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“I find Zoolander funny. I like people having a laugh about the industry” Stylist talks to David Gandy

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He’s a Making A Murderer fan, is obsessed with dogs and Winston Churchill, and has trekked the Amazon rainforest. Stylist learns more, a lot more, about supermodel David Gandy

Words: Helen Bownass
Photography: Tomo Brejc

On the floor of a dog kennel a tall, handsome man in a navy peacoat is rolling around being climbed on and licked by a very enthusiastic admirer. The licker in question is Lucy, a staffie-collie cross rescued by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. The man is David Gandy – dog obsessive, historical trivia fan and one of the biggest male supermodels in the world. And as for me? I’m not really sure where to look.

It’s 35-year-old Gandy’s suggestion to meet in Battersea, a long way from the oak-panelled library I had suggested. He’s an ambassador here and wants to take the opportunity to hang out with some of the dogs – his travel schedule means he can’t have a pup of his own – before taking one for a walk round Battersea Park. Which all sounds somehow like the beginning of a Richard Curtis film.

That he is – as the Zoolander quote goes – really, really ridiculously good-looking is obvious. But it’s not a disarming type of attractiveness. It’s just the way his face is arranged. He has old-fashioned manners – not a door will he go through before me, he uses my name a lot and makes me a cup of tea when we stop in Waitrose (he doesn’t have a My Waitrose card by the way, something I tell him to rectify). Referring to a previous interview of mine, he jokes on the way in, “I bet Michael Fassbender didn’t take you to Waitrose, did he?” What is less obvious or well-known about Billericay-born Gandy is how much work he does for charity. As well as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, he’s hugely involved with Style For Soldiers, founded by Emma Willis on Jermyn Street, which makes complimentary bespoke shirts for soldiers injured in war, when they return to civilian life. He is also an ambassador for education charity Achievement For All, which helps children get an education regardless of their background.

He also has many business interests including collaborating with and fronting the campaign for his underwear and sleepwear brand with Marks & Spencer, ownership of David Preston Shoes and investment in the London Sock Company. He was, as ever, recently on the front row at the London Collections Men shows, in his capacity as ambassador. It’s good going for someone whose career started after winning a modelling competition on This Morning in 2001. (Though of course his career was catapulted when Messrs Dolce and Gabbana stripped him to just his white pants for their notorious Light Blue fragrance campaign.)

But despite all the success, models still aren’t often taken seriously. And I want to know why. After spending an afternoon with him, he clearly has business savvy by the bucket load, is unstoppably ambitious, smart and stimulated by facts, history and the wider world around him. “I am logical,” he muses. “My mind is definitely quite black and white.” Dog in one hand, cappuccino in the other, he tells me more…

Let’s talk about male models and Zoolander in particular. The film, which came out the same year your career began, is back with a sequel. Does that fill you with dread?
I don’t dread it. I appreciate the first one, I find it very funny. It’s nice not to take it seriously; I have a very non-serious view of the industry. I like people having a laugh about it. We should all do that.

Does it help or hinder the stereotype that…
[Laughs] What? That the male model [is stupid]? I’m not sure it helps, to be honest. It’s the only reference people have of male models. But there are always stereotypical presumptions about everyone – footballers, bankers, models…

Is it important for you to develop other interests so you’re not perceived as an airhead?
I can’t say I care a lot about what people think. Hopefully when people see what I do for charities and businesses and the fashion industry, [they’ll see] that there is another side to it.

How have you learned about the world?
My parents educated me and my sister through travel. My favourite place is Africa. We’ve trekked to see gorillas in Uganda, been all over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia; you learn so much about the cultures. I’ve seen children who walk miles just to get to school and they’re the happiest children you’ve ever seen. It puts things into perspective.

