Glowing with confidence and vitality, Vera Ora, the mother of pop star Rita, exudes glamour in these exclusive photos as she showcases a sassy range of swimwear. While Vera's daughter is accustomed to striking a pose for the cameras this is the first time the 55-year-old psychiatrist and mum-of-three has ever modelled – yet she carries herself like a natural.
Vera, who has overcome breast cancer, is the face of a post-mastectomy swimwear range designed by Melissa Odabash for the brand Amoena and launched by breast cancer charity Future Dreams.
"When Melissa first asked me to do it, I thought: 'Why me? I have no experience of modelling,'" Vera told HELLO!.
The Future Dreams ambassador, who underwent a single mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer at 39, has experienced first hand the challenges of finding stylish, comfortable swimwear.
"It was difficult to hide my scars on holiday," Vera recalled. "I felt self-conscious and would try to cover up or sew fabric into my swimming tops. But then I discovered the Amoena range, which is designed especially for women like me. It's so soft and figure-flattering and makes you feel wonderful."
Vera with her daughter Rita
Vera's family – her husband Nik and children, Elena, 30, Rita, 28, and 21-year-old Don – were thrilled when they saw these photos. "My family were all amazed that I had the confidence to do it," Vera told us. "My husband Nik couldn't stop smiling. He must have thought: 'Who's this new woman in my life?'"
Rita is rightly proud of her mother and told HELLO!: "My mum inspires me every single day. I'm so proud of her. She's the ultimate real role model."The resemblance between Vera and her hit-maker daughter is striking. "Yes, we do look quite a bit alike,"Vera smiled. "Our personalities are similar, too. Rita's like me: sociable, talkative and lively – and we're both workaholics."
Vera grows tearful when she reflects on how their lives could have taken a different turn after her breast cancer diagnosis, and when she remembers the isolation she experienced after fleeing political unrest in their native Kosovo to begin a new life in London. "I love this beautiful city and regard it as home," she said. "But when we came here in 1992 I felt so lonely. I couldn't do my job any more. Back in Kosovo I was a GP but I could no longer practise as I didn't speak English. This made me feel that suddenly I was a nobody. "Without much money coming in, we lived in a tiny flat. But I'm a determined person. While I learned English with a view to taking my medical exams, I focused on our girls, Rita and Elena. I looked around for activities to engage them, such as dance and music groups. Rita used to sing all the time and loved it." When a teacher pointed out Rita's exceptional musical talent, Vera took her for an audition at the Sylvia Young Theatre School and she was offered a place on the spot. "She was so happy," Vera recalled. "We had to give her the chance to do what she loved."
Rita's big break came when she was 13, in an open-mic session at a summer fair. "i said: 'Look Rita, there's a chance for you to sing,'" said Vera. "When she told me she was too shy, I was upset. 'But you go to school for this,' I replied, marching off in frustration. Then I heard a beautiful voice singing a Britney Spears song. I turned around and saw that it was Rita. That was a turning point for her. There were producers in the crowd, all handing her their business cards. I chaperoned her until she was 16 and was ruthlessly protective."
But as her daughter’s career began to take off, Vera’s health deteriorated. In the same year as that summer fair, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "I'd sensed something was wrong and asked for a mammogram," she recalled. "The doctor refused, telling me I was too young, but I insisted." The scan revealed a stage 2 tumour in her left breast. After a mastectomy, Vera began six months of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. "I felt sick, anxious and depressed," she recalled. "I was so tired that I could hardly eat or function and would stay in bed most of the time. Although Rita and Elena knew I had cancer, I didn't want them to know how severe it was. Then I remember thinking that if I could pass my medical exams in English, that would give me a glimmer of hope. So while I was undergoing chemo, I tricked my brain by focusing on study - and it worked, I passed first time. I became more positive."
Five years after her treatment, Vera reached remission and decided to undergo breast reconstruction. Her experience has led her to impress upon her daughters – who live and work together; Elena is Rita's manager – the importance of regular check-ups. "We share a close relationship and I try to guide them whenever they ask for advice," she says. "Although Rita's famous we do normal stuff together, like we used to. When I visit, we still sleep in the same bed, I give her massages and do her hair."
"There are no prima donnas in our family. I tell Rita we are all superstars in our own right. Being in the public eye doesn't mean she's better than anyone else and she knows that; she still has to blitz the kitchen once in a while. I try to make Rita understand that the flash and glamour she experiences is not the real world. She knows what is reality because she can see it through my work. She has become more engaged with social problems and I'm really happy about that. I love it when she feels she can support and make a difference. I’m not in the limelight, I’m a working medic," she concluded. "But I was so pleased and proud to be asked to model this range of swimwear because it’s for a cause close to my heart. If I can help any women who are going through treatment then I will feel that going through it myself had a point to it."
The swimwear collection is available from amoena.com/uk-en and 30% of proceeds are donated to Future Dreams. For more info, visit futuredreams.org.uk/support-us.