David Gandy: The Man Behind The Model
The world’s number one male model reveals how you can dress to impress, how he maintains his body, and why he’ll never take a selfie
Cardigan by Tom Ford at Mr Porter. Long johns by Dries van Noten at Liberty.
David Gandy is one of a select group of British men – alongside Daniel Craig and Idris Elba (essentially anyone who has, or should have, a licence to kill) – who both you and your significant other would quite like you to be for a day. And probably for that night too.
The Essex-born 36-year-old first caught the nation’s eye back in 2006 when he became the face – and, more significantly, the body – of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue fragrance.
With a single shot – lying back in a rowing boat in nothing more than a pair of white trunks – Gandy was catapulted into the spotlight, transforming his career and sending shockwaves throughout the fashion world as the biggest houses followed D&G’s lead and ditched the skinny, androgynous look for a more muscular, masculine aesthetic.
His career had started five years previously when he won an ITV model search (his flatmate had entered him without his knowledge) and since then Gandy hasn’t looked back. And, as he tells Men’s Fitness in their exclusive cover feature, he’s really only just getting started…
You’ve been at the top of your industry for more than a decade. What still motivates you?
I think a passion for what I do, and the competitiveness that I have with myself. No-one can criticise me as much as I criticise myself and I am constantly trying to achieve more and push myself forwards.
I have a five-year plan of where I want to be and I know what I need to do to get there. It’s like a game of chess, you build up to it, moving the right pieces at the right time to get to the end point.
You’ve moved away from modelling of late – why?
I have been moving away from modelling over the past two to three years. My plan is to spend less time in front of the camera, and a lot more in creative design. I’ve been creative director on a lot of shoots now.
One of things I hate on shoots is that there is still this idea, this stigma that as a model you are there to be told what to wear and where to stand and what to do, and people don’t think you can contribute creatively.
Now on every shoot I do, I try to come up with the creative concept and work with my team. That’s what I’m really enjoying and I hope that’s what the future holds for me.
As you saw on this shoot I had some input and a bit of a say, and that’s the side I enjoy. After all, if I can’t get it right after 15 years then I may as well pack up now and go do something else!
Coat by All Saints
So what’s your next move?
I’ve been building up the David Gandy Autograph range with Marks & Spencer, and that’s been doing very well. So I’m hoping that either I’ll expand that, and have a greater say in the range and the whole process of it, or I’ll expand my knowledge and my input elsewhere.
I want to learn – I didn’t just want to turn up and say “right, now I am a designer”. I had a lot of respect for the designers out there and it’s a hard game. But I’m designing now and have already signed off a few designs for November 2017. In this industry we are constantly working 12 to 18 months ahead.
So with all your experience, do you feel ready to make your mark as a designer now?
It’s been hard but it’s been a great learning curve for me, learning about materials, the factories, everything that’s involved. There’s been times I wanted to change aspects of the range but you can’t once the materials have been ordered… there are so many factors in play which mean you have to work hard to get it right.
And you have to learn the hard way because I absolutely believe that you only learn from mistakes. But as long as you learn from them and don’t make them again, that’s one of the best things about life, learning and moving on. If you keep making the same ones over and over then it’s a sign of insanity, isn’t it?
What is it about good clothes that you love?
It’s how they make you feel. To walk into a room knowing that you are well dressed is such a confidence boost. There are so many great brands out there now, doing cheaper fashion, that there’s really no excuse any more for not trying to find your own style. Remember, there is no right or wrong in fashion. Someone might criticise you, but who are they to do so? Have the confidence to do something slightly different.
A very British thing is sarcasm and dry humour, so of course you’re going to take some stick from your boys if you do look different, but you can take that as a compliment for having the confidence to do your own thing.
What advice would you give to the guy looking to make a big first impression?
People ask me about trends, but trends are on the runway. You have to find out what you’re comfortable in and find the look you want to have.
