Published: 15:59 BST, 18 May 2015 | Updated: 17:35 BST, 18 May 2015
She was raised eating potatoes, boys teased her that she had 'stick legs', and when she first applied for a US visa she was rejected - amid fears over her Muslim roots.
Today 29-year-old Irina Shayk, once seen as a 'spotty village girl', is the talk of America as she steals passionate kisses with Hollywood heartthrob Bradley Cooper.
But her road from a bleak Russian industrial backwater to fame as a swimwear and lingerie model was fraught with setbacks, just as it was aided by astonishingly lucky breaks, one of them at a bus stop.
Daily Mail Online has explored her roots in the grim industrial Urals region nudging Siberia to hear from those who knew her, and her extraordinary life story.
She once said of her polluted birthplace Yemanzhelinsk, where she lived in grinding poverty as Russia's casino economy collapsed under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s: 'It's a beautiful place - if you wear a mask.
'It's a mining town, but all the collieries have shut already.'
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Distinctive look: Irina's father was an ethnic Tatar - a Muslim minority group - while her mother was an ethnic Russian. She credits him for her dark skin and her for her light eyes, shown in this early modelling picture
Debut: Early modelling shots taken of the then Irina Shaykhlislamov. She was trying to escape a grim former Soviet mining town close to the Urals, where her ex-miner father had died of lung disease in his 40s
Success: In these pictures taken after she made her modelling debut aged 14, Irina Shayk shows how she was able to make an escape from her family's penury in the shadow of defunct Communist coal mines
New love: Irina Shayk and Bradley Cooper share another very public display of affection in London last week. Since being seen kissing in New York earlier this month they have been open about being a couple
Among the extraordinary aspects of her journey to fame as a model is how she overcame - as a vulnerable and gawky 14-year-old - the sudden and traumatic death of her beloved father Valeriy Shaykhlislamov, her real family name.
A coal miner, his death in his 40s from an acute lung disease plunged the family into near penury, but he bequeathed her one invaluable asset: her distinctive Tatar looks.
'My father was dark skinned, because he was Tatar,' she explained. 'Sometimes Tatars can look Brazilian. I get my light eyes from my mother.'
Another is her formidable paternal grandmother - now also sadly dead, a bomb-dodging teenage military spy under Stalin who was among the 'liberators' of Nazi Berlin 70 years ago at the climax of the Second World War.
She was a role model who Irina called 'my angel', allowing her to dream her dreams of escaping from the ruins of Communism, a goal she always knew she would achieve.
Then there is the way her ethnic Russian mother by chance saw a notice for a local 'beauty school' on a bus stop wall. She took Irina's sister Tatyana, now 31, but next door was a model agency.
The eagle-eyed staff spotted not Tatyana but her younger sister Irina hanging around, and knew at once someone special had fallen into their laps.
Parents: Olga and Valeriy Shaykhlislamov on their wedding day. He was a miner and she worked as a music teacher to make ends meet after Communism collapsed. But lung disease killed him when he was in his 40s
Basic: This is the Soviet-built apartment where Irina Shayk was brought up with her sister Tatyana, now 31 by their mother Olga. Their father died when he was in his 40s.
Spartan: The modern interior of the small apartment where Irina Shayk was brought up
Desolate: Yemanzhelinsk was an industrial town with the economy built on mines. But its industrial buildings have been abandoned, some half-built, because of the collieries closing. Shayk once said: 'It's a beautiful place - if you wear a mask.'
Soviet: The cinema (left) and Gulag memorial (right) in Yemanzhelinsk. The town of 30,000 people is depressed by the loss of its mines. Irina Shayk's big break was to win a beauty contest in the nearby city of Chelyabinsk
Remote: Yemanzhelinsk is almost on the border with Kazakhstan, and as far from Moscow as Moscow is from Berlin.
