When Naomi met Chvez

PA

To mark the release of Oliver Stone's documentary South Of The Border - featuring candid interviews with Hugo Chávez - we are publishing Naomi Campbell's Q&A with the Venezuelan leader for GQ. The two discussed oil wars, the end of America, surviving a military coup and why Christ and Castro are the greatest revolutionaries of them all. Here Naomi introduces her encounter with Venezuela's swaggering socialist leader...

I'd always heard Hugo Chávez was a people's president and I wanted to see if that was true. Even though it was clear I wasn't going to Venezuela for political reasons, I knew it was a controversial thing to do. People rarely understand that I do things that I may not push in the public eye.

While my interview with him was the main reason for my visit to Venezuela, I also wanted Chávez to donate something to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which I represent, and I wanted to see his social programmes in action. I didn't want to judge Chávez, or probe him for his political views, even though he gave them freely. I simply went to interview Hugo Chávez the man.

Since I was last in Venezuela ten years ago, for a Sports Illustrated shoot, people seemed happier. I was aware that there were demonstrations taking place by college students in the capital but, on the whole, people do seem to get help when they need it.

The first time I met the 53-year-old president, I was a little nervous walking into the palace, but he put me at ease. We started talking and he showed me his library and his paintings. He also loves to sing. I believe if he wasn't the president he'd be a very successful Latin singer. He showed me a letter he was writing to Cristina Kirchner, the new president of Argentina. He really admires women and told me that when he completes his term of office, he would like a woman to succeed him.

Although I was meant to leave the following day, I decided to stay. I got to see another side of him - the way he is with his family and the people on the street. You cannot force someone to like you, to hold on to you and to cheer you. People thrust thousands of letters at him every day - his daughter registers every one. I do believe he honours his commitments, even helping those outside his own country. For example, on my last day in Venezuela, I mentioned there was a state of emergency in the Dominican Republic. He said simply, "I'm already on it, I'm sending people out to help." He even agreed to provide cheap fuel for London's buses to help those on income support.

When I met Chávez for the final time, it was in Paris where he was visiting the French president. Just before our meeting, Chávez had been attempting to secure the release of dozens of foreign hostages held by Colombian rebels. He is constantly working, on the move - going from press conferences to OPEC gatherings to meetings with world leaders. Chávez certainly says what he feels. I found him to be fearless but not threatening or unreasonable. I hope Venezuela's relations with America will improve in the immediate future. Whatever the future holds, for me his role will always be that of a rebel angel.

VEZ

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