Luke Blackall: Man About Town

Natalia Vodianova is part of a new breed of celebrities doing more than just talking


In some ways Natalia Vodianova gives supermodels a bad name. She is neither vacuous nor rude and doesn't travel with a huge entourage. In fact, none of the clichés that usually apply to her profession are there.

She was, however, late for her own party last week. But before you get the wrong idea, she had a good excuse. She had been running with the Paralympic flame.

We spoke at the party, at the Mari Vanna restaurant in London, which was to held, in part, to raise awareness for her Naked Heart Foundation. The small venue was packed: apparently the invitation to tea with a supermodel was a popular one.

The charity builds playgrounds and family support centres in her native Russia. Much of the organisation's work is built around the idea that "play" is a vital, but sometimes overlooked, part of childhood.

Vodianova says her desire to set up the charity was an almost religious calling", after the school hostage tragedy in Beslan in 2004. Much of its work involves convincing local governments to support its aims to build 500 playgrounds across the country.

"I wanted to start in Beslan, but we couldn't do it. Then after I had opened a number of places elsewhere, the local government of Beslan came to us and asked us to build a playground," she said.

Another element of Naked Heart's work is its campaign for disability rights, which seems particularly timely given the current achievements at the Paralympic games. But what's perhaps most notable is Vodianova's hands-on approach. When floods hit southern Russia earlier this summer, Vodianova booked the first flight she could, to see if she could help. This resulted in the building of a temporary centre for families.

"Most of my time is working on the charity now," she said. "I love modelling, it is very easy for me. But most of my work is for the foundation."

Whereas once it was acceptable to simply turn up to a charity party, run a marathon or open a large wallet, these days you have to go further in order to impress or make a difference. Whether it's George Clooney hectoring world leaders, Sean Penn getting hands-on in Haiti or Vodianova, there is a new breed of famous face who do more than just speak.

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