Canadians carried away by minister's bare shoulders: A provocative picture may help Kim Campbell become leader of her country. Hugh Winsor reports from Ottawa

SHE MAY read Tolstoy in Russian and play a mean Bach on the cello, but it was bare shoulders that put Avril Phaedra 'Kim' Campbell on a fast track to be Canada's next prime minister. Not since Pierre Trudeau was snapped sliding down a banister in Marlborough House - he was attending a Commonwealth leaders' conference shortly after being elected prime minister - has so much Canadian public attention turned on one photograph.

Ms Campbell, 46, is a twice- divorced Vancouver lawyer and university lecturer who has been in federal politics for less than five years. While obviously talented, intelligent and different, she has yet to reveal much of substance about how she would approach the leader's job. But she has been embraced by an electorate fed up with Brian Mulroney, who will stand down as Conservative leader and Prime Minister in June. The candidate picked by the party convention that month will automatically become prime minister until the election, which must be held by November.

Ms Campbell is being described as everything from Canada's Madonna to its Margaret Thatcher. The polls suggest that a Conservative Party led by her would double its support to more than 40 per cent, enough to overtake the Liberals led by Jean Chretien, who have topped the polls for the past three years.

Much of Ms Campbell's appeal can be traced to her cool, unstuffy handling of the media hullabaloo over the photograph: an arresting image of her standing, as if naked, behind a suit of lawyer's robes. It was taken almost three years ago, shortly after she became justice minister.

A Vancouver feminist photographer, Barbara Woodley, was assembling portraits for a book on unconventional women. Ms Campbell agreed to pose, holding the robes towards the camera to symbolise the law as a protection for women. Ms Woodley says they realised simultaneously that bra straps would detract from the aesthetic effect, and the minister agreed to drop them.

The result is a photograph that suggests far more than intended. Ms Woodley's book received little public attention at first, and became notorious only months later when the Ottawa Citizen spotted the portrait on display in the lobby of the National Arts Centre, and published it on its front page.

Ms Campbell has dismissed the fuss about the picture as 'a hoot', and says her only complaint is that no one has noticed that she has lost 30lb since it was taken. She represents a startling break from the greyness of most Canadian politicians. She has described herself as an intellectual, and once joked that she had a three-digit IQ.

During her speech to launch her campaign, she joked about the support she had received from 'raunchy ranchers', and said that was because 'they know that under this cool, arrogant, intellectual, urbane exterior, there beats the heart of a Texas line dancer'. (Line dancing is a new fad among country and western music fans.) On another occasion, she teased a male television technician, saying that his efforts to attach a microphone to her bodice was the closest she had had to a pass since her marriage broke up.

Propelled by her powerful media chemistry, Ms Campbell, at present Minister of Defence, is far ahead in the Conservative Party leadership race. Last week, she flew directly from the launch of her glitzy campaign to a conference of Nato defence ministers in Brussels. That was followed by a brief visit to London for discussions with the Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, about Bosnia and Somalia.

Ms Campbell's independent streak surfaced early when, at 12, she rejected her given names, Avril Phaedra, and called herself Kim. As a talented musician - she plays classical piano and cello and more popular music on guitar - her father expected her to follow a stage career.

She chose, however, to study political science and, after an undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, she moved to the London School of Economics. She acquired a passable capacity in Russian and travelled in the Soviet Union for three months. After a temporary lecturing job in Vancouver, she married Nathan Divinsky, a professor and chess master 20 years her senior. The marriage broke up a decade later.

When she failed to obtain a permanent teaching position, she returned to university and obtained a law degree. While practising law, she became involved in politics on the local school board, then was elected to the provincial legislature. She switched to national politics in the 1988 election, and gained some attention for her strong support of Mr Mulroney's campaign to conclude a free trade agreement with the United States.

She was promoted quickly into the Cabinet, and within two years became minister of justice. She promoted a number of controversial Bills dealing with abortion, gay rights and other human rights issues, but her critics say her initiatives were dictated more by legal necessity than strong philosophical commitment.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral