David Gandy and his rescue pup Dora: How getting a dog opened his heart to fatherhood

It goes without saying that the supermodel’s new baby Matilda and partner Steph are his first loves. But it was adopting rescue pup Dora that made him settle down and prepare for first-time fatherhood.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a professional, especially when you’re a journalist trying to interview a male model and he’s brought his rescue dog with him; she’s a little yorkie terrier called Dora who seems to be made purely from fluff and love. You might think you’re immune to the piercing blue-eyed magnetism of Britain’s only male supermodel, but when David Gandy lifts Dora into his lap for a snuggle and tells you how brilliantly she also behaves around his new human baby daughter, Matilda, it’s a little hard not to melt. 

‘It’s a myth that rescue dogs are aggressive,’ says David, and he should know, because he’s fostered six of them. He is an ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, and he fosters dogs who require a few weeks of family time to find out who they are. While David and his family are mainly based in London, his parents live in Suffolk with plenty of land, so the whole Gandy clan works together to gauge each dog’s needs – will they need more rural running around, a big group, or could they handle city living? – before they are permanently rehomed. 

David Gandy Dora
Vest, David Gandy for M&S. Trousers, Kit Blake. Image: Matt Holyoak

‘Some of them belonged to lonely people who died,’ he explains. ‘When we got Dora we didn’t know exactly what breed or how old she was, but she had a lovely temperament. She was just frightened of a lot of things.’ After a fortnight the idea was that she would return to Battersea, like her predecessors, ‘but my girlfriend Steph couldn’t bear it and said, “No, we’re keeping her, she’s family now.”’ 

Dora, murmuring in his lap, clearly endorses this decision, but she might not realise that she was the trigger for her new humans to change their lives. This is because, after 15 years as Britain’s most successful male model, David had reached a moment in his life where he wanted to take stock, and he admits that Dora may have been the turning point. 

Having been something of a serial monogamist (previous girlfriends include Mollie King from The Saturdays), David met his match when mutual friends introduced him to Stephanie Mendoros, a family-law barrister. She moved in with him fairly quickly; within a year or so they had committed to the dog and, two years after that, their baby Matilda was born last December. David will turn 40 next year, and he says he’s stopped travelling relentlessly for work, having intentionally built a business empire that will allow him to step back and be more present for his family. The underwear lines that he and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley have created for Marks & Spencer are worth £20 million, and he works constantly on other ventures. 

David Gandy Dora
David with Dora: ‘She’s family,’ he says. Jumper, John Smedley. Image: Matt Holyoak

‘I’m never going to compare a dog to a child,’ he says, smiling, ‘but a dog is a good starter because of the responsibility. You have to be there for them, feed them, look after them; you can’t stay out all night. There is a responsibility in that and when we had Dora our lifestyle changed, so a baby was the next step. Obviously parenthood is a bit of a shock to everyone, but we were prepared for it – and Matilda is a great baby.’ 

When David drove his new family home from the hospital, he brought Dora out to the car to meet the newborn so that they could enter the house together. When a nappy needs changing, she is invited upstairs too, where she gets a treat from a jar kept beside the changing table. ‘She isn’t forgotten about downstairs, she’s part of the gang, so she doesn’t behave in a jealous way.’ 

Although the couple recently bought a beautiful old house in the Cotswolds, they are mainly based in their townhouse in London’s Fulham, where David goes out for morning walks with Matilda strapped to his chest and Dora trotting alongside them – and so far things have gone pretty smoothly. Well, apart from the day the baby had a screaming meltdown in public, with people starting to stare. Having checked all the obvious things (‘it wasn’t her nappy, she wasn’t hungry’), he couldn’t work out what was wrong with her until it dawned on him that he’d wrapped her up so carefully in so many layers ‘that she was just really, really hot!’ I assure him that all new parents have done the same thing. 

David Gandy Dora
Crew neck, Private White VC. Joggers, David Gandy for Autograph at
Marks & Spencer. Image: Matt Holyoak

When I say how nice it will be for his daughter to grow up alongside their dog, he replies, ‘Well exactly – that was the whole intention.’ As a child, David grew up in a loving, very outdoorsy family in Billericay, Essex, with business-minded parents Brenda and Chris who owned property and freight companies. He attended the local state schools but felt some social isolation, which he says was a consequence of being bullied because he was slightly overweight, so his family’s two cocker spaniels provided him with important companionship. When I say something about him not being one of those waif-like male models, he laughs and says ‘clearly’, gesturing to his physique, almost as if he still sees himself as carrying extra pounds, even though it’s all muscle now. 

