Like the opening sequence to a James Bond film, Sanela Diana Jenkins’ long driveway off the PCH in Malibu leads to large gates that part slowly, welcoming you to her three-acre private lair. Lining the path to her home are an army of automobiles (all hers). A pair of Lamborghinis, a black Rolls-Royce, one of those cool new Bentley SUVs, and for a quick getaway, a souped-up, blacked-out Shelby Mustang. At any moment, you’d expect to see Dr. No propelling down from a helicopter, and like a Hollywood movie, the story of Diana’s rise from Bosnian war refugee to all of this—and so much more—is so fascinating, it’s hard to imagine that it’s all true.
A quick scan of Diana’s breathtaking property, and clues to her love of water (ironic, since she was born under the fire sign of Leo) are everywhere. The 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean, the custom-built outdoor koi aquarium housing her collection of rare tropical fish, and then there’s the curious, round-shaped structure built to the side of her home. Inside, a huge circular Dead Sea spa is filled with water imported from—where else—the Dead Sea, over 7,500 miles away. “The water’s salt content is so high it alkalizes your body and is very healing,” Diana says. “In fact, all the cures can be found within the world.”
Diana centers herself in the makeup chair in her colorfully appointed guest house. The petite, size-2 blonde beauty, who has two teenage children, gives suggestions to the hair and makeup team and glances at stylist Lia Davis’ fashion picks.
Jenkins’ good friend and photographer Steven Gomillion pops in to check on things and shares that it might rain today, so we’ll likely shoot inside. First up is a stunning Saint Laurent gown paired with Diana’s personal collection of diamonds. Between applications of foundation, blush, lipstick, and lashes, Diana shares her story.
“I grew up in a small town in the former Yugoslavia and had a very happy childhood—the kind every child dreams of,” she recalls. “Then war suddenly broke out. First, there were gunshots, then bombs, and the next thing we knew we needed to escape our town.” The war was the Bosnian war (1992–1995) and though her parents and brother would remain in Bosnia, they urged her—then just a teenager—to leave. She fled to a refugee camp in the city of Split in Croatia where she spent 18 months before heading to London. There, Diana learned to speak English and sold silver jewelry on the streets to put herself through school, eventually graduating from City University with honors.
Tragically, back at home, the war had taken its toll. Killed were more than 100,000 including many of Diana’s friends and cousins. Just days before the end of the war, her brother, Irnis, was also killed by Serbian forces. Even more heartbreaking, Diana’s father, who’d lost his parents in 1944 during World War II, would now also lose his only son. “What I’ve learned through my life is that we all get our fair share of suffering,” says Jenkins.
“Different people suffer differently, and nobody escapes it. In my case, the war was just something that happened to my country and me.”
People also experience success differently, and Diana’s is off the charts. In 2009, she started Neuro Drinks, a wildly popular line of great-tasting smart drinks that use essential ingredients for a broad range of health-related results. Diana passionately goes into hyperdrive, spewing in auctioneer-speak about detoxification, amino acids, better focus, building immunity, better sleep, antioxidants, better play, more energy, a trimmer body, better health, finally summing Neuro all up in four words: “Drinks with a purpose.”
As Chairman/CEO, Diana is hands-on with Neuro Drinks, putting in 12 hours a day, six days a week in steering her 100-employee company. She oversees every aspect from formulation to packaging, marketing and music to social media. After all, if experiences have taught her anything, it’s that time is precious, and she makes no bones about being decisive. “I don’t waste people’s time. If I like or don’t like something, my face will show it immediately. I’m passionate about everything, and I’m an all-or-nothing person.”
On the subject of charity, Jenkins offers a practical determination. “In life, there’s one important measurement worth our reflection. That’s the measure of how much we are willing to ease others’ suffering. For me, whenever I could do something, I would, and will, do something.”
One of those ‘somethings’ is the Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Memory of Irnis Ćatić. The foundation provides funding for the medical school at the University of Sarajevo and helps establish schools and orphanages in Bosnia. It also builds homes for the poor, supplies emergency aid and relief, and cleans the country’s freshwater lakes.
In 2009, in conjunction with the UCLA School of Law, Jenkins started the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project—the first endowed program on international justice and human rights at any law school in the western United States.
She continues to work with the faculty and students to advance human-rights causes around the world, including bringing war criminals to justice in Bosnia-Herzegovina and addressing human trafficking issues in the Congo.
Perhaps her highest-profile philanthropic endeavor is sponsoring and co-chairing the Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party—one of the hottest tickets in town on Oscar night. Every year since 2010, Neuro has helped the Foundation raise millions. “I’ve been working with my good friends Elton John and David Furnish since back in London when the event was called the White Tiara party.”
As the sun begins to set, Diana steps outside for the last shot of the day wearing a bright red Valentino jumpsuit that hugs her trim figure like a glove, and right on cue, drops of precious water start falling from the sky.