Naomi Campbell is 'very proud' of ex fiancé Adam Clayton: 'I have good memories'
We found the trailblazing supermodel in zen form, as she stretches out on the couch to talk recovery, reggae . . . and Russian presidents. Photography by Barry McCall
There are bucket-list ideas, and then there are Bucket-List Ideas. Before I die, I can now tick off surely one of the ultimate to-dos on the latter list: hang out with Naomi Campbell and talk kebabs
The supermodel appears as happy when she's waxing lyrical on a popular brand of Irish kebab, as she is when she's holding forth on the joys of Yves Saint Laurent, Prada or Gucci. What brought on this fast-food epiphany was, in fact, Naomi remembering the high times in Dublin, when she was engaged to a certain Adam Clayton in 1994.
"Oh, The Kitchen!" she says of U2's former nightclub in the basement of the Clarence Hotel in Temple Bar. "The Pod! Then after that you had Abrakebabra for a kebab on the way home!"
You are a great advertisement for a kebab, Naomi, I say to her.
"I have good memories of Dublin!" she roars with laughter, adding that she also has certain memories of the nights out with Adam, U2 and Gavin Friday and the gang, in Mr Pussy's Cafe De Luxe in Dublin.
What are your memories of Adam?
"Good memories," she smiles. "I went to see the concert in LA, and I'm friends with the whole band. The whole band were great. Their kids are all grown up. It's nice to know people for so long and still have a relationship.
"I won't discuss my private life. I only have very positive things to say about him. I am very proud of Adam."
She recently renewed her relationship with Ireland. Sitting in the dressing room in Dublin, the superstar is wearing a fluffy pink bathrobe ("I'm freezing!") Admittedly, under this pink monstrosity, she is wearing a navy Alexander McQueen dress, a pair of Jimmy Choos, and jewellery from the Curragh collection by Newbridge Silverware.
The last is because, in September, Naomi was announced by Newbridge Silverware as the glorious new face of its brand for the next two years. "I have known of this brand for a few years; for about five or six years now," she says.
"I love that they've got so many different designs, and so many things that they do. I understand that they also have a tradition of all these people, and the things they've collected over the years - Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson. But I love what they do. I think it's their craftsmanship that tells us why they are still here today, because they obviously do it in the best possible way.
"My particular concept that I'm working with them on," she continues, "is this surprise delight and the Blue Box. So you can open it up and find anything surprising in it - anything, in terms of a gift."
Looking 20-feet tall, Ms Campbell stands up momentarily to take a gift of "one little square of chocolate" from her London PR. Naomi's heels are just plain ridiculous. I can easily imagine her tumbling off them, onto the ground, as she infamously did in 1993, wearing those nine-inch Vivienne Westwood platforms at a fashion show. Those shoes are now in London's Victoria and Albert Museum. These shoes today, however, are up on the couch.
Square of chocolate eaten, Naomi doesn't so much sit on the couch beside me, as stretch out her exceedingly long pins and disappear inside the aforementioned fluffy pink bathrobe. As she gets more comfortable with this LIFE magazine correspondent's questions - this takes some time, because she is cagey, or even cold as an ice-bucket, about certain topics - Naomi will lie back, almost flat on the sofa, and answer the questions. Possibly being horizontal is related to the fact that she was in Bono and Ali's house in Killiney last night, catching up with her old pal, Ali.
Some of us in the non-fashion world got our first glimpse of Naomi as a horizontal hussy in Madonna's Sex book in 1992. "I have great memories of doing the Madonna book," she recalls. "Working with Steven Meisel and Madonna.
"I posted a picture for her birthday from the book recently!" she laughs. "It was fun!" Did Madonna talk you through the whole concept for the book? "No. Just my part."
Naomi was pictured having a simulated menage a trois with Madonna and the rapper Big Daddy Kane. To some, the images were akin to pornography; to others, they moved things on in terms of how sex and sexuality were viewed.
"I think Madonna, as we know, is someone that says what she wants and she does what she wants. And she is ahead of her time in a lot of the things that she does," says Naomi.
According to the endless testimonials in fashion magazines to the wonder of Naomi, it could be argued that Naomi Campbell is ahead of her time, too. It says something about the current zen state of grace Naomi is in that she says she doesn't read any of the acres of glossy print about her.
"I don't believe in hype," she says.
