Natalia Mikhailovna Vodianova (born 28 February 1982) is a Russian model and philanthropist who now permanently resides in the United Kingdom.
Born in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia), Natalia Vodianova grew up in a poor district of the city with her mother and two half sisters, one of whom has cerebral palsy. As a teenager, Vodianova helped her mother sell fruit on the street and later set up her own fruit stand with a friend to help her family out of poverty. Her life came to be known as a ‘cinderella story.’ Vodianova’s ‘perfect-Russian-features’ are now well known as her trademark.
Vodianova’s father walked out on the family when Natalia was a toddler, and she did not have any further contact with him until after she had become famous.
At the age of 15, Vodianova enrolled in a modelling academy and was told she would need to learn English to succeed, and mastered the language in three months. By the age of 17, Vodianova had moved to Paris, and signed with Viva Models.
Vodianova has achieved considerable success as a runway, editorial and advertising campaign model. To date, Vodianova has walked in more than 175 runway shows for U.S. and European based designers’ ready-to-wear and haute couture collections, has appeared in editorial spreads in fashion magazines worldwide and has completed advertising campaigns for Shiatzy Chen, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, L’Oréal, David Yurman, Marc Jacobs, Pepe Jeans, Diane von Fürstenberg, Chanel, Guerlain and others.
As of May 2009, Vodianova has appeared on the cover of British Vogue seven times; the first was the September 2003 issue. She made her first appearance on the cover of the U.S. Vogue in the September 2004 edition alongside eight other models, then appeared as the solo cover subject of the July 2007 edition of the magazine. During this time period, other covers of the American Vogue have all featured non-model celebrities with only two other exceptions: models Linda Evangelista and Liya Kebede.
As an actress, Vodianova appears in Roman Coppola’s 2001 film CQ. In September 2008, Vodianova stated that she was not interested in filmmaking because of her three children; however, she appears in director Alexander Kott’s 2009 film Probka. She also has credits in the 2010 remake of the film Clash of the Titans. In the action flick Natalia has been CGI-enhanced to play Medusa, the mythological snake-haired mortal gorgon with powers to turn those who look at her to stone.
In Spring 2009, Vodianova entered into a three-year agreement to be a brand ambassador for the French lingerie company Etam and will design a lingerie collection each season during the term of the agreement. The collections will be marketed under the brand Natalia pour Etam.
Vodianova was ranked 14th in the UK channel Five’s 2005 television programme World’s Greatest Supermodel. Forbes magazine estimates Vodianova earned $4.5 million (USD) between August 2006 and July 2007, $4.8 million (USD) between May 2007 and April 2008 and $5.5 million (USD) between June 2008 and June 2009, making her the seventh highest earning model worldwide during all three time periods.
In May 2009, Vodianova co-hosted the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow.
On 12 December 2009, she was designated an ambassador of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, becoming a ‘face’ and key advocate of Russia’s first Winter Games. In 2010, she appeared at the Vancouver Olympic Closing Ceremony within that role.
In October 2010, Vodianova landed her first leading acting role in a film adaptation of Albert Cohen’s 1968 novel Belle du Seigneur.
In November 2001, Vodianova married Justin Trevor Berkeley Portman, a British property heir and half-brother of the 10th Viscount Portman. In September 2002, over nine months after registering the marriage in the UK, they had a wedding ceremony in St. Petersburg, where Vodianova wore a dress designed by Tom Ford. As the wife of The Honourable Justin Portman, which is a courtesy title, she is entitled to be styled The Honourable Mrs Justin Portman. The couple have three children: son Lucas Alexander (born: November 22, 2001), daughter Neva (born: March 24, 2006) and son Viktor (born: September 13, 2007). Viktor is named after Natalia’s grandfather, who had helped raise her after her father’s departure. Neva is named after the Russian river Neva. In London, her friends include fellow Russian Dasha Zhukova, wife of Roman Abramovich. and supermodel Eva Herzigova.
Vodianova is a founder and the president of the Naked Heart Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that strives to provide a safe and inspiring environment in which to play for every child living in urban Russia. She was inspired to found the charity after visiting Russia with her son Lucas and finding there were no suitable places for children to play. The organisation built its first play park in 2006 in Nizhny Novgorod. It has since built nearly 38 more.
Vodianova also lends her support to a number of philanthropic causes, such as the (Bugaboo)RED campaign, an initiative to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. That same year, Vodianova became an ambassador for Hear the World, a global campaign that seeks to raise awareness of the topic of hearing and hearing loss and to promote good hearing all over the world.
She is also a spokeperson for the Tiger Trade Campaign, an alliance of 38 organizations united under the common aim “to bring back wild tigers by stopping trade in tiger parts and products from all sources.” In an interview supporting the campaign, Vodianova said: “I’m proud that Russia, my country, is home to the most magnicifent of animals, the wild Siberian tiger. Today it is up to us to protect the tiger and its home, fewer than 350 Siberian tigers remain in the wild and no more than 3,400 tigers survive anywhere in the world. Unless we act now we will see the extinction of the wild tiger within our lifetime.”
In honor of her philanthropic achievements, Harper’s Bazaar awarded Vodianova the award for Inspiration of the Year in November 2010.