Supermodel, host and businesswoman Naomi Campbell will turn 50 this week, and she’s got plenty to celebrate. She recently stole the show — and the runway, even though she wasn’t walking down it — on Amazon Studio’s fashion reality competition TV series “Making the Cut.”
In self-isolation, Campbell has been making the most of her time, proving that she could give Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert a run for her money. She’s launched her own digital talk show on her YouTube channel, called “No Filter,” where she’s gabbed from her New York home with everyone from Anna Winter to Venus and Serena Williams to P Diddy.
And she recently graced the cover of Essence magazine, with a photo shoot that she shot herself on her iPhone. Campbell spoke to Variety about how she’s holding up.
Last summer, you released a video about your routine for wiping down airline seats.
People were saying I was ridiculous, but I’m only hearing it now. But I’ve moved on to the next video. I don’t have time to sit there and listen to what people have to say about it. I travel a lot — and did what I needed to do and it made me comfortable, and I wasn’t hurting anyone in the process.
You’ve been producing, curating and creating your own content during the coronavirus.
I didn’t understand any of that technology, because I come from a different era. I’ve been asked so many times to show and tell my life and different people wanted to do it. I didn’t want someone to own my life. I wanted part ownership at least and it just didn’t feel right and I wasn’t interested.
When the YouTube team came to me and explained how it worked, I liked the sound of it. I liked that you could own your content and still feel a part of it. I felt safe and that was what was important for me.
I made that decision in 2018 and went from there. I love and care for the African continent, so it was a way to show the country because the perception of what we hear has always been so wrong. What I’ve seen with my own eyes, it was a perfect way to show things like that.
What is it like going down memory lane and you’re sitting down to interview Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford?
I understand people don’t like going down memory lane. But for me, my pictures and my shows and my work is what chronicles my life, and that’s the only way to do it for me. Many memories come from these friends and people you see, so it’s impossible to not speak about it nostalgically.
Cindy, Linda [Evangelista], Christy and I were four girls who were brought together from different parts of the world. We might never have met if not for work and I still call these women my new additional chosen family as some members of my chosen family have not been around for as long as others.
I’m forever grateful to these people and to Christy and Linda. Back in the day when people were not so open — because people hadn’t thought about using a woman of color in shows — they would defend me and put themselves on the line by saying, “If you don’t use her you don’t get us.” That doesn’t happen today because everyone is out for themselves, and that compassion and support doesn’t exist anymore.
I hope that what we’re going through brings us back to that. I’ve been seeing and hearing all about compassion and kindness. I’m an optimistic person.
What is the secret to reinventing yourself?
You have to be authentic. None of us are perfect, and I’ve gone through my ups and downs and I’ve admitted that. You’re trying to better yourself each day and what’s important in times like this is you know who is there for you. The same people that were there for me 34 years ago are still there for me right now. It has not changed.
You were close to Nelson Mandela. He called you his “honorary granddaughter.”
He did. He gave me strength. I’m grateful, because I have a roof over my head, I have food and I’m safe. I think about what he went through and it’s ok that we have to be still for a few months. Imagine what he went through and having 27 years of his life taken away. He never complained about it when he came out. He was understanding and compassionate. I haven’t read “The Long Walk to Freedom” since my 20s, and I started reading it again recently, it’s such a different take. You retain the story better, you’re calmer, and it has a different meaning to me, now more than ever.
How did you end up on “Making the Cut” and reunite with Heidi Klum?
I’ve been on the jury for “Germany’s Next Top Model,” and I was in L.A. when she asked me. I didn’t think I could do it because I did a show called “The Face.” We did New York, London and Australia back to back and they were two months each. I didn’t know if I could commit to the show so I let it go, but then they came back with a schedule.
I do love working with Heidi. I have a lot of respect for her. She’s fun working to be around and she’s hard-working.
When I say something on that on or off that show, it comes from a place of positivity from me. We have such limited time and if we can say what they can improve on, it’s such a great platform for them to be on Amazon. Imagine if the London designers had Amazon back in the day. London designers have had to struggle, they could never get funding and they were never supported in our country. Imagine if they had that back then! I want people to understand what an amazing opportunity they have in front of them.
You talked about Africa earlier. How do you feel like it will get through this period?
I’m very concerned about Africa right now. It doesn’t have welfare benefits, and when the coronavirus pandemic first occurred, they mentioned how malaria tablets can help. The malaria tablets stock is low and they need it the most. And that was a fear of mine. It’s happening.
There is a grass-roots charity set up by international model Alpha Dia to help poorer local communities and street children in Dakar, Senegal. They work directly with people in need and provides direct community and youth support, protective supplies for COVID-19, food for families in need. I have to say I’m proud of Africa and how they’ve handled this. Through this all, I am grateful and blessed and looking forward to the new reset.