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WANTED ON BOARD
As the world's most in-demand model, David Gandy is constantly on the move.
Sheryl Garratt catches up with him between flights.
The first thing you notice about David Gandy is that he is startlingly handsome. When we meet in the bar of the Ivy Club in London, I almost do a double take: it's like the page of a glossy magazine has come to life, all tanned, tall and perfectly stubbled. The second thing is that he's actually quite shy, which is endearing, and not what you'd expect from a man who shot to fame by cavorting around in unfeasibly tiny white trunks in Dolce & Gabbana's now iconic 2007 Light Blue men's fragrance ad.
This 32-year-old form Billericay in Essex is now said to be the world's highest-paid male model, and was the only man in the line-up of British supermodels who strutted their stuff during the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. 'It was lovely to be represented', he says. 'England isn't the best at everything, but with fashion, we are pretty much up there.We have so many iconic fashion brands, and the girls here from Kate and Naomi to Lily are the top in the world. We should shout about that.'
When we meet, Gandy has just come back from his third trip to LA in a month. He is due to be in Barcelona two days later, shooting a campaign for Massimo Dutti, then he will have just one night back at his flat in Fulham- an area he chose for its proximity to Heathrow- before setting off to Miami. He'll be there for five days-shooting, then fitting in a visit to his parents, who have a house in Florida- before travelling up to Scotland for an event with Johnnie Walker, one of the brands he is working with ( as an ambassador for its premium Blue Label whiskey), then back to Barcelona, and on to Paris. And this, he says, is a fairly typical fortnight's work.
'It's pretty intense. You're talking 85-90 flights a year. And I've been travelling business class for only two or three years. Before that I use to go economy, which was tough because I'm 6ft 3. But that's my life and it always has been. I'm probably a bit of a loner in some ways. Travelling as I have for 11 years, you become ver comfortable with yourself.'
Gandy was born in Essex, of working-class parents who built up successful businesses, first in freight, then in property. They too are keen travellers, and use holidays as a way of educating David and his sister,Claire, who no lives in Spain. 'We've been on float-planes to see the brown bears in Alaska, we've been to see the Amazon rainforest, to the Galapagos Islands. My dad thinks he's David Attenborough II, really.'
Gandy was supposed to be skiing in Whistler the week we meet, but cancelled when work commitments began piling up. 'I cancel a lot of holidays', he says. When he does get away, he tends not to follow the fashion herd. 'When they talk about Ibiza, I'm talking about trekking to see gorillas in Uganda.' Africa is his favourite place to travel. Last November his parents went to South Africa for a month, and he met them for a week-long safari in Botswana. When out fishing, their boat was hit by a hippo, and when their Land Rover got a flat tyre at night, the lions they's gone looking for found them instead. 'Suddenly, there were three of the biggest males you've ever seen. It was as pretty spectacular,' he enthuses, adding that he loves the back-to-basics feel of the bush camping. 'It's the only time I really relax. there are no mobile phones, no Wi-fi, I go to bed at 9pm and I'm up a 5am. Africa is very close to my heart.'
Gandy has some friends in the fashion industry, but his closets friends are from Billericay, and most are as successful as he is. 'Half of them are in finance. They're friends you can go back with and in five minutes you're ripping the p*** out of each other. We've all grown up together, and some of them are having babies, which is exciting.'
His own relationships- with Mollie King from the Saturday's and more recently the model Sarah Ann Macklin- tend to excite tabloid comment, but it's not something he wants to discuss in interviews, he has spent a lot of time building up his online profile, and any ad campaign featuring him now gets media attention, but he can't understand people in the public eye who are constantly tweeting about their private life. He will say that it's sometimes easier to date someone in the same industry. 'When you're on a shoot with a beautiful girl and being intimate, you've got a crew of people around you and it's the most unromantic thing. But people don't understand that if they haven't experienced it themselves. There's always going to be a jealousy factor there, which is taken out if you date someone in the industry.'
He is far more comfortable talking about another love: cars. He writes a car column for GQ magazine, and when travelling within Britain he'll usually make sure he has a good car review. He is working with Jaguar on a short film to promote the new F-Type, so he has an XKSS in the garage at the moment. He is also restoring a 1960's Mercedes Benz 190SL. 'It has so much history to it,' he says lovingly.
The house he has just bought in Fullham is a three-story Victorian that he intends to renovate completely, applying for planning permission to dig down into the basement, even under the garden. 'We're going to to get every square foot we can out of it', he says with relish. 'I can't wait to get my teeth into it,' In the meantime, he is living in a flat nearby, its spare room full of vintage finds for the new house. The morning after we meet, he was planning to get up at 6am to drive to the Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton. 'I'm jet-lagged anyway from LA, so I'll probably be up at that time with a cup of coffee.' Gandy likes to alter or repurpose his purchases. 'My kitchen roll holder is actually an old skittles game, and I have an old French carpenter's unit, that's the main part of my kitchen.
