In the Sixties it was photographers. In the Seventies it was rock stars. In the Eighties it was obscure European royalty, Wall Street brokers and perma-tanned magicians. But in the Nineties the figure every self-respecting supermodel simply has to be seen with is a world leader.
Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Amber Valetta are among those who have endowed the political scene with such trendiness that they are in danger of turning the international diplomatic stage into a starry mini-series.
The latest supermodel to flex her political muscle is German blonde Claudia Schiffer. Several weeks ago she moved to the centre of the Slovak Prime Minister's re-election campaign after receiving an alleged Ł95,000 [5.6 million Sk] to attend a ceremony for the opening of a Slovak motorway ahead of elections on September 25 and 26.
The 27-year-old has come under predictable fire from German politicians who denounced as "deplorable" her actions in support of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, a man with a dubious democratic record. Mečiar's flagging support was given a boost by the appearance of Schiffer during the event in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, in western Slovakia.
Schiffer, who has been accused by the German press of being naive, denied that her visit was politically motivated. But German politicians were quick to condemn her actions. Otto Lambsdorff, the honorary chairman of the German Free Democratic Party, sent an open letter to the model saying: "Whether you wanted it or not, you have helped Mečiar in his election campaign." Schiffer denied this, claiming on Slovak television: "I am not interested in politics. I try to follow what is going on in the world. But the reason I came here was the opening of the motorway that will connect Europe with Slovakia. I found this idea very interesting."
Schiffer is not the only model making forays into the political bear-pit. She has taken a lead from others who, instead of settling for catwalk glamour, Hollywood bit-parts and restaurant ownership, have deemed politics a worthy arena for their considerable assets. Amber Valletta has partied with Bill and Hillary Clinton at their inaugural gala; David Bowie's partner, Iman, has lobbied Congressional lawmakers. On one of Naomi Campbell's numerous trips to South Africa, she grabbed headlines by having the title "honorary granddaughter" conferred on her by Nelson Mandela. Needless to say, there was a considerable commercial tie-in with the visit: a satellite-TV documentary and a $75 (Ł45) book, Naomi for Mandela, which sat rather uncomfortably with her soundbites on world peace.
In February, Campbell and fellow supermodel Kate Moss paid a visit to the reclusive Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro. He gave the two women a staggering 90 minutes of his time, an hour longer than he gave the Pope, and according to observers seemed rather taken with Campbell. Castro described the meeting later as "very spiritual," conferring on Moss the highest compliment he could construct. "You started a revolution towards little models," Fidel gushed.
It is all a far cry from Linda Evangelista's infamous comment in 1991 that supermodels "don't get out of bed for less than $10,000." Christy Turlington has used her catwalk fame to catapult her to Capitol Hill. She has discussed US policy on El Salvador with Vice-President Al Gore (her mother is from El Salvador) and lent her face to a $7 million anti-tobacco campaign because her father died from lung cancer
5. Oct 1998 at 0:00 | Kate Connolly in Prague and Nicole Veash in London, in the London Observer, Sunday, September 20, 1998.