David mentions his parents frequently – every childhood holiday seems to have involved wildlife-spotting somewhere around the world. When he was 17, though, and got his first ramshackle car, ‘I said to my dad, “Look, could I have the money for car parts and skip the holiday?” He replied, “Oh, you don’t have to come on holiday with us any more – but don’t think for a minute that I’m going to be paying for your car.”’ David laughs, but his dad’s attitude clearly helped to instil a work ethic that has only increased over the years. Plus he was secretly relieved to join them on that holiday because they went to see the brown bears of Alaska, something he was still able to rave about recently – 20 years on – when he met Sir David Attenborough. 

I imagine David might be embarrassed when I ask why he has been more successful than other male models, but he takes it quite seriously because he’s so interested in the business side of things. He says that when young men find their way into the fashion industry, they often see modelling ‘as a stepping stone. You know, “I can do this for a couple of years, then maybe go into acting or music or something else.” Whereas I thought, “Hang on a second, there’s something to this.”’ 

David Gandy Dora
T-shirt, David Gandy for Autograph at Marks & Spencer. Joggers, Mr P. Image: Matt Holyoak

Modelling is one of the few industries in which women outearn men, and he jokes that this can be slightly amusing ‘at a time when everyone’s talking about equality and I’m like [he does a little comedy wave], “Hello!”’ (Actually, he thinks that Britain has done rather well for equality, ‘since we have a female prime minister, a female chief of police and a queen’.) David believes the reason why leading female models get paid more than their male counterparts is because they’re clever enough to strategise. When he was younger, he studied their paths. ‘I spoke to Gisele, I looked at the platforms of Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and I went, “How have you done this? How have you got to where you are?”’ He stresses the difference between wanting success and just wanting fame, and that often people are surprised to discover how business-minded he is. ‘It’s tough, sometimes, to walk into a meeting and feel you have to get past some barriers because you’re a model – you have to constantly prove yourself. Then again, in life, when do you not have to prove yourself?’ 

It was Dolce & Gabbana who really put David on the map in 2006, choosing his muscly, 6ft 3in physique at a time when male waifs were more common in fashion. In 2007, they put him in tight swimming trunks on an Italian beach and had Mario Testino shoot him for the advert for their Light Blue fragrance. The ad ended up on a 50ft billboard in New York’s Times Square and caused a sensation. 

‘I always wanted to create something iconic, and then Light Blue happened – I went from no one knowing me outside the fashion industry to newspapers calling, paparazzi outside. I knew I had to build on that. I did a coffee-table book with Dolce & Gabbana, then I said I wanted my own clothing range, so I started talking to brands. Life is a bit like a game of chess,’ he muses. ‘How do you know what you want to reach or where you want to get to if you don’t have a goal?’ 

David Gandy Dora
Jumper, Private White VC. Image: Matt Holyoak

If I was in government, I’d make David Gandy the tsar of a business task force – the man is absolutely focused on it. He clearly has no truck with ditherers. ‘Dithering bothers me; it’s a pet hate. I always say, “Let’s try it and see if it works,” or “Right, I’ve finished that, let’s get on to the next thing.” I’m constantly pushing forward, wanting to achieve.’ Though he is the first to admit that ‘it can be a bit irritating for people around me sometimes. They say, “Can you not have 15 projects on the go at once?”’

I wonder how he has the time. It turns out he doesn’t sleep. ‘I always saw sleep as a waste. I want to keep doing things, so I don’t want to go to bed until very late, and I like that time when everyone else is in bed and the phone’s stopped ringing. I’m a bit of a loner at times and I quite enjoy that. But when I first started going out with Steph she was like, “You have this other life when I’m asleep.” She’d come downstairs and the living room furniture would be moved around. Or we’d have been discussing a holiday and then she’d find out I’d booked it. She’d say, “When did you do this?” and I’d go, “Oh, two, three in the morning.”’ 

