THIS has been a long time coming. Four months, to be precise.
One hundred and twenty eight e-mails and innumerable phone calls have passed back and forth, forth and back, between PRs and photographers, stylists and editors. There have been financial negotiations, security clearance and venue approval. Even at the last minute we are finalising the timing.
David Gandy is not a world leader – Gandy, not Gandhi, remember – he’s a male model. He wears clothing for a living. Or, as often as not, takes it off (his most famous role is still as the Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue man, looking for all the world like Michelangelo’s vision of male perfection, sporting a pair of tighty whites and just the hint of a smile). Yet, judging from the effort it takes to get an audience with the man, he’s very hot property indeed (after our interview, this is confirmed when my tweets about the encounter generate in excess of 100 breathless responses).
When, finally, the moment arrives, I am almost overcome with Gandy fatigue. Or perhaps it’s vertigo, considering the venue for our meeting is the as-yet-unopened Oblix restaurant, on the nosebleed-inducing 32nd floor of the Shard, amid the scaffolding, the men in hard hats and the dizzying views of London far below.
First impressions? There’s no denying he’s handsome. Almost too handsome (can there be such a thing?). Tall. At 33 he is at ease with himself. He greets everyone in the room, shaking hands and making eye contact, with those magnetic baby blues drawing you in. I might even swoon a little if it hadn’t been for those 128 e-mails.
If it is Gandy who is the diva or just the army of people surrounding him, I’ll never know, because when we eventually talk – after hair, make-up, photographs and four changes of clothing (he’s forced to disrobe in the ladies’ loos, for heaven’s sake – we run into each other unexpectedly after I’ve flushed and he has just stripped down for the next shoot, and I am definitely the more embarrassed of the two of us) – he is personable and professional.
If only he didn’t have an unnerving habit of lapsing in and out of the royal ‘we’. “I think about the brand in the third person,” he explains of the regal tone, in his own deep, London voice. “It’s a business, it’s a name. That’s what a lot of male models don’t do. Look at the top female supermodels. They look at it as a business, they have a lot of money, a lot of dedication, they have branding and own the rights to their product. They have managers, a PR, a PA, everything.”
So does he have an entourage? “Not an entourage, no.” He looks askance at me as if I’m being provocative – which, of course, I am – and laughs. “I’ve come here alone today,” he says. “Of course, when we travel I do have a PR and my agency will come along with me. And what I love to do as well is to introduce people like Larry King and Joe Ottoway, who are hair stylists and stylists. But I don’t have a team. I wouldn’t be so forward as to consider them my underlings. They work with me on a project. I always use the royal ‘we’ – I know I sound like Margaret Thatcher – but it’s a team effort; it’s not just me.”
Put like that, it all seems very sensible and businesslike. Gandy studied multimedia marketing at the University of Gloucestershire. This is simply him putting that knowledge into the development of Brand Gandy, yes? “The only thing I learned at university was not to go to university,” he insists.
“I worked very hard, we had fun, and when we left I was doing very well. It was probably quite a positive thing to get into – multimedia – but at the time I had a computer that was 2MB, with 16MB of RAM. Now we have 100GB on our phones. Technology was moving at such a rate we couldn’t keep up with it, the tutors couldn’t keep up with it – in fact the tutors were learning from us. It was a bit of a disaster really.”
It wasn’t a complete disaster, though, was it? Because while at university a friend submitted his photograph for a find-a-model competition on the Richard & Judy daytime TV programme, back in 2002. “The funny thing is that when she put me up for the competition she was supposed to come on the television show with me but didn’t want to,” he says.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to have someone.’ I knew my mum wouldn’t want to do it because she hates being in front of the camera, so I told her the day before, ‘By the way, ITV are coming round tomorrow, you have to do this.’ She did. And it was nice, actually.
“When we won, my grandfather was quite ill with emphysema, he wasn’t able to breathe very well, but he was jumping up in the air. He lived for a couple more years after that so that was good. I was very close to my grandparents.”
After the win, Gandy did a healthy line in catalogue modelling, but didn’t really fit the standard sample sizes of the time for more profitable work; the trend was for androgyny, when Karl Lagerfeld famously slimmed down from porky to peaky so he could squeeze into Dior Homme’s size 28 skinny jeans. So man-sized Gandy didn’t immediately become flavour of the month. Then Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana came calling, casting the Billericay-born Essex boy as their ‘white pants guy’ in the campaign for the Light Blue fragrance in 2006. Within five years he was to become the world’s highest-paid, most in-demand male model. “People think that for the first five years I wasn’t really working, but actually I was working really well, doing what most male models do, earning a very good living doing some very commercial stuff.
“But it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says. “I wanted to work with the best creatives. I didn’t understand why men were happy with a certain level in the industry when women were earning so much more money and so much more acclaim.”
As an indication of the disparity, it’s worth pointing out that, last year, Gandy earned a very perky £500,000, while Gisele pocketed something closer to £15 million. As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, it’s hard for me to have much sympathy, but you’ve got to admire the man for his attempts to redress the balance. He chooses who he works with carefully, and as well as his Dolce & Gabbana contract he has partnerships with Jaguar, writes regular columns for GQ and Vogue and has a range of fitness apps. He has even made a short film with Friends star David Schwimmer. “Most people have a very clichéd view of the industry,” he says. “I know what they think: they think models are not very intelligent, you have a very short lifespan in the industry, you don’t eat. It’s very boring.
“It’s not hard work, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time, I’m still getting dressed in a toilet in a building site today, which probably isn’t what people expect. That’s why I write for Vogue and GQ and do the interviews, because it’s very different.
“There are so many intelligent models; it’s not about the modelling, it’s about the business. And I’m very, very particular about who I work with. It has to interest me. Success in the fashion industry is really as much about what you say no to as what you say yes to.”
