Model Jack Guinness, ‘the coolest man in Britain’, on his identity struggles, being told to ‘man up’ and reaching ‘a point where I’m very happy’
Good looking, stylish, charming and funny, described by GQ magazine as ‘the coolest man in Britain’, what’s not to like about top model Jack Guinness?
Well, nothing actually. The model and presenter, a member of the Guinness dynasty, is a party animal (when parties were allowed) and friend of socialites -he used to share a flat with model and TV presenter Alexa Chung and is good friends with Pixie Geldof.
But he has enjoyed how lockdown moved him into a different gear.
“I enjoyed the slowdown of lockdown,” he muses. “I enjoyed being at home more. I think I’m definitely in the next phase of my life.”
He’s worked with brands including Gucci, L’Oreal, Dolce & Gabbana and Dunhill, but Guinness, 38, is a personality in his own right, a writer and fashion commentator with an enviable social network, sharing front row seats at fashion shows with the likes of Nick Grimshaw and Dermot O’Leary.
Nearly four years ago he founded The Queer Bible (QueerBible.com) website, a ‘guide to queer culture and history’ and a platform for the community to tell their own stories and to write about their LGBTQ+ heroes.
Now he has rallied friends and contacts to bring together a book, also called The Queer Bible, which he describes as ‘a love letter to the queer community’ and features a collection of essays, written by icons including artists, musicians, comedians and writers, about the trailblazers throughout history who inspired them.
“I suddenly realised I’ve spent 15 years in the fashion industry, meeting people at events and parties, and never quite realised what it was all leading towards,” enthuses Guinness, who also writes the foreword to the book.
“I’ve been building a fantastic network of amazing people that I can call on for this. Everything suddenly fell into place and had meaning.”
The book is as eye-catching as its editor, all glossy pages and cool illustrations, enveloped in a luxurious padded black jacket.
There are contributions from Sir Elton John and Graham Norton, Tan France and actor Russell Tovey, while inspirational figures include Divine, George Michael and Armistead Maupin. Guinness’s own choice is RuPaul.
In the foreword, he talks about how young people who are LGBTQIA can instantly feel cut off from those around them.
“Isolation and rejection led me down a path of self-destruction,” he writes.
“It’s really important for people, especially men, to talk about their mental health,” he states now. “We are really witnessing a change in society about reducing the stigma around talking about these struggles, which is more pronounced for LGBTQ+ people.
“When you realise you are different from those around you, the very people you are closest to – your peers and your immediate biological family – it can create a real sense of shame and feeling quite lost.
“Struggling with my own identity and coming to terms with and embracing who I am definitely led me to go down paths where I really did struggle with my mental health. I struggled with depression growing up. It was really serious for a time. In my teenage years there were moments when I got very low.
“Now, having got to the point where I’m very happy and I have a career I’m really proud of, I want to share that with people who might be struggling.
“I want this book to be an inspiration for young people to realise how much is possible in their own lives, not in spite of who they are but because of who they are.”
The son of a vicar, Guinness came out to his friends when he was quite young, but didn’t come out in public until his late 20s, he recalls.
“I came out a little bit later to my parents, but I think for a lot of young LGBTQ+ people that is probably the most complicated relationship they are going to have. I’m really proud of where I am now with my family.”
He’s reluctant to elaborate on how his parents reacted to the news, but says: “It’s difficult to process for a lot of parents, no matter what your religious beliefs are, and I’m really glad we’ve got to a place of mutual love and respect.”
He read English at Cambridge University and, thinking of pursuing an acting career, threw himself into the drama scene. He also took part in a charity fashion show at university which was his introduction to modelling.
It was years later, when his acting career was struggling, that a friend put him in touch with a booker – and he’s never looked back.
He recalls, though, that in the early years of his career he was told to keep quiet about his sexuality.
“When I was starting modelling 15 years ago, I was really encouraged not to tell clients that I was gay. I was also modelling a lot of outward bound brands, I had long hair and a beard and was very much portraying a certain type of masculinity.”
I was definitely told that I should not tell clients that I was gay and that I should ‘man up’, whatever that means, on shoots. That was horrible psychologically, when I’d spent all these years coming to terms with who I am and then I’m told to go back into the closet.
It was felt that he “needed to match up to that stereotype” he continues. “I was definitely told that I should not tell clients that I was gay and that I should ‘man up’, whatever that means, on shoots.
“That was horrible psychologically, when I’d spent all these years coming to terms with who I am and then I’m told to go back into the closet.
“When I look back, there are definitely times when I feel a bit ashamed of hiding that part of myself and I wish I’d been braver, but I also have empathy for myself at that time. I needed to pay my rent.”
Modelling, he also reflects, is a bit like acting. “You are playing different characters in different shoots. Things call for different poses, different energy. If I’m climbing up a glacier in Iceland for an outward bound shoot, I’m going to have a slightly different energy to the one where I’m sitting in a dressing gown in a 16th century manor house.”
As a Cambridge graduate, was modelling fulfilling enough for him?
“There were shoots when I was on the side of a glacier changing into my pants and then into a tuxedo while people skied by, and I did think, ‘Is this why I went to university?’ But do you know what? The pictures were b***** brilliant, so it’s fine.”
He says that the fashion industry has changed massively in the last five years, for the better.
“Instagram and social media have really democratised fashion and have really shown where young people’s consciousness is at. They are calling for change, they want to see diversity reflected in model castings, different shapes and sizes of models, different ages of models and different types of gender, non-binary people, LGBTQ+ people reflected in campaigns.”
Now single – “I’ve had one vaccination so can I go on a socially distanced date with someone?” he quips – he’s not sure that when lockdown ends he will revert to his old lifestyle.
“Everyone’s processing it, thinking what part of my old life do I want back?” he says. “We’re all learning to have a little bit more balance and that we don’t need to tear around as much. We are all realising there’s maybe a different way of living.”
He would love to do a second volume of The Queer Bible and maybe a documentary about LGBTQ+ activists globally.
“I think I’m really excited about the next phase, about using the small platform that I have to amplify other people’s voices and other people’s stories. I find that so incredibly rewarding.”
The Queer Bible, edited by Jack Guinness, is published on June 17 by HQ, priced £20.
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