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If Naomi doesn't like it she knows where to find me; EXCLUSIVE FOOTBALLERS' WIVES STAR TAKES ON CATWALK QUEEN.

Byline: By STEVE HENDRY

FOOTBALLERS' WIVES stunner Phina Oruche has scored a huge hit with her role as Naomi Campbell-inspired supermodel Liberty Baker.

And the tough-talking Scouser has a warning for the notoriously shorttempered catwalk queen: "If you don't like it, lump it."

Phina, 30, has the professional, mid- Atlantic twang you would expect from someone who has spent years in the US.

But when she gets feisty, she reverts straight back to the tones of the tough council estate in Liverpool where she grew up.

Phina said: "Scared of Naomi? Come on. I'm a Scouser.

"I was a raised in Toxteth on Yosser Hughes and Boys From The Blackstuff. I can handle myself, all right.

"I know Naomi. I worked with her when I was a model at shows in New York and Paris. She's quite a character.

"But it's not taking a pop at her. Footballers' Wives wanted a strong supermodel type and she's the icon, isn't she? If you are black and you think about a career in modelling, who do you think of?

"People might see it being a take-off of her but I can't see it will do her any harm.

"I admire Naomi, to be honest. To stay at the top of that awful business for that length of time and come out intact is some achievement."

Phina is no lover of the modelling world despite a successful career which saw her work for the likes of Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Gap. And she hopes the personal trials of Liberty reflects some of its downsides.

She said: "On the outside Liberty is this brilliant, glossy diva but her life is a mess and you get to see that.

"It's really exciting for me to play that because that's what I know more about from my own modelling career.

"I was so tired all the time. You are whisked off here and there in a jet-set lifestyle but you get disconnected from your friends and family because you don't see them.

"I worked in Milan, London and Paris and ended up in New York. I did really well and it was all bling and fabulous but I hated it.

"I found myself at the top of my ladder and I was lonely.

"I feel such a sap saying it. I came from a tough council estate and was aware I was very fortunate.

"You can't call home and say, 'Poor me, it's just me and the mini-bar in some luxury hotel'."

Phina decided to try acting and moved to Los Angeles, where she trained at the famous Actors Studio and won parts in shows such as Charmed, Nip/Tuck and Buffy. But she was desperate to move back to the UK and was determined to get the part of Liberty.

She said: "I've always wanted to come back. I was out of work for a bit when my agent called me about Footballers' Wives. I was salivating.

"I sold up and came home and I had to get the part because I couldn't tell my friends in America I was selling up and going home for an audition.

"I couldn't contemplate not getting it. Can you imagine the depression? But it all worked out.

"I've had success and failure in my career so to come back here and work on a show of this calibre, with a cast of this calibre - such as Joan Collins and Zoe Lucker - it's like Christmas for me."

Phina, who is happily single, has got used to acting out some shocking scenes as drug-taking Liberty.

She had a romp in the back of a limo, had a clandestine lesbian affair with her assistant and got married to footballer Tre Gidigbi (Chucky Venice) dressed as Cleopatra in an Egyptianthemed wedding - which was over-the top even by the show's camp standards.

She said: "Filming the lesbian scenes was just terrifying. I'm very straight, I love men. And then you get a scene with a girl and you are going to be in bed with her in front of 50 people. It's a challenge. But, on the other hand, I get to be home and my mum Christine gets to see me on TV.

"Because I've done stuff in the States my mum can't find it to watch whereas Footballers' Wives is on ITV."

Phina will also guest star in an upcoming episode of The Bill as hot-shot solicitor Heather Lees.

She said: "The characters are two different extremes. Liberty is hell in high heels - a drug-taking swinger.

"She is over-the-top, totally crazy and I love her. I am more like Heather, though.

"She has had to fight for everything, is always taken for granted, doesn't think she's something she's not and loves surprising people. Playing her was a chance to be more rounded."

Phina's other projects away from Footballers' Wives include training for the London Marathon - she hopes to raise pounds 10,000 for the Anthony Nolan Trust - and planning her next role.

She said: "I want to be the Bond Girl. That's my next dream. Can't you see me in a bikini with a gun?"

Footballers' Wives, ITV on Thursday at 9pm. Phina stars in The Bill, ITV, 8pm, on April 5.

SUNDAY EMAIL

s.hendry@sundaymail.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Inspiration: Supermodel Naomi Campbell' League of her own: Sexy ex-model Phina loves playing racy Liberty' Match of the day: Liberty and Tre's over-the-top Egyptian wedding in the show' Cop a load of this: Phina as Heather in The Bill alongside Phil Hunter (Scott Maslen)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 26, 2006
Words:924
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