Remember When Naomi Campbell Made Public Service a Political Action?


The year was 2007: Depending on how you look at it, it was the best of times or the worst of times. Barack Obama was in the running to become the first African American president. The iPhone was released. Keeping Up With the Kardashians premiered. And Naomi Campbell, who turns 49 today, pulled one of the most ostentatious, jaw-dropping stunts in fashion, celebrity, and supermodel history.

Following a string of assault convictions involving acts of violence against various employees and associates dating all the way back to 1998, in January 2007, Campbell plead guilty in New York City to throwing her BlackBerry at her former housekeeper. In addition to paying for the housekeeper’s medical expenses and attending an anger management program, Campbell was ordered to perform five days of community service with the city’s sanitation department.

Never one to shy away from indulging the public’s obsession with her seemingly diva-like reputation (in 2006, she was famously spotted wearing a T-shirt that read, “Naomi Hit Me…and I Loved It”), Campbell performed her court-ordered duty at Manhattan’s District 3 sanitation garage at Pier 36 serving serious looks—think Etro tops, Christian Louboutin stilettos, and Pologeorgis furs—to the delight and bemusement of the press, who camped out in the cold each day to snap photos of Campbell walking to and from her big, black SUV.

„This is how I dress, and this is how I carry myself,“ Campbell would famously say later in a recap of her experience sweeping the floors and cleaning the walls of New York’s sanitation system. „What do they expect me to do, walk in looking all drib and drab? I’ve never looked drib and drab in my life.“

Though Campbell’s duties were objectively unglamorous and laborious, in that same retelling, she admitted that it was a rather pleasant—and peaceful—reprieve from the perpetual chaos of her life. Her days were filled with deli lunches and Bob Marley and humble individuals with no ulterior motives. “Maybe doing this service at the Sanitation was meant to be like a humiliation punishment,” she wrote, “but it isn’t at all.”

Campbell has publicly admitted that she struggles with her temper, but as evidenced by the last few years, the path is not an easy one: In June 2008, Campbell plead guilty once again to assaulting two police officers at an airport in London. In addition to a hefty fine, she was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and is now banned for life from British Airways. What’s more, four years ago, Campbell was sentenced by a court in Sicily to six months’ probation for hitting a photographer with her handbag.

While some might consider Campbell’s notorious fashion statement at the Sanitation Department to be one big, tone-deaf middle finger, you have to hand it to the stunner for making the best of a crummy—literally—situation. On the final day of her community service, she stepped out of the garage in a silver, sequined demi-couture gown. Talk about going out with a bang.


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