Naomi Campbell: 'I never had a beauty campaign. Why? You know why'
Naomi Campbell is hard at work in a photographic studio overlooking the rooftops of Paris.
She’s sleek, smouldering, feline and, at nearly 47, is still one of the most desirable women in the world.
Yet even after a 31-year career as powerful as hers, Campbell still fights prejudice within the beauty industry. She says it’s a moot point that she’s never been given a beauty campaign.
“I’ve never done one for anyone. People say, ‘Oh, you’ve got beautiful skin’, and yet I’ve never done one,” she says.
Why? She gives a look that says: “You know why.”
Although a founding member of the original supermodels – along with Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista and later Kate Moss and Helena Christensen – Campbell was the only woman of colour among them, the only one with boundaries to crush.
Her firsts are many: the first black woman on the cover of French Vogue in 1988, of US Vogue’s famous September issue in 1989, of the European edition of Time magazine in 1991.
Now she campaigns with Iman and Bethann Hardison, both veterans of the modelling world, to keep the number of black and Asian girls on covers, on catwalks, in campaigns balanced and fair.
“The reason why Iman and Bethann and I open our mouths for girls like Jourdan Dunn is because we don’t want them to be affected as we were,” said Campbell.
She is ecstatic that Edward Enninful has been appointed editor of British Vogue. “Of course, he is also a man of colour, but it was nice to read the New York Times, which just said ‘a man’,” she says.
“We’re very proud, it’s never happened before. It’s historic. It’s an absolute landmark.”
Campbell’s achievements aren’t confined to modelling. She acts, she sings, she even wrote a novel, Swan, with a ghostwriter.
Her charity work is significant. Twelve years ago, while watching the unfolding hell wrought by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, she made the snap decision to start Fashion for Relief, a fashion show walked by her friends and watched by the public.
“I was in New York just before fashion week and watching the hurricane on the news,” she says. “I remember calling Teddy Forstmann [the late billionaire philanthropist] and saying, ‘Teddy, can we get a tent, do you think?’.”
Remarkably, the production was put together in a week.
Last year, Beyonce walked the show for her. Moss, Dunn, Iman, Schiffer and even James Corden have appeared, and it’s now an annual event, staged to raise emergency funds for appeals such as the Ebola crisis, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, even the floods in England.
The profits from this year’s show in Cannes on May 21 will go,through Save The Children, to the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.
Campbell visited last February, when it was freezing cold. “They’ve got their little gas fire. They only put it on for two hours in the evening. We take all that for granted,” she says.
“And the kindness. They were offering me tea and coffee when they’re on rations. They have nothing, yet they give what little they do have.”
She was stunned to be asked by a journalist if she was afraid. “I said, ‘Afraid? They are the kindest people on earth’. It was a silly question.”
She finds the idea that the British government has U-turned on its pledge to take 3,000 Syrian children baffling.
“We should be doing more as a country,” she says. “Everyone should open their arms to child refugees. They didn’t choose this, they’re caught in the crossfire – innocent human beings caught up in a grown-up world of politics. It’s so sad.”
It was Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa – her friend, mentor and adopted grandfather – who “really started my love of charity”, she says.
“He was the one that made me consciously aware, because I wasn’t. I was aware to the extent that my mother used to take care of two kids in Ethiopia when I was growing up, but other than that I wasn’t really. He opened my eyes. I learnt a lot from him.”
She travelled with him in South Africa, “through the bush, from Jo’burg to Cape Town inland, and all the little townships within. And I got to see”.
“I’m blessed that I knew Mr Mandela for 20 years.”
The Fashion for Relief show is a blast, Campbell says. “What makes the energy so great is that the public see the people they love to see on the runway, who they don’t normally get to see,” she says.
“What’s also great backstage is that everyone’s there because they want to be. The atmosphere is really electric. It’s just a great vibe. No one is ever late.”
I nearly drop my pen. Is Campbell congratulating people for not being late? Without irony? She, of course, is famously late or, in the PR’s delicate phrasing, “sometimes runs behind schedule”.
We were meant to meet at noon, but the light had changed from yellow to a teatime vesper before she finally burst in.
She may be a diva, but Campbell is also vulnerable, face crumpling like a small child’s when she talks about the orphanage in Kenya she visits regularly, which houses 67 children aged from three to 16.
On a recent visit, the orphans made her cry with their singing. “They’re all standing there singing this wonderful song. Mr Mandela always told me, ‘Don’t cry in front of the kids’, but I can’t help myself,” she says.
“He was absolutely right, because the kids don’t know if they’ve upset you. They haven’t, of course, I’m crying because I’m happy to be there and they strike a chord.”
Adoption is something she has thought about in the past – is it still an option? Campbell sighs. “I think about having children all the time,” she says. “But now, with the way science is, I think I can do it when I want.”
So she’d like to have a baby rather than adopt? “Maybe,” she says. Would she be a single parent? “No. I do want a father figure. I think it’s important.”
These days she lives mostly in New York and sees herself as a “citizen of the world”.
“Theresa May won’t like me”, but Campbell was born in Streatham, south London, in 1970 and brought up partly by her mother, Valerie, who is of Jamaican heritage.
Scouted at 15, she was quickly catapulted into a modelling stratosphere. It was a time of change in the way models were viewed – they became personalities as opposed to anonymous agents of fashion.
She survived it all, but she didn’t escape unscathed from the fashion world’s blizzards of cocaine. A well-documented addiction followed, as well as a well-documented recovery: tabloids photographed her at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting in 2001, despite the accepted code that those in recovery should not be “outed”.
“People tried to shame me as I went to get help,” she says. “You should never feel shame, recovery is a positive thing. But when I first went, people were not open about this stuff.
“Everything like this should be talked about openly. Mental health issues, postpartum depression – there are so many different things. Come together and help each other.”
Naomi Campbell’s Fashion for Relief takes place in Cannes on May 21.