Walking amongst rows of corrugated iron huts, Naomi Campbell seems a million miles away from the glamorous world she usually inhabits. Children ride bikes alongside the makeshift houses, where washing hangs on lines in between, while others kick around footballs or play with old tyres. The supermodel and actress is at one of the world's largest refugee camps, home to tens of thousands of children who have fled the war in Syria. This week, the conflict reaches its 6th anniversary (15 March) and becomes longer than World War 2.
"I'm really happy and blessed to be able to come here to see this camp with my own eyes," says Naomi, in this exclusive interview with HELLO! magazine. "I feel humbled to share the refugees' stories, their strengths, their hopes, and not to see any pity or sadness. It's so important to go and see this for yourself. You leave knowing how fortunate you are." Naomi has joined forces with charity Save the Children – this year's charity partner for her fundraising initiative Fashion for Relief – to visit residents at Za'atari camp in Jordan, which has a population of more than 80,000. Many of them are children, whose happy childhoods were snatched away and their education abandoned because of the civil war.
Of the five million Syrians who have become refugees, half are children. They include four-year-old Yara, who was so traumatised by daily bombings in the Syrian capital Damascus that she stopped speaking, but is recovering with the help of the camp's Sunshine Kindergarten. Meanwhile Nida, 13, who fled Syria with her family after her uncle was shot dead, has resumed her education here and hopes to be an engineer. "She's so bright and intelligent I know she's going to be something special," says Naomi as she sits with Nida in one of the activity centres for older children, where they learn skills like tailoring and barber training.
At 46, Naomi still has the same flawless complexion and killer figure that turned her into a queen of the catwalk as one of the original supermodels of the 1980s and 90s. "I don't think about getting older," says Naomi, who has continued to model in her forties. "Age is really a number. I feel better now in my forties than I did in my twenties. I was always happy and I was always grateful for what I was doing but I'm just more comfortable in my skin and living my life day by day and being honest to myself, which is the most important thing."
Together with the likes of Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelista, Streatham-born Naomi was one of the most in-demand models of her generation, walking the catwalk for the world's top designers, including Versace, Azzedine Alaia, Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. "I still see all of my girls," she says. "They're like family to me. There's genuine love there because we grew up together. And we're all proud of each other's achievements."
While Naomi hasn't become a mother, she clearly adores children. So would she ever consider adopting? "I love children and one day … I don't know, let's see," she says. "I live in the day." Having appeared as a coach on US modelling reality show The Face, which she executive produced, and several films and TV dramas, Naomi is embracing her first love – acting – with roles in Fox dramas Empire and Star, in which she stars alongside Lenny Kravitz and Queen Latifah. "I went to acting school as a child but stopped when I started modelling and now I guess it's come back to me," she explains. "At first I was afraid and I'm learning each time I get on set. But seeing my girls from The Face blossom in their careers makes the nerves of filming all worth it."
Naomi's other passion is her charity initiative Fashion for Relief, which has raised millions over the years from fashion shows featuring the likes of Beyonce, Kate Moss and Jourdan Dunn, Cilla Black and Milla Jovovich. She has chosen Save the Children as this year's charity partner and its Child Refugee Crisis Appeal will benefit from her next event, in May. "The Syrian families I've met in Jordan are proud, dignified and gracious," she says. "They don't have much and live in aluminium prefab homes but they keep them spotless and you take your shoes off when you go inside. Most of the stories I've heard are of relief at no longer having bombs dropping around them and being able to rebuild their lives, learn a skill and find some work. Jordan, and King Abdul and Queen Rania have been amazing at welcoming them." And she adds: "I've had an amazing, colourful, blessed life but there are still so many things I'd love to do. And, being here in Jordan, I'm doing one of them right now."
The situation for Syrian children across the Middle East is incredible difficult, but Save the Children is helping to ensure children are cared for, protected from harm and can access education safely. To find out how one simple text can help Save the Children's Syrian appeal or for more information and ways to donate, visit savethechildren.org.uk/Syria.