NATALIA VODIANOVAS LOVE BALL IN ARABIA
An interview with the supermodel about the fundraising event of her Naked Heart Foundation.
The so called Love Ball is the signature fundraising event created by model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova aka “Supernova” and her Naked Heart Foundation, helping children with special needs. This years event was held under the patronage of Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, sister of Quatars ruling Emir and chairperson of Qatar Museums.
INTERVIEW Did the evening meet your expectations?
NATALIA VODIANOVA Absolutely! We at the Naked Heart Foundation waited three years for this day to come and I am grateful to Her Excellency Sheikha Al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani for taking Love Ball Arabia under her patronage without which this evening wouldn’t have been possible. This year Naked Heart Foundation will turn 15 – a whole decade and a half. Our free professional support services – from Early Intervention to inclusive education – are available to families and specialists in numerous cities in Russia and so far we have helped over 10 000 children and their families to live life to their fullest potential. 200 of our inclusive play facilities cover more than 150 towns and cities. Our goal this evening was to further our work and to raise much needed funds to continue shining light on yet more families raising children with special needs. I am so grateful that thanks to our generous guests we have been able to raise almost $7.5 mln for children of Russia and Qatar.
I What was the reason of bringing the ball to Doha?
NV Nearly 3 years ago I invited Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to our previous Love Ball event, which we were about to have at The Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, at that time Year of Culture between Qatar and Russia was only in its planning stages. Unfortunately she could not attend but later suggested we hold the next Love Ball in Doha. And that’s how it came about, really! We’re so fortunate to have gotten her amazing support onboard. It’s now the sixth edition of our signature fundraiser and already the second Naked Heart event held as part of Qatar Russia cultural exchange, which has been a tremendous success.
I In the press release it states “Love Ball Arabia (…) in Doha as part of the Qatar-Russia cultural exchange” Why is the Qatar – Russia link important to the “Naked Heart Foundation”?
NV Love Ball has always been a global event – a Citizen of the World if you like! As well as Paris, Love Ball has also called Monaco home, we’ve also had one in London, and of course Moscow too. We also share the funds raised at the event with local charities and in Qatar we are partnering with Al Shafallah centre for persons with disability. It’s a perfect match as we’re united in having a common goal – to support people with special needs and their families. I’m thrilled that the impact of Love Ball will be felt locally even years after the event. Al Shafallah centre will also become the first Middle Eastern hub for our new parent training program, which has been initiated by Naked Heart experts to improve their children’s futures and support the mental health of the whole family.
I Your work with the Naked Heart Foundation is really important and admirable, what keeps you being motivated?
NV It’s my personal experience of course. When I think about my own childhood and what my family has been through I know how much we still have to achieve in helping families raising children with mental and physical disabilities. My lovely younger sister Oxana has severe autism and cerebral palsy; she’s now a young woman who has friends, interests, a fulfilled life and happiness but she didn’t have access to any professional services when we were younger and neither did she have any friends or activities beyond the four walls of our flat. In families like mine, special needs children should be supported into being adults who thrive and flourish. Instead many families today are still experiencing the same difficulties where they are stigmatized and offered little practical or emotional support. Naked Heart Foundation’s programs have become totally life changing for those families who benefit from our free support services, but we know that ONE in 59 children is born with autism spectrum disorder and I just cannot stop thinking about this statistic and what that must mean for families with no access to professional services, so this is the biggest motivation for me to continue this journey.
I Was there a specific highlight of the evening, that is especially memorable for you?
NV This year Love Ball was very different. Our angle was on inclusion – everything from food grown by children with special needs from Al Shafallah centre to the tableware created by talented young adults with autism from “Anton’s Right Here” centre, partner organization of Naked Heart Foundation; the incredible performances of dancer Sergei Polunin with Stas, an actor with Down’s syndrome, and the ‘Interaction Fund’ theatre including 14 actors with special needs. Even our invitation was a print from the work of young Russian painter with ASD Markus Martinovich, and the fashion show by my friend Ulyana Sergeenko featured Madeline Stuart, the world’s first supermodel with Down’s syndrome, as well as other models with special needs.
Words TOBIAS LANGLEY HUNT