A Model Citizen
David Gandy talks exclusively to Riddle about his ever-expanding range of charitable endeavours
Article by Nick Scott
Forced to pick a single descriptive word to preface the name of someone notable, the press often end up being insultingly reductive (see “singer David Bowie”, “author Richard Dawkins” or “designer Tom Ford”). In the case of David Gandy, the ubiquitously employed “model” (or occasionally “supermodel” – not that anyone has ever really defined the difference) no longer really cuts the mustard, given the 35-year-old’s ever-widening repertoire of raisons d’être.
Since being made world famous by his appearance on Dolce & Gabbana’s 2007 Light Blue fragrance adverts, which saw a giant, meagrely attired David splashed over billboards in cities across the world, he’s become a tireless ambassador for the UK fashion industry, championing British institutions such as Thom Sweeney, Marks & Spencer and Henry Poole, while also playing a prominent role in promoting The British Fashion Council and London Collections: Men.
He’s shown impressive guile as an entrepreneur, with his latest business venture – his purchase, last year, of ultra-cool East London shoe brand David Preston – building on the success of a highly popular lounge-wear and swimwear line for Marks & Spencer, and his creative input into all such projects is significant. A passionate motoring aficionado, David’s earned his racing license and become a regular on the Goodwood circuit and on Italy’s Mille Miglia, and is now being trained to drive a Vector Martini raceboat (a series of world endurance record attempts will start next year). He’s even proved his worth as a wordsmith, writing columns for Vanity Fair, The Telegraph and GQ.
Of all David Gandy’s endeavours, though, it is perhaps his role as a philanthropist that David feels the most attached to emotionally. Someone who will always reciprocate the affections of man’s putative best friend – “My love and admiration for dogs can and never will be denied”, as he once put it – David is the face of, and a prolific fund-raiser for, the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, and can surely take credit for the fact that London’s most famous animal charity is in rude health at the moment.
“Battersea’s doing really well,” he tells Riddle. “There was recently a £4.8 million new kennel development, which the Queen, who is a patron, came to open. I really hope that, as their first ambassador, I’ve helped create that. It was a very special moment. The development costs were huge for a charity run entirely on donations – £4.8 million is not an easy number to come by. They’re reached the point where they’re re-homing dogs at such a rate, they’re actually managing to help out other animal charities on the side.”
Then there’s his work with Style for Soldiers – the scheme whereby bespoke shirt maker Emma Willis produces luxury goods for former servicemen. “The scheme started with shirts and walking sticks, but we wanted to expand that,” explains David. “Now, we’re working with the UK leather industry with a view to building shoes for soldiers who have got prosthetic limbs and find it difficult to find any decent footwear, meaning they have to wear trainers with good suits. We’re also talking to a lot of brands about donating suits for the guys each year.”
The project, he says, has a hugely positive effect on the recipients’ psyches: effectively, it contributes towards their rehabilitation, following the trauma of severe injury in combat. “Sometimes when you speak to the soldiers, they’re very standoffish – ‘What do I want with a shirt?’ – but then you get letters saying how empowered they feel from having this Jermyn Street, tailor-made bespoke shirt. The fully able bodied don’t know how lucky they are in terms of getting to wear clothes in a ‘normal’ way, as compared to someone who has one or more limbs missing. These guys protect our country, and come back and have to go back into civilian life – often something they have to do, not what they want to do. They’re competing for jobs. So dressing them in a certain way gives them an edge. We all know how it feels to walk into a room wearing a great suit, and how powerful the effect is when someone else does.”
David also finds the time to act as ambassador for children’s charity Achievement For All. “It’s a children’s charity to help vulnerable children who aren’t getting on at school, who have learning difficulties and so on,” he says. “Our teaching system works for maybe six to eight out of ten children and fails the rest. So what we do with this project is take them out of the classroom and teach them that there are no boundaries. We tend to pigeonhole children – ‘Oh, they’re from a bad background, they’ve got no hope of achieving.’ We’re just saying, ‘Well actually that’s not true.’”
Add to all the above David’s involvement with Marks & Spencer’s Spark Something Good campaign – which is designed to “inspire colleagues and 34 million customers to help their local communities and improve lives up and down the country”, as the retail giant puts it – and David’s philanthropic portfolio is starting to look as impressive as his modelling one.