‘It’s about putting in 110%’: The Big Interview with David Gandy
We’re in a studio in Fulham, a stone’s throw from David Gandy’s home, discovering more about the UK’s most successful male model.
His rippling abs are hidden beneath a dark denim shirt, the camera-pleasing pout has relaxed into a caught-off-guard smile and as for those famous white underpants? Not even a peep of elasticated waist band in sight.
Step forward ‘relaxed, Sunday morning David’. Or, as our photographer and his long-time friend, Nina Duncan, sums it up: ‘Today we’re capturing my mate, Dave.’
‘Dave’ is devilishly handsome and, it turns out, far more normal than you’d expect for an international male supermodel, a man who is worth more than £12million.
Today, the 36-year-old from Billericay, Essex, is handling his own grooming and dressing without the aid of a stylist so arrives, all 6ft 3in of him, with a suit carrier crammed with clobber from his own wardrobe.
There are no barrier-creating sunglasses hiding his ice-blue eyes and he launches into relaxed chatter about a recent trip with his father to The Oval, where they watched England lose the Test match against Pakistan.
‘Whenever I watch cricket, they seem to lose,’ he sighs, apologetically. ‘I’m bad luck!’
‘I’ve always done everything my way’
However, David’s own good fortune has been abundant. Before he graduated from the University of Gloucestershire with a degree in multimedia computing and marketing, David’s flatmate secretly entered him into a model competition on ITV’s This Morning and he won, securing a contract with Select Model Management as a prize.
In his words, it took five years of ‘hard slog’ before ‘things changed dramatically’ – thanks to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
The designer duo hand-picked David to front their first Light Blue fragrance campaign and its 2007 advert, shot by Mario Testino OBE in a secluded cove off the coast of Capri, featured him reclining in a dinghy wearing only a pair of skimpy white pants, while passionately kissing a gorgeous female model.
It was sexually charged, sensuous and catapulted David to global fame. He has since worked with every designer under the sun and chalked up a stack of industry awards, magazine covers and brand campaigns.
D&G’s choice of beefcake over bony also heralded a new beginning in men’s fashion. ‘Back then it was all about the Dior guy, so everyone was encouraged to be very skinny and androgynous,’ explains David.
‘Dolce and Gabbana and Mario wanted a Mediterranean, athletic, classic-looking guy, and… there I was. Ever since, the industry has been trying to almost replicate that.’
During his pre-D&G jobs and catalogue model days, David was sent straight home from catwalk shows because he exceeded the sample sizes. However, he never felt dragooned into changing his body – or his dreams.
‘I’ve always done everything my way,’ he says. ‘Everyone said to me, “Why are you doing that?”, “You’ll never get that campaign”. I’ve never been given good advice by anyone.
‘Other than Tandy Anderson, who owns Select Model Management and has backed me from day one, all I’ve ever been told is that I can’t do anything, “You’ll never achieve that”.’
‘If you have a goal and believe in it, you’ll get there’
It surely takes a strong mind not to listen. David nods. ‘If you have a goal and believe in it, you’ll get there.’
But now men are increasingly popping performance and image-enhancing drugs to fast-track their way to body beautiful – and some argue that fashion icons such as David Gandy and David Beckham are fuelling the problem by parading their perfect physiques.
‘They’re saying there is a problem with men using supplements and illegal substances because of pressure and they’re saying that what I’ve got is unachievable,’ says David, his furrowed brow suggesting frustration with such negative association. ‘Well, it’s not.
Everything is achievable. Guys come up and ask me how I’ve achieved things and I say, “It’s hard work”. Unfortunately, there is no short cut. I wish there was.’
‘I had what you’d probably call puppy fat and there were times when I got a little bit bullied about it’
David – who recently upped his usual ‘three or four times a week’ training schedule to ‘virtually every day’ in preparation for a top-secret autumn campaign – began lifting weights at the age of 16, around the time that he was being verbally picked on at school, due to being well-spoken (something his father insisted on) and his size.
‘I had what you’d probably call puppy fat and there were times when I got a little bit bullied about it,’ says David, who kept his ordeal a secret from his parents and sought sanctuary in the school library.
‘It wasn’t terrible, people have been through worse. But when I was 17, I shot up to 6ft 3in and was quite skinny, so then I had to bulk out.’
He denies the bullies caused him to beef up, but admits that abuse from pupils at The Billericay School fired his independent spirit.
