Naomi Campbell: 'The haters can no longer hurt me'


OBV exclusive !

As we enter Black history month supermodel, actress, activist and cultural icon Naomi Campbell speaks exclusively to OBV about her future and how she hopes she can inspire a generation of young women to fully realise their potential in the world.

I began by asking her that in a week when she would have hoped to talk about a charity that was dear to her,- Global Citizen, an organization that aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 - was she frustrated when the platform she was given to promote the charity, ringing the New York stock market bell, the event  was overshadowed in the UK media with headlines that focused on the suggestion she was bawling with her staff outside the stock market.

She pauses for a second, before responding, “Simon, you know, I have to laugh at these outrageous stories. I guess it’s where I am and how comfortable I am with myself that I'm just not bothered. But I’ll be honest with you, in the past I’d see stuff like this and cry, because I knew it wasn’t me they were portraying, and I thought, why are they doing this, what have I done to them? But,” she continues, “today they can longer hurt me like before. Although, to be honest I do worry about their stereotypical views of Black women. Like many Black women I know I’m animated, I talk with hands, it might be about a beautiful pair of shoes or a charity I care about, but either way my hands will be part of the story. That’s just who I am. “

“And to have my expressiveness twisted into an ‘angry Black woman’ stereotype, doesn’t’ only demonise me, but others who look like me too. This aspect troubles me deeply.”

I bring up the tennis super star Serena Williams  in the same context, and what happened to her in the US Open final.  Campbell quickly interjects: “Now don’t get me started. That sister was put through the mill for defending her integrity. Why can’t we be successful, strong, and still be respected? For men this is a quality but for us…. I just don’t get it. I want all women, Black and white, to be fantastically successful and compete in this ‘mans’ world which after all, should be all our world, not just there’s.

I ask her, moving the subject on, “What excites Naomi Campbell today?” “Well, I rarely get asked that by mainstream media, but beyond my own projects which include, fashion, films and other little projects, I feel blessed that I can try and use my celebrity status, if you want to call it that, to help and inspire young women to get into every aspect of the fashion industry as designers, buyers, production directors, and respected models - not pieces of meat, as it was when I started out.”

Here, Ms Campbell gets excited, and yes animated, “Look Simon, I’ve been very lucky, I’ve not just survived, but done pretty good, and I’ve felt over the last few years I’d like to give more back. I ask myself the question, can a young Black girl brought up in the poorer part of Streatham have the opportunity to really become the CEO of a fashion house, a media company, or bank? Not likely! The same is probably non-existent for a poorer white girl from South London too. Frankly I’m tired of walking into these powerful institutions and seeing my brothers and sisters as doormen, receptionists or kitchen staff. The hosts think I don’t notice, but I do.’

We talk for some time about this and many other issues including her meetings with Nelson Mandela-who she sees as a father figure were a turning point in her life about how she viewed the world. “My other big passion, which in many respects stems from my work with Madeba, is my work in Africa. From South Africa to Nigeria we are blazing fashion trails with the most extraordinary shows and opening up business opportunities for young entrepreneurs."

I finally ask, “Naomi why don’t you talk more about this stuff. It clearly moves you.” She gives a nervous laugh. “Simon you’re a  politician, I’m not. I don’t know the details of everything, and I’m always overly cautious about the things I say being twisted, and so I say little or nothing. I do hope that in the long run I can be judged on what I do in regards to the things I care about.”

And with that we end the conversation. I personally wish Ms Campbell would talk more about her desire to inspire women, and have a world that views women, particularly Black women as equal to men. But after the unpleasant stories in the British media just this week I understand her caution.

I did instinctively get the feeling though, that a stronger Ms Campbell will pursue her business and visionary global goals with the determination that has seen her at the top of her profession much longer than any of her detractors thought possible.

P.S. Naomi Campbell is to receive a life-time Achievement award at the Black Legacy Dinner this December.

Simon Woolley