A NEW FRONTIER
In May of last year, David Gandy was competing in the 1,000-mile Italian vintage car rally, La Mille Miglia. A warm Spring wind whipped through the 33-year-old model’s cropped black hair as he gunned the engine of his open-top 1950 Jaguar XK through the sun-blasted Tuscan countryside.
His co-pilot—the model, rock-star wife, and fellow petrolhead Yasmin Le Bon — had a bag of Haribo kid’s candy nestled between her knees, and was daintily depositing them in his mouth. There were 425 fellow racers behind them, after all, and one shouldn’t take their eyes off the road.
The world’s most successful male model is telling me this story between bites of an off-menu sausage sandwich he persuaded the chef at The Wolseley in London to fix for him.
“I thought to myself, Should I just end it now? It’s not going to get any better than this, is it?” he says, smiling. “Let’s just drive off a cliff and die happy, with a big smile on my face and a mouthful of Haribo!’” And he nearly did.
Two hours into day two, with Le Bon in the driver’s seat, on a road slick after a heavy rain shower, a driver they’d been trying to overtake — just a regular paisano, making his way to work on a public road — suddenly swerved in front of them.
“We were going past this guy and he just saw the red mist and pulled out into us,” says David, fixing me with his billion-dollar blues. “Yasmin jammed the brakes and avoided him, but in avoiding him, we hit a wet grassy verge. I’ve been in enough crashes in my life to know this was a bad one. I honestly thought we were out of here. The windscreen on an XK wasn’t meant for people who are 6’3”. It came up to my chin, and neither of us had helmets on. I was just trying to get my head down, in case we rolled.”
Mercifully, the car came to a rest without rolling, at a 45-degree angle, on an embankment. “I looked at Yasmin and said, ‘Are you ok?’ and she went, ‘Yeah.’ She undid her seatbelt and landed on me.”
“It wasn’t so much a job as an excuse for me to drive more.”
After crawling out and establishing that nothing was broken, they stood up and surveyed the scene. “There was a row of trees to the right of us, a row of spectators in front of us and a house to the left of us,” says Gandy, with a visible shudder.
It’s testament to his “intensely competitive” spirit (“I can ruin a game of Monopoly within 10 minutes if I’m losing,”) that they were back on the road just a few hours later, with the Jag patched up, and a new set of tires.
Daniel Day Lewis beat them — in fact, everyone beat them — but they crossed the finish line, and were the heroes of the race for doing so. David Gandy, as you might have gathered, is the kind of guy who takes life by the scruff and doesn’t let go.
When we meet in London, he is just back from three days in Scotland shooting the images you see here. He has not risen to become the highest-earning male model of all time by just turning up wherever his agent tells him to. He is intimately involved in every editorial shoot he does, and collaborated closely with Man of the World on this one.
“It was very Skyfall,” he says. “It was stunning, but it was also an extremely challenging shoot. There’s a saying in the Highlands, ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes’, and that’s how it was. It would go from bright sunshine to mist rolling over the hills to driving rain in the same hour. That’s why it took so long. Three days? Who does that these days?”
“You can try to talk with David Gandy about serious things like his career, but all he really wants to talk about is cars”
What, I ask David, was his first job ever? I mean modeling gig, but David misunderstands me, and the answer I get is much more revealing than a recap of his early catalog work. “I was a pizza delivery boy in my 1.1 Ford Fiesta Gear,” he says. “It wasn’t so much a job as an excuse for me to drive more.”
Yes, you can try and talk to David Gandy about serious things like his career, but all he really wants to talk about is cars. What does he reckon is the best car out there right now? “I drove a Jaguar XKR-S for six months and it suited me in every way. It’s just a stupendous car; it’s got everything. It’s a gentleman’s GT. Sure, the company may not be British-owned any more, but it’s designed here, developed here, and built here.
“It drives me mad that everyone in the world wants a little bit of British heritage except the Brits! We’re all buying Audis! Jaguar virtually invented the two-seater British sports car. Steve McQueen drove the XKSS.
“Jaguar got left behind for a little while there — not doing Diesel engines and other things — but you always learn more from your failures than your mistakes.”
If Gandy’s life sounds like something you’d like a slice of, it is small wonder the insatiable British tabloids feel the same way. The very morning we meet, for example, there is a particularly flimsily-sourced story making the rounds claiming he has broken up with his girlfriend, actress Samantha Barks.
“I thought to myself, Should I just end it now? It’s not going to get any better than this, is it? Let’s just drive off a cliff and die happy, with a big smile on my face and a mouthful of Haribo.”
What does he make of it? “It’s absolute crap,” he says. “But with these things I try not to react. It’s part of the reason I don’t have a Twitter account. It’s a huge tempta- tion for me, and for every human being; to defend oneself and their loved ones. Twitter allows that impulsive side to come out too quickly, though. I am a great believer in sleeping on things. If you wake up in the morning, and it’s still bothering you, then you might want to do something about it, but ninety-nine percent of the time it’s not.”
In terms of PR advice for celebrities in the crosshairs, “Sleep on it, old boy!” is a thoroughly old-fashioned approach we can get behind. A happier consequence of his fame is the success of his cheekily named “Blue Steel Appeal” charitable foundation. “I tried to get away from that Zoolander thing for so long, but in the end I thought, Why not just embrace it?” he says. “My charity work is the thing in my life that I’m most proud of.”
How did it start? “I went to Africa and we were trekking for gorillas in Uganda. The gorillas are doing fine — they’re multiplying, they’re protected — but we were driving up there at five in the morning and you’re missing children by inches; kids who are walking four miles to get to their school with no shoes and a little bag with one pencil and a pen. And I thought, Okay, something is wrong here.”
David shirt collaborates with Jermyn Street maker Emma Willis for another foundation called Style for Soldiers, which provides veterans who have lost limbs with bespoke shirts. “What’s so amazing about these guys is that it’s not losing the limb that they’re most upset about. It’s the fact that they have had to give up their dream of serving their country. And then they’re trying to get back into civilian life, and they can’t actually find any decent clothes that fit them!” he says, “There’s a lot to be said for the way you feel in a good shirt.”
The sausage sandwich is now finished, and David Gandy has places to go — a fitting with Brioni just off Savile Row, to be precise. He bids me farewell and walks out into the sunny London afternoon to get on with the important business of draining every last drop from the Champagne flute that is his existence.
He makes it look so effortless. But is it really? If there’s an art to leading a charmed life, it’s one this speed-freak, philanthropist, and really, really, ridiculously good-looking bloke has got down.