Natalia Vodianova was teased at school because of her looks.

The Russian model is one of the most recognisable faces in the industry today, having starred in campaigns for the likes of Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Yves Saint Laurent and Etam since kicking off her career aged 17, but she insists her childhood was far from idyllic and she was rejected by her classmates for being so different.

She told France's ELLE magazine: ''The kids in my class didn't like me much anyway, so my [eccentric] way of dressing didn't help! I grew up with a handicapped sister, with serious autism. I would never invite anyone back home, I was studious, serious. Sometimes I would miss school to work with my mum, selling vegetables on the market.

''I wasn't pretty, I was skinny, very tall. It's the old cliché of the ugly duckling model, but it's true! My life wasn't easy. But deep down inside, something was telling me it was going to happen for me, that everything would work out.''

The 32-year-old brunette decided to cut back on modelling jobs in favour of charity work in 2004, setting up the Naked Heart Foundation, and says she now needs more than just fashion to feel fulfilled in life.

Natalia said: ''My life is rich, diverse. I respect and admire people who dedicate their lives to the fashion industry. But, personally, with my background, childhood and values, I can't just be satisfied with a life solely devoted that that.

''I've always seen this industry as an inspiring and powerful universe. But my heart is taking me elsewhere.''