tribute Gwen Gill

One of the many wonderfully human sides of Nelson Mandela is his obvious enjoyment of a pretty woman. The way his eyes sparkle when he talks to or about the glamorous females who love to be seen with him is a delight to behold.

His taste is impeccable. For starters, he has married three lovely women. His first wife was Evelyn Ntoko Mase, Walter Sisulu's cousin and a nurse in Johannesburg, the second the still-beautiful Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and lastly Graça Machel.

Daughters Zindzi and Zenani (now both glamorous grandmothers) and his granddaughters would also be described as ‘good-looking gals' by anyone with any taste.

But it is the gorgeous, rich and famous young women who come calling or jockey for invitations elsewhere in the world who really hit the ‘babe' headlines.

Naomi Campbell, Charlize Theron, Oprah Winfrey (perhaps a tad mature to be called a babe, but certainly a fan), Kate Moss, Janet Jackson, Princess Diana, the Spice Girls including Victoria Beckham, Roberta Flack and the late Whitney Houston are just some of the poster-girl glitterati who have craved being seen with him.

My first experience of the ‘Madiba and the Glamour Gals' story came more than a decade ago at a glittering fashion show held at the Cape Town presidential home, Genadendal.

The media were flown down to the Cape along with a plane-load of local celebrities to help Naomi Campbell and a bevy of other top models raise huge amounts of money for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

Apart from big state occasions, this was one of the first of the VIP social events of the New South Africa's first decade. The beautiful Naomi was queen that night and milked her Mandela connections like crazy.

Her reputation as the ramp gal from hell was then not as blatant as it is now. She was her usual difficult self regarding interviews and talking to the media, but her 'Expedition into Africa' made news worldwide on TV channels and newspaper front pages. Naturally, she did her ‘he's my grandfather' stuff about our beloved first President. South Africans really didn't like that!

The 1997 official opening of a Sandton hotel was another night that saw the Mandela charm working with princes Charles, William and Harry, and then the Spice Girls, (all in a few hours!). As it happens, Posh and the gang were here for a concert at the Joburg Stadium and, naturally, after the speeches in Sandton, the younger princes were keen to go to the concert, which Madiba was also to attend after cutting the hotel ribbon.

The story goes that the President met the Spice Girls backstage, chatted them up (even calling them ‘my heroes') and then asked his entourage politely who these nice girls were!

When superstar Whitney Houston came to perform in a huge concert at Ellis Park in 1994, she got up everyone's noses by doing the ‘I'm home' scene about Africa.

She was also pictured hanging all over Madiba, and was one of the glitterati visitors whose possessive overkill got on all our nerves. We don't like those itinerant trippers who claim him for their own - Nelson Mandela is ours!

One visitor we all thoroughly approved of was homegirl Charlize Theron, who, you'll recall, rushed to South Africa in March 2004 within two weeks of her Hollywood triumph to show off her Oscar. Charlize handled her Madiba audience more modestly than most. She wore her hair in a ponytail, put on a simple white dress, burst into tears and said ‘I love you.' His eyes sparkled and he told her he loved her too.

Oprah Winfrey has practically adopted South Africa as a second home and her close ties with Nelson Mandela obviously contribute to this. Her generosity to the children, particularly the girls, of this country is now legendary. What's more, she does it with style and without too much fuss.

Household showbiz stars Beyoncé Knowles and Janet Jackson rushed to perform at his fundraising concerts.

Roberta Flack even tinkled his piano keys and sang Killing Me Softly to him when she visited his Houghton home in 1999. Was there anyone he couldn't pull!

Most of Madiba's babes behave impeccably in his presence. Supermodel Kate Moss was an exception.

Celebrity-watchers have been shocked to learn that she sent a gofer out for cocaine at a Nelson Mandela Children's Fund charity event in Barcelona, Spain, in 2004, when she was sitting at the table next to Madiba, according to the London newspaper the News of the World.

Talk at the time was that she slipped away from the banquet a few times and used the top of a toilet seat to snort her drug of choice.

Ever the caring gentleman, Madiba wished her well when news of her drug habit hit the media.

My favourite Madiba's babes story has nothing to do with global superstars, but Talk Radio 702's Katy Katopodis.

It was the same day in February 1998 that Nelson Mandela had appeared in court facing Louis Luyt as part of a commission into rugby administration.

Later the old man had gone to Joburg's Rosebank Hotel for a fundraising dinner for Waterford Kamhlaba, the Swaziland school where his daughters and some grandchildren had been educated.

As often happened, the boss ate only his starter, then made his speech and prepared to leave.

The media did not sit down to dinner, but leaned against the wall, listening to him speak.

As he left, he shook hands with all of us and leaned over and said to Katy, who was standing next to me: ‘You won't forget our little arrangement later, will you?'

A confused Katy blushed, couldn't work out what was happening and turned to me to check if I understood.

‘He's teasing you, Katy,' I said. ‘He's pretending you have a date!'

What a thrill to have the most charming man in the world flirt with you!