Eventually, this could turn into a new career. He often comes back from trips lugging lamps or picture frames, and thinks there's a gap in the market here for stylish, beautifully made reproduction furniture such as sold by the upmarket US chain Restoration Hardware. 'Someone approached me about doing it. but it's not quite the right time at the moment.' There is also chatter about him launching an acting career, but he says he'd only be interested if the right role came along. 'I've had offers for films: 300 II and Spartacus. People see you in a pair of white pants and they think you’re going to do that for ever. But I’d rather shave my head and lose a few stone and someone wonder if it’s really me, rather than it just be, “Oh, there he is, in his underwear with his top off again.”
For now, he is happy to be a film investor instead: he helped fund John Cusack’s forthcoming British-made thriller The Numbers Station, because he liked the script and loves Cusack’s work. He runs his own production company to create short films and software apps, such as his new fitness app, and the David Gandy Style Guide, which is still selling well two years after its launch.
Today he is wearing a white Ralph Lauren cardigan, a grey Massimo Dutti shirt he picked up on a shoot and a knitted tie from Reiss with some ultra-faded jeans he bought in a vintage shop in New York. He ripped them, but liked them so much he’s had them repaired. “That’s how stylish I am!” he scoffs, pointing to the stitching on his knee. He insists that men don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good. “I Love Ralph Lauren, but I never pay full price. I only ever shop there in the sales. I’ll be in Marks & Spencer as much as in designer gear, probably more so.”
Gandy recently spoke at the Oxford Union alongside Esquire’s editor Alex Bilmes, and voiced the opinion that men’s titles should approach fashion more like women’s magazines, showing celebrity looks and how to recreate them on a high-street budget. “Alex said he didn´t think there was a market for that, and I think there is. But now I’m in charge of editing the men’s sections of M&S Magazine, so I will be bringing more of that into it.”
"For some jobs I’m more likely to be up against
Brand Pill and Clive Owen than I am other models."
Like most models with a long and successful career, Gandy has a good business brain. He has a degree in marking from the University of Gloucestershire, and says his move from anonymous catalogue work to being his own brand was carefully orchestrated. “Nowadays all the brands are using celebrity faces. For some jobs I’m more likely to be up against Brand Pill and Clive Owen than I am other models. But I saw that coming.” Modelling is, of course, one of the few professions where women routinely earn more than men. “Male models were at the bottom of the pecking order when it came to a shoot,” Gandy says. “If there weren’t enough rooms in the hotel, the first people to move into a worse hotel were the male models. Even the stylist’s assistant would stay in the nice hotel. If other male models want to put up with that, that’s up to them, but I wanted to create more for myself.”
“Of course, men are never going to earn as much as women: I read that last year Gisele earned £19 million. The top supermodels have their PRs, their Pas, their branding managers, the best agents. It’s a business, and that’s why the male models are never taken that seriously. They seemed to be very happy to just be there and to be treated the way they were.”
It is hard to talk about male models without thinking of the 2001 film Zoolander, a hilarious send-up of the fashion world starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as two absurdly stupid models. Stiller’s character, Derek Zoolander, is known for his signature pout, which he named “Blue Steel”, and at the end of the film he reveals his new look, the impossibly beautiful “Magnum”. Instead of avoiding the inevitable Zoolander jokes, Gandy has wisely chosen to embrace them. He recently launched a charity to raise funds for Comic Relief, starting with an auction of money-can’t-buy items and experiences involving the likes of Naomi Campbell and Victoria Beckham, whom he met at the Olympics and bonded with over a few choice Essex jokes. The name of his charity: the Blue Steel Appeal. Not the Magnum? “That I’m keeping for something else,” he laughs.
He also has an unpaid ambassador role for Battersea Dogs Home. He can’t have a dog of his own because he is away so much, but he often goes to visit the rescue animals. “The last London Collections was absolutely manic: 60 shows and presentations, the press launch for the Blue Steel Appeal, parties and dinners every evening. The morning after, the first I did was to go to Battersea and spend a couple of hours with all the puppies.”
This is, of course, so Derek Zoolander that I start giggling, and he is gracious enough to join in. He wants to use his high profile to do some good where he can, he says – and besides, it’s pretty clear who gets the last laugh. “I get to travel around the world, I work with the most beautiful women, the best creative, I enjoy myself and I earn a lot of money,” he says. “Now, have you got to be stupid to do that, or have you got to be stupid not to do that?”