In the case of Naomi Campbell, does an undisputed commitment to charitable causes balance glaring personality defects? A few years ago, when Kate Moss was crucified in the tabloids over cocaine use, I pointed out she was a supermodel, not a role model. The job of supermodels is to persuade us to buy a bit of whatever glamorous myth they are well rewarded for promoting.
So what should we make of Naomi's crass behaviour? Does it matter that a woman who cites Nelson Mandela as an "honorary grandfather" and who lends her name regularly to charitable events in Africa, has never heard of Liberia and the track record of its former leader, now standing trial for genocide? Was ex-president Charles Taylor just another Naomi fan at the dinner table, back in 1997? When she boasts she regularly receives valuable gifts brought by hotel concierges in the middle of the night, is she thick, naive, socially inept or telling the truth? Having met Ms Campbell, I'd say it's a bit of all four. She once told me Mike Tyson was "really nice".
Don't expect Naomi to be a role model for young black women. Beyoncé , Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez are rich stars who fill that slot. Naomi has moaned about the fashion business being racist, but is it any worse than the music industry? Ironically, she has appeared in dozens of music videos since she was seven, helping artists like George Michael, Madonna and Michael Jackson seem that little bit more exotic.
This is a girl who grew up without a dad, whose mother was often away touring as a dancer. Naomi might have attended stage school, but from the age of 15 she travelled the world being photographed. It's performing, but is it creatively rewarding? She made an album, but it was a flop in the UK, although it reached No 1 in Japan. She's launched fragrances, and produced a novel, but it was written by someone else – she claimed she "didn't have the time". As usual, in her public utterances, Naomi comes across as somewhat charmless. On the credit side, she's helped to raise millions for the victims in New Orleans and Haiti by staging fashion shows and next October, at a gala event, Unesco will be giving her an award for her charity work.
An award for social commitment? The woman who has bashed assistants, been convicted for assault, who's banned by BA, and who was recently accused of whacking her driver in New York, although he declined to press charges. When she attended a dinner with Nelson Mandela and Charles Taylor in 1997 was the socially concerned Ms Campbell not aware of the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone, and the huge number of innocent citizens whose limbs were hacked off by soldiers financed by the former Liberian dictator?
His trial for war crimes started in 2007 and was largely unreported until Ms Campbell's appearance. Suddenly, the world's media had a five-star photo opportunity. Campbell insisted that her arrival and departure from the courtroom was in secret. Naomi looks to me like a paranoid narcissist who has to be the centre of attention: she probably imagined that those telephoto lenses were disguises for high-velocity rifles. She seemed unaware that the court proceedings were televised globally.
In Naomi's mind, she is the most important person on the agenda at any one time: that's why she had to tell us how "inconvenient" it was to attend the proceedings at all. My goodness, she could probably have earned £10,000 in half the time she spent in the witness box, flogging beach bags or nail varnish.
The BBC seemed not to have learnt a single lesson from all the criticism of their blanket Raoul Moat coverage, and led news bulletins on television and radio with Campbell when there was an enormous humanitarian disaster unfolding in Pakistan. A gorgeous supermodel in a snug Azzedine Alaia outfit is much more eye-catching than muddy villagers watching their worldly possessions floating away in the rain.
I can't hate Naomi Campbell for being crass: at least she has (through no desire on her part) projected the tragic story of Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor's role in this modern atrocity back into the media spotlight, even if the whole episode was a diary drudge for the queen of glamour.
I wonder if the BBC will accord Mia Farrow the same air time when she gives evidence about the dirty diamonds and that infamous dinner party, later this week?
Marbella Michelle: Take a holiday in the real Spain, Mrs Obama
Why did the normally savvy Michelle Obama choose to take a summer break in Marbella with her daughter? The resort is tacky and characterless, and the coast and surrounding hills have been desecrated by developers.
Her brash luxury hotel is in the middle of an ugly golf course (not very environmentally friendly), and she's surrounded by dozens of security men keeping hordes of paparazzi at bay. The Spanish gossip magazines are passing on every detail of the trip online – from the dishes on the menu at her tapas supper to her gift purchases (two white cotton frocks).
Marbella is nothing to do with the real Spain. Travel into the mountains behind the resort and you can at least enjoy peaceful walking in a rugged landscape, not lurid over-watered putting greens. As for the beach, luckily Marbella hasn't yet been plagued by the jellyfish invasion that's closed beaches on the Costa del Luz and further north on the Costa Brava, but it will be packed with over-jewelled sun-worshippers wearing gold sandals with matching bags.
A couple of years ago I drove from Santander through the Extremadura to Seville. That's the real Spain – historic villages, fabulous food, few tourists.
Let them eat real bread
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman was derided recently when a memo she wrote to her staff, asking them to keep her up to speed on food prices, was leaked to the press. But shouldn't the woman in charge of farming know how much we have to pay for basics like bread?
She's got my sympathy: I have no idea how much a basic loaf costs because I just won't buy it. Supermarkets sell sliced white stuff in packets for £1.20, but it will never pass my lips. I'm happy to pay £3 for a delicious hand-baked wholemeal loaf in my local farmers' market.
If the Russians ban wheat exports after their recent drought, then the price of all bread will soar. Isn't it about time we started treating it as a luxury not characterless filling stodge? Might be better for our waistlines, too.
I live in an Ambridge of my own
My favourite radio series, The Archers, is attracting its highest audiences ever, averaging around five million listeners a week. Last week's storyline was fantastic – posh Alice and her farrier boyfriend Chris returned from their trip to the US, and announced they had secretly got married in Las Vegas (just as I did!) Alice's snobby mum Jennifer is in meltdown, appalled at her new relationship by marriage to ambitious mother-of-the-groom Susan, while granny, recalling her East End roots, has given the couple her blessing and a big cheque. My goodness, The Archers is packed with irritating characters: vulgar Matt, dotty Lilian, misery moaner Kathy and annoyingly upbeat Ruth with her irritating accent. But isn't that just like any village? God knows what my Yorkshire neighbours say about me behind my back. Judging by The Archers it could be pretty savage.Reuse content