Naomi Campbell Conquers All, From David Letterman’s Green Room

Supermodels, particularly this one, are not famous for punctuality, but Ms. Campbell was ahead of schedule. Live television makes her nervous. “You’re supposed to say ‘Break a leg,’ not ‘Good luck,'” she cooed into the phone. On the dressing-room sofa sat the hairdresser, waiting his turn with Naomi at the mirror while, like a veteran dance partner, the makeup artist followed whichever way Ms. Campbell swayed–to answer the phone, check a phone number, whatever–without missing a brush stroke.

“I love you,” breathed the supermodel who once told a reporter the cure for chapped lips was “lots of kissing.”

Her new beau, Mohamed al Habtoor, a well-to-do businessman she calls “Max,” had telephoned from Dubai to say goodnight. They met several months ago at the opening of the Fashion Cafe there; Ms. Campbell is an investor. They clicked. Pictures of the couple on the back of a camel were published in assorted magazines around the world, her love life always a story. Naomi Campbell’s in love, again! But taking a slightly more mellow approach than she has in the past, when she dated people like Mike Tyson, then Robert De Niro, or got engaged to U2’s Adam Clayton. She’s taking it easy now, she said, letting them come to her, letting them talk about love.

In the next dressing room was Sinéad O’Connor. And an entourage of 17. Naomi Campbell’s only got hair and makeup and Kidada Jones, Quincy Jones’ daughter, and her agent, Paul Rolands, two teenage nephews and a school-age niece.

“Some people say David Letterman is mean,” Ms. Campbell said, brushing her eyebrows. “But people say it about me. So?”

Time to focus: Ms. Campbell’s publicist, Desiree Gruber, arrives wearing a pinstripe Ralph Lauren suit. Now there were two Star Tac phones in the small room.

“Real quick,” Ms. Campbell tells her next caller. A powder brush skated across her forehead. “But it’s better at the Bristol,” talking about the Paris hotel. “The Costes?” another Paris hotel. “It’s very trendy there. You going to stay there?”

Pause.

“Oh, you want to buy it? You’d better check it out yourself before you do.”

She’s 28. A Gemini. John Galliano, Marc Jacobs and Azzedine Alaïa all attended her recent birthday in Marrakech. And Naomi Campbell is someone tycoons like to call. They call to flirt, obviously, but then talk business. Finance is foreplay for the rich, and they call because Naomi’s got sharp instincts about things. Finger on the pulse. What company might they buy? What hotel, sight unseen? For nearly half her life Naomi Campbell has been earning millions of dollars and investing wisely, in real estate mostly. She’s also been jet-lagged for about the same amount of time, traveling so much for work she lost track of her frequent-flier miles by age 18. Why not ask her what hotel to buy.

About a year ago, Ms. Campbell decided it was “time to give back.” On Valentine’s Day this year, she organized a fashion show in South Africa which honored Gianni Versace and benefited the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Amber Valletta, Marcus Schenkenberg and other models went to Cape Town for the event. Ms. Campbell was meant to travel to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela last July. She canceled when Gianni Versace, a great friend and supporter, was killed. Mr. Mandela called her, insisted she come. You can see her listening to the cell phone, to Mr. Mandela’s voice. “No, no, please come, I still need you,” she recalled he said.

She did go to South Africa last summer. The trip was a revelation. She said, “[Mr. Mandela] told me I was a role model and that I should use the tremendous visibility that I had throughout the world. That was when I realized that I could create something very fulfilling out of a great tragedy, and from that day on I would commit myself to help.”

He adopted Naomi. He called her his “honorary granddaughter.” As Ms. Campbell’s own father is not much of a presence in her life, Mr. Mandela’s paternal kindness inspired her. To create the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Mr. Mandela pledged one-third of his Presidential salary for five years. So Ms. Campbell now gives a dollar from each pair of Naomi Campbell jeans she sells to the charity. Sold in Europe and Japan, they will be available in the United States this fall.

The trip to South Africa in February became the subject for a VH1 documentary by Douglas Keeve, who directed Unzipped , the film about Isaac Mizrahi. Naomi Campbell Conquers Africa , the latest offering from the network’s series called “Fashion Kingdom,” created by Gabé Doppelt, debuts on VH1 on July 18.

There was a knock on the dressing-room door. It’s a Letterman producer who wants to go over what Naomi and “Dave” might discuss. Ms. Campbell’s interest is talking about the VH1 show. She’s told Dave will probably have something to say about the scene on the flight to Cape Town. Naomi was awakened by a passenger who had been videotaping her while she slept.

“Dave will be interested in your perspective,” said the producer.

Then there’s the trip Ms. Campbell and Kate Moss made from Cape Town, flying 24 hours to Cuba for a Harper’s Bazaar photo shoot–Kate and Naomi have British passports. Naomi dictated a letter to Fidel Castro, and Kate–better penmanship–wrote it. In the letter, they asked to meet him. On the third night, Mr. Castro sent for them.

“I didn’t know much about him,” Naomi told Mr. Letterman.

She was calm enough sitting next to him as the cameras rolled, but seconds before walking onto the stage to face some 500 people in the audience, she shook like a leaf. Only five-inch alligator Manolo Blahnik mules could ground her.

“He’s a Communist dictator,” Mr. Letterman said.

Big audience laugh.

“That much I knew,” Naomi responded. Mr. Castro did his homework, she told Dave. He knew Naomi from a cover of French Vogue . He knew “Kate started the revolution for smaller models.”

“He believes he has something in common with Kate Moss because he heard she, too, is a revolutionary?” Mr. Letterman asked. “That’s the lousiest line I’ve ever heard.”

Lots more audience laughs.

“You’ve got to laugh at yourself,” Naomi Campbell said, packing up in her dressing room later.

Who knows where Sinéad’s entourage went after the taping. Naomi Campbell’s headed to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Billy’s List: Quiz Time!

1. Who designed the black bikini Anne Heche wears in Six Days, Seven Nights ?

a. Anne Cole.

b. Norma Kamali.

c. Robin Piccone.

2. Who recently said, “Summer is the enemy of drag”?

a. Camille Paglia in The New York Times .

b. Boy George in Rolling Stone .

c. John Cameron Mitchell in Variety .

3. Who is Trip Gabriel?

a. The newly appointed editor of fashion news at The Times .

b. The lead character in David Bowie’s Christmas rock opera, opening off Broadway in late November.

c. The costume designer for The Truman Show .

Answers: (1) c; (2) b; (3) a. Naomi Campbell Conquers All, From David Letterman’s Green Room