I once met David Gandy in his pyjamas
By Hannah Betts
Writer, muse and now underwear designer for M&S – the world’s most famous male model is the whole package, discovers Hannah Betts.
Should teenage boys ever feel unhappy about their body image and general manliness, they will be consoled to learn that David Gandy – aka Dolce & Gabbana’s “White Pants Guy”, the world’s first and last male supermodel – once sported puppy fat. Even on entering modelling, at 21 he was told to lose weight and it was only at this grand old age that he acquired his first girlfriend.
“Everyone goes through different stages and your body changes very quickly”, he tells me. “I grew this way [he gestures out]. Then at 17 I shot up to 6ft 2in and was a little bit gangly. I actually don’t think this was a bad thing. It’s almost nice if you have … [he steels himself] … if you are very good looking and you have all the attention. It’s probably still quite alien and I’m probably still quite shy about it.”
Moreover, old friends from his Essex home are always “mickey-taking and ribbing” our Adonis-proportioned hero by sending images of themselves in tight whites entitled: “Ready for the next campaign.” He emits a throaty chuckle, provoking a complex geometrical configuration of blinding teeth, azure eyes and bronzed bone structure. Me: “I am so going to do that later.” Gandy (resignedly): “I’ll give you my text.”
Gandy’s world domination came in the wake of his star turn in Dolce & Gabbana’s 2006 Light Blue commercial as the aforementioned White Pants Guy, a Testino creation that clocked 11 million internet hits within day one of its launch. Trawl your fevered imagination and you will find the image: Capri, cerulean sea, white boat, a terracotta Gandy – plus pecs! Six-pack! And a by-no-means insubstantial Gandy package! Well might his initials be DG (as friends refer to him).
Since that time, Gandy has not only continued to play muse to his Italian pals and appeared for countless couturiers and designers, he has become the face of Christmas at M&S and Johnnie Walker Blue Label; he produces apps, finances films, writes and guest-edits. His Blue Steel Appeal for Comic Relief (named, rather brilliantly, after Zoolander’s male-model pastiche) raised more than £250,000. He held his own in an Absolutely Fabulous sketch and was the only male model to appear alongside Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and co at the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony. This year he was cast as Jennifer Lopez’s love interest in her First Love music video.
At the weekend it was announced that Gandy is to design a collection of men’s underwear for M&S, putting him in direct competition with David Beckham, who collaborates on a range with H&M.
I have met 34-year-old Gandy before: he clad in an impeccable Dolce dressing gown, me in a scarlet La Perla negligee, deep in Claridge’s, the lighting dim. It was the July 2011 Tatler Pyjama Party. We danced … in the sense that his gal-pal and I were forced to form a ring of steel around him to prevent other females crowd-surfing toward him. The sight of Le Gandy packaged for the boudoir meant that emotions were running high. When he gave me his email address – entirely for journalistic purposes – I experienced what it is to feel physically threatened by an entire room of baby-doll-clad females. Think a John Waters movie, only posher, straighter and 4000 times more hysterical.
What I was struck by was his abiding niceness and utter obliviousness to the Gandy Effect, despite its causing girls and gay men to bite chunks out of each other to get near him.
For Gandy is that rare thing: the objectified male, aka, the chap who gets treated the way (too many) men treat women, ie, gazed at, salivated over and dealt with as if not entirely human. Were he the star of the aforementioned film it would be entitled The Man Who Makes Women Behave Like Builders.
When I tell people that I am to interview the Most Handsome Man in the World, to a man/woman they all say: “Oh, right, David Gandy?” Together with the other David, Gandy is one of only two global name in male pulchritude. Does he mind being treated in such a lunatic manner? “Not particularly, if I’m honest. I’m not a woman, so I can’t feel what women do in that respect. It’s fun.” Now I think about it, I have not encountered many men who would be appalled by such circumstances.
In January 2013 he became an ambassador for LC:M (London Collections: Men) and it is in this capacity that I meet him, the menswear collections having begun yesterday. Traditionally, Britain’s menswear was a mere afterthought tagged on to the fag-end of the women’s shows. Today it has its own biannual slot – now in its fifth season, spring/summer 15 – with Gandy, Dermot O’Leary, Tinie Tempah and Nick Grimshaw as sundry inmaculate ambassadors.
Gandy is articulate on the subject of fashion as a business with a convert’s evangelism, having fallen into the industry after a friend entered him for a modelling competition. “We [Brits] started everything. Half of Savile Row is now Asian-owned. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s a sad thing that we can’t invest in our own history. It’s a question of keeping the heritage in this country. The rest of the world loves everything British. We have that mix between the very traditional and the very fashion-forward. The UK menswear market has grown by 12 per cent in the past five years and it worth £10.4 billion.
“I love my country. People will say this during the World Cup, but then they’ll get in their German cars and go to their German washing machines and fill them with Abercrombie & Fitch. And you think: ‘Why don’t you support your country in other ways?’” Our dapper Prince Charles is one of his role models. “Prince Charles never, ever gets things wrong. You won’t get anyone better. Recently I had to go to a wedding and I was wondering about dress and straightaway I googled ‘Prince Charles morning suit’. He is an icon.”
He is equally British about his looks, blushing and fumbling bashfully with a manly thigh when I ask him what he makes of them. “I think you’ve got to be pretty strange to say: ‘Look, I think I’m very, very handsome.’ “It’s not very English? “No. We’re not always great at shouting about what we’re good at. That’s why LC:M started.”
This is a great deflection from me asking you whether you’re good looking. “I’ve been well-trained.”
Gandy is an Essex boy minus the accent, Billericay-born and bred. His father left school at 15 and alongside Gandy’s mother built up a line of companies involving freight-forwarding, travel and property. Gandy studied multimedia marketing at the University of Gloucestershire, which he claims taught him only that he didn’t need to go to university. I don’t buy this: this is a man who knows everything there is to know about marketing.
This is evident not least in his decision to stick to his guns (pun intended) and wait out the trend for weeds and waifs until a taste for his type of tanned manliness returned. Was this confidence? Stubbornness? “Stupidity?” he offers. In fact it was bloody canny. He took female supermodels as his paradigm and replicated not only their strong, sexy glamour, but their management, PR teams and branding. And, boy, has this strategy worked. Still, he tells me: “I would die to be a Levi’s guy.” Bur you’re White Pants Guy, I retort, incredulous. “Yes, but, they were so iconic.” So is your package, I reply.
He trains daily, usually at 9:30 to 10pm, when everyone else is in couch-potato mode, maintaining: “There’s no magic trick. It’s hard graft. The physics behind a six-pack is that everyone has a six-pack, it’s just that some can be hidden.” He won’t talk politics, but I can see Gandy not merely expanding his brand supermodel style, but doing a Jamie Oliver or a Mary Portars – both of whom he admires – and becoming a campaigning hero, whether for health, fitness or, as now, the fashion industry.
He certainly has the charm for it, in addition to the wits. He tell me I am beautiful when I compare my vampire skin to his bronze, admires my jacket and offers to score me a ride in a vintage car race in which he will be competing. Yet he doesn’t flirt or trade on his looks, as a lesser man might, which is brilliantly refreshing somehow – not least as Gandy in flirt mode might be likely to generate earthquakes and tsunamis. US Vogue recast him as Superman and it is as if he is in Clark Kent mode, unleashing the full White Pants Guy only when required.
The day after we meet, Team Gandy send me tubs of Wheyhey, a healthy ice cream he’s backing, to cure a hangover from which I was suffering. As ever I am struck by the fact that our hero’s looks are as nothing to his personality.