Remains: The impact of mining on the steppe outside Yemanzhelinsk is clear. The area is heavily polluted and the landscape is dotted with slag heaps (foreground) and the remains of open-cast workings in the distance
Fondly remembered: Irina's father Valeriy in a family keepsake
Now she is a name known around the world but this glamorous model has admitted in Russia to her hand-to-mouth background when she lived in a cramped ground floor flat in a typical apartment block in Yemanzhelinsk, decorated Soviet-style.
'We were very poor,' she said.
'After school my sister and I helped our mom in the garden. We grew potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, not for fun - but to eat.'
She also acknowledged: 'Actually I wanted to become a journalist, but no matter who I imagined myself to be in the future, somehow I was sure: I would leave my hometown. I felt it was my destiny.'
Those who remained in this dour south Urals backwater - population 30,216 - confirm her account, and remember her mother Olga, working hard as a music teacher, and taking on a second job, to make ends meet.
Irina had extra classes at a music school - she played the piano getting excellent grades - in addition to her normal education.
Childhood friend Denis Salomatov affirmed: 'These were the tough 1990s. We ate bread, potatoes, and drank juice from 3-liter jugs.'
A classmate who wanted to remain anonymous remembered: 'It was a world apart from what she knows now - and her glamorous life with Bradley Cooper by her side.
'Back then, we didn't have enough money for essentials, let alone luxuries. But we all lived like this, eating only basics.
Family: Irina (right) with her mother Olga and sister Tatyana. A classmate of Irina remembered Olga working 'like a slave' to provide the basics for her family at a time when life in Russia was tough
Close: Irina (right) and her sister Tatanya, now 31, as teenagers. Irina was spotted by a model agency when her mother took her older sister to a beauty school which happened to be next door to the agency
Family get-together: Irina, Tatanya and their mother Olga all have their arms in the air as they pose with relatives
Summer get-together: Irina (left), her sister Tatanya and their mother Olga with an unknown younger friend or relative
TATARS: RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS
The Tatars form Russia's largest minority group, a total of some five million people who follow Islam and speak a language related to Turkish.
Originally part of Genghis Khan's army, they settled and formed Tatarstan, a patchwork of kingdoms - or khanates - from Siberia as far west as the Crimea.
The Tatar territories were conquered by the Russian Empire from the 16th into the late 18th century and after that the Tatars became more integrated into Russian society.
The Tsarist empire used them to fight wars and expand into Central Asia, and 1.5m now live in modern Kazakhstan. They kept their distinctive social structure, were allowed to practice polygamy, were successful merchants and agents of the state, and their nobles were formally recognized as being the same rank as Russian - Christian -nobles.
But their status has never been certain. Ivan the Terrible forcibly converted many to Christianity and in 1921 and 1922 an estimated two million died in famine in the Volga-Ural region - the same area as Irina Shayk's root.
Tatar nationalists regard it as an act of genocide. Ethnic Russians were relocated to the area after it, reinforcing that view.
There was further persecution under Stalin, particularly in the Crimea.
And more recently the Crimean Tatars have expressed fear that they face anti-Muslim persecution over the Russian annexation of the territory.
'I remember Irina's mother working like a slave for her family. And Irina - she was determined to use every chance she had to get to Moscow, and then to the world.'
A friend from her Soviet-style summer camp, Marina Malkova, of Chelyabinsk, remembers: 'I can't say she was a beauty.
'To me, she seemed too tall, her legs were too skinny and gangly, and her skin was dark. But she was always friendly and smiled all the time.
'After that I heard nothing of her, but in 2007 there was a story about a Russian model Irina Shayk conquering the West. And I recognized my old friend Shaykhlislamova.'
But classmate Ekaterina Bereshenova offered a different view, recalling her striking looks as they grew up.
'Not only boys, but men as well, feasted their eyes on her slim legs,' she said.
'To those who called her thin - or a "stick" - she replied proudly and prophetically: "You'll see how this slim body will feed me in the future - and make me famous."'
At 14, already the center of attention, she was desperate to buy a pair of fashionable high heels - but the family couldn't afford them.
