Tsunami survivor chosen as face of John Lewis

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The Independent Online

Less than two years ago, Petra Nemcova was beginning a traumatic recovery from the Boxing Day Tsunami disaster that claimed her boyfriend's life and left her in hospital for weeks.

Today, the Czech-born model's life could not be more different. Ms Nemcova, 27, has been named as the face of a major new campaign for John Lewis.

The model will front the store's autumn fashion advertising campaign. She will model clothes from some of the store's most popular lines, including Joseph, Farhi, Coast, Principles and John Lewis's own brand, JL.

Mark Forsyth, a spokesman for John Lewis, said Miss Nemcova had been chosen for her "ageless beauty".

"She just has a lovely, natural feminine look," he said. "Her ageless beauty strikes a chord across a wide range of customer audiences from the twenty- and thirtysomethings, through to the fashion-conscious forty- and fiftysomethings. Petra was great to work with, she's relaxed and genuinely enjoyed trying on the looks we created using a variety of the brands we stock."

Ms Nemcova was staying at the Thai resort of Khao Lak with her British fiancé, the photographer Simon Atlee, when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004. The pair were apparently planning their wedding day just hours before Mr Atlee, 33, was swept to his death, according to an inquest into his death last year.

Ms Nemcova almost died but managed to cling to a palm tree for eight hours, while waters engulfed the beach bungalow in which the couple had been staying. She suffered a shattered pelvis and had intensive physiotherapy to help her regain the use of her legs, spending three weeks in hospital before flying home to the Czech Republic.

She has written a book about the tragedy and last year reportedly described the last glimpse of her fiance.

She said he was screaming her name and asking what was happening. "I couldn't answer," she added. "I didn't know. Then I lost sight of him. Seconds later, whirling in the tumbling waters, I saw him again, a few yards ahead of me... then he was gone."

Ms Nemcova, who is now dating the British musician, James Blunt, has set up a charity, called the Happy Hearts Fund, to raise funds for children orphaned by the disaster. She has agreed to occasional modelling shoots, and taken part in some catwalk shows.

Earlier this year, she hosted "An Evening to Remember Simon Atlee". She first met him when he photographed her at the Tapestry Gallery in Soho.

The shoot for the John Lewis campaign took place on the slopes of Chamonix in France. It will hit magazines and billboards at the end of next month.