I know when I’VE BEEN

Sacked­by­her Sacked by her agency, sued by her staff... Naomi Camp­bell has left a trail of dev­as­ta­tion. But, she tells Louise Gan­non, her new goal is fight­ing racism in fash­ion and men­tor­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of su­per­mod­els

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - TV WEEK -

Phys­i­cally, what I can see is a work of art. Camp­bell is wear­ing a short black Alexan­der McQueen skater dress. It has cutout panels that show off her per­fectly flat stom­ach and un­be­liev­ably long legs. Ev­ery­thing about her is flaw­less. But she is vir­tu­ally im­pen­e­tra­ble, only oc­ca­sion­ally mak­ing eye con­tact, pre­fer­ring to gaze around the room. ‘I don’t look in the mir­ror and think I’m re­ally, re­ally pretty,’ she says. ‘I see a work in progress.’ Now 42, she has a string of fa­mous ex- boyf r iends , in­clud­ing Robert De Niro, Mike Tyson, U2’s Adam Clay­ton, the late John Kennedy Jr, and her most re­cent ex, Rus­sian bil­lion­aire Vladislav Doronin. But the only man who seems to have had a pro­found and last­ing ef­fect on her is not a for­mer beau but the un­likely fig­ure of South Africa’s ail­ing for­mer pres­i­dent. Nel­son Man­dela called Camp­bell his hon­orary grand­daugh­ter and, she says, changed her life. She was in­vited to meet him by the ANC in 1994 af­ter she gave a sub­stan­tial do­na­tion to its cause. She stayed at his Cape Town home, and they would spend hours talk­ing. Camp­bell her­self re­mains con­fused by his friend­ship. She says she has ‘no idea’ why he picked her out. ‘ Maybe it was be­cause he saw me as a rebel spirit. The first time I met Mr Man­dela, in 1994, I thought: “Oh my God.” I felt com­pletely hum­ble. I felt blessed. I learned a lot about his life af­ter those early meet­ings… then I got to share him with my [su­per­model] friends Kate [Moss], Christy [Turling­ton] and Erin [O’Con­nor].’

Most of the men in her past have ei­ther adored her or abused her, from the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther who walked out on her when she was just a few months old (she has still never met him), to Doronin, who hu­mil­i­ated her by tak­ing up with the young model she men­tored on The Face. Man­dela, how­ever, just pushed her to be good. He asked her to sup­port his char­i­ties, en­cour­ag­ing her to fo­cus her life on some­thing other than fash­ion and fame. ‘I used to look at him and think: “What have I got to com­plain about?”

‘ He al­ways told me to use what I had for oth­ers. And I know life has its hang-ups, peo­ple get hurt, but I never want to be some­one who doesn’t share. He was the rea­son I started do­ing char­ity work. I didn’t know I was ca­pa­ble of do­ing some­thing like that. He has had a mas­sive in­flu­ence on me — he got me work­ing on a chil­dren’s char­ity. It was the first time I felt I was do­ing some­thing use­ful, giv­ing back to kids less for­tu­nate than me.’

Since meet­ing Man­dela, Camp­bell has raised more than €12 mil­lion for a va­ri­ety of ca causes, from can­cer to Aids, for Haiti, and Af African chil­dren and mothers. ‘I like to fight fo for a cause, to do some­thing, even in my bad tim times I’d try and I’ve al­ways known this was so some­thing I could do and should do.’

She obliquely ad­dresses the con­flicts of he her char­ac­ter. ‘I’m one of those peo­ple who re re­acts im­me­di­ately to some­thing with­out th think­ing. Over the years ev­ery­one has told m me to sleep on stuff, think about it, in­clud­ing M Mr Man­dela. It just took a long, long time wi with me for that penny to drop.

‘Ev­ery time I’ve made a mis­take, he tells me to keep my head up and keep go­ing. I don’t know what he sees in me; I just feel hon­oured to have him in my life. When he tells me to keep my head up, it’s some­times hard be­cause I feel so much shame, but a lot of it I do for him.’ She con­tin­ues to talk about him, slowly, then stops be­cause she is crying. No one moves. She gets up and grabs a towel as the tears are drip­ping down her face. ‘It’s hard to talk about him,’ she says. ‘I’m try­ing to stay pos­i­tive and op­ti­mistic. I’m pray­ing for him like mil­lions of other peo­ple around the world. I just don’t want him to be in pain.’

In a re­mark­able 27-year ca­reer, Camp­bell has made the cover of ev­ery A- list style mag­a­zine in the world. Over in Amer­ica, her per­for­mance on The Face won her a tranche of younger fans, who watched her scream, shout and fight like a tiger for her charges. The show is es­sen­tially an X Fac­tor for wannabe mod­els and Camp­bell is com­pul­sively watch­able with her ther­apy speak, her master­classes, her dress­ing- downs. ‘I’m a drill sergeant. The tough-love men­tor. I’m be­ing my­self, 100 per cent au­then­tic. Me. I know what th­ese girls will have to go through. I know what will be ex­pected of them.’

Ask her what she looks for in a model and she an­swers quickly: ‘Strength. You need to be tough. I look for that — I look for drive and pas­sion and per­son­al­ity. It’s never just about looks.’ She pauses. ‘But I love

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