Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
One of the Five Original Supermodels
Currently Known For:
Actress, Singer, and Model
One of the Five Original Supermodels
“I’m not set on a pedestal where I think I’m too high and mighty.” With a reputation that precedes her as one of the biggest divas in the industry, Naomi Campbell has earned it after launching her career over three decades ago. The British supermodel was recruited at the age of 15 by a modeling scout. Although Campbell initially considered becoming a professional dancer like her mother, she found instant success on the runway where her ethnic beauty made her one of the most recognizable and in-demand models of the 1980s and 1990s.
Becoming the first black female to grace the cover of French Vogue magazine, Campbell enjoyed many firsts throughout her career and was named one of only six supermodels in the industry. She rose to fame alongside Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista as “The Trinity” and, later in her career, formed the Diversity Coalition with fellow black models Bethann Hardison and Iman. Still active in the industry today, let’s take a closer look at the 48-year-old’s impressive career and how she challenged the norms in the often critical and overly competitive modeling industry!
“I don’t think I was born beautiful. I just think I was born me.” Naomi Elaine Campbell came into this world on May 22, 1970, in London, England where her mother, Valerie Morris, was a Jamaican-born modern dancer. Her father abandoned her mother when she was four months pregnant, leaving Campbell without a father until her mother remarried a man with the surname “Campbell.” The youngster eventually adopted her stepfather’s last name since her father was unnamed on her birth certificate.
Because of her mother’s career as a dancer, Campbell had an exotic, vagabond childhood. She spent a few years in Rome, Italy, before her mother moved them back to London, England. Although London was home, Campbell’s mother was often on tour with various troupes and left her young daughter in the care of family and friends. This took a huge toll on Campbell since she looked up to her mother who was noticeably absent from her life.
“There’s a lot of issues that I have from childhood… not knowing your father, not seeing your mother—that manifests a lot of feelings,” Campbell later said. “But I think that’s a really normal thing, and I’ve not always displayed my anger in the appropriate times… but it’s a manifestation of a deeper issue, I think, anger. And that for me I think is based on insecurity, self-esteem, and loneliness and being abandoned. That’s what my core issues are, abandonment and rejection. And that puts me in a real vulnerable space. And everyone thinks, ‘Oh, Naomi is a really tough girl and really strong. But that’s what I want to appear to people to be like. Because I fear that If I don’t, they’re just going to walk all over me, if they really knew how I was.”
Despite her mother’s absence, Campbell knew she wanted to become a performer by the age of three. Her mother enrolled her at the Barbara Speake Stage School and, at the age of eight, she made her debut as a performer in the Bob Marley music video for “Is This Love” in 1978. Two years later, she was accepted into the prestigious Italia Conti Academy of Theater Arts where she studied ballet and honed her talents as a performer.
After being cast as a tap dancer in the Culture Club music video for “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” Campbell caught her first big break at the age of 15. Walking along the Convent Garden in London, she was spotted by talent scout Beth Boldt with the Synchro Modeling Agency. Boldt convinced Campbell to sign on as a model and Boldt got to work on launching Campbell’s career. Within a year, Campbell graced the cover of Elle magazine in Britain just weeks before her 16th birthday. This impressive feat only encouraged Campbell even further as she spent the next few years perfecting her talents as a young model. “I would ask my mother to show me how to walk—and she did show me,” Campbell said of these formative years. “That’s why I think it’s funny when people say, ‘Did so-and-so teach you how to walk?’ And I always say, ‘You must be talking about my mother, because it was my mother who taught me how to walk.’”Settling Into Fame: An International Icon
“I’m always trying to do the impossible to please people. It comes from not being secure in myself, and not looking at the things within I have to fix. Sometimes you keep going because you don’t want to face the truth.” Campbell spent a decade honing her talents before she saw her career truly progress in the late 1980s. She walked the catwalk for popular clothing designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Gianni Versace in addition to posing for photographers like Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, and Peter Lindbergh. However, despite her blossoming fame, Campbell faced ongoing racial discrimination as one of the industries newest black faces. To combat the issue, Caucasian models Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista joined forces with Campbell to form the “Trinity.”
The Trinity stuck together and made history as the most recognizable and in-demand models of their generation as they tackled discrimination in the industry with elegance. They even made history when they chastised the prestigious Dolce & Gabbana for not inviting Campbell to model for them. “If you don’t take Naomi, you don’t get us,” Turlington and Evangelista told the Italian fashion house. This signaled a growing shift in the modeling industry as Campbell became the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue and, in September 1989, became the first black model to grace the cover of American Vogue’s most popular issue.
In 1990, Campbell’s status in the modeling industry skyrocketed when Interview magazine named her “the reigning mega-model of them all.” She joined her fellow Trinity members as well as Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz on the cover of British Vogue and appeared with the group again in George Michael’s music video for “Freedom! ’90.” These two appearances sealed the group’s fate as supermodels and, with a young Kate Moss, earned the group the collective title as the “Big Six.”
