Naomi says she is ready to start a family
Naomi Campbell rummages agitatedly in her soft purple leather bag for
‘You don’t still smoke?’ I say disapprovingly.
‘I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I’m in The Programme. So I’m going to have a cigarette,’ she replies defiantly.
Naomi has always been a woman of great extremes. Just when you’ve dismissed her, she is at her sweetest.
She has always been generous and kind to her friends. But that’s never the Naomi the world sees.
Her wayward energy is currently focused on a joint project with the Prime Minister’s wife Sarah Brown, who asked for help with her charity the White Ribbon Alliance, which campaigns for safe pregnancy and childbirth in the developing world.
The campaign points out that every minute, someone in the world dies in pregnancy or childbirth.
I tell her at least 90 must have died in the time I’ve been waiting for her.
She apologises profusely.
‘I’m really sorry,’ she says, crestfallen. ‘But I’ve had so many things to organise.’
Indeed, she’s constantly been on her BlackBerry and phone – calling up designers and celebrities and fixing last-minute things for Wednesday’s Fashion for Relief/White Ribbon Alliance event in the London Fashion Week marquee at the Natural History Museum.
Some of her critics think she’s doing it to get some good PR after her infamous fracas in April on a British Airways plane, when the crew informed her they had lost her luggage.
Angry words were spoken, she was arrested, appeared in court and was sentenced to a community service order.
‘I know people are saying I’m doing this because of what happened earlier this year and I want to rehabilitate my image. But that’s not true,’ she says.
‘I’ve been doing charity events since Mr Mandela came out of jail [She sometimes refers to Nelson Mandela as her grandfather].
'I’ve done lots of things in Kenya and South Africa. But it’s not my thing to go on about it. Everybody’s got their own way. I just didn’t want to be open about what I do. But this is something that is a cause that I’m so passionate about I feel I need to be open.
'I’m a woman. I need to help. I do need to raise awareness. That’s the way I feel about this. I’m not doing it for public adulation.’
Naomi’s Fashion for Relief charity does predate her recent scrape with the law. She founded it as an emotional response to the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought in New Orleans in August 2005.
‘I saw the Bourbon Street news footage with people running with nowhere to go,’ she says. ‘As always, those people were people of colour.
'Jay-Z and Puffy did a telethon – that was the music people doing their thing. Fashion Week was coming up in New York so I wanted to pull a fashion thing together.’
She seems a little surprised that she’s actually good at it. She knows everybody. She can persuade people to do things. It was the Prime Minister’s wife who approached her to campaign for safer childbirth.
Naomi says: ‘Sarah Brown got me involved. It’s something that she feels really passionate about because of her own experiences – she lost her baby daughter Jennifer Jane in 2002. I was blown away when she was explaining about maternal mortality and how I could be a part of helping this.
‘When this show is over, I’ll still go on helping her. Every minute we lose a woman in childbirth. I want to put that message on soap and regular household things until something changes. This is something I want to be involved in for a long time because I’m a woman and because I haven’t had a kid.’
Relaxed: Naomi arrives at Heathrow Police Station following a lost luggage incident on a BA plane
The conversation gets around quite neatly to Naomi’s thoughts on motherhood. ‘I understand now when people say listen to your body, your body tells you. So yes, I would love to have a baby,’ she says.
Then she tells me something quite shocking.
It relates to reports about fears for her health last year and earlier this year after she went into hospital in America and then soon afterwards in Brazil, where she had a four-hour abdominal operation.
She says: ‘I went through an operation this year which, well . . .’ She stumbles over her words. ‘I went to hospital in America. The same one that treated my mother Valerie’s cancer.
‘They were amazing for her. But when I went there in July last year they were not the same with me. I was in pain for all of last year and by February I could not take it any more. I collapsed on the floor of my house. My girlfriend in Brazil persuaded me to go and see her doctor.’
She adds: ‘By this time I’d tried quite a few different options. The Brazilian doctors took their tests and said, “We’ve got to open you up, you’ve got two benign tumours, 9cm each.” One had leaked and caused an infection. It wasn’t getting them out that was serious, it was the infection.
‘Had I stayed with them in there for a further three months, they said I would have been in danger for my life. They didn’t tell me that until after the operation. The doctors there were so very kind and so good, and while they were down there the doctors saw that both my tubes were blocked, so they unblocked one.’
So you could be pregnant at any time if you wanted?
‘That part is in God’s hands. I’m not pressuring my partner but I’d love to have a baby. It’s every woman’s dream and I feel that’s a huge part of my life that I’m yet to experience.’
It’s not that it’s taken her until the age of 38 to hear the ticking of her biological clock. She’d always muffled the tick-tocks before.
‘It’s because I didn’t want to have a child on my own. I know you can but I didn’t want to raise it the way I was raised. Look, my mother did an amazing job but . . . I would like to try it in the traditional way. I have a traditional dream like every other girl.’
She savours the word traditional and maybe part of her really does aspire to that, but so much of the rest of her is opinionated, unconventional, contrary. Naomi doesn’t know who her father is. She doesn’t look for him. Mention him and there’ll be a tense silence.
She once told me, “My mother is my father.”
And yet she has looked for him in other places.
Naomi has often dated older men, such as Robert De Niro and Flavio Briatore. She likes clever men, busy men, businessmen. Men she can learn from.
