 13 years yet warns a lack of public transport is leaving villagers to feel cut off from the outside world.
She said: “The real downside about this place is that there’s no bus services in the evenings.
“The last bus leaves at 5pm so if you want to go out in the evening or you’re working later than that, you’re stuck.
“They used to run later but they’ve stopped it for some reason. Some of the villagers are campaigning to get it back.
“For a lot of people here that don’t drive, it’s spoiled their social lives.
“It’s really isolating, especially for older people.”
She also suggested some locals had a "small-town mentality", adding: “You do get some villagers who aren’t wonderful.
“Unfortunately a lot of the older people that lived here have now passed away, which is a shame.
"There’s nobody left to tell the stories – we used to have some real characters.”
It's not a young person's place – there's nothing going on
But the mum-of-one said her overall experience of living in Elham was a positive one.
She said: “We don’t get any anti-social behaviour or anything like that.
"Sometimes the kids can be a bit noisy but I just open my door and tell them to shut up.
“There’s so much to do – we have lots of events, like carol-singing at Christmas, scarecrow competitions, and various other events.
“There’s three pubs which are great, a little tea room, and a village shop which is useful.
“And the people are generally really friendly. When you first move here, they invite you to a welcoming committee. There’s a real sense of community.
“I’ve lived here 13 years now and I love it.”
Former villager Alexander Hart, 86, was visiting Elham with his 81-year-old wife Yvanne for the first time in 15 years.
The grandfather-of-three, who now lives in Claygate in Surrey, said he thought the village too “boring” for young people.
He said: “It’s not a young person’s place. There’s nothing going on, it’s a bit boring.
“We thought about moving back here a few years ago, against our better judgement, but we decided against it because it’s too isolated.
“I sensed the village mentality when I used to come back to see my parents.
"It’s the type of place where you have to be a church-goer to actually meet anyone.
“I couldn’t see myself living here now.”
Yet the couple, who have a daughter and three grandsons, said they enjoyed visiting Alexander’s parents old house every now and again.
Retired children’s guardian Yvanne said: “We love visiting. I always forget how beautiful it is round here.
“This particular village hasn’t changed much either, unlike other areas of Kent. It’s timeless.”
Pensioner Alma Tracey, 95, moved into a flat in Elham three months ago after spending much of her life in Suffolk.
But the grandmother-of-one, who moved to be closer to her daughter and grandson, said: “I miss Suffolk dearly. It’s such a beautiful place.
“It’s very pretty round here too but it’s so hilly. I have arthritis in my knees and legs so I struggle a bit.
“The people are very friendly, though – everyone speaks to you.
“And the local shop is a godsend. I’ve got everything I need on my doorstep so I can’t complain.”
It's a very friendly village, it's very welcoming
Other villagers, however, insisted they did not have a bad word for Elham.
Susie Waissen, 64, moved to the village from Blackheath in south-east London 18 months ago, and declared she had never felt safer.
The retired civil servant said: “I absolutely love it here. You feel safe.
“I can walk up the road with my dog late at night and I don’t feel in any danger.
"I used to live in south-east London and you could never do that there.
“The people are really friendly too. Everyone says hello to each other as you walk up the street.
“If you did that in London, or even up the road in Folkestone, they’d think you were mad.
“We have a friendship bench where you can sit and talk to new people.
“And there’s lots of things to join, which is quite unusual for a small village. There’s a hell of a lot going on.”
And teenager Mason Hobbs is also a fan.
The 19-year-old bartender, who works in the 15th-century Abbot’s Fireside pub, said: “It’s a very friendly village. It’s very welcoming.
“Everyone here is nice, people are always up for a chat, and we don’t get any trouble.
“I haven’t got a bad word to say about the place.”
Landlord Peter Malkin has lived in Elham for five years and spent thousands of pounds restoring the Abbot’s Fireside.
He said: "It's amazing round here.
He added: “It’s amazing round here.
“The people are so nice. We get a lot of custom from both villagers and walkers.
“I’ve known the village a long time and there’s nothing about it I don’t like.”
Brussels-born Hepburn was revealed in a 2018 book to have secretly fought against the Nazis during the Second World War for the Dutch resistance.
That same year Hepburn – who died aged 63 in 1993 – beat Diana, Princess of Wales, to be chosen in a poll as the most iconic fashion innovator of the past century.
Rarely-seen portraits of her were exhibited in London on the 25th anniversary of her passing.
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