Naomi Campbell, the British supermodel, said people are always giving her gifts in the middle of the night.
That's why she says she wasn't surprised in 1997 when a couple of men knocked on her door after she and a group of people that included Quincy Jones, Mia Farrow, British socialite Jemima Khan and Liberia's then-president Charles Taylor had dinner in Pretoria, South Africa, with that country's then-president Nelson Mandela.
Campbell says the men announced, "A gift for you," then gave her a scruffy pouch with what she calls "a few small, dirty-looking stones."
They were uncut diamonds.
Taylor is now on trial for war crimes at a U.N. Special Court at The Hague, charged with murder, rape, dragooning child soldiers and massacring civilians in a civil war that was largely financed by dirty-looking stones, often known as "blood diamonds."
Campbell denies the testimony of others, including Farrow, that she later gushed about the diamonds and said they were a gift from Taylor. She told the court this week that she didn't know who Taylor was and didn't think the stones were diamonds, saying, "I am used to seeing diamonds shining in a box."
Supermodel Naomi Campbell recently took the witness stand in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell recently took the witness stand in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Matt Sayles/AP
At first, I found Campbell's testimony incredible. But my wife assures me that this kind of thing happens all the time. Unidentified men always knock on our door in the middle of the night to put grubby pouches in her hands and say, "A gift for you." My wife opens the pouches in the morning, finds a few grimy stones, and puts them into our fish's bowl.
When I asked why I haven't heard men banging on our door to give her extravagant gifts, she reminds me that I sleep through sirens, car alarms and the sounds of our children yowling for milk.
"You work so hard, darling," she says. "I didn’t want to disturb you."
When I told my wife that some of those stones might be fantastically precious uncut diamonds, she said she doesn't want men knocking on our door with uncut diamonds saying, "A gift for you." She wants men showing up who'll say, "I'm here to clean your closets."
At some point, on a ride on the famously luxurious Blue Train the next day, Naomi Campbell gave at least three of those what she called "dirty-looking pebbles" to the man who ran Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund, who has kept them in a safe until recently turning them over to the court.
Taylor has been on trial for two years. But it took the appearance of a single British celebrity to remind the world of the slaughter of thousands of people in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which Taylor is charged.
An old photograph from that dinner appeared this week, with Campbell standing between Taylor and Mandela and surrounded by the activist celebrities there. Their smiles prove nothing.
But Taylor wasn't seated at that dinner as a stranger. He was a well-known Libyan-trained professional thug who had served time in a U.S. prison for embezzlement and shot his way to power in Liberia with the campaign slogan, "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him," which is not as lyrical as, "Yes we can!"
Campbell may have been the only person to get a mint on her pillow that night. But every celebrity at that table gave Taylor the fleeting gift of respectability.