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I had to fight off cruel racist taunts to become a Baywatch babe!

Baywatch's first black beauty Traci Bingham has told how she beat racist taunts to land her new glamour role.

The stunning model - lifeguard Jordan Tate in the sex and surf saga which returned to ITV last night - exploded in fury when a white woman called her a "f***ing nigger".

But Traci got her revenge by forcing her tormentor to apologise and take a 12-month course in black American studies. The 23-year-old, who joined Baywatch last July, said: "I still get mad about the insult but it gave me the strength to ignore any criticism and set about my life's ambition - to be a star."

Traci was drinking and dancing with friends of different colours at a student party when the row erupted.

She said: "This woman had it in for me from the word go. It all started when I accidentally bumped her, spilling a little water on her sleeve or something.

"She leaped back and screamed, 'You f***ing niggers. You f***ing niggers. You're so stupid. All of you'.

"I stood there in shock. No-one had ever spoken to me like that before, at least not to my face.

"I was stunned that anyone could be so vile, so bigoted.

"My friends clustered around me to calm me down because, believe me, I just wanted to punch her."

But instead of resorting to violence, Traci calmly walked away and plotted her revenge.

She said: "People think everyone on Baywatch is a bimbo but I won a place at Harvard University to do psychology.

'She came to apologise'

"I'm not stupid and I knew there was a better way to make my point.

"Suddenly it hit me. I thought, 'I know a senior lecturer who teaches this girl at her university'.

"So I phoned her up and told her exactly what had happened.

"The next thing I knew, this girl came to my home to apologise. Just knowing what it took for her to apologise made it all worthwhile.

"She confessed she'd been told she couldn't finish her degree unless she took and passed subjects in black American history.

"What better way to convert a racist than to make them look at exactly what they're criticising." Traci feels she has a lot in common with golfer Tiger Woods, who last week became the first black American to win the US Masters Tournament.

Both fought racist taunts - and both have mixed-race parents.

Traci says: "Tiger's been dubbed the universal child because he's got Thai, African, Indian, American and European blood.

"Well I feel the same way because my mother is African-American and Dad is part Cherokee Indian and Italian."

Traci, youngest of seven children from Cambridge, Massachusetts, dreamed of stardom from the age of five when she modelled for children's catalogues.

Now proud of her stunning 34D-26-34 figure, she starved herself during school days until she weighed 6st 7lb. She said: "My best friend was a very slim ballet dancer. I wanted to be like her so I stopped eating.

"I did it for about six months. I told Mum and Dad that I was exercising loads and that's why I lost so much weight.

"Eventually my ballerina friend shook me by my bony shoulders and said, 'What are you doing to yourself? You look terrible'." Traci built her strength up and became a top swimmer at school - but her heart was set on being a different kind of water babe.

She won minor roles in the sitcoms Married With Children and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.

Baywatch boss David Hasselhoff spotted her potential at an audition.

But Traci landed herself in hot water just two weeks after joining the show.

She was carpeted for her role in a sleazy video in which she stripped off and strolled into the sea.

And later topless photographs of her appeared in a magazine.

Unlike colleagues Pam Anderson and Gena Lee Nolin, she insists she would never have surgery to enhance her beauty.

Traci said: "How can women put those silicone sacks in their breasts?

"It's revolting and so unnatural. What about when you have a baby and you want to breastfeed it?"

'He is tuned into my fantasies'

The pressure of swimming, rehearsing and filming for up to 14 hours a day can take its toll.

Traci said: "We start filming again in June and we call it Baywatch Bootcamp time. Training, training and more training.

"You have to be tough mentally and physically with this job. It's not all posing on the sand in the sunshine with the wind blowing in your hair."

But Traci has a secret cure for stress - long love-making sessions with musician boyfriend Robb Vallier, 27.

She said: "An afternoon and night in bed is the best work-out for me despite having a gym at home.

"But the man has to be really tuned into me and my fantasies. And Robb definitely doesn't fail in that department."

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- See Page 22
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Oswald, Louise
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 20, 1997
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