Time to Walk - Time to Walk with Naomi Campbell

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Naomi Campbell: I so appreciate walking now, especially since this past year. I remember last year when I came out to Los Angeles after not going past my door for three and half months in New York, just to put my feet on the grass, I cried. It was just like we take that for granted, don’t we?

Like, I feel like the whole world is going to just appreciate trees, air, oxygen, much more than they ever have before. I don’t think they’re ever going to take it for granted again.


Sam Sanchez: It’s Time to Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives.

Naomi Campbell is one of the world’s most recognizable people thanks to her career as a supermodel, actor, and activist. On this walk, she shares stories about two important mentors in her life and what she’s doing to be a mentor herself.

Naomi Campbell: So we’re going on this walk in Beverly Hills, California. And we’re walking through this really beautiful, lush garden. It’s not a very extremely sunny day. It’s actually kind of English weather. It’s raining and gray, but it’s still beautiful.

I met this wonderful man called Azzedine Alaïa when I was 16 years old. I’d been 16 for a month, and in Paris shooting for a magazine. And my mother had sent me off with my travelers checks and, “Take care of your passport. Keep everything close to you.” And, basically, it disappeared.

And there was this lovely model. And she said, “Oh, I’ve got this dinner tonight with this wonderful, amazing designer, Azzedine Alaïa. Would you like to come?” And I said to her, “Okay. Well, I don’t have anything else to do. Everything’s been stolen, so sure.” And I didn’t know that that night was going to be a life-changing moment in my life.

So, she took me with her. And Azzedine Alaïa asked me what happened. And then he said, “Where’s your mother?”

I said, “In London.”

He called my mum, and he told my mother, Valerie, that, “Now, your daughter’s going to live here with me.” And my mother said, “Okay.”

And my mother hadn’t met him. I was like, “How could you just say okay?” But she did. She said she could trust him. She said, from his voice, he was a kind man. And so I moved into Azzedine’s house in Rue du Parc Royal in Le Marais in Paris, where I got to see this genius create. And so the journey began with Papa. I call him Papa.

And Azzedine was in my life. And I got to be his fitting model. But it was so special because to be part of what he was creating and seeing how he was creating and designing, and no one does it like that. He would draw his own patterns, cut his own patterns, I’ve never seen that, and sew it together himself and just create these masterpieces. Every designer in the world respected Papa.

So a lot of people say to me, “Naomi, but did you ever have anything happen to you. I’ve heard these horror stories about modeling and young models and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I have to honestly say I didn’t because I was protected. Azzedine was a full-on papa, and he protected me. And so I never saw a lot of those things.

You know, going into young 20s, of course I was running around the world working, dressed in Alaïa, working with the best photographers and living with the best designer in the world. So, I mean, you can imagine I saw everything and everyone, but he kept me with my feet on the ground. He would give me advice. He would tell me certain things not to do.

At that time in my career, he’d say, “It’s too early. You need to pace yourself.” And he was right. You know, you don’t want to do it all in one go. And sometimes he would say, “Saying no is better for you.”

And sometimes I said, “I don’t understand why, Papa.”

He would say, “You’ll see.” He was always right.

But, you know, people would start to invite me out. The first time I snuck out, I picked my outfit, and I put it at the side. And I made sure I took off the tags well. I dressed up, everything. I might’ve put the belt wrong because it was in the dark. It wasn’t lit very well. And, when I thought he was sleeping, I snuck out.

I get to this place called the Bains-Douches, which was the place to be. And I feel like I’m a grownup. And next thing, Hubert, the owner, he tells me, “Azzedine knows you’re here?”

I’m like, “Yes.”

But I wasn’t, obviously, convincing enough because next thing, he’s calling Papa. Papa’s arriving in the Bains-Douches, and the first thing he does, because he was a perfectionist, “You didn’t put on the outfit right.” And then, he tells me, “You’re not supposed to be here.”

And I was like, “But Papa, they told me Prince was going to be here.” And I was such a big Prince fan.

And he’s like, “No, ma fille, va te coucher! You have to go to bed.”

