Hovering at the side of Naomi Campbell, the man with the moustache could be just another face in the crowd at a party in Rio de Janeiro.
But Tuca Franchini is one of Brazil’s leading witch doctors and in an exclusive interview last night he confirmed reports that the troubled supermodel is taking a ‘passionate’ interest in his mystical faith.
As a Father Saint of the Candomble sect, which worships African gods, 36-year-old Franchini practises beliefs popularised a few years ago by Peter Mandelson.
The European trade commissioner was subjected to ridicule when The Mail on Sunday revealed that his Brazilian partner, Reinaldo Avila da Silva, had engaged a Candomble witch doctor to put a hex on political enemies in a ceremony involving the slaughter of a chicken.
Mr Franchini met Ms Campbell two years ago through a mutual friend, one of his many followers from the Brazilian upper class.
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He said: ‘She got very interested in Candomble. She does not practise it as a faith, but she listens when I tell her the history because she is passionately involved in the roots of our African culture.’ Society acquaintances of Mr Franchini have told Brazilian newspapers that he is regarded as a ‘spiritual guide’ by Ms Campbell and there has been speculation that she may have sought the help of the Candomble spirits with anger management.
But in his first public statement about their relationship, the witch doctor insisted that it was just coincidence that she flew straight to Rio after the New York court appearance where she was sentenced to five days of community service for throwing a mobile phone at her maid.
‘She was visiting Rio because she is becoming a goodwill ambassador for the city and it was my 36th birthday party, which she attended as a friend,’ he said.
‘I do not believe any of these cases that have been brought because in the years I have known her, I have never seen her lose her temper, become irritated or angry.
‘The only thing she told me was some people tried to use her.
Never in her life has she tried to do anything wrong. People are going after her to earn money.’ A spokeswoman for Ms Campbell said: ‘Naomi has a lot of friends from various religions.
She has a very strong belief system but I don’t think she identifies herself with any one religion.
‘It’s 100 per cent not true that she was consulting Mr Franchini because of what happened in New York. She flew to Rio to meet with the mayor about becoming a goodwill ambassador.’