Irina worked for 20 days in a local hospital, painting walls, to earn enough for the shoes, which she wore to her studies though by this age she was taller than her contemporaries, say her old friends.
Salomatov recalls a girl who hypnotized him and his male friends.
'She'd say: 'Yesterday you had fun. Today you'll be cleaning.' So we had to vacuum, clean all the rugs. It was impossible to refuse such a girl.'
Female friends were naturally jealous of her, and one who today admires her career from afar said: 'Irina has nothing which is not completely natural. I know for sure that it's all true,
'I saw with my own eyes. There is nothing...boosted.'
Her old teacher Nina Bulygina, who taught her chemistry at school number 4 Emangelinsk, said: 'She stood out because of her interesting appearance.
'And her beauty: she was tall, slim. But she was also responsible and a good student.'
History teacher Vera Prokudina echoes this, saying she did not initially realize how attractive she was.
'Irina did well at school, but was always very modest. She stood out because of her looks.'
School head Viktor Gusev said that she 'wouldn't let boys close to her' and friend Ekaterina Bereshenova remembers her saying as she grew up: 'I don't want to be friends with only one guy, so as not to offend the others.'
Good friends: Aged 13, Irina Shaky spends time in her home town of Yemanzhelinsk with friends
Teenage friends: Irina with other high-school classmates as a 13-year-old at school number 4 Emangelinsk
Whole class: Irina circled with the rest of her year at school number 4 Emangelinsk in Yemanzhelinsk
On the verge of adulthood: The class of 2003 at Irina's high school, school number 4 Emangelinsk. She is first from the left in the top row of teenagers, with their teaches arrayed above. Classmates said she was hard-working
Talented: Irinia's music teacher Elena Syryapina (left). The future model had extra lessons because of her ability at piano. The school principal Viktor Gusev said she 'did not let boys near her' as she worked so hard
School show: Irina is the tall girl at the right of the back row in a school play
'At the time, the most important thing for her was her studies. She had no thoughts about catwalks, beauty contests or fame,' Bereshenova said.
Another friend said that despite the family - like almost all others - struggling to get by, Irina 'was always beautiful, dressing in style - some of her clothes looked as if they were tailor-made'.
'She got on well with everyone, there was no arrogance or vanity as you often get with the school beauty,' the friend said.
'She carried herself with dignity. I can't say one bad thing about her.'
Yet this whiter-than-white reputation would change, at least for some, as Irina was picked out as a future modelling star and fast-tracked initially to Moscow on her way to grace the covers of Sports Illustrated and to be the face of Intimissimi, the Italian lingerie sold in Victoria's Secret.
'We found her, got her noticed, washed her, tidied her up, and taught her to do things, but she let us down badly,' Svetlana Klimenko, 53, founder and owner of model agency Exclusive, told Daily Mail Online.
'She was basically a spotty village girl when she came to us. Our agency has worked for over 25 years and never during all the time did we have a girl we were so ashamed about. She is the first one.'
Klimenko is scathing, which some see as sour grapes after a contract dispute, which saw Irina take a new direction.
On the road to success: Irina wears a sash saying 'graduate' as she leaves high school at the Russian equivalent of prom. Shortly after she won a beauty contest in a nearby city and was signed to a model agency when they spotted her as her mother took her sister to a beauty school
Big break: A year after she left high school in Yemanzhelinsk Irina (center) poses with other models in Moscow
Get together: Irina Shayk (center) and two other aspiring models share a drink in Moscow shortly after she signed with an agency
'She's never been a top model here and wasn't really allowed on the catwalk. She is a good underwear model, which is like second grade,' said the long-time model agency boss who has put a number of Russian girls on the road to stardom, more recently Yulia Kharlapanova.
'But Irina's drive for money and self-publicity would leave any other supermodel behind.'
Perhaps cynically, she sees a method in her relationships with high-profile desirable men. Before Cooper, Shayk dated Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world's most successful and high-profile soccer players, for five years. Their split was confirmed in January.