He never judged, never, ever judged anyone, always supportive but very honest. I’d run to him if I had a breakup. He’d be like, “Çava, ma fille, çava, ma fille.” It means, “Okay, my daughter.”

When he passed, because he was Muslim, from Tunisia, they had said that I had to stand back from the grave. And I was like, “No. No, no, no. I have to be…”

They said, “No, women have to stand back, and men stand in front.” So I had to obey the rules.

And then the guy, as he was putting to shove the dirt on Papa, he looked at me, and I was standing in the back, and he said, “Come. Come here.” He gave me the shovel, and that, for me, was so… It was a meaningful thing to me because I know they don’t do that in their culture. And I just never, ever saw my life without Papa not being in it, never saw it.

I feel that I was very extremely blessed to have met Azzedine. Even though I didn’t have my biological father around, I had a stranger that stepped in and took that responsibility. So you never know in life. You never know what can happen. It showed me unconditional love. Because I didn’t grow up with my father. You can still have papas even though it’s not your blood. And this man treated me like a daughter until the day he died. He’s with me always, always, always.


So, when I was at school, there was a song that came out. “Free Nelson Mandela”. That’s how I first heard about Nelson Mandela. I never learned at school what he had endured, what he had sacrificed, what he had been through. Then I get older. I’m living in New York, 1990. And the world is told that Nelson Mandela’s going to be released. It was a big, joyous occasion.

And cut to ‘93. I get this job, and they ask me to go judge a Miss World competition in South Africa. And we go and there was where I got to learn about the ANC, African National Congress, and what Nelson Mandela fought for and stood for, and that was by an actor called Blair Underwood. And Blair Underwood took me to, like, this kind of secret ANC meeting. And when I walked out of that meeting, I felt like, “I really want to support the ANC.” Even though I didn’t live in South Africa, “I really want to do something. I want to be involved in the ANC.”

And so the next day was the final of Miss World, and I went on stage, and then I said at the end, “And I’m going to donate the fee that I had made from this trip to the ANC.”

When I walked off stage, a lovely man said to me, “You have a call.” And next thing I knew, I was told that I was leaving the next morning to Johannesburg to meet President Mandela.

When I got off this little plane, I was really nervous and excited and every adrenaline you could think running through my bones. And we’re going to Nelson Mandela’s house, not even his office, his house. And we got there, and he was just beaming, like, so strong. And the light that he radiated. And, oh, and his twinkle eyes, and his smile.

And President Mandela and I remained in each other’s lives for 20 years. And then he made me his honorable granddaughter. And he became my grandfather. And so we built this relationship of him telling me, “You have to use who you are to help others. You have to use who you are to speak out for others. And you can do it.”

And I’m looking at him thinking, “How am I going to do that? How do I do that? Why would you pick me? I’m the bad girl. I got into trouble in my years.”

And he was very insistent. And then he used to send me out to go to villages, talk to young women, talk to them about HIV, hand out condoms. And I started to like this, I felt like a sense of fulfillment, of belonging to something that I loved.

I fell in love with Africa. I always saw in my home country of England, only just showing people starving. That’s not how Africa is. Highly educated people, elegant people, poised people, and the nature is formidable. It’s just incredible.

So then I became a member of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. I went with him many places, and that was my mission, get Granddad’s word out there and to support the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He was really a person for the people. It was no ego with him. He didn’t put himself first. He put the people first.

He taught me not to have revenge towards people when they hurt you, to forgive, much as it may hurt and it’s hard, we’re all humans, to keep going forward, to stick to your integrity, that even the people that doubted you, prove them wrong, but to do things only if you felt the passion towards it, not to do things for others and for what it looked like. And believe me, he saw the difference.

He never said a bad word to anyone. Even when he saw his ex-prison officer in a restaurant who tortured him, he invited him to come and sit at the table. No anger, no remorse, no vengeance. We were meant to come into each other’s lives at that moment in time. I believe we all have someone like that in our lives.


Everyone knows me for my walk. So my mother was a dancer, and we had this green carpeted hallway, and she put on “All Night Long”, Lionel Ritchie song, and she showed me how to walk.