In many ways the English have gone down the very American route of always dressing down – I hope that’s going to change soon. In England we have the tradition of the English gentleman, in the sense that we were always well dressed and took pride in our clothes and our appearance. We knew what we were doing and we had confidence in it. Even if that’s just a T-shirt and jeans, it would have been well fitted and looked great. There was that uniqueness that we had over the rest of the world.
Of course we are still known for tailoring, and Carnaby Street and Vivienne Westwood, but I think men have moved away from taking pride in their appearance. Maybe it’s because we like to be in the pack and wear the same as everyone else. Like a uniform to fit in.
What are the essential pieces every man should have in their wardrobe?
A good dark blue or navy three-piece wool suit. Spend some money on it and get it tailored. That is the most versatile suit and it will go with everything. It’s formal, it’s informal, you can dress it up and you can dress it down. If you get everything tailored right, and the legs tapered, then you can separate it out, with the waistcoat, and wear the trousers with a T-shirt and the jacket with jeans.
Good T-shirts are essential. Why grown men still walk around with slogans on T-shirts is beyond me. It’s a mystery. Do you think that putting on a tee with a funny slogan or picture is going to get you laid? Believe me, it won’t. A good plain white or black T-shirt is a hugely versatile piece.
T-shirt by David Gandy for Autograph at M&S. Jeans at Balenciaga by Liberty.
Also get a good leather jacket – it will go with absolutely everything – and a good pair of shoes. Shoes are one of the first thing women look at – it’s true. A pair of shoes can make or break an outfit. Chelsea boots or Oxfords are good choices, and make sure they are shiny and looked after.
You’ve been in the public eye for years. Does it get easier to deal with the longer you do it?
I think some people are naturally OK with being in the public eye and like being the centre of attention. Today everyone is posting every aspect of their life on social media, and they are very comfortable doing so – but I have never been comfortable with that.
I have always kept it at a level where all my work and charity work is widely published and it’s on my social media accounts, but my private life is just that – private.
No-one knows about that. I am very protective of my friends, family and loved ones and make sure they are never photographed. You can’t always stop that but you can speak to the papers and get it taken out.
Is that why we’re yet to see a David Gandy selfie…?
[Laughs] Yeah. People ask me why I’ve never posted a selfie or a picture of family and friends. I find it weird when you’re an oddity for keeping your private life private! I am not saying I am right or wrong, but that’s the way I’ve always wanted it to be, and I think it’s important to keep some things back and protect the people closest to you.
Social media presence is so important now and I’ve been told that if I post this or that my numbers would go through the roof – but I am not willing to do it.
Coat by All Saints
You have to be in great shape all year round, so how do you achieve that?
My approach to training is not complicated, to be honest. It’s a simple approach and one I’ve kept to for many years. Quite often I’ll superset two moves and go up to four sets per superset.
I focus on lifting in a high-intensity way, like in circuits. I prefer to use free weights, so my workouts are based around dumbbells, barbells or bodyweight moves. Some machines are great and I do sometimes use them – mainly the cable machine – but I prefer free weights and bodyweight training because I can feel it more in my muscles, especially in my core. I think everyone has to go though a period of trial and error to find out what works best for them.
How long did it take you to discover how your body best responds?
It took me a long time and I made a lot of mistakes before I found what works for me. We live in a world now where there is so much information out there about exercise and training – there’s magazines, websites, apps, Instagram, YouTube… When I first properly starting training when I was about 20 or 21 there wasn’t much information out there. So I went through a long process of trial and error to see what worked.
Has fitness always been a big part of your life?
Sport has always been a huge part of my life. As a kid if I saw a ball I would try to kick it, or if I saw a bat I would try to hit something with it.
These days what I love is working on my chest and back. I hate doing arms and abs – I don’t know why but I never have enjoyed training arms, and I don’t look forward to arms day. Actually I don’t mind triceps exercises, it’s just the biceps moves I don’t like. For me that might be because my abs and my biceps take a lot more work than any other part of my body, which is why I’m always constantly changing what I do, so they’re forced to respond.
One of the important things I say to people is that if you’re not enjoying training then you need to change it to something you do enjoy. It shouldn’t be a chore to go to the gym or train.