'From the very beginning I knew that Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn't marry her,' she said. 'What next? Another PR campaign? Dating some other Ronaldo to draw attention to herself?'
This appears to be her view of Irina's latest beau. Behind the still-raw dispute of more than a decade ago is what happened when Irina first traveled to Moscow at the age of 18, having triumphed unexpectedly in the Miss Chelyabinsk 2004 beauty contest, the city about 20 miles north of her home.
Klimenko says she set Irina on a path similar to another world famous model from an impoverished background, Natalia Vodianova, who once sold vegetables on an open air market at minus 20C to earn roubles for her struggling family before finding the world at her feet.
Klimenko's version of what happened - and it must be said Cooper's new girlfriend denies any wrongdoing - goes as follows.
'We send pictures of our models to our partners in Moscow. If they're interested in someone, they invite them for a photo session,' she told Daily Mail Online.
'A world-class photographer makes a portfolio to promote a model abroad. That is what happened to Irina Shaykhlislamova.'
Relaxing: Irina captured infornally some time after she came to Moscow. She endured a bitter contract dispute with the modelling agency which first spotted her ptoential
Model bosses: Elena Yermolayeva (left) and Svetlana Klimenko (right) confirmed that Irina was involved with a much older businessman when she came to Moscow. 'There was a huge scandal,' Klimenko said.
High-profile love: Irina Shaky was Christiano Ronaldo's long-distance lover for five years until January. The Real Madrid soccer player is one of the most successful in his sport
New love: American Sniper star Bradley Cooper was revealed to be in a relationship with Irina Shaky when they were seen kissing in New York earlier this month. Her Muslim roots appeared to have prevented her getting a visa for the United States in the past
She remembers a serious conversation with Irina, shortly before she went to Moscow.
'I was there with my manager, both of us highly experienced women, and Irina sitting opposite.
'And I was aware that she was receiving flattering attention from a wealthy businessman almost double her age.
'We told her: you have a choice now. You can now get married successfully, stick to a "sugar daddy" and don't make career.
'But you have every chance to become a successful model and earn an excellent living yourself.
'She was literally crying: "What men?", "What are you talking about?", "I want to work".
'We trusted her, bought her a ticket to Moscow next day, and she left. She phoned our Moscow partners, and a car came to pick her up.
'But Irina walked past it and got on a different car, and then vanished. There was a conspiracy behind our backs.'
She said: 'Of course, I was shocked. We're responsible for girls in our agency, including those who are not underage. It's horrible for me to remember those 24 hours of uncertainty.
'We didn't know what to do. The photo-shoot was messed up, but the only important thing was: is she alive? 'Where had she gone? Her phone was turned off, her family also knew nothing.
Catwalk fame: Irina Shayk walks the runway during the Liverpool Fashion Fest Spring/Summer 2015 at Televisa San Angel in Mexico City in February
Celebrity: At the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar party (left) and more daringly dressed at the 2015 event
Still close: Irina and her mother Olga were seen walking in the West Village of New York this weekend
'Later, it became clear that Irina was with that man all the time. And when she finally turned up, there was a huge scandal.
'I lost my temper. I talked to her rather harshly, and called her a "skunk". She immediately complained to her new patron who phoned me with threats and insults.'
Daily Mail Online sought to contact the man - who is believed to have funded a trip by Irina to Britain to learn English - but he did not respond.
Elena Yermolayeva, a model agency director who also worked with Irina at the time, said she had 'a short affair' with this Moscow entrepreneur.
'He was the one who sent Irina to England to study the language.'
She recalls that, back then, Irina lacked confidence. 'There are girls who are pouting because they think they're stars. But Irina was cranky because of her complexes. She didn't trust herself,' she said.
'We told her that she was beautiful and looked like Angelina Joile, but she was shy and tried not to stand out.'
I went to the American consulate, but I was refused a visa for a year. The reason was my family name, Shaykhislamova
Her breakthrough soon came. But even then, after being raised in the Urals, she found the transition, initially to Paris, hard and stressful as she coped with clashing cultures.
