David Gandy is the working-class Essex boy who took over the fashion industry. ShortList’s Tom Bailey talks fast cars and spent whisky bottles with a model of manliness
“You, the viewer, have chosen ‘David’ to be the Male Face Of 2001,” announced erstwhile This Morning presenter Richard Madeley airily. Cue a ripple of studio applause, a corny fanfare sound effect and some half-hearted handshakes. “He’ll be taken on to the books of Select model agency and he’s gonna have a fantastic career ahead of him,” concluded Madeley blithely, without a shred of conviction. “Coming up later in the show...”
Twelve years on from that forgettable TV debut, ShortList is sitting opposite ‘David’, who is now the highest-paid male model in the world. When he isn’t serving as Dolce & Gabbana’s muse, the 33-year-old, 6ft 3in Essex boy, dubbed ‘Dagenham Dave’ by some, is jetting round the world, building on a global brand already worth millions and turning down offers from Hollywood.
Even if you don’t know his name, you’ll almost certainly recognise his seminal work: the now-iconographic 2007 advertising campaign for D&G’s bestselling, award-winning male fragrance, Light Blue. It saw him spread-eagled over a 50ft billboard in Times Square, wearing nothing but pair of white trunks, garner 11 million hits online, and gain a new moniker: ‘The White Pants Man.’
More recently he took centre stage at the Olympics closing ceremony with Kate Moss, signed contracts with Marks & Spencer and Jaguar, and found himself endorsing Johnnie Walker’s £180-a-bottle Blue Label whisky. As for his effect on women, check his Facebook wall.
Up close, he is perfectly stubbled, well-chiselled and radiating health; Clark Gable with a touch of the Count from Sesame Street. The reason for our meeting? To talk about the launch of the third campaign for Light Blue, which – we later glean – involved flying to Capri to have bikini-clad Italian model Bianca Balti wrapped around his waist for a morning.
Gentlemen, meet David Gandy. The man we’d all (not so) secretly like to be…
You’re the world’s biggest male model today, but what did you look like at 16?
I was nothing to write home about. I was a bit chubby and had no idea about fashion. I was playing every sport under the sun, so I just dressed in a utilitarian way. Cricket gear, football gear or a tracksuit; there was no time for fashion.
In other words, you shopped at Mad House...
[A smile creeps over Gandy’s face] No... I was very shy as a 16-year-old. I still am. Puberty is a horrid time. I was slightly bigger because I had puppy fat, then I shot up to 6ft 3 and got skinny, then I got broad. It was a weird development.
You didn’t have much luck with girls, then?
When I was 17 I had a Ford Fiesta 1.1 Ghia. ‘The Beast’, as we called it. The guy who owned it before me put aftermarket electric windows in, so you had to press the button and bang the door to get the window to fall down. I was on a date once and the passenger door was broken, so my date had to climb across me to get out, but then the other door broke. She climbed out of the window. I thought, “This isn’t happening.” I told my dad he was ruining my chances of ever getting laid.
Were you a boy racer, then?
After that I had a Peugeot 106 GTi. I crashed it. It’s never good when you have to push a car back on to four wheels.
And now Jaguar pays you to drive its cars.
Hey, you learn from your mistakes. If everything went right you’d never learn anything. And, yes, I have an XKR-S, and it’s my favourite car in the world.
So in your youth, becoming a world-famous model wasn’t on the cards…
No. I had just graduated with a degree in marketing when I won the modelling competition on This Morning. My friends said they’d sent my pictures in – I thought they were joking. Modelling wasn’t seen as an aspirational thing back then. It wasn’t a manly job. Fashion is kept very elitist – most people’s only tangible link to male modelling is Zoolander.
Which reinforces certain preconceptions...
Exactly – the preconception that it’s all up its own arse. There are plenty of those people, but my motto has always been work hard and be persistent. Nowadays, people don’t seem to want to work from the bottom up. I came from university and did five or six years of catalogues.
Is catalogue modelling as cheesy as it sounds?
It’s awful, cheesy clothing most of the time. You’re seen as ‘Male Model A’.
Did you ever walk out?
I’ve walked off shoots. Sometimes they talk about you in the third person while you are standing there. Other times they start doing your hair without even saying hello. I’d speak up for myself and they’d be like, “Oh, sh*t. This guy talks.” That’s why I wanted more respect for guys in this industry.
