How We Met: Camila Batmanghelidjh & Nina Campbell
'Having bongoed for two hours, I said to her that there must be an easier way to help'
Sunday 19 April 2009
Camila Batmanghelidjh, 46, formed the charity Kids Company in 1996. It gives support to 13,000 deprived children every year. She lives in West Hampstead
I first met Nina when I went to her studios about four years ago. I had heard through friends that she was an amazing woman and I was looking for support for a project we run called Colour a Child's Life, where we decorate the homes of deprived children. I walked into her studio, which is a gorgeous treasure trove of fabrics and wallpaper, and she was so welcoming. By the end of our first meeting, she had agreed not only to donate some furnishings for the project, but also to take one of our young people on placement.
The trainee we placed with her had been horrifically treated as a child. When he was on placement with her he had swings of depression, but Nina stuck by him. She took him to dinner and treated him like her son. She got him working with her maintenance man, driving the van, moving furniture. All of Nina's staff chipped in to help as well. That placement transformed him – it was his first step in the outside world. He ended up getting into university and that is thanks so much to her.
She recently did a fundraising dinner for us. Nina is probably one of the best-connected people in the country, but her compassion takes my breath away. She invited some of the children from Kids Company to talk about their experiences and did it all in such an understated, graceful way. She looked after those children in the same way she did the high-level guests. That's so her; she's able to fit in with any level of society – rich or poor.
She's also incredibly funny. I love that she wears heart-shaped glasses – how cool is that? She is incredibly stylish but at the same time you can imagine her drinking PG Tips. She is very generous, too. She'll share contacts and pick up the phone to ask people to help out. It's a kindness that carries through into her work: she has a very generous attitude to other designers. Normally they might be perceived as her rivals, but Nina sees them as colleagues.
I get all Nina's leftovers, which I love. There was an 18-year old boy who had been dumped in a flat all on his own and was so traumatised that he didn't have the competency to manage. We went in there to decorate it for him and Nina helped out. She gave us her own design wallpaper, an amazing chair and some gorgeous fabrics. She didn't just put rejects in there, she gave us quality. She did for that boy what she would do in one of her wealthy client's houses and it looked amazing.
Nina Campbell, 63, is an interior designer, who also designs fabrics, wallpaper and furniture, which she sells from her Knightsbridge store. She has three children and lives in Fulham
I first met Camila a few years ago. She persuaded me to take part in a fundraiser, which involved hundreds of people taking part in a bongo-drum marathon in Hammersmith. Having bongoed for two hours, not very successfully, I said to her that there must be an easier way to help.
We arranged that I would take one of her boys and let him do a placement in my business. She sent me a 17-year-old who'd experienced some things you just wouldn't believe. It was hard work at times, but incredibly rewarding. He was lovely, so it worked out very well for us all. He's moved on now and is actually studying social work, but we're still in touch.
Camila is the best advert for her charity. Because she is so inspirational, everyone wants to help. She gives herself totally to the children; there is nothing she won't do.
It's very humbling to know her; it has helped to put things in my life into perspective. One of the girls she helped out did a talk at a fundraising dinner I gave recently and she said that the first time she had slept in the same bed for two nights running was when she was in prison. She had been abused, abandoned and dumped on the streets. She felt all the Government agencies had let her down – when she didn't behave properly, they sent her away. Now, thanks to Camila, this child has come through and is working in PR.
Camila is also the most amazing multi-tasker. The other day I went to see her and not only was she in the process of moving office, she was also interviewing someone for a job. She looks after more than 13,000 children and turns nothing down. I don't like to bother her unless I've something important to say, so I email her with ideas, and she always makes time for me.
Quite apart from that, have you seen her? She has thrown herself into this heaven of glitter, sparkle and magic. The other day she was wearing a purple turban and had all these fabulous bits hanging off her and I said to her, "I'd really love to make you into a wallpaper." If she was dressed in a tweed suit, I think she would be a very formidable person, but done up as she is, you immediately want to throw yourself into her arms. There is nothing grey, brown or taupe about her; if you're a child from a grim background and you walk into Camila's life, it's a blaze of colour and beacon of hope. I think I'll work for her until the day I drop dead.
The new Nina Campbell spring/summer collections are in store now at 9 Walton Street, London SW3 www.ninacampbell.com). For more information about Kids Company, visit www.kidsco.org.uk
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