Most of the smartly dressed guests who gathered at London’s Roundhouse arts and concert venue on the 23 February, had no idea it coincided with a public holiday in the Russian Federation known as Defender of the Fatherland Day. The guests were there at the invitation of the most famous Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova for her Love Ball Charity Gala. In fact, though, their financial support was also going to help defend, not some abstract fatherland but a very specific and really vulnerable section of society – children. Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation provides superbly-equipped play parks that bring joy to thousands of children in Russia, and now in England, too. And that is only fair, Vodianova believes, as the Charity Gala is, after all, being held in London, and its affluent residents are helping to raise funds for the good causes.
Natalia’s connections enabled her to invite high-profile guests – Elizabeth Hurley-Nayar, Kate Moss, Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg, Jacquetta Wheeler, Peaches Geldof, Johnny Borrell, Mario Testino, Matthew Williamson and Anya Hindmarch. There were stage performances by singer Cat Stevens, now known by his Muslim name Yusuf Islam, who is back touring after a long absence, and one of the most successful
X-factor winners Leona Lewis. Dinos Chapman of the Chapman brothers, created the ball’s overall look. Auction lots, celected with the assistance of the Gagosian Gallery, were donated by celebrated contemporary artists Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Francesco Mazzoli, Gosha Ostretsov, Pavel Pepperstein, and Jake Chapman. All their works resonated with the evening’s theme – “Love and Children”. In a savvy move, Vodianova and her co-hostess Lucy Yeomans, editor-in-chief of the UK edition of Harper’s Bazaar saw to it that the Ball was included in the London Fashion Week official events programme. This time, with the help of Christie’s auctioneers, a grand total of $1,2 million was raised.
» Why did you first focus on building children’s play parks – I mean, with so many disabled children everywhere who also need help?
I believe play parks are a kind of therapy for children, just like painting, theatre, and cinema are for adults. If children spend just five minutes in a healthy environment where everything’s really lovely and well thought-out, and safe, it helps them develop as personalities. I think my work will set an example for older children – they’ll see that if you’ve been successful, giving and creating something around you is a natural thing to do. Charity work is still in the shadows in Russia – even those who do it , don’t talk about it much. But I think you need to – to attract attention and draw new people in. It would be good to find out who’s going to be Russia’s Bill Gates, and give billions away to charity. Right now there isn’t even a good state-funded website in Russia listing all the charitable organisations worth supporting, and ones you can trust.
» Your husband Justin belongs to England’s famous Portman family who have surely been doing charity work for centuries. What do your husband’s relatives think of your charitable work?
I don’t know, to be honest – we don’t see much of each other. It’s a very English thing – parents keeping a distance between themselves and their children. We live near his brother and sometime meet up but we don’t have any particularly close family ties. With Justin’s parents we mostly chat about the weather. His mother was at our charity event and seems to have had a good time but we haven’t discussed it much. My relationships with my parents and my children are different, of course.
» But wouldn’t you like your relatives to live in London?
My grandparents come and stay with me every now and then. My grandmother had a big influence on me in my childhood. She was a very strong and beautiful woman, super-efficient and always on the go. Our house was like something out of a fairytale – she was always embroidering, sowing, weaving rugs. At the moment she’s trying to teach my son Lucas embroidery. But my mum’s better off in Russia – she looks after my sister Oksana who has cerebral palsy. My sister is a creature of habits – she’s happier living where she is now, and where mum is. My other sister Kristina is at a boarding school in England, and she’s getting loads of praise from her teachers.
» You have three children of your own – how do you manage to keep in such fantastic shape?
I don’t do anything special, I just lead a busy life, and rush around all day doing things – my brain must consume masses of calories. I remember my mum being really thin when she was young. You know, it’s a lazy lifestyle that makes people put on weight but I’m always on the go. I regard food as a treat – you really have to want it before you get it. If you’re hungry, then even a piece of buttered toast will taste like heaven. At the moment I’m thinner than usual because I’m training for the Paris Marathon – I’m running to support my foundation. I’ve had to start training – I’m a pretty tough person but first thing the other morning I ran 12 miles, and then could hardly walk by the evening.
» Are you a good cook?
Yes, but I don’t get time to. Justin’s good at it, and enjoys it – he’s got lots of cookery books, and particularly likes Jamie Oliver recipes. He can make a great English breakfast.
» Your husband’s an artist. Does he paint nowadays?
Much less, and, I suppose, it’s my fault as well. His paintings are very labour-intensive – there’s a lot of attention to detail in them. But we’ve got so much to think about in our lives right now with all my travelling, three young children – there’s no time to concentrate on it. And, anyway, an artist needs inspiration, strong emotions, adrenaline rushes, shocks, but everything’s so good in our lives – there’s no stress.
» Three children – that’s a big commitment, too. Do you have to arrange your work schedule around them?