So that becomes quite a valuable gift…
Yes. And you suddenly have things to talk about with people. I met David Attenborough for the first time last year and I just rabbled on to him. About trekking to see the gorillas, the lost city of the Incas, the Galapagos Islands, the importance of travel and nature… it was an astonishing thing. I called my dad who thinks of himself as David Attenborough the second, and he couldn’t believe it. You don’t always appreciate it though. I remember we were going to the Amazon rainforest when I was about 18 and I had this 12-year-old Fiesta 1.1 with a door that didn’t open. I said to dad, “These holidays are expensive. Instead of spending the money on me, could I have a new car?” He said, “You don’t have to come on holiday, but you’re not getting a new car so you decide…” Of course I went.

David Gandy

Are you a reader?
I’m a factual reader. I’m very much into history and World War Two and Winston Churchill. He was really into innovations and science, which is fascinating. I was reading the other day why a whip makes that cracking noise in the air. It makes a mini sonic boom! It hits the sound barrier at something like 720 miles an hour.

You’d be very good on a pub quiz, David.
[Laughs] Do you know what my favourite TV show is? QI. I am absolutely obsessed with that show. I’d love to go on it, because I actually think I might be OK at it. Geography really interests me too, I want to know about glaciers, why the land is formed in a certain way. Then you go somewhere and you can see it in action; you know why a rock or river is in a certain place.

Are you concerned about the environment?
Yes it is important. I was in the Amazon rainforest and have seen what has happened because of deforestation. There are so many conflicting views about the environment. Some will argue [the problem] is cars and some will compare cars to the methane from meat then people say carbon dioxide from cars isn’t too bad and it’s the nitrates.

Does that inform the way you live your life?
To a certain extent. Nutrition is very important. I’ve never been a huge meat eater. But then you hear an argument that it takes more CO2 to produce vegetables [than meat]. You have to pick out something that means something to you. Trying to please everyone all the time is an impossibility.

How engaged are you politically?
We have to vote. It’s important to understand politics. We’re likely to be going into the European Union referendum soon and at the moment I’m weighing up both arguments on staying in or going out. It’s really important for me to educate myself on these matters.

How will you do that?
I’m online a lot. I’ll watch all the debates. I watch This Week on a Thursday with Michael Portillo which gives you a good round-up. I get The Week magazine delivered every Friday and will read The Economist too. I enjoy hearing other people’s opinions and I like a good debate. It’s how you learn. Someone’s knowledge is really attractive.

Is there anyone in politics you particularly support?
Equal achievement is what really bothers me. I was at a school yesterday which has been supported by the government and might have their funding taken away in April. It’s not a big investment, and for such for a small investment you get such incredible results… We seem to be satisfied that one out of five children will leave school underachieving compared with their peers. And that often leads to social problems and other problems in life – for example 60% of prisoners are illiterate. If you take those vulnerable children and build them up and tell them they could be anything and give them a safe environment and a good education, they get jobs and they’re happier and they don’t end up in prison, they don’t end up on welfare. In the long run, it saves the government, but it needs investment now. So to even consider that this funding might go is a mystery to me.

Why is philanthropy so important to you?
I think it’s a duty that if you have a voice that you chose at least a couple of charities to support. I get asked to support a lot of charities and mine are ones that mean a lot to me at this point. With Style For Soldiers, I don’t think the fashion industry does enough to help. We’re talking about an industry where the women’s side is worth $600billion a year, men’s is worth $400billion, and there are a lot of influential people. A lot of the soldiers we work with are in a wheelchair or have lost limbs, and I’ve yet to hear one of them feel sorry for themselves.

How do you think Style For Soldiers can make a difference?
Some of these things are so simple but it helps. We’ve had letters saying, “We didn’t understand about having a shirt made, but the power that came from being at an interview wearing something made for me was huge.” When you’ve got a prosthetic limb, clothing often doesn’t fit properly. George Osborne just gave £1.5m to the charity [from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund]. Next we’re working on shoes that fit prosthetic limbs.