What did you think of Kim and Kanye on the cover of US Vogue last April?
"I am not discussing that," she half-snaps. "I am not going back over old things."
Just as quickly, her mood brightens. "God bless 'em. They sold 1.2 million copies. Anna Wintour is really happy."
You once said that with designers like Gianni Versace, Azzedine Alaia, Yves Saint Laurent, and Karl Lagerfeld, you were "part of the creativity". Was it almost a collaboration?
"Yves St Laurent and Alaia and Gianni and Karl and Marc Jacobs," Naomi answers."They would ask you certain things when you were doing your fitting. So you felt part of the collaboration of what was being styled, and what you were going to wear on the runway; as opposed to now - I don't think some of the girls get to know the designers like we used to before."
You weren't clothes horses, I say.
"No. We had relationships with these people. Still do."
What was Versace like?
"He was an amazing man," she says. (At the time of his death, Naomi described Gianni's murder outside his mansion in Miami Beach in 1997 as "disgusting and uncalled for".) "He went to bed at 10 every night. Always read everything back to front. Very knowledgeable. Very caring. Very generous."
What time do you go to bed?
"It depends what I'm doing," she smiles, "and where I am. If I'm filming and I'm wrapping late, I go to bed late. Whenever I'm finished wrapping. If I'm out with friends for dinner, then 1.30am. It depends. If I am jet-lagged and I can't sleep, it's the worst."
I have this perception of you that you live on planes.
"I do. I don't mind flying. I kind of like flying. I feel like I'm somewhere but nowhere."
Asked what kinds of books she reads, Naomi says: "Well-being books about being well, and caring for the body, mind, spirit, soul."
Are the self-help books helpful to you?
"They're well-being books," she corrects. "And I want to know about new ways of taking care of the body. It is about eating and food and what's good for what part of the body and the brain and stuff like that."
I chance my arm with a question. You talked on Oprah about having an abandonment issue (Naomi never knew her father)?
"I'm not," she answers coldly, "discussing that right now."
That told me. Flustered, I ask her instead what the last movie she went to see was.
"Straight Outta Compton. I loved it. It is just a great movie."
Did you grow up on NWA and rap music in south London?
"No. I grew up with reggae music, with Bob Marley [Naomi, aged just seven, was cast in the video for Marley's Is This Love?] . . . Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran."
What kind of music would you get up and dance to in a club?
"Whatever they're playing. I like rhythm and bass."
Didn't you do a song with Gavin Friday?
"Gavin did my whole album," she corrects me, referring to Baby Woman, the 1995 album that Dublin-born arthouse singer Gav produced. "I love Gavin. We speak regularly." (There is a story - possibly apocryphal, but beautiful anyway, and worth retelling here - that Naomi, Bono and Gavin Friday sang We Are The Champions by Queen at Mr Friday's 1992 wedding in the Clarence Hotel.)
Would you do more music?
"I've done stuff on other people's music. Just like a quick guest appearance, like on Quincy Jones's The Secret Garden. Things like that. But I don't know if I have the time to do another album."
What's your singing voice like?
"It's OK," she says with admirable honesty. "I think everybody should try something; if it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but at least they can say they tried. I think the best process was being with Gavin and working with him and trusting him, because he's great. He's so talented."
I had read all the stories, good and bad (mobile phones thrown, etc), about Naomi Campbell before meeting her. I had expectations of a stuck-up, ageing diva.
I imagined her and her life as some sort of a cautionary tale along the lines of . . . talent is God-given, be humble; fame is man-given, be thankful; conceit is self-given, be careful.
But Naomi Campbell was anything but conceited. Naomi Campbell was actually lovely and, as such, I loved her.
We've talked for nearly 45 minutes. The superstar is practically tucked up in the pink, fluffy bath-thingamajig; she seems so relaxed at this stage. I ask what would she like to learn about herself.
"Nothing," she smiles. "I like the element of surprise."
There is nothing psychologically you would like to learn about yourself?
"I think I know about myself. I think I know my patterns. I think I know my . . . you know, I think I should know about myself at 45. I think I know my flaws. I think I know my . . . you know, things I need to balance. That's basically where I'm at today. I am just in the middle of being balanced."
Everyone has flaws, I say.
"It's good to have flaws," she replies. "There's no one perfect."
