Naomi Campbell interviews Vladimir Putin about fitness and fighting

Model – who once asked Hugo Chávez if he knew the Spice Girls – quizzes Russian prime minister for GQ magazine

"You're in pretty good physical shape. How do you manage to keep yourself so fit?" So began one of the potentially great political interviews of our time as Naomi Campbell grilled Vladimir Putin in what could have been a 21st century Frost–Nixon moment.

Given the opportunity to question the Russian prime minister for GQ magazine, supermodel and reluctant Hague witness Campbell refused to duck the key issues, interrogating Putin about his physical prowess, the "great impression" he makes on women, and his swimming ability.

Building on the success of a 2008 interview with the Venezualan leader Hugo Chávez - "Do you know the Spice Girls?" was one line of inquiry - Campbell resumed the role of inquisitor for a Q&A with Putin, which was published by GQ yesterday.

The Russian prime minister played Campbell's first question with a straight bat, answering that he kept fit "probably the same way you do" - allowing her to reveal the secrets of her own enduring health.

"Actually, I don't work out as much as I should, but I do believe that it's a healthy mind as well as a healthy body that keeps me fit, sound and calm," she revealed, before Putin said that, as well as going to the gym and swimming daily, "from time to time" he meets friends to "do extra-curricular stuff".

Campbell, who last year gave evidence in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, accused of 11 counts of war crimes - her first words to the judge were "I want to get this over and done with ... this is a big inconvenience for me" - was soon on to the juiciest topics.

"You obviously make a great impression on women. How do you feel about the students who posed for you in the calendar?" she asked, referring to a calender made by female students at Moscow University to mark Putin's 58th birthday.

"I like the girls a lot - they're beautiful," he said, describing the women as "courageous and not scared" in their decision to publicly support him.

"As for the other one," the prime minister added, referring to a rival students' calendar where women posed in black with their mouths taped shut to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses, "well, in almost any country, probably in Russia in particular, it's fashionable to criticise people in power. If you come out in support of someone like me, you're going to be accused of trying to ingratiate yourself."

In addition to keeping in shape, Putin and Campbell also share an interest in Russian oligarchs - the supermodel has been dating the billionaire Vladislav Doronin for more than two years.

Campbell lives with Doronin in Moscow, but showed little knowledge of current affairs in her adopted country, neglecting to ask Putin about the oil magnate Mikhail Kodorkovsky, who was on trial at the time for theft and money laundering, but whose supporters alleged was the victim of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign in revenge for him for supporting opposition politicians.

The model also remained silent about Natalia Estemirova, the human rights campaigner murdered in Chechnya 18 months ago who was allegedly targeted because of her work.

Putin very rarely grants an audience to journalists. He prefers talking to favoured pro-Kremlin academics who live outside the country rather than foreign correspondents based in Moscow. Although encounters with Putin often seem spontaneous, all questions are carefully vetted in advance.

Campbell and Putin met in November at the world's first tiger summit in St Petersburg, where donors pledged hundreds of millions of dollars towards doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022.

She asked Putin - a black belt in judo who has been known to attend mixed martial arts fights - whether he had ever been in a bare-knuckle scrap, prompting one of the more bizarre exchanges of what was a bizarre interview.

"No, it's not my sport - since I was 14, I've done judo," he said. "But the bare-knuckle fight I attended was very impressive. These guys are tough. I watched the Russian, French and British teams, and each and every one of these athletes deserves great credit. There are even women who do it."

"Big women?", asked Campbell. "Not big, just strong women," Putin explained.

"I'd like to see one of those," the supermodel mused. Some might feel they would have liked to have seen one posing the questions.


Adam Gabbatt

The GuardianTramp

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