How often do you change things up to keep training fresh?
If I’m not in training for anything in particular then I’ll probably go to the gym four times a week, with one run a week as well. But it’s so important to change things up so you don’t stop progressing. I am always changing reps, changing weights, every couple of weeks.
Right now my focus is on moderate weights and higher rep counts. But if I am in training for something, say a shoot, sometimes I go to the gym in the morning for an intense 40-minute session and then again in the evening for another intense 40 minutes, because I’ve found that so much more effective than doing one longer but less intense workout.
What do you do now in the gym you wished you’d learned sooner?
How important it is to focus on contracting the right muscles and then squeezing that muscle, and making your muscles do all the work. Form is so important too.
I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and films like that, and a lot of people watching those films saw them lifting the heaviest possible weight, so we thought that’s what you have to do get a better body. Probably like every guy my focus was on how heavy I could lift. So the weight went up and the reps went down because that’s what I thought you had to do. I’m paying for that now with the aches and pains and injuries I’ve had.
How do you stay motivated to train when you’re so busy with other things?
In the gym I have a competitive edge with myself. I want to find ways to improve, just to get to the next exercise and perform it better.
Take the barbell roll-out. At first I could do about five, starting on my knees. Then I built up to ten, and then 20. And then I could do two full roll-outs from a standing position, and then I could do three, and then five and then ten. And then I could do three sets of ten.
Being in constant competition with yourself is very important, I think, otherwise it’s so easy to become stagnant and just do the same things the same way. When you do that you’ll never see any improvements.
So would you say working hard but not seeing progress is the worst thing from a motivation point of view?
Absolutely – when you just go through the motions doing the same old thing, it’s not good for you mentally. That’s when you stop getting any enjoyment out of going to the gym.
The mental benefits are a big part of training for me. That’s why I say that everyone can find half an hour to do some exercise, because you always feel so much better afterwards.
Also I think having a training partner helps to really push you and bring out that competitiveness.
Coat by All Saints. Joggers by David Gandy for Autograph at M&S.
There’s the old line that models live off cotton wool and cigarettes… what’s your diet like?
[Laughs] I have always been careful with what I eat, but I do think people would be shocked by how much I eat! But I don’t eat a lot of bad stuff. I eat a lot of lean protein, chicken and especially fish, and a lot of vegetables and salads. Protein balls are my go-to snack. But I will never shy away from having a good roast dinner or a lean burger – my approach isn’t as strict as people think.
I am a typical English guy so I love my booze: I love a gin and tonic, and love my whisky. A nutritionist once told me you need to think about the maths, the equation involved in it. That means working off what you’re putting into your body. You can’t eat exactly what you want, but so long as you are getting down the gym and having a good intense session, then you can be a little flexible with the foods you eat.
So, like training, the best diet is about finding an approach that works for you?
Yeah, I think so. For instance, I eat biscuits, but I don’t eat a triple-chocolate cookie. I eat oat biscuits or jaffa cakes, and other types that aren’t packed with sugar.
If I am drinking it’s not beer – the beer belly isn’t a myth, after all. I’ll drink a clear spirit and mixer, like a G&T or a vodka soda. I haven’t really ever eaten junk food or fast food and I dread to think what it would do to my stomach. After eating pretty well for a while my body doesn’t know how to deal with all the sugar and fats in heavily processed foods. If I ever do have any sweets or things like that, it tastes overwhelming sweet to me – if I crave anything it’s freshness, it’s veggies and salads. That’s what my body wants.
It seems that a lot of people in the UK have a very poor understanding of nutrition – is that true in your experience?
Yes, we are very nutritionally unaware in this country. It’s something Jamie Oliver has tried to change, and it’s why he wants to educate our children about nutrition. I have had to learn myself about the best way to eat, and ignore all that low-fat cobblers.
Plus I’m very careful about the supplements I use. I see guys taking all kinds of supplements, and even if you read the ingredient list you would have no idea about what you are putting into your body. I use Wellman and have done since I was 20. It was funny because one day I went into my management’s office for a meeting and there were some guys there from Vitabiotics, who make Wellman, and I told them that. And that’s what ended up in the ad campaign I did for them.
