How stars' political causes can go wrong

Naomi Campbell finding out the hard way in diamond trial

LONDON -- Are fools rushing in where even Henry Kissinger would fear to tread?

As if Fugees' frontman Wyclef Jean's decision to run for the Haitian presidency were not mind-boggling enough, Lindsay Lohan's recent decision to weigh in on the stoning of an Iranian housewife was a staggering departure from her usual form.

But if celebrities seem to be stepping up a gear when it comes to picking a political cause, such involvement should come with a warning. As Naomi Campbell's bruising experience at a war crimes trial in the Hague shows only too clearly, when showbiz waltzes into international politics, things can go terribly wrong.

Whether Campbell knew that the so-called "blood diamonds" handed to her after a fund-raiser in 1997 were from the Liberian warlord and alleged mass murderer Charles Taylor remains the subject of dispute -- at least according to testimony from Mia Farrow.

But whatever the actual events of that fateful night in Pretoria -- when the supermodel accepted what she described as a handful of "dirty little pebbles" from two men who knocked on her hotel door in the middle of the night -- she could hardly have guessed they would land her a starring role in the Hague 13 years on.

The hot-headed diva and international party girl now finds herself at the sticky end of what should have been a straightforward celebrity appearance, and, indeed, claims to fear for her own safety.

How did it go so wrong?

"As that evening unfolded there must have been some warning signs," said James Herring, founder of London-based celebrity PR agency Taylor Herring, whose clients have included Robbie Williams, Russell Brand and David Tennant.

"Between showing up for dinner and being gifted a bag of diamonds in the middle of the night, some alarms should have gone off somewhere about who she was with," adds Herring, who said that when it comes to putting talent into new surroundings, "planning, scrutiny and vigorous preparation" are essential wherever the celebrity is involved.

"Who the star is fraternizing with, sitting with, being photographed with -- that kind of analysis is very important. It can't be left to chance."

On Monday, actress and humanitarian campaigner Mia Farrow told the Human Rights trial at the Hague that Campbell knew very well that Taylor was behind the gift, flatly contradicting the model's earlier testimony.

"As I recall it, Naomi was quite excited and said, in effect, 'Oh my God, in the middle of night I was awakened by knocking at the door. It was men sent by Charles Taylor, and he sent me a huge diamond.' "

Campbell reluctantly gave evidence in the trial of Taylor last week, appearing clueless as to the gravity of the gift she had received.

"They looked like dirty little pebbles. I am used to seeing diamonds shining in a box," she told the court, which for much of the past three years has heard heart-rending testimony from survivors of the civil war that Taylor is accused of financing with illegally mined diamonds.

"I get gifts given to me all the time, at all hours of the night. Sometimes without notes. It is quite normal for me to receive gifts," Campbell added, in case the court wasn't clear about the arduous obligations of an international star.

Campbell, who later gave the stones to Nelson Mandela's youth charity, appeared still less aware of the facts of the case being heard by the Court of International Justice, where Taylor is accused of causing the deaths of 120,000 people in Sierra Leone.

"I don't know anything about Charles Taylor," Campbell told the court. "Never heard of him before, never heard of the country Liberia before.

"I'm wanting to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a big inconvenience for me."

Beneath her truculent performance, however, the British-born model -- dressed in cream Azzedine Alaia -- also betrayed genuine anxiety.

She was an unwilling participant in the trial, she said, because she was "scared of what might happen to my family."

Campbell's reluctance perhaps puts her into a different category from the likes of Jean, Farrow and Lohan -- who have actively interjected themselves into international events where even a political heavyweight could expect to come unstuck.

And they, in turn, are just part of a Hollywood tradition of weighing into international politics over the decades. From Jane Fonda's protests over Vietnam to George Clooney's condemnation of the conflict in Darfur, stars have long fronted political and anti-political campaigns.

But Campbell's artless testimony points to a tricky reality: the frothy world of celebrity and the murky depths of international politics operate with very different rules. She may have ended up in something that resembles a Woody Allen crime caper -- but in politics, unlike in entertainment, the outcomes are rarely played for laughs.

"This was a gravely unfortunate set of circumstances and probably a bit of one-off," said Herring, who added that it would be "a great shame" if charities and causes lost out on important celebrity involvement as a result.

"But the fact is, Campbell has ended up in the same court as some of the most notorious war criminals of the last two decades. It must be all her worst nightmares come true."
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