You have your own business interests in the fashion world, what does that give you that modelling hasn’t?
It’s really about being in control. Having an opinion and getting your voice heard is really important. The only trouble with modelling is that someone else is styling you, someone is shooting you and it’s for another brand. And I looked at it and thought, ‘What if it wasn’t for another brand? What if it was for a brand you had a percentage in, instead of other people having pieces of the pie?’ That makes it a lot more interesting.

Who do you look up to in the business world?
The female supermodels of the Nineties. I’ve been reading Cindy Crawford’s book [Becoming Cindy Crawford], and she has always done things people wouldn’t expect – for example putting her name to interior designs. Christy Turlington, too, is incredibly inspirational. I was fortunate to work with her many years ago – she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She does a lot of charity work and is a true entrepreneur.

It’s interesting that you’ve picked women…
There’s not a guy who’s taken it that far in the industry, I don’t know why. But menswear is catching up to womenswear for the first time. People can’t see what it equates to for the economy yet.

Has social media changed the business of modelling?
Guys approach me in modelling and say things like, “Dave, can I speak to you? This company told me I was perfect for a job and the guy second to me wasn’t as good but he had more social media followers and got the job.” It worries me that these people are getting jobs in all professions because of how many followers they have. That shouldn’t happen.

You don’t give much away online yourself; your Twitter and Instagram accounts are entirely work focused.
I will never put my private life on social media. I share pictures with my parents privately. I talk to my friends daily. I don’t need to communicate through social media. I’m not hiding anything. My oldest nephew started on Instagram and I instantly took him off it. When I have children I will protect them from that until they are old enough to understand it.

What’s the last book, film or TV show you were completely obsessed with?
Have you seen Making A Murderer? Yes? Oh good! Everyone says, “I’m on episode six” and I’m like, “So we can’t talk about it then.”

Do you think [Steven Avery, the defendant] did it?
If he had not been in prison for 18 years before and that had not been known, you probably would’ve thought he did. But… it’s so compelling, isn’t it? I binge-watched it all in two nights.

You seem like someone who never stops in every part of life, how do you cope?
I probably am guilty of that. I had about eight days properly off last year. People have to rein me in.

What drives you?
My parents built up businesses [in property and freight]. I saw them work every hour of the day. That’s the way we are. We’ve been taught not to rest on your laurels.

David Gandy

Are you a reader?
I’m a factual reader. I’m very much into history and World War Two and Winston Churchill. He was really into innovations and science, which is fascinating. I was reading the other day why a whip makes that cracking noise in the air. It makes a mini sonic boom! It hits the sound barrier at something like 720 miles an hour.

You’d be very good on a pub quiz, David.
[Laughs] Do you know what my favourite TV show is? QI. I am absolutely obsessed with that show. I’d love to go on it, because I actually think I might be OK at it. Geography really interests me too, I want to know about glaciers, why the land is formed in a certain way. Then you go somewhere and you can see it in action; you know why a rock or river is in a certain place.

Are you concerned about the environment?
Yes it is important. I was in the Amazon rainforest and have seen what has happened because of deforestation. There are so many conflicting views about the environment. Some will argue [the problem] is cars and some will compare cars to the methane from meat then people say carbon dioxide from cars isn’t too bad and it’s the nitrates.

Does that inform the way you live your life?
To a certain extent. Nutrition is very important. I’ve never been a huge meat eater. But then you hear an argument that it takes more CO2 to produce vegetables [than meat]. You have to pick out something that means something to you. Trying to please everyone all the time is an impossibility.

How engaged are you politically?
We have to vote. It’s important to understand politics. We’re likely to be going into the European Union referendum soon and at the moment I’m weighing up both arguments on staying in or going out. It’s really important for me to educate myself on these matters.

How will you do that?
I’m online a lot. I’ll watch all the debates. I watch This Week on a Thursday with Michael Portillo which gives you a good round-up. I get The Week magazine delivered every Friday and will read The Economist too. I enjoy hearing other people’s opinions and I like a good debate. It’s how you learn. Someone’s knowledge is really attractive.

