Even to Furnish, no stranger to the social swirl, Diana’s ability to navigate multiple orbits is striking. “She’s like the pied piper,” says Furnish, who met her when she attended the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s White Tie and Tiara Ball seven years ago. Describing the week he spent a year or two ago on the yacht Jenkins charters in Cannes in May, he says, “She’ll go to a club and find the coolest and most interesting people to hang with, and then everybody comes back to the boat, and she’ll have a DJ spinning, and the atmosphere just clicks. Suddenly there’s Bono, and there’s Sean Penn; there’s Julian Schnabel. And the next thing you know, it’s six o’clock in the morning, and Diana’s closest friends are all in the galley eating grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Sanela, however, “doesn’t really approve of Diana,” Jenkins says, noting that Diana’s template, initially, was Dynasty, which she watched weekly before the war. As a result, she made a few missteps, such as the time she remarked on how “addictive” private jet travel was while posing in a $12,000 mink poncho on the steps of her Gulfstream for a 2005 New York Times Magazine story about Aspen.
Warm and engaging in person, Jenkins is the first to laugh at her early excesses. “I’m embarrassed by some pictures—I look almost like a transvestite,” she says, her blond hair pulled into a messy ponytail that sets off her delicate features and generous pout, which is ringed with pink lipliner. Tall and willowy, she’s dressed in clingy black jersey pants, a black cotton top cut low in the back and mohair ankle boots, with a leopard-print scarf tied dramatically around her neck. “People at the party would be staring because my hair was too blond. I didn’t have anyone to advise me, so you stumble. At some point I was like, Who cares? You find the place to fit in.”
London, unfortunately, was not one of those places. “They couldn’t figure out my background,” she says, choosing her words carefully owing to the firestorm in the British press last year after she told Tatler that in the UK she’d been treated like “an Eastern European mail-order bride.” In Malibu, where her friends include Kid Rock, Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer and legendary producer Jerry Weintraub, it’s more relaxed. “Here they accept the street dog from Sarajevo,” says Jenkins, “the craziness of Diana and Sanela.”
Growing up in Communist Yugoslavia, she was a tomboy raised in a close-knit, nonreligious Bosnian Muslim family. Her strict father, orphaned by WWII, was an economist, her mother an accountant. When the war broke out she left them, her brother and her economics studies behind, spending 18 months in a refugee camp in Croatia. It was difficult for men to leave Sarajevo, and her mother chose to stay with her husband and son but urged her daughter to flee. “I went from Daddy’s princess to not having anything to eat,” Jenkins says, “not knowing if my family was alive.” How she found her way to London in 1993 is a subject she is not ready to discuss. “I have Band-Aids everywhere, and slowly I’ve taken them off,” she says. “But I’m not going near that one yet.”