She thought of Gianni Versace as a father figure, and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records.
And when Blackwell’s wife Mary died it was Naomi who went to the funeral home, wiped off the make-up they put on her and redid everything.
Quincy Jones is another father figure – he used to vet her boyfriends. Even the ones who survived Quincy didn’t necessarily survive Naomi.
There’s been one disappointment after another. But now, I tell her, she seems really in love.
The man in question is Russian billionaire Vladislav Doronin, friend of Roman Abramovich.
Property magnate Doronin, 45, is said to be worth about £1.5 billion.
They met at party thrown by the designers Dolce & Gabbana – ‘I love those boys. They are my family’ – for her birthday in Cannes.
She smiles such a contented smile and becomes even more stunningly beautiful.
‘He’s a wonderful man, a very special man. I leave everything up to God at this point. I think if I’d had a child before it might not have been the right time. I had a lot of things still to go through and I still have. I’m a work in progress. But at least I have no complaints with the man.’
Was it an instant thing? ‘Well, he was just a really great man. He’s a man,’ she says, emphasising “man”.
‘And he’s a gentleman. I feel like he loves Naomi. It’s Naomi that he sees, not what I do or who I am.’
Naomi with Victoria Beckham at the 2008 Fashion Awards in New York
People have wanted her before for her supermodel powers or to add to their own status and that has hurt.
She says: ‘I think I misread relationships many times in my past but I don’t regret anything. Everyone has to go through it to get to where they’re going to get to, if you see what I mean.’
Do you think you had too many hopes? Do you think you gave too much too quickly before?
‘I think so,’ she bows her head. ‘I misread. But this man is a gentleman.’
Living without drink or drugs has been hugely positive for Naomi. She addresses her feelings and her expectations. She talks openly among people on her 12-Step rehab programme.
On the night we meet she is going to the Madonna concert at Wembley Stadium.
‘The group of friends I’m meeting, we’re all in the programme. Lots of people are now,’ she says with a little knowing laugh.
‘We didn’t plan it that way but we are. It’s not hard for me to go out with friends who aren’t in the programme, I don’t have a problem with that. I just know I cannot touch drink and I cannot touch drugs.
'I’ve had my time with that and it doesn’t work for me.’
Naomi is one of those people for whom one drink is never enough and one drink is too much.
‘I have a chemical imbalance. I am allergic to it, 100 per cent,’ she says. ‘I’m a 38-year-old woman and it’s time to move on. I don’t want to be 50 years old and still partying. Absolutely not what I want.’
Do you think you were drinking to numb, to fill a hole inside? She shakes her head in a way that doesn’t mean yes or no.
‘It’s just not kosher for me.’
She says she’s seeking pleasure from other things.
‘I’ve learned to swim. I can’t float but I can swim. I can put my head under water and snorkel. It’s brilliant. Although I did get stung by jellyfish and I had to pee on myself,’ she giggles as she tells me about the pain relief they use on Caribbean beaches and how much it stung.
Are you content now?
‘I’m never really content. I love working. I love the adrenaline.’
One of the biggest ironies about Naomi is that, as she once told me, she’s never happier than when on a plane. She just curls up with her iPod and sleeps.
‘A plane for me is peace, no one can reach me.’ Which is already another contradiction because Naomi wants to be reached and known and accepted.
I first met Naomi on a plane. A police escort was involved but, that time, it was for me.
Allegedly I’d been rude to another passenger. I know that arguments tend to spiral with the tension and rules of air travel.
At Naomi’s trial, her lawyer explained that Naomi losing her luggage was not like a holidaymaker losing their flip-flops, it was like a lawyer losing their laptop.
The lost bag contained an Yves Saint Laurent outfit she had been contracted to wear on a TV show. While she is repentant that she was rude to the arresting policeman, we agree it’s not unreasonable that if you pay for your ticket you expect your luggage to be with you.
What was mentioned briefly at her trial was that she was on post-operative medication, but not how serious her condition was.
Often things that could win her favour she refuses to use. Perhaps she didn’t want to seem vulnerable or look as if she was making excuses; she just wanted to take her punishment and get on with it. She was lucky it wasn’t Holloway.
‘I think after 9/11 you can’t say anything any more on a plane. I’ve flown British Airways for years, since I was a child. The stewardesses will tell you that I would get on the plane, put on the blanket and go to sleep. I don’t really talk. I use the plane as down time to catch up on my sleep. So to me what happened was a very sad turn of events but it happened and life goes on.
‘I’ll never fly that airline again but nothing’s really lost. I did get my luggage. I was reunited with my YSL and everything was cool. I had to laugh at the way they described my YSL boots, which had a 51⁄2inch heel. That was very funny. The boots
seem to have been described as vicious weapons but I think they are a piece of art.’
Campbell first worked for YSL when she was 17, shooting raunchy ads with photographer Helmut Newton.
This year she’s been given a new contract and her ads look gorgeous. ‘Yves has been such a contribution to my life. Along with Alaia and Versace, he was the first to put women of colour on the runway.’
I tell her that I believe the British Airways incident escalated because she was Naomi Campbell.
She looks down a little sorrowfully.
‘Maybe someone should start a union for plane passengers to have rights on the plane. So many people tell me how traumatised they are when they go through airports, and I’m on a plane every week.
'But you know what, it’s not going to be me that starts that union. I’m just going to take a deep breath and get on with it.’