Angelina Jolie is one of the most famous women in the world, yet she remains something of an enigma. In recent years, she has largely eschewed the Hollywood spotlight, preferring to focus on her work as special envoy to the UN and directing defiantly uncommercial films like The Land of Blood and Honey and By the Sea.
But the actress, humanitarian activist and director spoke candidly on Radio 4 on Friday morning about her work as a UN special envoy, her breast cancer treatment, and her children.
Jolie was one of the guest editors of Woman's Hour, as part of a "Takeover Week" in which prominent women spoke about issues close to their hearts. In the 45-minute programme, Jolie chose to focus on the issue of women's health in refugee camps, ahead of World Refugee Day on Monday 20 June.
“When we talk about health for refugees, I think the way to think about it is that it’s a luxury,” she told Woman’s Hour host Jenni Murray. She explained that due to the lack of UN funds for supporting the crisis in Syria, the basic needs of refugees – from nutrition and medical care to “luxuries” such as soap – are not being met. In this context, even common health problems can be devastating. “I just met a woman two weeks ago whose child died of asthma,” Jolie said. “So when we talk about [refugees who have] cancer, can you imagine the reality of that?”
In 2013, Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she had an almost 90 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. Her mother, grandmother and aunt all died as a result of a defective hereditary gene.
She said that working with refugee women had made her realise how fortunate she was to have access to proper healthcare – and that she had spoken openly about her decision to undergo a mastectomy in order to share information that might help other women.
“I don’t encourage every women to make the decision I made,” she said. “But I think it’s really important that we all share anything we learn and we stay connected. I believe in that the way women can share and support each other.”
Jolie also spoke affectionately about her family, revealing that they celebrate World Refugee Day at home and that each of her six children with Brad Pitt is learning a different language. Shiloh, 10, is learning Khmer; Pax, 12, is studying Vietnamese; Maddox, 14, German and Russian; Zahara, 11, French. The 7-year-old twins, Vivienne and Knox, are learning Arabic and sign language respectively.
She added that none of the children have expressed any interest in following in their parents' footsteps. “None of my kids want to be actors, thank God... I suppose that just means that you don’t know who your children are until they show you who they are, and they’re just becoming whoever they want to be.”
Listen to Angelina Jolie’s Woman’s Hour Takeover here.
Images: Rex Features