Photography Mariano Vivanco Styling Frank Strachan Words Simon Cage
Related Pictures: Attitude - The Style Issue
Model #1 - Attitude Magazine (Nov 2011)
David Gandy tells us why he’s much more than a handsome supermodel
Some people are born great, some people achieve greatness, and some people are so fucking gorgeous that something would have to go quite seriously wrong for greatness not to be on the menu somewhere along the line. Yes, I’m talking about David Gandy.
Striding about a blisteringly hot north London studio (he doesn’t walk, he strides, as you might do if you’re 6ft 4in and then some). David Gandy is wearing a calf-lenght wool topcoat by Dolce & Gabbana with some sort of fluffy lapels, trousers and boots. While we are all sweating unphotogenically like weightlifters’ arse cracks, David Gandy is buff and matt and dry, unflagging, professional and calm.
“The only place I ever sweat is my shins”, he says. The man is clearly a freak of nature.
Downstairs in the bar an hour or so later, drinking a Corona (despite the carbs!), David is dress-down delicious in something grey and loose-fitting so you can see the definition in his pecs and a lot of nice brown arm, some jeans and… I don’t really look below the knee. His hair is a loose concoction of oiled curls, his smile whiter than a tennis shock in an Ariel commercial and his skin the kind of caramel colour that makes you want to reach out and bite. But let’s not get carried away. He still looks like a human being, just the most beautiful one you’ve ever seen. Someone earlier described him as looking like a racehorse, and you certainly know what they mean.
“I don’t particularly like mush of my body. I’m very critical of myself“, he says. At which point I tell him off in the name of all ordinary-looking people. “I think I’m pretty much a perfectionist in anything I do so I’m never really going to be happy”, he adds. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing, believe me. People can criticize me and try to bring me down but I tell them, “You can’t be as hard on me as I am on myself, so don’t even try.””
It’s probably the attitude, probably inherited from hard-working parent who went from nothing to running several highly successful businesses, that has got Gandy where he is today: at the very top of the model heap with several fingers in several pies. Because while most male models think of the job of travelling the world, wearing clothes, standing still and walking along something to do while you’re thinking of something better to do, Gandy has taken his perfectionism and his work ethic and made it the thing to do.
“If I wasn’t like that then I wouldn’t be where I am”, he confirms, explaining that he had a nice little earner going in the word of catalogue modeling but decided he wanted more: he wanted to work with the best stylist and photographers in the world, wanted to travel first class and not economy – just wanted things to be better. “Catalogues is where a lot of models earn their money”, he explains. “And the photographer gets exactly the same thing whoever they hire. They don’t give a shit about the creative side of it and I don’t want to do that anymore. That’s why, with the help of Select [his model agency] and Dolce & Gabbana, I turned the whole thing around to where we are today”
Where we are today – just to recap – is a pretty much the only male supermodel in the world with an iconic campaign (the one in the boat in the white swimsuit), a contract with Martini, another with Dolce & Gabbana, which means he doesn’t have to go around knocking on doors any more. Then there’s a celebrity girlfriend in the shape of Mollie from The Saturdays, a couple of high-scoring apps and writing gigs for the likes of Vogue and GQ, for which he’s the motoring correspondent. But then that’s what you have to do if you’re a man working in modeling: while women at his level – Gisele Bündchen, for instance – are pulling in up to £20 million a year for looking pouty over their shoulders, the men don’t earn anything like those amounts and have to come up with plans b, c and d.
And though it may seen to normal-looking human beings that likes to Gandy have it made with their height and their muscles and their noses and their skin, he was in fact somewhat at odds with the prevailing shape and size of thing on men’s fashion when he first won a modeling competition on This Morning after a flat mate entered him by sending in a photo without his knowledge. When they phoned up to tell him he was through to the final he didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
“I came into the industry when the look was very androgynous”, he says, chugging his beer. “Guys were very skinny. My mate [photographer] Mariano [who did the Attitude shoot] always used to try to get me on every shoot, but…”The turning point came with Dolce & Gabbana: already famous for preferring and old-school female figure, one with tips and burn ant tits, they though it was high time good old-fashioned masculinity made a return, one that included height, girth and brooding handsomeness.
“The changed industry at the end of the day with Light Blue”, he says of the boat/white swimwear ad that is still Gandy’s most famous moment. “And the whole industry followed. Fashion does follow a trend, and that trend of masculine came around, and then Calvin Klein brought back white pants all of a sudden and they brought out the Man fragrance for the big guy and the very masculine type. That’s not a coincidence. People see that the trend is changing and they try to jump on board as well. It’s a nice balance at the moment between masculine guys and the younger skinny guys”.
