x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

A model cause headlines The Ball-Abu Dhabi

It won’t be hard to spot Natalia Vodianova at the F1 ball. She always wears red when she’s trying to separate her wealthy friends from their money because she thinks it puts them in a generous mood.

Model Natalia Vodianova's Naked Heart Foundation is the beneficiary of The Ball-Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.
Model Natalia Vodianova's Naked Heart Foundation is the beneficiary of The Ball-Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

It won't be hard to spot Natalia Vodianova at the F1 ball. Apart from her height and waif-like beauty she'll be the lady in red. Bright, uncompromising and probably Givenchy but definitely red. She always wears red when she's trying to separate her wealthy friends from their money because she thinks it puts them in a generous mood.

"I will definitely wear something red. It's a good colour for charity, a very attractive colour so people get inspired by it. It's very positive," she says.

Her voice on the telephone is soft, richly accented and occasionally hesitant as she picks her words thoughtfully, pausing to consider a question about why she launched the Naked Heart Foundation five years ago and what it means to her that her charity is the beneficiary of The Ball-Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

The foundation builds safe and inspiring playgrounds for Russian children growing up in rough urban areas and it's not hard to guess at the motivation for Vodianova, whose mother worked on a fruit and veg stall to make ends meet after her husband ran out on her when Natalia was a toddler.

By the age of 11 the young Natalia was helping on the stall in the freezing streets of Gorky as well as helping to look after her half-sisters, one of whom has cerebral palsy. It was a tough life with little time for play.

Still only 28 years old, Vodianova believes the experience made her a stronger person and when her life changed so dramatically and she became one of the world's most famous supermodels, she was determined to do something for children who are not so fortunate. Becoming a mother and seeing the things that made her eldest son Lucas, now nine, happy, inspired her to focus on play areas.

"As an adult, having my first child and being successful and yet coming from where I come from I knew what my child had now that made him very happy. I could see there was something that I could do, something very tangible and I remember thinking what it was that I was lacking as a child.

"I come from an extremely poor family, and we even had aid from America. I remember a box of food arriving to support families like mine. I remember it was a hamper full of tins of meat, corn and peas. It was very exciting if you know that your mother can cook a nice soup with that. Everything was a treat then," she says in a matter-of-fact way that suggests she never felt sorry for herself.

She says she never felt beautiful as a teenager but even at 15 she had grown to a slender 5ft 9ins and signed up with a local model agency.

"When I was growing up I didn't think of myself as beautiful. I had no reason to because boys didn't give me any attention at school. I was very isolated in my own world. Later, I realised that I'm really blessed with many things. I have been given many tools to live a fantastic life. It's up to me to use them in the right way."

A host of famous faces are flying in for the climax of the F1 season, including Kate Moss, Liz Hurley and her husband Arun Nayer, Claudia Schiffer, the actors Jason Statham, and Samuel L Jackson, the model Kelly Brook, the actress Uma Thurman, and Bollywood stars, including Sohail Khan, Sophie Choudry, Abishek Kapoor and Gairav Batra, who will grace the red carpet at the Yas Hotel where Sister Sledge, Sarah McLachlan, and Sophie Ellis Bextor will perform.

Vodianova is excited about the event organised by FLASH and GEM Events, and grateful to her celebrity friends for their support. She takes nothing for granted and does most of the hard work involved in the actual fund-raising auction herself. She has put together an impressive list for auction, including a portrait session with photographer Patrick Demarchelier. Another item is lunch for four people with the fashion designer Roberto Cavalli and his wife Eva on board their luxury yacht in Cannes. Then there is an internship with the designer Diane von Furstenburg plus tickets to her New York show and fashion awards.

Says Vodianova: "This is something wonderful for your teenage daughter to get inside this incredible woman's world."

Another auction lot is a fashion week experience with front-row tickets to Givenchy, Dior, Celine, plus an opportunity to create your own perfume with the House of Guerlain, which alone would cost about €35,000 (Dh178,000). Vodianova spent weeks and months building up the list of items and hopes to raise more than €1 million on the night.

So far, the charity has built 56 playgrounds, 20 of them large play parks costing around €200,000 each and the rest smaller fenced playgrounds attached to schools, orphanages and hospitals. The first park was opened in 2006 in Vodianova's home town, now renamed Nizhny Novgorod. They all have similar features including pirate ships, swings and a safe play area and all are monitored by CCTV linked to the local police. "It's necessary for the safety of the children to provide safe, beautiful places for them to go and for parents not to think twice about leaving them inside these places."

She hopes she is using her fame and beauty in the right way and shrugs off media interest in her private life and the state of her marriage as simply the price one has to pay for a privileged life. She screams with laughter again at the mention of recent pictures in the press of her dancing in a stunning gold Balmain gown at the Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year party with clearly unwaxed legs.

Actually - shock, horror - she reveals, she never waxes.

"I don't wax my legs. Sometimes I shave them, but most of the time I don't. Someone told me about it but I don't look at all these things. Some people have an idea of what a model of my calibre should be doing. Yes, I take care of myself, but certain things are very personal to me. To me, beauty is not about a perfectly groomed person, whatever that means.

"You are bound for people to observe you very closely when you are in the public eye and for people to have expectations of you, but the truth is that I am a normal person and whatever I do is absolutely my own business. There will always be people who like me or who don't like me and that's absolutely fine and I don't like everyone. I love everybody, but with some people there is something I don't like about them. I'm certainly not here to please people, I'm not going to do something because people think that's what you've got to do. It's so unimportant to me."

What is important to her is raising as much money as she can to build more parks. Her ambition is to reach a target of 500 throughout Russia.

"I want to have a very successful fund-raising event. I don't have expectations, but I've done all the hard work. I've got some fantastic lots for people to buy that I'm really excited about. This is what is important to me. I've done everything I can to make this event as successful as possible. The rest is up to everyone else and a bit of luck."


For tickets, contact GEM Global Event Management, Kristina Hall, 04 444 0742, kristina@geventm.com