The day after the catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti in January, Diana Jenkins, a former Bosnian refugee now married to one of Britain’s wealthiest financiers, ran into Sean Penn at a friend’s house in Malibu. The two had met years earlier, at Dennis Hopper’s birthday party in Cannes, and remained close. Hearing Penn talk about his desire to do something for the quake victims, Jenkins offered her support. Beyond her $1 million infusion of funds into what became the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization, she recruited doctors and nurses, ordered water filters and medical supplies, and chartered a cargo plane. Within five days Jenkins and Penn were in Haiti, sleeping in tents as they changed bandages and dispensed aid. “Because it was my own money, we were very agile,” she says. “But it doesn’t matter how fast the world reacts. You’re always five minutes too late for somebody.”
Haiti is worlds removed from Jenkins’s rambling beach house high above the Pacific in Malibu, where, on this cloudless spring day, she is sipping a cappuccino on the patio. The resourceful 37-year-old beauty does, however, know her way around a disaster zone: Born Sanela Catic in Sarajevo, she fled her hometown at the start of the siege in 1992, crawling through a tunnel beneath the airport and walking to Croatia. She eventually made her way to London. But eight days before the end of the war, in 1995, her 21-year-old brother, Irnis, was shot dead by paramilitaries.
Since then, Jenkins says, she has lived a double life, shuttling between two poles of herself that she is only now trying to reconcile. On one hand, there’s Sanela, the shy, private wife and mother who tracks down war criminals via the center she endowed at UCLA and who’s working to rebuild Bosnia through the foundation she created in her brother’s memory. Then there’s Diana, the glossy girl-about-town she conjured to try to forget what Sanela has been through. “I was 23 and felt 100 years old,” she says. “That girl, Sanela, I didn’t want to know her anymore because she had so much on her shoulders. So I invented Diana—all smiley and happy, beautiful, charming.”
It’s Diana—named for the goddess of the hunt—who holidays in Hawaii with Elton John and his partner, David Furnish; throws fundraisers that draw Bono and George Clooney; and recently launched a line of health drinks with such names as NeuroTrim and NeuroGasm.
“She’s a master seducer,” says Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon, who calls Jenkins her “wingman” on the circuit. “She’s extraordinarily beautiful, and you get kind of mesmerized by her. But when you’re in her clutches, it’s great. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”