Is that why, when the media first started calling you a supermodel, you seemed reticent?
"I think we all did," Naomi says. "Because we didn't really understand what it was about - this title, this label. To us, we were just our group just going around the world, working together and catching up at fashion shows."
"I was mates with Christy [Turlington] So I got to see her and Linda [Evangelista] quite often. Then, you know, you got labelled. Then, the next thing, you're reading what you eat for breakfast on the cover of a newspaper!" she laughs. "It was a bit weird."
It must have wrecked your heads.
"It didn't wreck our heads. We laughed at it. I don't think any of us were ever taking it seriously."
But being held up as role models for millions of young girls across the world must have been difficult.
"If that's how people want to look at it, that's up to them, but that's not what we were," she says. "I have never taken that stance. I have always said not to put me on a pedestal."
Do you think we all need to accept our flaws? "I think everyone has to accept their flaws," she says. "There's no perfect human being. I think flaws are what makes people who they are. It is a positive for me. It is not a negative."
Can I ask you what are your flaws? I know the answer before I have even got the question out.
"I am here to talk about Newbridge Silverware," she answers. "I'm not here to do an interview about myself."
You are great at dancing around the questions.
"I am not dancing around. But I protect those that are in my life, that were in my life," she says referring to - possibly - everyone from Robert De Niro to Eric Clapton to Flavio Briatore to Sean Diddy Combs . . . and any number of other famous boyfriends she's had.
"And I don't think it is fair to speak about them and involve them in a question, if asked, when I don't think they should be involved. So I don't answer. I answer only about myself," she says frostily.
Do you cook?
"I can cook."
What's your speciality?
"There is none. I just cook. Spicy. Whatever it is. I just love hot sauce."
When was the last time you cried?
Naomi now has a cotton bud, with which she is dabbing her eye. "Oh, I don't know. My eyes leak, though. My eyes leak when I'm tired sometimes. My left one more than my right."
Is that your way of disguising that you're actually crying? 'I'm not crying! I'm leaking!' I say, teasing the world's most famous model e-vah, dahlings.
"I might have cried when I was filming. I'm not sure," she laughs. "I cry at movies."
I say to Naomi that when I interviewed Diana Ross 20 years ago, she said: "Black don't crack". Is that true?
"Diana said that? Well, if Diana said that, then I'm OK with what the boss says," Naomi says with a laugh.
You wonder is Naomi OK that everyone seems to have an opinion of her - informed, mostly, by people who have never actually met her. Naomi, who is arguably the world's most famous, most photographed model, is an incredibly divisive figure. Victoria Beckham called Naomi "a massive cow".
When, in 2004, in Britain's High Court, Naomi won her breach of confidentiality claim against the Daily Mirror - for publishing a report about her drug addiction, including a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Chelsea in February, 2001 - its then-editor Piers Morgan said: "This is a very good day for lying, drug-abusing prima donnas who want to have their cake with the media, and the right to then shamelessly guzzle it with their Cristal champagne."
Others have been more complimentary.
Nelson Mandela dubbed her his "honorary granddaughter". When she closed Roberto Cavalli's show in 2012 - wearing a dress "slashed to her navel", as Elle magazine noted - Cavalli declared: "If there was an Oscar for 'world's greatest model', then I would give it to Naomi Campbell, no question."
If you come to fame not understanding who you are, they say it will define who you are. Naomi Campbell came to it at 15 years of age, in 1985, when she was discovered, as she window-shopped in London's Covent Garden, wearing her school uniform, by a lady called Beth Boldt.
The ingenue from Streatham, south London, would soon go on to appear on the covers of thousands of magazine covers internationally; from French Vogue at the age of 18 - she was that magazine's first ever black face on the cover; to Time.
The sort of lasting, exalted fame that Naomi enjoys is difficult to contextualise, other than to say that there are very few people in the world who wouldn't recognise Naomi Campbell. Her face is that global.
As Vanity Fair magazine put it, how well do you really know Naomi? More importantly, Naomi, now 45 years of age, seems to know herself well enough . . .
Do you ever look back? Do you ever wonder who this little girl was - and look at where she is now?
"No," she says. "My family is very grounding to me. So I always remember where I come from. That never leaves me. That is the most important thing. The people around me have been around me for many, many years; my school friends, my girlfriends from school - they are still around me. They're still in contact. It is important for me to keep solid relationships."
