Born on May 20, 1970, in Streatham, London, England. Naomi Campbell grew up with her mother Valerie Campbell, a Jamaican who grew up in London. A modern ballet dancer, Valerie spent much time traveling throughout Europe with her dance troupe, so a nanny was hired to help raise Naomi and her brother.
Their father a Jamaican immigrant who was part Chinese, left them before Naomi was born. At age ten, Campbell was accepted to London's prestigious Italia Conti Stage School to study ballet. She also attended the London Academy of Performing Arts. During this time, Campbell landed bit parts in two films: Quest for Fire (1981) and Pink Floyd's The Wall (1982).
Discovered in Shopping Arcade
When she was 15, an agent discovered Campbell in a shopping arcade at Covent Gardens, which Campbell frequented after school. Campbell described the encounter to George Wayne in an interview: "I was just hanging out, and this woman comes up to me and says, 'I'm a modeling agent.' I didn't believe her, but I took her card home and gave it to my mother.
And then I saw an interview of her in Tatler, so I knew she was legitimate. After that I started pleading with my mother to let me go see her. At the end of the school year, I did. She took a picture of me in my school uniform ... then she sent me to a photographer who was working on an assignment for British Elle in New Orleans, and he booked me."
Superstar model Christy Turlington, a close friend of Campbell's, first met the teenage hopeful at Elite, the agency where Turlington was working. "She was wearing her school uniform," Turlington related to Elizabeth Sporkin in People. "The next time I saw her, a few months later, she was on her own in Paris, dancing until 4 a.m." Campbell and Turlington became fast friends, and ended up sharing an apartment.
Signed to the Elite Modeling Agency, Campbell was soon working with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry, including Isaac Mizrahi, Calvin Klein, and Azzedine Alaia. She described in Interview some of her favorite fashion photographers: "I like working with Herb Ritts, and I do very much like working with [Francesco] Scavullo. He makes me feel like a woman.
Herb makes you feel very innocent. Steven [Meisel] makes you feel like a character. When you work with him he'll give you postcards and books to look at and study. He makes me look different in every picture."
Earning more than $1 million a year, Campbell's assignments have taken her to many locations around the world. For one of her most exciting--and harrowing--photo shoots, she found herself, standing atop a volcano in Lanzarote, Spain--in heels. Her face was emblazoned on the French, Italian, American, and British editions of Vogue in the late 1980s. In 1988, she made a guest appearance on The Cosby Show.
Expanded Career With Music and Acting
In the early 1990s, Campbell began to focus more on her other interests. In addition to appearing in Vanilla Ice's film Cool as Ice (1991), she also contributed vocals to a track on the soundtrack. She then recorded two albums of her own: 1994's Love and Tears and Babywoman (1995). Campbell also she recorded "La, La, La Love Song" with Japanese singer Toshi, and the song reached number one in Japan. In addition, she appeared in several music videos, including Michael Jackson's "In the Closet" video and George Michael's "Freedom."
In 1994 Campbell published a novel. The ghostwritten Swan presents the story of a successful supermodel who has decided to quit modeling. The novel was a critical disappointment. Jonathan Van Meter of Vogue called the book "a laughingstock."
She commented about her hopes to expand her acting career in Interview: "You can't learn it all. As they tell you, acting is reacting. So it's all about going through life, having experiences." She won a small role in The Night We Never Met (1993), and in 1994 played a model in Robert Altman's Pret-a-Porter (Ready to Wear).
The following year, she had parts in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and Miami Rhapsody, which starred Sarah Jessica Parker and Mia Farrow. She also showed talent in a cameo in Spike Lee's Girl 6 (1996). Campbell continued to make guest appearances on such television shows as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and New York Undercover, in addition to a cameo appearance on the British comedy series, Absolutely Fabulous.
Campbell has given much of her time to charitable works. She has worked with the Dalai Lama rasing money to build kindergartens for poor communities.
In February of 1998, she was involved with a fund raising event in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. Campbell continued to work with the Children's Fund, developing a close friendship with Mandela.