David Gandy has a good life. I don’t mean when fronting fragrance ads in the Mediterranean or flying around the world to red carpet events. I mean when he’s home in West London, with his girlfriend and their rescue dog Dora.
The morning I meet him, he tells me with a grin about being woken up at 6am by Dora to go for a walk in the park. He reminds me – and bear with me here, because it’s going to sound so Freudian – of my dad. When drafting questions for the interview, all I had to do was hold an imaginary conversation with my old man (minus the multi-million dollar underwear campaign, granted).
I suppose what I’m saying is, David Gandy is an old-school English gent. He loves dogs, the countryside, classic cars, boats, Winston Churchill and James Herriot novels. In fact, he grew up wanting to be a vet thanks to those books set in a rural veterinary practice in North Yorkshire. The only thing that stopped him was a frank self-awareness of his academic abilities. “I think you have to know your limitations in life,” he says. “It would have been a real struggle for me to get the grades.”
So yes, modelling was never Gandy’s dream career. By now, we’re all familiar with his origin story: the televised modelling competition that his friend entered him for without asking. Needless to say, Gandy won and the rest is fashion history. When Dolce & Gabbana cast him as the face (OK, body) of their Light Blue fragrance in 2006, the male modelling industry was a pale and skinny production line of androgynous waifs. Gandy, who is now with Select Model Management, changed all that.
Born in Billericay, Essex, in 1980, Gandy grew up in an entrepreneurial and adventurous family. His parents took him and his sister all around the world, and their school holidays read like a bucket list: Alaska, Africa, South America, the Galapagos, the Amazon rainforest. Today, travelling continues to be a big part of Gandy’s life, although he’s dialled back from the 80 to 90 flights a year he was doing previously.
Some celebrities, when you meet them, take up far less space than you ever expected. Gandy fills out all 6 foot 3 inches of his impressive frame. He has the healthy complexion of someone not confined to the British weather, and the easy manner of a man well versed in interviews. We sit down on beaten leather sofas, and I try to take a mental photograph of one of the most photogenic men in the world. He’s wearing a green cap, which does nothing to diminish the intense blue of his eyes. In the past, he’s made it clear where he stands on the subject of grown men wearing slogan tees, so it’s no surprise that his long-sleeve black T-shirt is as plain and simple as they come.
Armed with a cup of coffee, Gandy leans back in his chair and smiles. He’s relaxed, and ready for his close-up.
You have a long history with Dolce and Gabbana, playing the quintessential Italian stud. Are people ever surprised to find out you’re British?
I think they were at first, because they didn’t really know much about me. So when I started talking, they’d be like “Oh my god, you’re British.” We still don’t quite know where that Italian look comes from; we even did a DNA test to try and discover a bit about the family heritage, but there’s nothing obvious that explains it.
When I’m in Italy, people will come up to me and start speaking Italian, asking for directions. The thing is, with the Italian and English cultures, if you strip everything down they’re both very family-orientated, very respectful, very historic countries. I think that’s where myself and Dolce have gelled really well. I’m very respectful to them and they’re very respectful to me, so my loyalty to them has been huge and vice versa. We’ve worked on a lot of projects together, for instance the book [David Gandy by Dolce&Gabbana], the fragrance and the underwear range.
Have you picked up any Italian over the years?
Sadly, I don’t ever spend enough time there. We shoot the Light Blue commercial every three years, so I might pop over there for a day or two for work, but it’s not much time to pick up a language. So unfortunately, I’m a lazy Englishman with my languages. It’s awful really.
I should probably learn Spanish; my sister lives over in Spain with my niece and nephews, who are slowly trying to teach me a bit of Spanish – which is painful for them.
You’re a big animal lover, and an ambassador for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Can you tell us about the animals in your life?
When I was 16, I worked weekends at a dog sanctuary for a couple of years. This was before I could drive, so Mum used to have to drop me off.
My work with Battersea started when a friend of mine sponsored a kennel there for me, and I asked if I could go along to have a look. It’s a 150-year-old independent charity that’s been through two world wars, and I’m very proud to be their first ambassador.
Between myself and my parents up in the country, we foster the dogs that need recuperating. Some dogs have been in Battersea for a while, and they need a bit of a holiday, like we all do. It usually makes them much easier to re-home afterwards. We’ve fostered everything from Labs to Staffies to French bulldogs to pugs.
Dora was a really young puppy who had not a great start to life. They don’t put puppies in Battersea – they always foster them out immediately – so I said of course I’d take her.
She was brilliant, and after a couple of weeks, I said to my girlfriend, “What are we going to do?” That’s how Dora became our first forever dog, and she’s a grand pet. Just a really, really lovely animal. She’s a complete mongrel of a dog, and she’s so popular around all the parks.
Can you share something surprising about yourself?
I’m a bit of a loner at heart. People find it hard to understand that in this industry you’re on your own the majority of the time. Not so much now, but when you’re casting, travelling the world, you’re on your own a lot. You’re in hotel rooms, and you’re entertaining yourself, which kind of suited me. Even when I was young, I would always be off taking the dog for a walk or just being by myself.
You’re a big fan of classic cars and you even took part in the 2013 and 2015 Mille Miglia Italian endurance races. What’s in your classic car collection now?
To be honest, I’m just a big motoring fan in general and have been for a long time. I have a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190sl, a Porsche 356 coupé which is being restored at the moment, and Jaguar is renovating a XK 120 for me from 1950, I believe.
You’re also into powerboat racing. Can you tell us how that started?
Yeah, that was one of my crazy ideas that I come up with. I think, “How can I endanger my life a little bit more than I already do?” So yes, I got an opportunity with the Vector Powerboat racing team. We broke the Cowes to Torquay record a couple of years ago. We were doing 123mph on water –
Casually, as you do.
– I wasn’t casual, believe me, I was in the back keeping quiet and wondering what I was doing!
Do you think you’ll get a pilot license, just to complete the whole James Bond package?
I’m not sure James Bond has a license, does he? He just takes the wheel and flies anything! To be honest, [being a pilot] doesn’t grab me. I’ll probably get a motorcycle license, when I actually have time.
Would you ride something British and classic like a Triumph, or a zippy little Italian number like a Ducati?
Definitely a Triumph, absolutely.
You’re a model, writer, motoring enthusiast, philanthropist and designer. Which one of those roles comes most naturally to you?
It sounds a bit wanky, but it’s probably the charity side. I’m an ambassador for four charities now: Achievement for All, which is about children’s education; I absolutely love children and I’m working with Save the Children now as well; then there’s Battersea Dogs and Cats Home; and Style for Soldiers, which is a great charity started by Emma Willis.
Everything else I have to work quite hard at – which is not a bad thing. People think I’m very strange when I say I’m not a natural model. I don’t like being the centre of attention or in front of the camera. It’s like I’ve had to have another persona to be able to do that. I envy people that get a big buzz from it, whereas I want to run the other way when there are lots of cameras. I still joke that every time I pull up to a red carpet, I just want to stay in the car and drive home, to this day.
What’s been your proudest moment to date?
Hopefully, it’s yet to come. There have been some proud moments, but I’m always 10 steps ahead. So I’ll think, “This is great! What’s next?” I sometimes wish I had lived for the moment a little bit more, and enjoyed it at the time.
PHOTOGRAPHY MIKE RUIZ
STYLING KRISTINE KILTY
GROOMING LARRY KING AT STREETERS
LIGHTING ASSISTANT JAMES NEWLANDS
FASHION ASSISTANTS SARAH BARNES, JANETH DAZA, ANDA STANCU AND PEARL RICH