And that was it. And then when I practiced it, it was like, “No, do it again. Do it again. Do it again.” And that was it.

I’ve taught many girls how to walk or practice their walk, I should say, because everyone’s walk is their own, to practice and to enhance them to make them stronger and make them feel good. When I did my first couture, Yves St. Laurent, the models were so kind to me. They told me, “This is how you take off a cape. This is how to be careful to go down a straight line because you’ve got a big hat, and the chandeliers will pull it off.” So you have to share. It’s important.

Mentorship’s important to me because I just think you have to pass it on, period. For me, I’ll mentor anyone. Jasmine, Golden Barbie, they call her. She wanted me to help her. She really wanted to get the Victoria’s Secret shows. So Jasmine came to me, and I remember I went to her home, and I gave her some lessons. But I didn’t feel like I gave her enough time, and I had to go to see Dave Chappelle do standup. So I told Jasmine, “Come on. Come with me.”

She said, “Where we going?” I said, “Get in the coach,” didn’t tell her. We got there, and when Dave finished, I said, “Okay, on the stage.”

She’s like, “What?” I said, “On the stage.” No inhibitions, got on the stage. And I said, “Now do what I just told you, what you learned from me before.” And she did it. And for me, you have to be flexible like that. The competition’s rife, and it’s even more rife than when I was modeling.

I remember, when I started modeling, someone said to me, “Remember not to take it personal,” because they’re looking at you and the way you look aesthetically. Of course it’s difficult to learn not to take that personally.

And so, for me, as we walk now, it’s about bringing your own essence to it and having your own rhythm. I always say to my mentees, “Look to the light. Look proud. Even if you feel nervous inside, fake it until you make it.”

And I’m nervous when I walk on a runway. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I could lose a skirt. I could lose a shoe. I could lose a top. And I’ve continued walking when those things have happened to me because, if you do that, people won’t even notice that you lost those things. I think it’s about who you are and what you give off as your essence as a person.

So, for me, I like mentoring. I want to do it not just for people that want to model, women period. I think it’s important to know how to walk into a room with confidence for self-esteem, for peace of mind, to give you a boost. It’s important to know what to wear, what to say, how to turn, how to take off your coat, how to have etiquette at a table, all of these things. I was taught all of these things. So I want to teach that back.


We’re walking up to the garden. Oh, my god, there’s a rabbit! Oh, come here, little rabbit. Oh, so cute. Oh, there. Oh, so cute.

It’s like a little enchanted rose garden. The hedges are so neatly trimmed. God, for a moment there, I wouldn’t even know where I was in terms of being in Los Angeles.

Music is just my ambiance, my mood, my everything. I wouldn’t be able to live without music.

“Is This Love”, Bob Marley, is always going to be, for me, a memory of my childhood. As when I watch this video, not only am I in the video with the great Bob Marley, I am seeing my whole class and my school. So it’s a great way to look back and see if I can still remember everyone’s names, which I do.

That video for Bob Marley was shot in 1977. I was seven years old. Even way back then, I realize now, he cared very much about Africa. That was his religion, Rastafari. So again, it was around me from an early age, just a matter of time before it was going to engulf me and wrap its arms around me, which is how I feel about Africa.


“Here and Now”, I used to play that song. When I was younger, my first boyfriend, I lived uptown, and he lived downtown New York. And I used to play that song all the way from uptown down in a taxi. Just the way Luther’s voice is so smooth but it’s so sensitive and charming and just… You know, I was in my romantic bubble, and it just, it touched every string of my heart.


“Love & Tears”, I heard this song by this group called Maggie’s Dream, and I just loved the lyrics so much. And when I got this opportunity to do an album, I chose to do a cover on that, and it was produced by a great friend of mine. And I still love that song until this day. We did it in a way with more like an East Indian vibe to it, and that’s the way we did the video, too. I still love it the same way I did when I heard it the very first time around.


I feel, obviously, very nostalgic sharing these stories and getting to walk around this amazing garden. And it’s nice. It’s peaceful. It’s centering, and it’s calm. And I feel very serene and happy to just be able to share.

Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.