When Karen Gillan met David Bailey

What happened when the Doctor Who star met the cockney rebel photographer?

Karen Gillan is an ex-model fond of showing off her gazelle-like legs in the scantiest of miniskirts, and the similarities between the We’ll Take Manhattan star and the 60s supermodel she plays – Jean Shrimpton – don’t end there. Gillan also fell for a photographer. Although unlike Shrimpton and Bailey, she split up with her photographer-boyfriend, Patrick Green, after returning from New York.



Having only recently emerged from a six-year relationship with Green, Gillan empathises with the Shrimpton/Bailey chemistry. “I did find that a really interesting aspect of their relationship, and of why she was doing what she was,” agrees Gillan, although she’s careful to make clear that her own relationship wasn’t a matter of artist and muse. “We never really did any of that. It’s quite healthy to keep certain things separate in a relationship, I think.”

Best known as Doctor Who companion Amy Pond, Gillan grew up in Inverness, where her fashion sense was born. “My dad used to take me round the secondhand shops to look at the records – and then I saw the clothes.” 

Nowadays she is something of a fashion darling – even appearing in a recent Vogue shoot by Bailey – and has Shrimpton to thank in more ways than one. “Whenever I’d send pictures to a stylist of the look that I liked, she was always in the pictures – which is funny because that was way before this came around. So when I was sent the script, I was like, ‘This is perfect!’”

To her disappointment, Gillan didn’t get to ask her idol whether she too wishes she had kept her professional and private life separate. Shrimpton now runs a hotel in Penzance and avoids public appearances; although she gave We’ll Take Manhattan her blessing, she declined to be involved.

“I thought about booking into her hotel,” says Gillan, “but decided that might be a bit rude!” However, she was gratified to receive a retrospective pat on the back: “[Shrimpton] saw it and really liked it and left a voicemail saying that she thought it was really accurate, so that was the best compliment I could have.”

But Bailey proved as formidable as his reputation. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to meet him, then I got this call saying: ‘You’re doing a shoot with David Bailey.’ Never in my wildest dreams did I think that was going to happen. And I’d done so much research on him that I thought I had an idea of what to expect.” 

And? “He’s a funny one, David Bailey. He plays mind games to provoke his subjects.” For the first time since dropping out of drama school, when she signed with a modelling agency to pay the bills, the actress felt camera-shy.

“He kept shouting, ‘Surprise me! Do some- thing!’ He seems to build up your confidence but then knock it back down again. He kept on saying to me, ‘You’re pretty but pretty girls are like red buses.’” In that they come along regularly? “He meant being pretty is not enough to make an interesting portrait, essentially.”

Doctor Who

Gillan must be hoping Bailey’s words won’t come back to haunt her now that her days in Doctor Who are numbered. “It was a completely mutual agreement,” she insists of the recent news that she is to leave the show. “Steven Moffat and I decided when would be the best time for Amy to go.” Gillan might know when, but she doesn’t know how – only that Moffat has promised it will be heartbreaking: “I’d like to see her go out in flames of glory.”

Her first post-Who project will be Not Another Happy Ending, a quirky indie film – “It’s a great script, really funny” – in which Gillan will play an eccentric author with writer’s block. And after that? Does Hollywood appeal? “Ooo, that would be really fun. I like the States.” 

See our exclusive photoshoot with Karen here

We’ll Take Manhattan is on tonight at 9:00pm on BBC4


This is an edited version of an article in the issue of Radio Times magazine published 17 January