Is there anyone in politics you particularly support?
Equal achievement is what really bothers me. I was at a school yesterday which has been supported by the government and might have their funding taken away in April. It’s not a big investment, and for such for a small investment you get such incredible results… We seem to be satisfied that one out of five children will leave school underachieving compared with their peers. And that often leads to social problems and other problems in life – for example 60% of prisoners are illiterate. If you take those vulnerable children and build them up and tell them they could be anything and give them a safe environment and a good education, they get jobs and they’re happier and they don’t end up in prison, they don’t end up on welfare. In the long run, it saves the government, but it needs investment now. So to even consider that this funding might go is a mystery to me.

Why is philanthropy so important to you?
I think it’s a duty that if you have a voice that you chose at least a couple of charities to support. I get asked to support a lot of charities and mine are ones that mean a lot to me at this point. With Style For Soldiers, I don’t think the fashion industry does enough to help. We’re talking about an industry where the women’s side is worth $600billion a year, men’s is worth $400billion, and there are a lot of influential people. A lot of the soldiers we work with are in a wheelchair or have lost limbs, and I’ve yet to hear one of them feel sorry for themselves.

How do you think Style For Soldiers can make a difference?
Some of these things are so simple but it helps. We’ve had letters saying, “We didn’t understand about having a shirt made, but the power that came from being at an interview wearing something made for me was huge.” When you’ve got a prosthetic limb, clothing often doesn’t fit properly. George Osborne just gave £1.5m to the charity [from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund]. Next we’re working on shoes that fit prosthetic limbs.

You have your own business interests in the fashion world, what does that give you that modelling hasn’t?
It’s really about being in control. Having an opinion and getting your voice heard is really important. The only trouble with modelling is that someone else is styling you, someone is shooting you and it’s for another brand. And I looked at it and thought, ‘What if it wasn’t for another brand? What if it was for a brand you had a percentage in, instead of other people having pieces of the pie?’ That makes it a lot more interesting.

Who do you look up to in the business world?
The female supermodels of the Nineties. I’ve been reading Cindy Crawford’s book [Becoming Cindy Crawford], and she has always done things people wouldn’t expect – for example putting her name to interior designs. Christy Turlington, too, is incredibly inspirational. I was fortunate to work with her many years ago – she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She does a lot of charity work and is a true entrepreneur.

It’s interesting that you’ve picked women…
There’s not a guy who’s taken it that far in the industry, I don’t know why. But menswear is catching up to womenswear for the first time. People can’t see what it equates to for the economy yet.

Has social media changed the business of modelling?
Guys approach me in modelling and say things like, “Dave, can I speak to you? This company told me I was perfect for a job and the guy second to me wasn’t as good but he had more social media followers and got the job.” It worries me that these people are getting jobs in all professions because of how many followers they have. That shouldn’t happen.

You don’t give much away online yourself; your Twitter and Instagram accounts are entirely work focused.
I will never put my private life on social media. I share pictures with my parents privately. I talk to my friends daily. I don’t need to communicate through social media. I’m not hiding anything. My oldest nephew started on Instagram and I instantly took him off it. When I have children I will protect them from that until they are old enough to understand it.

What’s the last book, film or TV show you were completely obsessed with?
Have you seen Making A Murderer? Yes? Oh good! Everyone says, “I’m on episode six” and I’m like, “So we can’t talk about it then.”

Do you think [Steven Avery, the defendant] did it?
If he had not been in prison for 18 years before and that had not been known, you probably would’ve thought he did. But… it’s so compelling, isn’t it? I binge-watched it all in two nights.

You seem like someone who never stops in every part of life, how do you cope?
I probably am guilty of that. I had about eight days properly off last year. People have to rein me in.

What drives you?
My parents built up businesses [in property and freight]. I saw them work every hour of the day. That’s the way we are. We’ve been taught not to rest on your laurels.



David Gandy is an ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. For more info visit battersea.org.uk

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