His philanthropic work includes part-funding a mentoring programme at his old primary and secondary schools in Essex, run by the charity Achievement for All. He says he certainly didn’t breeze through school himself, and he had support, so this ensures that kids whose background or circumstances might limit their achievement are encouraged all the way.

David Gandy partner Steph
David with partner Stephanie. Image: Getty Images/David M. Benett

He talks fondly about the man he calls his father-in-law – Steph’s dad, a Greek entrepreneur who moved to Yorkshire, where Steph grew up, ‘because Margaret Thatcher encouraged people like him to come and set up businesses in Britain’. David’s elder sister Claire lives in Spain, where she raises her six children (‘so I’m never going to complain about having just one baby’). He recently had a word with her about his almost-teenage nephew being on Instagram, so they agreed he would come off it. David doesn’t believe it is a great place for youngsters to develop healthy self-esteem, and quotes a survey that showed how teenagers who were taken off all social media for two weeks saw their anxiety levels plummet. With close to a million followers on Instagram himself, David could probably double that number if he were to post videos of his home life and not just work photos – but he refuses. So I ask what he would do if his daughter wanted to be a Kardashian. There is a pause, before he replies, quite firmly and unequivocally: ‘She won’t be.’ 

He adds that it’s hard not to be impressed by the Kardashian clan – ‘I mean, I would never say anything against them because the daughter’s a billionaire. [He is referring to news reports that Kylie Jenner, 21, younger sister of Kim Kardashian, recently became the world’s youngest billionaire.] So how can you argue with that?’ Easily, I would imagine. ‘Well, yes,’ he admits, ‘because even if you see something of the brilliance of that, it’s all based on selling your life. I came into this business to be a success, and with that comes some fame and recognition. You can build on that however you like – but my privacy is far more important than the money.’ 

As for him having said, previously, that he didn’t need to get married because having a child with someone is an even bigger commitment, I ask if that isn’t just a good excuse to avoid it? He smiles and admits that, yes, ‘that could possibly be true – I knew that quote would come back to haunt me. But having a child with someone really is the biggest step you can take.’ 

David Gandy Dora
Bomber jacket, Private White VC. Shirt, Berena Venezia. Trousers, Edward Sexton. Sunglasses, Ray-Ban. Boots, George Cleverley. Image: Matt Holyoak

He warms to his theme, and wants to explain why people might have the wrong idea about him and marriage. ‘I don’t talk about Steph and Matilda much in public and people may think that, because I don’t put them on social media, I’m not proud of my family. But it’s just not true. I’m awfully proud of my family, and we’re ridiculously close. I tell them that I’m proud of them to their faces. I tell them that I love them. I don’t need to do that on the internet. It’s important to me to keep it private.’ 

David is represented by Select Model Management. He is an ambassador for Battersea. For more info, visit battersea.org.uk 

Interview by Sophie Heawood

WIN! A PRIVATE TOUR OF BATTERSEA DOGS HOME WITH DAVID GANDY

YOU is offering readers the opportunity to be given their very own tour of Battersea with David. As an ambassador for the world-famous rescue centre, David is keen to share his puppy love with a YOU reader and introduce them to the gorgeous dogs looking for a new home. The winner will also receive a signed photo of David and Dora from our exclusive shoot. Nine runners-up will receive a signed photo. For your chance to win, answer the question and follow the instructions below. 

QUESTION
In what year was David Gandy born?

HOW TO ENTER
Call 0901 293 5222 and leave your answer and details

OR text DOGS followed by a space, your answer, name and postcode to 65700 (eg, DOGS 1928 John Smith W8 5TT).

TERMS AND CONDITIONS Texts/calls cost £1 plus your standard network charge. All proceeds go to Battersea. Competition closes at 11.59pm on Thursday 11 April 2019. The winner must answer their phone if we call on Friday 12 April 2019 between 9am and noon or else forfeit the prize; We will try a maximum of three times. First prizewinner’s name will be published in next week’s Mail on Sunday. Winners will be selected at random from all qualifying entries. Open to UK (excluding NI) residents aged 18 or over. No cash alternative. Date of visit subject to David Gandy’s availability. Travel expenses not included. Signed photos will be supplied unframed. Full terms and conditions apply – see Puzzles section of the Mail on Sunday in main paper.