Naomi Elaine Campbell was born in London in 1970. She never met her father. When she was a baby, Naomi and her mother Valerie moved to Rome until Naomi was four, when they returned to London.
I ask her what her mother is like.
"She is very loyal," she says.
What did she teach you about life?
"Just in terms of when you commit to something, you do it 110pc. You give it your all. If you are not going to do it, don't commit. My mother is not a believer in not finishing something off. She would only tell me advice if I asked her for advice, at this stage of my life."
Her mother was a trained ballet dancer, and, as a child, Naomi saw her mother perform around the world.
Did you learn subconsciously how to walk on the catwalk from watching your mother dance?
"Yeah, maybe," she says. "But I danced myself when I was three. I think I kind of applied that."
Did you ever think of following her into ballet?
"I wanted to dance. She didn't push me. I wanted to."
Did you ever regret not pursuing that?
"No. I love to go to theatre and stuff in New York; ballet; and when I was in Moscow," says Naomi - who lived in Russia with then-boyfriend, Russian entrepreneur Vladislav Doronin - "I went to the Bolshoi ballet, like, every week, but no, it is a really hard job. It's very tough, very competitive."
So is modelling, isn't it?
"Yeah," she answers, "but dancing at that time was very competitive. I think modelling has become more competitive now than it ever was before, but there were so many dancers then, trying to get their Equity Cards and stuff."
In 1987, Naomi appeared on the front of British Vogue. She was just 17. ("I can't even begin to explain what this cover meant to me," she has said. "It showed my family that being a model was a good choice. It made my family proud.")
I ask her what she was like when she started modelling - did she have an attitude? "I was very quiet when I started modelling. I was very shy. I didn't speak at all, hardly. I just did my work."
Are you still, underneath it all, quite a shy person?
"There is some part of me that's shy."
Is that difficult when you realise that all of your being is known to possibly every person on the planet?
"Sometimes," she says cagily.
And when a lot of the media profiles are based on second-hand bullshit, it is more difficult?
"Yeah. That is just weird."
How does that make you feel?
"I just have to get on with it. There's nothing I can . . . you know? I've been blessed and I'm very grateful. So! I think now, going on television," she says - referring to Empire, the television series on Fox in America where Naomi plays a fashion designer, Camilla Marks - "is a different dynamic, because they think you're the character that you are on television," she laughs.
And when you go home and look in the mirror, who do you see?
"I see myself," she says, like it is the most stupid question in the world.
"I am the same person. I am. That's why I love to see my friends that I've known for 25 years. Those are the people that really know me. It's great that I can catch up with them. There's no love lost," Naomi says, meaning it literally. "You go from where you left off."
Do you think about how people see you - this person 'Naomi Campbell'?
"People see me in many different ways. I can't change their opinion, or their perception of me. That's also part of my job."
Were you always that philosophical about yourself?
"I think I've always known that - that everyone is going to think what they want to think of you - but also when you're a model, you put yourself out there to be looked at. People are going to [look at you]. You are perceived for the product you are wearing. You are perceived many different ways. There's nothing you [can do about it]. That's not in your hands."
In a 1994 documentary about models and international fame, Christy Turlington claimed that the spotlight was only really ever on her at fashion shows when she walked down the ramp, and that she could freely walk down the street at home.
"I have the opposite problem," Naomi interjected in the doc. "I can't walk down the street in London."
"I am not always in the public eye," she says now. "When I'm not working, I do maintain a private life."
Naomi adds that when she walks into a restaurant, she knows "what to expect. I know where I'm going to. So if I don't want to go to a restaurant and be stared at, I have dinner at home. Or I go to a friend's house."
"It's fine," she continues, "I don't have any complaints or regrets."
I read a very honest interview where you said you would never blame anyone for the mistakes you made.
"You can't blame anyone," Naomi says in reply, "because that's part of growing. I think it is part of growing."
What have you learned from mistakes?
"Everybody learns," she says.
"They grow up," she continues. "They make mistakes. I have been in the public eye since I have been in my teens. So like you, like everybody else [I make mistakes]."
But the difference is: if I make a mistake or have an issue or a problem, I can go privately and get it resolved. Your issue was blown all over the papers. "I can go privately. I've gone privately to take care of myself. I'm still a work in progress."