I’m constantly balancing work and family. I can’t go away for long – I miss them so much when I’m away, and I try to only accept really important work so we’re not apart for long. I enjoy just spending time with them, being near them, cuddling and kissing. The youngest – his name’s Viktor – he’s the cuddliest one – just like a little bear cub, and ever-so funny. The others are a bit jealous of him but on the whole they all get on really well. The eldest Lucas who’s eight helps all the time and plays with the others, and he’s very kind and attentive. Our daughter Neva is such a lively spark, and a bit on theatrical side. She likes making a drama of things sometimes but she does it beautifully, and so we let her express her feelings in this way.
» Why did you give your daughter the strange name of Neva? Is it after the Russian River?
It’s an English tradition to name children after events, geographical places, flora. My daughter doesn’t understand yet but Lucas knows what her name means. We were actually looking for a name for a friend’s child, but ended up finding one for our daughter. I think it really suits her – Neva is such a proud little girl.
» Would you like her to become a model?
She’ll decide what she wants to do herself. It’s an interesting profession for a girl – as long as you don’t have to make a living out of the modelling business – you get to work with talented people, travel to interesting places, wear beautiful clothes. If you’re a model because you’re beautiful and you can afford it – that’s one thing but if you have to make a living out of it, it’s non-stop stress.
» Don’t you ever feel that now you’re so successful, lots of people socialise with you just for their own ends?
Maybe but it doesn’t matter. I have some acquaintances who are useful for my projects and then, vice versa, I’m sometimes useful to them. Friendship based on mutual interest is natural. If someone doesn’t take to me, it doesn’t bother me either because I really can’t expect everyone to like me. Just as long as these people don’t make any false claims about me, make up stories about me. These days I have a more responsible attitude to what I say and how I say it and think more about the image created. But, you know, it doesn’t come naturally – I’m an open person, and say what I think, and this can be dangerous sometimes. People can misinterpret things and feel hard done by. I may be highly motivated but I’m not aggressively so. Sometimes you may have a misunderstanding with people, your interests may differ. I hardly ever take offense – it’s easier to get by if you don’t – what’s the point of taking offense when you need to get on with things?! I have no expectations, and don’t hold on to negative feelings – I suppose this is also about getting by – it’s easier this way – you’re unlikely to feel let down and hurt. That’s why I always feel very upset when people take offense at me. I do some soul-searching and wonder what on earth I could have done to offend this person so much. But maybe people are just made differently. I also understand it when people choose their friends by their wealth and social standing – it’s easier this way. A billionaire and shoemaker can be friends but it’s not something that happens all that often. Money doesn’t always count, of course, but it does decide a lot. When I first got to know my husband-to-be the difference in our financial situations was a big problem for me. I’d just started modelling and he was the heir to one of the richest families in England. I didn’t let him buy me expensive gifts in those days – it would have been humiliating.
» Are you thinking about the future, making plans?
Yes, but I see the future more in terms of the inner state of being I want to achieve – it’s all about serenity, balance and inner happiness. I can clearly imagine how it feels but I suppose it will come in many years’ time when my children have grown up and I can get the house sorted as I’d like it to be. And have it done out my way, and spent more time with friends and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Life these days is a race: I get a phone call and then rush off to a meeting, interview, filming, sometimes not wanting to at all. There’s so much extra to do, routine stuff – it’s mind-boggling. Sometimes I feel as though I’m not in control of my life, that I’m running late, and I’ve no time to take time-out and get my breath back.
» Word has it, you’re going to make a film – is that true?
We’re in discussions right now about shooting the film. I’ve had no special training as an actor but if it all goes ahead, I’ll hire a coach especially for the part. Acting talent, to my mind, is something you either have or you haven’t. I’ve always known that I can reach for emotions within me and then express them. I want to have a go at being an actress, and if things work out, that’s fine and if they don’t, better still – it’ll be one less thing to think about. I’m not going to disclose the film’s name right now, let’s just say it has a French director.
» How do you define “beauty”?
As an inner state. Sometimes you meet someone – they’re beautiful people but you don’t feel like spending time with them. And sometimes the reverse happens – you see someone on the screen or stage and they make no impression on you, and then you meet them and sense what immense inner power they have.
It’s such a joy when I meet people I want to spend time with – this sort of friendship is so emotionally fulfilling. And the good thing is that all the people I’ve felt empathy with have proved to be useful in business, too. We recently made a programme in Moscow for the television network CNN. I got on really good terms with the Australian cameraman who then helped me find producers for a documentary film about my charitable foundation. And then they came up with the project we’re working on now – it’s a film for American TV, a sort of reality show about my life that will hopefully raise even more funds for the foundation.
» And with so much success behind you, what direction do you now want to continue developing in?
For me, developing is all about self-training and creating inner harmony. I want to get rid of the sense of anxiety, the sense of always having to do something, rush somewhere that’s haunted me ever since I was a child. At last I’ve learned to let myself relax – for instance, read a book in a quiet atmosphere – without feeling guilty. I feel this sense of balance when I’m at home with the children – and then everything makes sense to me.