'It was a very difficult, extremely complicated,' Irina admitted, not speaking French and missing her friends. 'I had no money, sometimes I had nothing to eat,' she said.
Yet if she was allowed into Britain and France, the same was not true of America. This was due to her Tatar family name, identifying her Muslim origins.
'Of course it's interesting to work in Europe but the dream of a majority of models is to make it across the ocean,' she has since said.
'Finally, the dream came true, and I received a work invitation from a US model agency.
'Having gathered unbelievable amount of papers, signatures and stamps, I went to the American consulate, but I was refused a visa for a year. The reason was my family name, Shaykhislamova.'
The name, which she has dropped because Westerners get tongue-tied trying to pronounce it, implies to any Russian that she is Muslim, and her roots are indeed Tatar.
'It turned out that Americans are very scared of everything related to Islam. I managed to get a visa only a year later,' she recalled.
Despite the setback, she made it to America and had her signature breakthrough in the 2007 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Yet as her career took off in the West, she remained in contact with her grandmother Galina, who helped raise her as a child, and who died in 2013 aged 89.
She would call and speak to a woman she acknowledged as a superb role model, her babushka - Russian for grandmother - who had conquered the West some 60 years earlier as a junior sergeant in the secret air regiment.
Heroine: Galina Shaykhislamova, Irina's late paternal grandmother, was a highly-decorated member of the Red Army's intelligence branch. As it fought its way into Europe she took and developed pictures, decrypted code and pinpointed the Nazi targets which soldiers and air power then attacked
Similar ages: Galina Shaykhislamova kept a framed picture of herself as a Red Army intelligence sergeant aged 20 on the wall of her apartment - close to a framed picture of her model granddaughter around the same age
Pride: At her shabby Soviet-era apartment, Irina's late babushka would greet visitors wearing her Red Army decorations and show proudly her pictures of her and her granddaughter
Treasured: Galina Shaykhislamova with a magazine featuring one of her granddaughter's advertising campaigns. She died in 2013, aged 89.
Vengeance: Leningrad was the bloodiest siege in history and became the symbol of Soviet refusal to bow to Hitler. But for Galina Shaykhislamova it was personal: Her grandfather was killed int he fighting.
Part of history: Thanks to the efforts of Galina Shaykhislamova and the other members of the Red Army, Hitler was crushed from the east. One of the most famous images of victory in Europe became the raising of the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin
LENINGRAD: 872 DAYS OF HELL - BUT A SOVIET TRIUMPH OVER NAZIS
Surrounded by water and far in Russia's west, Leningrad - as St Petersburg had been renamed by the Communists - was Hitler's prime target in Operation Barbarossa.
But it became a defining symbol of the Soviet determination not to be beaten by the Nazis.
On 8 September 1941, the last road to the city was severed and the Germans thought its fall was imminent. Hitler wanted to raze the monument to Russian Tsarist ambition, and told his generals not to accept capitulation.
There was grain for just 35 days, meat for 33.
But the Soviets fought to the death. A million civilians were mobilized to dig defenses, and when the waters froze, an ice road, the Road of Life, was opened to Soviet-held territory.
The Nazis and their Finnish allies launched aerial bombings and artillery bombardment. The Tsarist palaces outside the defenses were looted and destroyed.
In the city people starved. Birds, pets, horses and rats were all eaten by winter 1941. The secret police arrested hundreds on the grounds that they had committed cannibalism, while hundreds of people were murdered for their ration cards.
Starving: A horse is cut up for food by civilians in besieged Leningrad
Every day Leningrad held on was a symbol of Stalin's determination for his country not to fall. In August 1942, after almost a year of siege, the Leningrad Radio Orchestra played Dmitri Shostakovich's Sypmphony No 7, 'Leningrad'.
Relayed by loudspeaker and played loud enough for the Germans to hear, it symbolized the unbreakable spirit of the city.
