Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Naomi Campbell: Super bitch or black trailblazer?

The supermodel's achievements are overshadowed by assault claims and phone throwing

By Hadley Freeman  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

It's a shame that out of all of Naomi Campbell's achievements — and there have been many, not least becoming the most successful black model ever — she'll more likely be remembered for showing how effective a Blackberry can be as a weapon of attack.

Even more memorable is how remarkably similar each of the seemingly endless allegations of assault laid at Campbell's door in the past decade have been: almost all have involved, in some combination or another, a missing pair of designer jeans, a jewelled Blackberry phone and a tearful and bloodied maid. There has been the occasional variation on the theme, such as the charges lodged last month that she attacked her drugs counselor, but on the whole the model has been remarkable in her consistency. It is hard not to add at this point that the message on Campbell's answer machine was once a cooing plea for "peace and love."

This week Campbell appeared in court in New York to face charges made by former maid Ana Scolavino over a pair of missing jeans. Rather unfortunately for her defense, another allegation of assault was also made this week by, yes, a former maid who claims Campbell attacked her when she could not find a particular pair of, yes, jeans. "Anger," Campbell once said, "is a manifestation of a deeper issue, I think ... based on insecurity, self-esteem and loneliness."

Campbell, who was born and raised in Streatham, south London, was spotted when she was 15. "There is a saying that the age at which a person becomes famous is the age that you stop developing, and I definitely think you can say that about Naomi," says Melanie Rickey, fashion, news and features editor of Grazia, who has met the model.

Born: 1970 in Streatham, south London and brought up by mother Valerie.Education: Studied tap dancing and ballet at Italia Conti stage school (1980)Career: Spotted at 15 while window-shopping in Covent Garden, London. Cover of Elle 1986. French Vogue's first black cover girl 1988. Later modeled for Ralph Lauren, Francois Nars, Lee Jeans and Versace. Cover of Time Magazine 1991. Released album and single 1994. In 1996 had part in Spike Lee's film Girl Six. Co-wrote novel, Swan, 1997. NC Connect, her lifestyle and events company, was launched in 2002.Quotes: "Naomi is one of the most truthful and generous friends I have known," Kate Moss; "An unreliable witness," Mr. Justice Morland.


Campbell was an instant success, although her modeling career has encountered the occasional controversy, such as her decision to wear fur after posing for a Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) campaign. She has long complained that the British press has "had it in for me," particularly since she successfully sued the Mirror in 2001 under the European Human Rights Act when they photographed her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

More worrying for Campbell, though, is that the fashion industry has also shown signs of wearying of her behavior. When she was dropped by her agency, Elite, in 1993, the company sent out a worldwide fax stating: "No amount of money or prestige could further justify the abuse that has been imposed on our staff and clients. All who have experienced this will understand."

Her behavior on shoots has been notorious from the early days, once allegedly keeping David Bailey waiting for three days. In 1999 she failed to appear in the Versace fashion show because, she explained tearfully the following day: "I'm not just like any other model. They've been treating me like a stranger for months." Donatella Versace seemed a little less distressed, saying with a shrug: "Models come and models go."

Recently model turned talk show host Tyra Banks hauled Campbell on to her show after years of rumors that Campbell had jealously tried to quash her career. Banks tearfully told her: "When I walk in the room and see you I feel shaky and I go back to being the 17-year-old girl."

"You used to be," Campbell finished for her, with a small smile.

Instead, she has become better known for three things: her boyfriends, ranging from Flavio Briattore to Mike Tyson; her self-merchandising — her perfumes have been huge sellers in Germany, Australia and Japan — and, of course, her penchant for phone throwing.

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