Correct us if we’re wrong, but isn’t modelling simply a matter of good genes?
Modelling is like acting. The photographer knows what they want, and you have to portray that. But you can’t use voices like an actor can – you have to do it with a look. One look.
You’re back in your underwear for Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue adverts. Does that image of you get annoying?
I didn’t want to be known as ‘The White Pants Guy’ forever, because that would drive me round the bend, so I started thinking about how I could make my name outside of it. But I’m hugely grateful to Dolce & Gabbana because, before the Light Blue campaign, male models were skinny and androgynous. I adopted a ‘go big or go home’ mentality and decided to bring back a sense of masculinity.
Who are your male style icons?
I love Paul Newman. There is an element of me that thinks, “What has happened to men?” Someone emailed me this great thing the other day: a picture of a young kid from a boy band: 16 years old, hair flipped over. And beneath that a picture of Sean Connery as Bond, cigarette hanging out of his mouth. And it said in big letters, ‘Men: what happened?’ When I look at Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, James Dean and Sean Connery, it’s a question I ask myself.
You missed Harry Styles off that list…
I’m not going to knock Harry. One Direction were incredibly generous and supported my charity, Blue Steel Appeal.
Why call it Blue Steel Appeal?
I can’t change it, so why not embrace it? It puts a smile on people’s faces. There’s not enough fun in fashion.
Do your parents ‘get’ the fashion world?
Mum and Dad are retired, but they’re still the hardest working people I know. Everyone in my family is self-employed, which probably says something about the family mentality; that control thing.
How do they feel about their son being on billboards?
They’re proud, but in a subdued way. I’m in the only industry where women are more powerful than men – and earn about five times as much. My dad still finds that hilarious.
Do your friends rib you?
My friends from back home don’t know about the industry and they don’t want to talk about it. We just rip the p*ss out of each other and reminisce about our teenage years; nights out in Billericay and the fact that nobody died.
Care to elaborate?
I can feel my PR manager going, “No.” A typical night out was in Billericay – when I wasn’t old enough to drink – then walking home across a field.
Do you get a kick out of fame?
People presume you’re going to be up your own arse. I was in Sainsbury’s the other day and a guy came up to me and went, “David Gandy?” “Er, yeah.” “What are you doing shopping?” “I dunno, I’m hungry.” “Oh, you don’t have someone to do that for you?” It’s amazing what people think. He ended up walking round with me and we had a chat.
Has a fan ever crossed the line?
A girl superimposed my head on to her family portrait and came to my agency saying I was her long-lost brother. It was during Men’s Fashion Week, so she could get the timetable and know where I was going to be. Luckily my driver was ex-Scotland Yard and dealt with it.
And do you get trolled?
Yes. Trolling is disgusting and I’ve had cases where I’ve had to get the police involved.
That explains why you don’t have a personal Twitter.
I don’t understand that world of ‘Look at the restaurant I’m in’, ‘look at my car’, ‘look at the beach I’m on.’ And why do high-profile people complain about press intrusion, then tweet where they are and complain about being papped? But then, the biggest stars often don’t tweet. Daniel Radcliffe said, “Why would anyone want me to tweet? I haven’t got anything interesting to say.” Straight away, I liked him.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I love cars. I’m having a classic Mercedes 190SL restored and fitted with a bespoke, five-piece leather luggage set. I also ski. But these days I look at a double black run that I flew down at 24 and think, “Nah, I’ll have a bit of lunch.” Self-preservation kicks in at 27 and you realise you’re going to hurt yourself. It just hasn’t happened with my driving yet.
You’ve just got a racing licence – how’s that working out?
I did a Jaguar driving day recently and spun off in an LP1 [Le Mans] racing car, but just kept the accelerator pinned. We carried on across a field – I really wanted that lap time. I came in and the guy said: “You did good – but I think you broke the car.” I’m better at rallying.
You also endorse Johnnie Walker whisky. Is every corner of your house filled with stacked bottles?
Ha! No, but a friend I hadn’t seen for a while came round recently and we polished off a bottle of whisky between us.
Finally, when was the last time you had a Big Mac?
I had a burger on Saturday – but not a Big Mac. We didn’t hold back. I think we were recovering from the whisky...
David Gandy is the face of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue fragrance and stars in the new campaign with Bianca Balti