What do you get when you cross a fashion icon with a music legend? An odd couple that is. While their styles couldn’t be more different – or opposed – they are arguably two of the most influential people in modern music. But perhaps even more so because of their work in the film industry. It’s not often that you see such a polar opposite in terms of looks and personality, yet somehow, they make a perfect match. Here, we’ll explore the fascinating history between these two iconic figures, as well as why they’re such a great fit for each other.
The first time we meet Jack Whitehall is in the 2004 film, Downfall. In this scene, he is played by actor Charlie Cox, and though the film is set in the 1920s, the look and feel of the decade still permeates the sets. Whitehall is a famous English aristocrat, owner of an important British estate and a life-long love of music. He is also the twin brother of Sir Basil Whiteside, who is played by Ben Kingsley in the film. Whitehall serves as a foil to Sir Basil, as the former is an avowed anglophile while the latter is more of a Francophile. The two brothers are presented as foils not only to each other but to the audience as well, with their back-stories helping to paint a clearer picture of the complexities of life in the Jazz Age.
What is perhaps most interesting about the scene in Downfall is that it shows us a glimpse of Jack Whitehall’s character and also his (lack of) connection to British culture. The film begins in Vienna, where Whitehall is serving as an interpreter for a group of German scientists who are working in an Austrian research laboratory. On the surface, it would seem that Whitehall’s job has little to do with music, but what the film really wants us to understand is that Whitehall is more of a globetrotter than a man of a fixed abode. As he tells Sir Basil in this scene, “Every five years or so, I give my London house a good going-over, and every time I find something new to tweak or upgrade.” Though he is a guest in Austria, Whitehall feels more at home in Germany, where he owns property and has a good rapport with the Germans. Thus, it is not entirely untrue what Whitehall says about his connection to music. He has been known to collect musical instruments and has even formed a band with his own twins, the Whitehalls. Yet, as the film shows us, there is very little that Whitehall actually does in regard to music. Instead, it is used as a vehicle to explore his character and his adventurous spirit.
The Untold History
While we are yet to fully unravel the enigma that is Jack Whitehall, multiple theories abound. The most convincing one suggests that he was in fact, the model for Bogart’s character, Dirk Bogart, in The Big Sleep. If this is indeed the case, then it is fair to say that Whitehall would have had plenty of screen time, and perhaps even a leading role in the film. Yet, despite this intriguing backstory, the first solid evidence of Whitehall’s existence was in the form of an illustration that appeared in an Italian magazine, Nuovi Artigiani, in 1912. This illustration would go on to become the basis for a bronze statue that was erected in London in his honor in 1922. Since then, multiple exhibitions dedicated to Whitehall have been staged in London, with the most recent one currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Interestingly, the statue was sculpted by the same person (Giuseppe Ferrario) who also worked on the tomb of composer Richard Wagner. This may suggest that Whitehall is not just a character but a living, breathing individual with a rich history and a lasting impact on the arts.
To begin with, it should be said that Jack Whitehall and Robert Pattinson are two very different men. While we’ve established that Whitehall is a life-long fan of music, he has also been known to be quite the fashion icon. From his lavish lifestyles to his flamboyant personality, it would appear that Whitehall has always prided himself on his distinctive style. As he once put it, “I am not a man who follows fashion, I am the fashion.”
Pattinson, on the other hand, is more of a classicist, studying art, architecture, and history, among other things. Though he has had a lifelong love of movies, it is perhaps the fashion side of Whitehall’s personality that most captures Pattinson’s interest. As the actor put it in an interview, “[Jack Whitehall is] quite the character, really. He is such a fashion icon. The thing I love most about him is how he dresses.”
The styles of Whitehall and Pattinson may clash, yet they also complement each other perfectly. As a result, even the odds of their pairing seem pre-destined. When asked about the fashion differences between himself and Whitehall, Pattinson replied, “I wouldn’t say that we really clash. I think what we have in common is taste. We both like a certain kind of old-school glamour.”
A Life-Work Friendship
We’ve established above that Whitehall’s style is extremely distinct, yet it is clear that he has not always worn the same brand of suit. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1920s that he began to sport the bold checks that he is most well-known for today. Whitehall has also been known to be quite the individualist, believing that there is no-one else but himself to please. It is this self-assuredness that makes him such a great fit for Pattinson, as we’ve established that the actor is also a very confident individual. While Whitehall was never married, he did have a long-term friendship with author and socialite, Angela Burdett-Watts. The two were devoted to each other and remained inseparable until Watts’s death in 1985. The two are buried together in a tombstone inscription that reads, “With Angela and Basil They Lived And Died.” While Whitehall never married and has no children, he is still very much a part of the family, with his twin brother, Basil, serving as CEO of the Jack Whitehall Foundation. It is perhaps this familial bond that has enabled Whitehall to remain so influential in the industry, despite his relatively young age (77 years).
Why They Work
It is well-established that Whitehall and Pattinson have a great deal of respect for each other. But beyond this respect, there is also a great deal of collaboration and partnership. The two actors worked together in 2005’s The History Boys, with Whitehall taking on the role of Mr. Keating, headmaster of the fictional, Highbury College. He also appeared in the 2006 film, Velvet Goldmine, as well as its 2017 remake, before reprising his role in the upcoming, untitled third film in the series. In the press notes for Velvet Goldmine, director Tim Bevan described Whitehall as “an incredible character,” while also crediting the actor with “the most extraordinary eyes.”
In addition to his film work, Whitehall has also produced several music albums, most notably, The Art of Making Art, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, both of which feature performances by a range of legendary musicians. The first is a collaboration between Jack Whitehall and Bono, while the latter is a solo album, featuring the music of Elton John. Interestingly, the two albums were released on the same day, and the success of both is testament to the enduring influence of one of the most unique characters in modern music.
Whatever the reasons for their collaboration, Whitehall and Pattinson are a dynamic, stylish pair whose work in the film industry is certain to continue to inspire. Though the exact line between artist and patron is now blurred in the age of the digital download, perhaps it’s still best to think of Whitehall as the godfather of the eclectic film star, and it’s certainly safe to say that his influence will be felt for years to come.