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Naomi Campbell: 'I'm overly cautious of the things I say'

UNBOTHERED: Naomi Campbell says she used to cry over negative press but now it can no longer hurt her

SIMON WOOLLEY, director and co-founder of Operation Black Vote, interviews supermodel, actress, activist and cultural icon Naomi Campbell about how she handles negative press, her hopes to inspire a generation of young women to fully realise their potential and why she’s scared of speaking out on some things.

Last week Naomi Campbell was invited to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange in aid of a charity close to her heart, Global Citizen, an organisation that aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. The reason for her appearance at the iconic venue was somewhat overshadowed in the UK media with headlines that focused on an exchange she had with her staff on Wall Street afterwards.

Despite her achievements, Campbell has been much-maligned in the mainstream media. She opened up about how she feels about the coverage.

She said: “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?”

She added: “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.”

Tennis superstar Serena Williams has faced similar characterisation, most recently in response to her outburst at the US Open final. Sharing her views on the incident, Campbell said: “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 ‘man’s world’, which after all, should be all our world, not just theirs.”

The supermodel, who was named fashion icon of the year at the 2018 CFDA (The Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards said she rarely gets asked by mainstream media what excites her. “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.”

The 48-year-old becomes increasingly passionate when she goes on to talk about addressing inequality and overcoming barriers. “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.”

Campbell viewed the late Nelson Mandela as a father figure and he has had an impact on the way she views the world and her efforts to make a difference in it. “My other big passion, which in many respects stems from my work with Madiba, 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."

This is an area of her work that we rarely hear about – the fear of her words being manipulated has so far prevented her from speaking about it more. “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.”

A version of this interview originally appeared on Operation Black Vote.

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