Life Story of a Czech Supermodel and Philanthropist Petra Nemcova

Petra Nemcova’s career developed rapidly. She left home at the age of 18 to pursue her dream of becoming a model. Soon she had contracts to spare, and she appeared on the covers of such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Sports Illustrated. She was featured in numerous ad campaigns for famous brands. But in one, unforgettable moment, Petra’s life changed drastically.

In 2004, Petra survived the Indonesian tsunami while on vacation. The model grabbed onto a palm tree and held on to it for 8 hours before she was discovered and sent to the hospital. She had a broken pelvis and a number of internal injuries. Her fiancé, photographer Simon Atlee, didn’t make it. This near-death experience placed Petra on a different path and she became a philanthropist and entrepreneur. Her degree from London Business School came in handy when, in 2005, she founded the non-profit organization, Happy Hearts Fund, whose goal is to build and reconstruct schools for children in regions affected by natural disasters. Although she confesses to not having ever thought of becoming an entrepreneur, her experience in the tsunami made her reevaluate her priorities and goals in life.

Let’s start with your career. How was it for you to break out of the Czech modeling world onto the international scene?

It was very fast and exciting for me. I was and still am very humble and thankful for the chance I got in modeling.

You became successful quite quickly. Was it hard to deal with rapid lifestyle changes?

With modeling you learn pretty quickly to be very flexible. So getting used to the fast work in modeling was a challenge for me. But I made it, and I like being a model.

You travel a lot. Where do you think the most stylish and fashionable people are and why?

I think the most fashionable people are in London and NYC. Their personal style reflects their culture and personality. I wish the Czechs had more self-confidence, to be more creative in their looks and outfits.

What do you do when you get tired of all the events and public appearances? Is there any activity that gets your mind off things and brings you relaxation?

I usually spend time with my family and friends, for example, in the city of Karvina. Loved ones are the biggest treasure we have, so I spend my free time with them.

Models are a beloved topic for jokes. Do you have a favorite one?

Frankly, I do not know any. Jokes about models probably do not circulate among models that much.

Traveling a lot, you have met and worked with a lot of people of different nationalities. Do you think it has shaped your character in some way? Did you ever feel that, maybe, you are not as “Czech” as you used to be?

It shaped my character a lot. I appreciate all the chances I got and all the amazing people I met. I learn all the time from different situations and from different, inspiring people… I think I’m living a dream life and I finally can help people! But in my heart, I’m still a girl from the countryside of the Czech Republic.

Tell a bit more about your charity work

My biggest passion today is my charity work. I spend 90 percent of my time working at “Happy Hearts Fund” projects ( In the 6 years of my foundation’s history, we have built 72 schools and kindergartens all over the world and helped over 42,000 children.

A lot of people are involved with charity in one way or another: some finance hospitals, others support educational projects, and some fight in animal rescue. In your opinion, are there any priority areas?

There is so much to be done in charity! There are so many problems in so many countries. It was very important for me and HHF to choose the focus of the foundation. I have selected countries affected by natural disasters and poor education! Kids are our future, and through education they might have a much better future! Building schools helps not only individuals, but entire communities.

What do you think the main achievements in your life are: as a person, or as a professional model? And what would you have done differently, if anything, if you had a chance to do it over?

I would never do anything differently. I believe all our ways have their own important meanings.

What advice would you give to young people just starting their careers and pursuing their dreams?

Believe in yourself, learn from others, respect others, and be patient! Believe that anything can be done, when you believe in it and work hard for it.

Photo: Shutterstock

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