You eat well so do you really need to take supplements?
With the lives we lead today it can be tricky to get all the vitamins and minerals I need from my food – I think that’s true for most modern men – and Wellman has always been there for me to keep my levels of those vitamins topped up, helping to support my energy levels and everything else. They are made for men, with the correct clinically-proven amounts. Your body is like a car, and its performance will only be as good as the quality of fuel you put in it.
Jacket by All Saints. Cargo trousers by AMI at Mr Porter. Boots by John Varvatos.
Speaking of cars, is it true that you’re at your happiest when behind the wheel?
That’s true, yes. I drive around London. Some people think that’s a bit peculiar. But it’s the one thing I love to do and want to do every day. If there’s ever the chance to do a road trip then I am there, because that’s my ultimate relaxation.
There’s one coming up in South Africa, and I think my girlfriend is already a little bit worried about the number of miles we are going to do… I love it.
When I was growing up, as a family we loved a road trip – you could have called us the Griswolds instead of the Gandys! We’d just pack up the family Jag and off we’d go around Europe.
As a young man you did work experience at Auto Express, our sister magazine at Dennis Publishing – be honest, was that because of a passion for journalism or your pure love of cars?
[Laughs] I should have stayed in that job, to be honest! That might sound strange but I was 18 and between school and university and went there for a couple of weeks of work experience and ended up staying the whole summer. I was driving all the cars to the test track for the guys to test. And I was getting £50 a day to do it! It was a dream job at that age.
What it is about cars that gets you going?
I do not know. No-one in my family is particularly passionate about cars but I used to carry a car mag around with me ever since I can remember. I would read every word of every page. It’s just something that gets me, a bit like some women are with shoes – and I know it’s not rational, but it’s a real passion.
Jaguar is currently recreating my favourite car ever, the XKSS. It’s over a million pounds a car. It sounds a lot but it’s actually a bargain because the originals are worth more than £15 million.
And you’ve ended up writing about cars?
No-one at school said I should get into motoring journalism, or engineering or mechanics for that matter – I’ve always been a pretty decent writer so I had to make it happen myself.
When you love something like I love cars, it’s easy to write about it, and now I write about cars for GQ, the Telegraph and Vanity Fair. Some people say they enjoy what I write because I give them a different take from a true motoring journalist. It’s a little less technical. But I know my stuff, I’ve got my racing licence, so I take the car out and tell people about how it looks and feels.
Is Top Gear still looking for a host..?
It will be interesting to see where Top Gear goes from here but, well, it wouldn’t be a bad gig, would it? I don’t think any guy would turn down that job. It’s like playing James Bond in that way. I think [Jeremy] Clarkson’s new show The Grand Tour looks awesome already – they had me in stitches.
Top Gear is such a hard format to keep up without those three guys [Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond]. I was surprised they kept almost everything the same. I think if they had changed a few aspects of the show the viewers would have been more accepting of it.
Finally, what’s the best thing about being the world’s number one male model?
I have been very fortunate, and that’s why I try to give back as much as I can through charity work. Anyone in this business knows that we’re not curing cancer or doing brain surgery.
I live a very privileged life and there’s no denying that, but that’s given me a certain profile and the good side of that is I can help raise an awful lot of money for some really great causes. That was one of my aims ten years ago – to get into a position where I could give something back.
What about the worst part?
There’s no bad side. If I said there was, you’d think I was mad! I probably moan as much as anyone else, I have bad days, but you have to put things into perspective. As long as you have your health then you can’t end your day too down.
I was hoping I might get you moaning about something!
Well, I could moan about the cycle lanes in London! They are winding me up a little bit. There’s a little cut-through I use in Hyde Park and the bike lanes haven’t reached it yet. Let’s just say that I’m in no rush to take up cycling!
Photography Glen Burrows, creative director Ash Gibson, styling Lee Holden, hair and make-up Lilli Bridger
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Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.