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The appointment of Naomi Campbell as ambassador for the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust will strengthen the global institution as it faces pressure from countries looking to remove the Monarch as head of state, its chief executive has said.
Christopher Kelly, the chief executive of the trust, said the appointment of women of colour and celebrities from more diverse backgrounds, such as Campbell, will help ensure the Commonwealth’s relevance in years to come.
He spoke as the former supermodel and campaigner was unveiled as Platinum Jubilee Global Ambassador for the trust, tasked with championing the work of young leaders backed by the trust in their communities.
The appointment came after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were removed as president and vice-president of the trust following their decision last year to “step back” as senior royals and move to California.
There are growing fears that as pressure grows in Commonwealth countries to remove the Queen as head of state – Barbados last year announced its intention to become a republic – the institution will come to be seen as increasingly irrelevant.
However, Mr Kelly told The Telegraph that Campbell’s status as a successful British black woman could prove to be a valuable asset for both the work of the trust and the wider Commonwealth.
He said: “It will be very positive to have someone who not only transcends different countries and nationalities because she is a global superstar but who is also a British woman with Caribbean roots, who has got to the very top.
“A legacy of Empire is that we have a lot of people from the Commonwealth within the UK and it’s a really positive thing for for Britain that we have got people of colour, across the very top echelons of business and into politics and across the social fabric of the UK in a way that many other countries don’t.”
Speaking at her unveiling as Global Ambassador at the Hotel Cafe Royal in central London, Ms Campbell herself spoke of her hopes the Commonwealth would remain united in the face of countries abandoning the Queen as head of state.
“I’m from a Jamaican heritage. And so I always grew up hearing about the Commonwealth and never thought I would ever be anything to do with the Commonwealth, but I know how proud my grandmother and my great aunts and uncles were of being part of the Commonwealth, being a Jamaican.
“At this time, when some of the countries are drifting apart, isolation feels like the order of the day. Anything that brings us together and binds us as people is a good thing and that’s what the QCT is about.”
Mr Kelly said the former supermodel – whom Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, referred to as his “honorary granddaughter” – was well placed to present a modern picture of the Commonwealth in a changing world, where people of colour form the majority in most of its member states.
“The make-up of the world is changing. And so it’s only positive that we are trying to respond to that,” he said.
“We were looking for the right iconic person and actually the idea of race didn’t come into that, but it’s a really powerful thing. Naomi being a woman of colour is really powerful and positive for us.”
He added that it would be the intention of the trust to raise the profile of other black and Asian role models in its work.
“If we had other Global Advisors I would hope they would also be equally representative of the Commonwealth,” he said.
The trust is also hoping that Ms Campbell’s iconic status as a pioneering model and style icon will chime with young people around the Commonwealth, particularly young women and girls with whom it works to help them build their communities.
These include Bukky Bolarinwa, 33, a Nigerian lawyer and campaigner for the improvement of blood transfusion services in her country.
Speaking at the unveiling she said: “I’m super excited to be on QCT with Naomi.”
Explaining her mission, Ms Bolarinwa added: “Unfortunately, a lot of people with sickle cell and other conditions struggle to get blood safely and quickly and affordably in Nigeria. What we do at home is to help link blood donors to patients in need, and we also organise monthly blood drives across Nigeria to ensure that blood banks are full.
“So far we’ve responded to over 700 emergency calls and matched over 500 donors to patients in four states. QCT has supported my work with funding, mentorship and training.”