Naomi Elaine Campbell (born 22 May 1970) is an English model and actress. Recruited at the age of 15, she established herself among the top three most recognisable and in-demand models of the late 1980s and the 1990s, and was one of six models of her generation declared supermodels by the fashion industry.
In addition to her modelling career, Campbell has embarked on other ventures, which include an R&B-pop studio album and several acting appearances in film and television, such as the modelling competition reality show The Face and its international offshoots. Campbell is also involved in charity work for various causes. Her personal life has been widely reported over the years, particularly her four highly publicised convictions for assault.
Campbell was born in Streatham, South London, the daughter of Jamaican-born dancer Valerie Morris. In accordance with her mother’s wishes, Campbell has never met her father, who abandoned her mother when she was four months pregnant and was unnamed on her birth certificate. She took on the surname Campbell from her mother’s second marriage. Her half-brother, Pierre, was born in 1985. Campbell is of Afro-Jamaican descent, as well as of Chinese Jamaican ancestry through her paternal grandmother, who carried the family name “Ming”.
During her early years, Campbell lived in Rome, where her mother worked as a modern dancer. Following their return to London, she was left in the care of relatives while her mother travelled across Europe with the dance troupe Fantastica. From the age of three, Campbell attended the Barbara Speake Stage School, and at 10 years old, she was accepted into the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, where she studied ballet.
Campbell’s first public appearance came at the age of seven, in 1978, when she was featured in the music video for Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”.At the age of 12 she tap-danced in the music video for Culture Club’s “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”. In 1986, while still a student of the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, Campbell was scouted by Beth Boldt, head of the Synchro Model Agency, while window-shopping in Covent Garden. Her career quickly took off—in April, just before her 16th birthday she appeared on the cover of British Elle.
By the late 1980s, Campbell, with Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, formed a trio known as the “Trinity”, who became the most recognisable and in-demand models of their generation.
When faced with racial discrimination, Campbell received support from her white friends; she later quoted Turlington and Evangelista as telling Dolce & Gabbana, “If you don’t use Naomi, you don’t get us.” In December 1987, she appeared on the cover of British Vogue, as that publication’s first black cover girl since 1966. In August 1988, she became the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue, after her friend and mentor, designer Yves St. Laurent, threatened to withdraw his advertising from the magazine if it continued to refuse to place black models on its cover. The following year, she appeared on the cover of American Vogue, which marked the first time a black model graced the front of the September magazine, traditionally the year’s biggest and most important issue.
In January 1990, Campbell, who was declared “the reigning megamodel of them all” by Interview, appeared with Turlington, Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz on a cover of British Vogue, shot by Peter Lindbergh. By then, Campbell, Turlington, Evangelista, Crawford and Claudia Schiffer formed an elite group of models declared “supermodels” by the fashion industry.With the addition of newcomer Kate Moss, they were collectively known as the “Big Six”.
In March 1991, in a defining moment of the so-called supermodel era, Campbell walked the catwalk for Versace with Turlington, Evangelista and Crawford, arm-in-arm and lip-synching the words to “Freedom! ’90”.Later that year, she starred as Michael Jackson’s love interest in the music video for “In the Closet”. In April 1992, she posed with several other top models for the hundredth-anniversary cover of American Vogue, shot by Patrick Demarchelier.
Throughout her career, Campbell has been outspoken against the racial bias that exists in the fashion industry. In 1997, she stated, “There is prejudice. It is a problem and I can’t go along any more with brushing it under the carpet. This business is about selling, and blonde and blue-eyed girls are what sells.” A decade later, she again spoke out against discrimination, stating, “The American president may be black, but as a black woman, I am still an exception in this business. I always have to work harder to be treated equally.” In 2013, Campbell joined fellow black models Iman and Bethann Hardison in an advocacy group called “Diversity Coalition”. In an open letter to the governing bodies of global fashion weeks, they named high-profile designers who used just one or no models of color in their fall 2013 shows, calling it a “racist act”.
Campbell has received recognition for her charitable work. In 2007, she was named an ambassador of Rio de Janeiro by mayor Cesar Maia in recognition of her efforts to fight poverty in Brazil. In 2009, she was awarded Honorary Patronage of Trinity College’s University Philosophical Society for her charitable and professional work. In 2010, Sarah Brown presented her with an “Outstanding Contribution” award from British Elle for her work as an ambassador for the White Ribbon Alliance, as well as her work in the fashion industry.