Natalia Shmarenkova, wife of Kyiv Post publisher Mohammad Zahoor, is 2008 Mrs. World. She also has a singing and acting career and is excited about her upcoming role in a Hollywood movie.
For someone crowned Mrs. World 2008, Natalia Shmarenkova’s demeanor is refreshingly devoid of elitism and celebrity arrogance. In Ukraine, she is more known as a pop singer under the stage name of Kamaliya. She hopes the world will know her soon as a movie actress.
Shmarenkova is the wife of new Kyiv Post owner and publisher, Mohammad Zahoor. Outside of business circles, he was the lesser-known of the pair, at least until he started spending some of his fortune to buy real estate and media companies.
Married in 2003, the couple has lofty ambitions, talent and the financial means to achieve them.
Kamaliya, 32, plans to appear in a Hollywood movie, launch her own television show and pass on her tiara at the next Mrs. World show to be held in Vietnam in September.
A professional musician, singer, model and rising actress, she did not get it all just by marrying the right man. Before meeting Zahoor, she worked on her own career and racked up awards at state festivals. Although never topping the charts or filling stadiums, she has an audience appreciative of her soprano and waist-deep blond hair.
Winning the Mrs. World beauty pageant for married women in 2008 was one of the highest points in her career. “I wanted to show women in Ukraine that being married does not mean it’s the end of it all. We can always be beautiful,” Kamaliya said. “Moreover, the contest is about family values, self-accomplishment and helping those less fortunate.”
She was born to a military family in far-off Chita Oblast in Russia. When Kamaliya turned three, her father was deployed in Budapest, thus starting their lifelong wandering around the world. “We never really had a home,” said Inna Shmarenkova, Kamaliya’s mother. “So we had enough of this feeling of nostalgia and now want to be in one place.”
Shmarenkova never detached herself from her pre-school daughter from the moment she walked her to the vocals studio for the first time. A professional singer herself, she remains Kamaliya’s producer, agent and sidekick to this day.
Failing to strike powerful friendships in turbulent 1990s, they did not secure mainstream fame. After the fall of the Soviet Union, newly minted millionaires not only ran steel mills and grain factories. They also made inroads into show business as well.
“At that time, there was a division into clans,” Shmarenkova said. “We didn’t really side with anyone because I felt it was dangerous and then we started feeling the pressure. When Kamaliya was supposed to go on stage, suddenly there would not be enough air time for her, or a microphone would get turned off.”
Exuberant and spontaneous, Kamaliya does not seem to be put off by the fickle fortunes of her past. Beauty contests and film roles are good enough omens for long-term prospects on stage.
About her part in the coming Hollywood film, “The Accident,” to be produced by Klaus Menzel, she says little but with evident pride. According to the plot, she said, she is a friend of Natalie Portman, the famous American actress known for her parts in “Leon,” “Star Wars” and “Closer,” among others. “I will be a singer of Eastern European origin and Portman will be a friend of mine who will live at my place taking singing classes. In one of the scenes, she’ll be reciting rap and I will be singing a classical song.” Talks are in progress with Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas to be also cast in this drama, according to Kamaliya. Her movie debut was in the “Merry Widow”, a comedy expected to hit the big screen this year.
“I treat it as job, I am not afraid to be sucked up by Hollywood,” she said, voicing her intentions to keep living in Ukraine. She met Zahoor six years ago at a private dinner. He hired her to perform a concert for his steelworkers in Donetsk.
The couple could be based anywhere – Russia, England, the United States or even Pakistan – but they have chosen to remain in Ukraine.
The interiors of their home in elite Koncha-Zaspa region in the suburbs of Kyiv are designed to resemble the famous billowing sail hotel, Burj Al Arab, in Dubai. Dominated by golden and striking rainbow colors, the mansion is a blend of Asian and Arabic tastes. Three playful dogs, a couple of bunnies, a few parrots and one lazy cat are company for the lady of the house.
Talkative and energetic, she appears eager for a big break in her career – on the big screen or on TV. She started filming a pilot TV program “Coffee with Kamaliya,” in which she interviews celebrities about their climb to fame. “The idea is to show younger people that popularity does not come by accident but is rather a product of hard work.” She also plans to shoot another program about charity.