But when you were in that work-in-progress, in recovery, it was all over the tabloids . . .
"That wasn't my fault," she says. "I fought for my privacy and I won. So, I think, it wasn't just for myself - it was for everybody in recovery to have their anonymity and be able to go and take care of themselves. I think that is important. I think recovery is a very healthy thing."
Naomi says she was actually "smiling and happy" in the Daily Mirror photographs in which she was papped coming out of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London. "Yes, my privacy was invaded. But the High Court then ruled in my favour."
Did it set your recovery back?
"No. It didn't set me back. No, because I had great support from my family and my friends. A lot of people told me not to fight it, but I thought it was wrong. So I did."
"The Daily Mirror is not the whole world," she says. "It is not everyone's way of thinking. It is not the way America thinks about recovery. And I think people have a bit more respect for recovery now. When people go to the doctor, and they have an illness or a disease, I think they have more respect in general now, because you see it every day now. There is something . . . even yesterday, looking at that picture of that little boy on the beach in Turkey. It's almost like we shouldn't be looking at it."
How did it make you feel when you saw that picture of Aylan Kurdi?
"Like everybody in the world. Everybody says: 'What can I do? What can I do?'"
In 1991, Gianni Versace famously dispatched Naomi and Linda and Christy and Cindy, with their arms linked, down the runway of his show to George Michael's Freedom. It became one of fashion's most enduring images of the supermodels.
Can you remember the moment you became Naomi The Supermodel?
"I wasn't on my own. I was with Linda, Christy, Cindy [Crawford], Stephanie [Seymour], Tatjana [Patitz]. So I was with a group of great, wonderful women. We're still friends today. It didn't feel like I was [on my own]. It was nice to be with a group."
Didn't they stand up for you like comrades when a designer didn't want to use you because of your skin colour? "They did," she says. "Linda and Christy did."
"Yeah, some of them hadn't used a black model before," Naomi says now. "They didn't think about it. It wasn't that they were doing it intentionally. They just hadn't thought about it. And so my two friends said, 'Well, you want to use us, but we'd like you to use Naomi'. So it made them [the designers] consciously aware."
I mention to her the interview last July when she talked to iconic British photographer Nick Knight, where she talked of the lack of representation of models of different ethnicities in fashion, not in terms of racism, but of "territorial-ism. They just don't want to budge - they don't want to change their ideas, be more open-minded".
"It's too easy to say that," Naomi says, now meaning racism. "I've never been one to say that. There are challenges in my life. There's been plenty. But it is not an obstacle for me," she says, meaning the colour of her skin. "It hasn't been."
In 2011, you told Piers Morgan, who had, by then, moved on to GQ magazine, that you felt black women got fewer opportunities in life than white women.
"It depends. What was I saying? What was the context?"
Do you feel it is true?
"It depends on what context I said. I just didn't say it like that." (Here is the actual exchange as was printed in GQ. Piers: 'I read that you get four planes a week. That's crazy. Why don't you just calm down a bit? Naomi: 'I'm a black woman, Piers. And black women, as we know, don't get as many opportunities as white women.')
"At the time, also, a few years ago," Naomi says now, "that interview, maybe it was that way. But branding has changed. It has improved. Fashion has improved. Television has improved, too."
And what about life for black women?
"Well," she says, "we have a First Lady in America. So I guess that has improved."
You interviewed Russia's president Vladimir Putin, and Hugo Chavez [the late president of Venezuela]. What were they like? "They were all very different, all very protective of their countries, and rightly so. They wanted to show the good of what their countries do and how they take care of their people."
Did you like them? "I liked Chavez. I liked Putin. I lived in Russia for five years. I felt people there in general were just very, very welcoming." (Indeed. In April 2010, Russian Vogue dedicated an entire issue to Campbell.) "I'm not a politician," she adds. "I always went to these countries to do something with kids, women and babies."
Of another statesman, she says: "I have met the most amazing man who is no longer with us - Nelson Mandela. I got to know him for 20 years. I have been blessed."
Naomi Campbell is the new face of Newbridge Silverware for the next two years. Ms Campbell will work with Newbridge Silverware to launch its new Blue Box campaign as well as promote new and existing collections. The Blue Box campaign will focus on the surprise and delight of receiving a gift in the famous Newbridge Silverware Blue Box. See newbridgesilverware.com
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