As part of the Big Six, Campbell settled into life in the spotlight and appeared in Michael Jackson’s “In the Closet” music video in 1991 and followed up with several more cover appearances before she turned heads with a nude pictorial in Madonna’s highly controversial book, Sex. During this time, she also expanded her reach and joined the entertainment industry with the release of her 1994 novel, Swan, which was ghostwritten by Caroline Upcher. Because of this, the novel was poorly reviewed but that did little to stop Campbell from tackling her next project, Baby Woman, her debut studio album that only became popular in Japan. She also ventured into the restaurant business and, alongside Turlington and Elle Macpherson, opened the Fashion Café. Sadly, the restaurant chain’s investors were later arrested for fraud and money laundering in 1998.The End of an Era: Next Moves, Rehab, and Rebuilding
“It’s a new challenge to see how people can change your look. I like words like transformation, reinvention, and chameleon. Because one word I don’t like is predictable.” The supermodel era gradually came to an end in the late 1990s as Campbell focused more on modeling in print rather than on the runway. She signed her first cosmetics endorsement deal with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics in 1999 and then graced the cover of Playboy magazine. Shortly after, she put her career on hold when she entered rehab to treat a five-year cocaine and alcohol addiction. “I was having fun. I was living this life of traveling the world and having people just give you anything,” Campbell said of first trying cocaine in 1994. “But the little glow in your face goes… it’s a very nasty drug.”
Campbell completed rehab but faced another challenge in the new millennium when the Daily Mirror outed her addiction and published a report and a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. “I took on my sh-t and learned from it. I try to move on, but there are certain times when people try to use your past to blackmail you, to benefit them. That sh-t I’m not going to allow.” Campbell sued the Daily Mirror for breach of confidence and the High Court ruled in her favor. While the magazine countersued and the court ordered Campbell to pay the tabloid’s legal costs, the House of Lords reinstated the High Court’s original ruling in Campbell’s favor.
As Campbell settled back into the spotlight following her stint in rehab, she rekindled her fame and has enjoyed ongoing success over the last decade as she’s walked the runways for high profile designers like Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Christian Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Givenchy, and dozens of others. She’s also ventured into acting her first acting credit coming in the 1991 film Cool as Ice where she played a minor role as a singer at First Club. Over the years, she’s added in credits in The Night We Never Met (1993), Miami Rhapsody (1995), To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), Anyone for Pennis? (1995), Girl 6 (1996), Invasion of Privacy (1996), An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997), Trippin’ (1999), Prisoner of Love (1999), Ali G Indahouse (2002), Monstrous Bosses and How to Be One (2002), Fat Slags (2004), The Call (2006), Karma Aur Holi (2009), and I Feel Pretty (2018). On television, she signed on as a recurring character in the Fox drama series Empire in 2015 and was also featured in a two-episode arc in American Horror Story: Hotel.Life Today
“I don’t want to be known as the sweet, nice girl. I find sweet and nice a little boring.” Over the last three decades, Campbell has built an impressive resume as a supermodel but she’s also earned a reputation as one of the biggest divas in the business. Perpetually late to every event, interview, or meeting, Campbell doesn’t apologize for who she is. “Put it this way, everything I’ve had, I’ve worked for,” she said. “And I will never take the easy way to get anything… I don’t believe in things that happen overnight. I’m grateful not to have gotten it all because I think I would have lost it all. I came into everything so young… I’m grateful for the way my path has turned out. And I am very spiritual. I do believe in God and I thank God every day for my blessings because I know I am blessed.”
Certainly embracing her blessings as well as her hardships, the 48-year-old Campbell is also known for her anger and numerous assault charges, many of which occurred between 1998 and 2009. During this time, nine current and former employees came forward and accused Campbell of committing 11 acts of violence against them. Convicted of four counts of assault, Campbell later pled guilty and was sentenced to anger management which, like her stint in rehab, made headlines as well. “I went away to a place that was to take care of myself totally. Not just focusing on anger,” Campbell said. “At the time, I had a great public life… I’ve got everything a girl could want, I travel the world, I’m very fortunate, but the worst thing about all of that is you can still be unhappy and I was really unhappy. I needed to go away. And it was a big fearful thing to take the time off work and think, ‘God, I’m missing something.’ But, I did that because I realized the people that really loved me I was going to lose if I didn’t find out what was making me do the things I did.”
Today, Campbell is still perpetually late but she’s managed to get her anger under control, for the most part at least. She’s not even upset about aging and admits that she finally feels comfortable with who she is after all these years. “I’m more comfortable in my skin now than I’ve ever been,” she says. That’s exactly why she’s doing everything possible to share her success with others. “I want to share what I’ve learned in this business… if I can empower women, teach them anything… I will do so. Everyone who knows me knows, you call me, I’m there. Help, advice, anything.”