‘I very much had to do everything on my own and I kept myself to myself. I didn’t rely on anyone else because I didn’t have friends defending me. I went into my shell.’
‘The stereotypical view of all models is Zoolander’
David’s struggles, which ceased by sixth form because ‘the people changed’, have since inspired him to support independent charity Achievement For All, which helps vulnerable schoolchildren, in part by encouraging other kids to acknowledge that bullying exists.
He also backs Style For Soldiers, a charity that supplies bespoke outfits to wounded servicemen, and is a dedicated patron of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, despite not having a dog of his own.
David helps promote responsible ownership and fosters dogs with his parents Chris and Brenda, who live in rural Suffolk. The dogs spend time there, and with David in London, to see which environment they thrive in before a suitable home is found.
Beneath the brawn, there’s clearly a marshmallow softness. But what of his brain? Eighties actor Rob Lowe has complained that good-looking people are written off as boring or stupid.
Have people ever underestimated David because of his modelling credentials? ‘Of course, the stereotypical view of all models is Zoolander,’ he smiles, referring to the 2001 film where Ben Stiller played dim male model, Derek Zoolander. ‘But then you say: “I wrote an article about it, if you want to read it…”,’ he adds, wryly. This is a reference to his motoring columns for publications including The Daily Telegraph, GQ, and Vogue.
‘There’s a million things going on in my head’
Driving is David’s ultimate passion. He worked for Auto Express magazine in the summer before attending university, now works closely with Jaguar, recently got his racing licence, restored a 1960s Mercedes 190 SL and has started work on two other classics. Behind the wheel, says David, is where he’s most relaxed.
As ‘the worst sleeper in the world’, the model thinks meditation could calm his overactive brain: ‘There’s a million things going on in my head. I constantly wake up and think “That’s an amazing idea!” People ask, “Did you really send me an email at 2.30am?”’
In those wee hours Netflix is his go-to distraction. He’s ploughed through Michael Dobbs’ House Of Cards trilogy, real-life thriller Making A Murderer, tons of Sopranos repeats and the first two series of Homeland.
‘If you don’t sleep, it’s great. You can get through a good few episodes. I’m like, “It’s 4am, I’ve got to be up in two hours, I can get through another one!”’ laughs David.
‘It was the same with the Olympics. It was amazing to see what we achieved out in Rio. Post-Brexit, if anything proved that we should unite as Great Britain and not look for increased separation, the Olympics is it. Our athletes have done amazingly well.’
If modelling were an Olympic sport, David would certainly be draped in gold medals.
‘It’s about putting in 110%’
He’s fired by an unshakable desire to achieve perfection, but we point out that perfectionism has plenty of negative connotations…
‘I don’t know why. I will push and push and push to achieve the best I can,’ defends David, adding that he inherited his fierce work ethic from his now-retired parents, who ran a freight company and property business in Florida.
‘They taught me that you don’t get given anything in life, you work for it. I don’t do things by halves. It’s about putting in 110%.’
‘I love children and dogs and I will have, one day, lots of both’
That’s surely good news for David’s new girlfriend, junior barrister Stephanie Mendoros, who came on the scene after he split from The Saturdays singer Mollie King in February. Five months in, is Stephanie The One?
‘She is someone very special in my life, but it’s private and that’s one thing I always keep to myself,’ he says, side-stepping the question.
He talks fondly of his five nieces and nephews; so when will he be ready for kids of his own? ‘I think I probably am ready,’ he smiles. ‘I love children and dogs and I will have, one day, lots of both.’
During our conversation, David reveals a handful of memories from his own childhood that suggest he had a privileged start in life.
For example, he tells how his parents whisked him and his elder sister on intrepid, nature-packed adventures: ‘Mum and Dad educated me and my sister through travel. We’ve been to the Galapagos Islands, we’ve trekked to see gorillas in Uganda, been to Alaska to see brown bears. We were very fortunate, but at 18 you don’t realise how much.’
He does now. A few months ago at a celebrity function, the model spent time swapping stories with broadcaster David Attenborough.
‘Everything he had done, I had done,’ says David. ‘I called my dad and said: “I’ve just had the most incredible conversation with David Attenborough. I should thank you again now”.’
After spending a few hours in his company, it’s clear David’s staying power in a notoriously fickle industry – where younger, more beautiful men constantly chase his shadow – lies in his warm character and dedication to his own brand, not just his looks.
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