Despite the privation, for 872 days, many of them in the depths of the Russian winter, the people of the city hung on.
Finally on 27 January 1944 concerted Red Army offenses lifted the siege and the Germans were forced on the run.
A city of 3.5 million civilians was reduced to 700,000 people, almost half of them soldiers.
One million and a half million people, both civilians and military, were dead from starvation or wounds. It was the most devastating loss of life ever suffered in a siege.
But the city had not fallen, and the lifting of the siege, like the end of the battle of Stalingrad in the south of Russia, showed that the Soviets were on the path to victory.
Irina called her simply 'my angel'. Aged 18, Irina was setting out as a supermodel. At the same age her grandmother had begged to be enlisted during the Second World War.
She was - finally - deployed as an intelligence agent by Stalin on the frontline of the Red Army's surge through eastern Europe, her role to pinpoint key Nazi troop and strategic targets for the air force to bomb or the army to rout.
Her father had been killed as the Germans launched a blitzkrieg on Leningrad, the Communist name for St Petersburg, and she wanted to avenge his death.
'I was 18 and training to be a teacher when I first asked to join up,' she recalled in an interview before her death.
'My father was reported as missing in Leningrad - later we learned he had died.
'At first they refused, saying I should study at the Air Force Academy. So I started studying and eventually joined the front in 1944.'
This was no ordinary training. 'It was the military and aviation school of the intelligence services,' said Natalya Kodakova, author of a book on wartime heroes which features Galina.
'When she graduated with honors in 1944, she was sent to the front as part of the intelligence department.'
Reaching the front in Romania she was - astonishingly - a spy who was still in her teens.
Her task was to make maps from pictures taken by reconnaissance aircraft, pin pointing 'the spots with Fascist troops and machines' so they could be destroyed.
'We drove along war devastated roads in a special car equipped as a laboratory, and were under frequent bombardment.'
She explained: 'There were three girls and a driver, though sometimes I drove the car myself.
'We developed and reconstructed the films, decrypted them, made maps and sent them to headquarters. Some days were so busy we didn't leave our car at all.'
The war took her through Bucharest, Budapest and on to Vienna. A picture of her aged 20 was on the wall of her flat.
'I'd already seen the horrors of war by then, travelling through these east European countries,' she said.
'Everybody feared they would die in the next minute or the next day. That's how it was.'
Speaking shortly before her death, she was modest about the bravery she undoubtedly showed, feeling that each generation has its own challenges.
Irina would have managed the stresses of war if she'd lived in an earlier time, she suggested. 'You know, I think Irina would cope with such a task if that was what was thrown at her - she's a courageous girl.'
But she acknowledged the stark differences between her and her model granddaughter: 'I wore a military shirt and a uniform skirt or trousers. She wears other clothes.
'She has long hair, but I had to have a short cut because of conditions in the war. It was easier to handle, and we were doing everything on the go.
'Putting on make-up? 'No way. I was ecstatically happy to be able to wash my face in an ice hole, in freezing water. But still, the war or no war, we were girls. And we tried to be beautiful.'
Irina's efforts to help her grandmother financially in her old age were rebuffed.
'I told her: "I don't need it. You DO need it, you're young. You need to enjoy your life."
Irina spoke to her at the time about her love Ronaldo.
Galina confided to a friend: 'She told us a lot a lot about him, that he is a dignified person who measures up to Irina. So we have permitted her to marry him - when the time is right.'
The relationship did not lead to marriage however, and the model is now dating Bradley Cooper.
Her other babushka, Nina, her mother's mother, made clear previously that she was not in favor of meeting Ronaldo when they were dating, suggesting Cooper could be offered the same lack of welcome.
She said disparagingly: 'Who will he come here as?' He was not a fiance, nor a husband, she suggested. He should not appear here in Russia if he was 'not serious'.
Her latest partner may suffer the same fate. But Nina also said sadly about Irina: 'Every now and then I think it's such a shame that all the family is here. And she is there - all by herself.'