But to get there he had to take a risk, and that risk was giving up his work as an everyday catalogue model, turning down money, saying no to offers and generally saving himself up for editorial work rather than the commercial stuff paid the bills. “People think it was very easy and I was handed something, but even with Dolce & Gabbana, it’s not like they came to me. Tanya from my agency came up with the idea at Mariano’s birthday party and Domenico and Stefano [Dolce & Gabbana] were going to be there and they saw me and apparently said: “Beautiful! That’s amazing!” and then the Light Blue campaign came along. There’s no such thing as luck. You make your own luck. I’d gone the complete opposite to everyone else. I was just waiting for that opportunity, and we’ve worked together ever since”.
As for the old clichés about the modeling world – the exploination, the casting couch, the drugs, the debauchery – it seems that most of that is not as we imagine. “I’ve never experienced the casting couch”, he says. “I’ve been going 10 years, and I’m sure it happens with modelling as well as acting, but I’ve never experienced that. With drugs, what industry doesn’t have drugs? The stereotype of a model is you don’t eat, you take drugs and you sleep with people to get jobs and you earn £10000 a day and you’re an arrogant shit and your career lasts five years. There’s also an assumption that if you’re a model, you’re gay. I’ve been in the industry 10 years and I know only one, maybe two gay guys working”.
But hopefully we’ve established by now that Gandy isn’t your stereotypical model. He’s an Essex lad (but not TOWIE sort of Essex. Rural, lovely Essex) who went to University in Cheltenham to study multimedia computing and marketing (and sort of regrets it), studied photography at art college and worked for Auto Express magazine driving cars to tracks for them to be tested. The whole modelling thing does seen to have been some lucky accident.
You can’t help but wonder, coming from a high-achieving family who made it big in business, whether all his successes are comprehensible to his family. Do they wonder if he’s ever going to get a ’proper job’? “No, because my life is my life and my dad is very proud of what I’ve achieved”, he says. “I’m not just a model now. We have gone beyond that. There are better-looking guys than me, there are more intelligent guys than me, but they seem to have accepted the level that they’re got to and then said: “That’s it”. And I’ve always queried that and asked why? Why can’t you go beyond that? And well, here we are now, we’re doing it”.
If you ask him where he takes it from here, he as a businessman’s natural caginess. Acting? He’s not ruling it out. Presenting on Top Gear? That could be great. But he won’t be nailed down, saying that if someone had asked him five years ago where he was going, he never would have guessed he’d be there, celebrating his decade in the business as the most high-profile male model since Marcus Schenkenberg, or maybe Madonna’s ex, Tony Ward, currently proving that you can be well into your 40s and be quite heavily illustrated in terms of tattoos, and still earn a decent living.
As far as keeping the body in rocking shape for the job, Gandy dismisses any idea of magic formulas or massive self-denial, holding up his bottle of beer to make the point. “It’s not hard”, he says. “Anything that is while and processed and comes in plastic is not good for you. Everyone knows that. And if you don’t buy rubbish, you can’t eat rubbish. In my fridge I’ll have chicken and houmous, high-protein stuff, and no rubbish at all. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have a drink if I want one”.
With exercise he reckons it’s all about tricking clever muscles by surprising then with different exercises. It’s why he’s currently working on a new exercise app which will work something like and iPod shuffle so you get a random – or seemingly random – set of exercises to keep your muscles guessing at all times.
As for the downsides of having one of the most recognizable faces in the world, Gandy reckons there aren’t many, though he does hate the sort of intrusion you get from the press, especially when you’re going out with one of the country’s best-known pop stars.
“When people take pictures they don’t know the whole story”, he says, explaining how there were even pictures of his girlfriend crying after coming back from a funeral with some made-up story to explain her tears. “Even when you ask them not to take pictures and be very honest with them, they still carry on, and that to me is a disgusting way of making money, Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people will have a PR who will use it, but look at the News of The World – what lengths did they go to?”.
As we get up to go – me off for more drinks, him upstairs to go over the photographs he’s been doing for Attitude – he snakes my hand in a very manly way, looks me in the eye, thanks me. Very professional, very impressive, almost old-fashioned in his formality. He knows what works, which is why – even without the height and the skin and the nose and the eyebrows – there’s very little doubt that David Gandy wouldn’t have got to the top of whatever tree he decided to climb. He’s just that sort of a person.