Evening Standard: Natalia Vodianova on philanthropy
18 February 2019
Natalia Vodianova’s star-studded ball is a highlight of the fashion calendar and tonight’s is set to be the most lavish yet. As she raises yet more money for her children's health foundation, model Natalia Vodianova talks with Laura Craik about the cause behind it.
There can be few sayings quite so outdatedly sexist as "she's not just a pretty face", and yet if anyone embodies the cliché it's Natalia Vodianova. In the pantheon of Models Who Use Their Beauty and Celebrity for the Greater Good, Vodianova (36), is a colossus whose tireless charity work puts lifelong philanthropists to shame.
While most 22-year-olds were experimenting with a contour brush, Vodianova was launching the Naked Heart Foundation, an ambitious undertaking which, since its inception in 2004, has helped more than 10,000 children with mental, sensory and physical disabilities, while thousands more have benefited from inclusive play facilities in more than 150 Russian towns.
The foundation has also financed 200 playgrounds, a series of summer camps, seven occupational therapy rooms, a book about autism and 10 Russian non-governmental organisations that provide support to hundreds of families of children with special needs. Everything is free of charge, providing a much-needed service in a country whose attitude to children with special needs isn't exactly exemplary.
That this is a cause close to Vodianova's heart is due to her younger sister Oksana. "They told my mother she would never live past 10 years old," Vodianova says. "She's 30 and going strong. She's as healthy physically as anyone else but has slight cerebral palsy and very severe autism.
As a child I had never seen anyone with special needs other than my sister, because most families abandoned their children in a state institution, where they don't really live long. Mortality rates for children such as Oksana in closed institutions are really high. Nothing can replace a family.