He says he has refused “many many things” in the past. “There are probably more things I’ve refused than things I’ve actually done. It might have been wrong for a reason; it might be wrong now but in a few years it might be correct. M&S I wouldn’t have said yes to at the beginning of my career, but now we are in a position to be able to work with some stores and to be in control of a project. You want to be in creative control of your brand.”
Most recently he was announced as the face of Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky – a link that, whether deliberately or not, mixes nicely with Gandy’s oft-proclaimed Scottish roots. “My grandmother’s maiden name is Bruce – you can’t get much more Scottish than that,” he says. “We’ve been around for a long time, the Bruces, and I look like my great-great-grandfather, with dark hair, dark skin and blue eyes – that’s my Scottish heritage.”
More than anything, though, he’s proud to be British, and is deeply disappointed that his beloved grandfather didn’t live to see him strut the gold-themed catwalk at the closing ceremony of the Olympics last year – the only man alongside Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Stella Tennant and Lily Cole. “I am a huge advocate of everything British. I live in London and we have so much going on here.
“I am also interested in history – Winston Churchill, the Second World War, anything like that – and Johnnie Walker has been going since 1867, so it works well.”
He also admits to being fond of the odd dram – sipped with ice-cold water – though we can neither confirm nor deny that whisky was responsible for the drunken night out in New York that resulted in that scar at the corner of his right eye.
So let’s talk about the body, shall we? All 6ft 2in of its lean, sun-kissed muscle (and, I am reliably informed by our make-up artist, with a healthy smattering of man-hair). It must be high-maintenance, but he tries to make it sound easy. “I have a great love of sport. I did it before I was modelling and was always careful about what I ate. But I don’t stay away from carbs, it’s all in moderation.
“I hate the word diet. It’s a lifestyle. There’s not enough education about nutrition in the UK.”
He feels so passionately about the subject that the weekend we meet he is due to speak at the Vogue Festival on the title ‘Too Fat, Too Thin, Are We Ever Going to be Happy?’ “My point is: why are we still talking about it? There have to be solutions. People want to talk about fitness and there’s no quick fix – I wish there was – but it’s bloody hard work. I’m in the gym at 10.30pm at night then at 9am I’ll go again, or I’ll fit it in during the day. People say, ‘You have a great body.’ It’s not. It’s a healthy lifestyle. It’s what everyone should be doing.”
The modelling industry – both male and female – has been plagued by issues over eating disorders and the debate refuses to go away, but Gandy says, “What you hear about is the negative side. Not everyone’s the same, not everyone’s body’s the same, not everybody reacts to food in the same way. I’ve been out with models who are very, very thin and they eat more than me. Of course, there are girls who struggle and it affects them, but there are lots of girls who are naturally skinny and that’s why they are supermodels. You don’t complain about jockeys or athletes or ballerinas who train and are very careful about how they eat, but there are probably the same problems.
“You have to educate models as well,” he adds, “They don’t have to follow the trend. Lara Stone is not a size zero but she’s one of the most successful models in the world – she has a couple of great assets.” He flashes that crinkly smile again.
Another passion is his charity, Blue Steel, named, self-mockingly, after Ben Stiller’s most famous pose in the male model spoof Zoolander. During Comic Relief, an eBay auction of lots – ranging from a dog walk in Richmond Park with Yasmin and Simon Le Bon and a Dolce e Gabbana suit worn by Tinie Tempah to VIP tickets to the Scottish Fashion Awards and lunch for two in Louis Vuitton’s private apartment – raised in excess of £150,000. One of the most hotly contested prizes was to go on a shoot with Gandy himself. “If you’re in the public eye it’s a privilege if you can help people,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a choice.”
As a lifelong dog lover, he is also an ambassador for Battersea Dogs Home. “I would have loved to have been a vet – that would have been my dream, probably still is in some ways, if my brain hadn’t let me down. So this is my way of helping animals.”
He doesn’t keep a dog himself – “You try to press for responsible ownership, and if you travel 90 times a year that’s not going to be responsible” – but he adds, “We do sponsor animals – me and my parents up in Suffolk. The fourth dog we’ve fostered has just been rehomed, in fact.”
It’s clear, then, that he is broadening his horizons, looking beyond the modelling world to other career opportunities, always with an eye on the credibility of the brand. Through his partnership with Jaguar he drives an S-Type and XKR-S, while he is also getting a 1960 Mercedes restored and has a project in the offing with Morgan. “My mum’s a bit worried actually – it could be a bit dangerous.” He has also been asked to produce his own clothing line. “So I’ll be stepping away from in front of the camera.”
There’s also his private life – such as it is. I have been told he will not answer questions of a romantic nature – for the record, he has been linked with the Saturdays’ Mollie King and fellow model Sara Ann Macklin – but he volunteers, “I can’t be working as much as I am just now. I want to have a family at some stage. I want to find a girl who will …” he searches for the right word so I suggest, “Put up with you?” “Yes,” he smiles, “put up with me. Thank you. But it’s true, it’s hard. I’m never there. It’s not just the travelling – a lot of people travel, then when they come home they do nothing. I’m shooting, I’ve got the apps, I’ve got the company, I’ve got the charities, I’m constantly working, then training in between that. When most people are out having a nice time, I’m probably at the gym.
“But I’m finally building a house, which I got planning permission for today. So maybe I’m building a nest, I don’t know, we’ll have to see.”
Form an orderly queue …
• The John Walker & Sons Voyager, a 1920s-style yacht whose journey reimagines the voyages that took Johnnie Walker whisky from Scotland to the rest of the world, will be in the brand’s home port of Edinburgh 12-14 August (www.johnniewalker.com)