When Naomi met Vladimir: fights, fitness, and tiger traps


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The Independent Online

They have both posed topless for the cameras, both enjoy the limelight, and are both seen as sex symbols. So it was no surprise that when Naomi Campbell met Vladimir Putin, the conversation kicked off with an exchange of tips about how to keep in good shape.

The Russian Prime Minister, who has shown off his muscles in bare-chested horse-riding jaunts and fishing trips, told the supermodel in an interview published in GQ magazine this week that his fitness regime was probably similar to hers. When she replied that she didn't work out much, but believed a healthy mind helped keep her fit, he answered: "Exactly."

That's not to say that Mr Putin doesn't ever find time to work on his figure. "I go to the gym, I swim daily and from time to time I meet with friends and do extra-curricular stuff," said Mr Putin. "I had a good work-out just the day before yesterday."

When Campbell asked about another of his photo opportunities last year – riding a Harley-Davidson motorbike with a group of Hell's Angels – he said one of the group had lost a leg during the war in the former Yugoslavia. "I'm not the tough guy, those guys are," said Mr Putin.

He also expressed admiration for bare-knuckle fighters, but said that he personally preferred to stick to judo, which he has been practising since he was 14. Mr Putin has released a DVD of his judo tips.

Campbell spends much of the year in Moscow with her billionaire boyfriend Vladislav Doronin. She conducted the interview during a December summit in St Petersburg that brought together world leaders and celebrities to agree to a programme for saving the wild tiger.

Mr Putin is fond of wildlife, and Campbell asked him about the time he came face to face with a tiger and had to shoot it with a tranquilliser dart. Sceptics suggested the incident was a carefully choreographed stunt designed to boost Mr Putin's image among voters, but he told Campbell that the danger was real, although he himself had not been scared.

"It felt good for me, but not all of my Russian colleagues felt the same way," recounted Mr Putin. "When I came to the reserve, a tiger was caught in a special trap... But the tiger was smart, and as soon as the cameras started rolling, he stuck his paw through the trap. You could say the reporters were afraid." Luckily, Mr Putin was able to come to the rescue with a stun gun and save the day.

The Russian Prime Minister also praised the "bravery" of women who took their clothes off to tell him how much they admire him. Journalism students from Russia's leading university stripped down to their underwear and pulled sexy poses for a special birthday calendar made for Mr Putin last year. Each month also included suggestive captions. "You put out forest fires, but I'm still burning," said one. "How about a third time," pouted another girl, an innuendo that alludes to rumours that Mr Putin is planning a return to the presidency in 2012.

"I like the girls a lot, they're beautiful," said Mr Putin. "In Russia in particular, it's fashionable to criticise people in power. If you come out in support of someone like me, you're going to be accused of trying to ingratiate yourself. The girls in the erotic calendar were courageous and they were not scared."