You can’t predict when it is going to come. Maybe you’re on a date and the person sat opposite asks “when was your last serious relationship?” and all you can think is: GO COMPAAAARE, GO COMPAAAARE. Maybe you’re at a funeral and the coffin is slowly descending into the ground and you loved your aunt Carol and yet your brain is polluted by thoughts of: GO COMPAAAARE, GO COMPAAAARE. Maybe you’re in an English Lit exam and you need to get a first in order to get a 2:1 overall and you’re trying to remember that quote from that critic you wrote out ten times to memorise and yet in the blackness where it should sit is none other than: GO COMPAAAARE, GO COMPAAAARE.
The Go Compare advert is in all of us, like the alphabet, the potential to carry herpes or the awareness of right and wrong. But with ubiquity comes resentment. And Gio Di Compario, the star of the Go Compare ads since 2009, is the target of a hate campaign which stretched across social media and into real life. The Facebook group "'GO COMPARE! GO COMPARRRREEEEEE' 'GO FUCCK OFFFFFF'" has been liked by 74,000 people. "That fat guy on the go compare advert needs to be shot" has 1,200 likes. "KILL THE GO COMPARE MAN!!!!!" got 13,600. Someone in Kilburn graffitied a picture of Gio so that his mouth was an open drain pipe. In 2012, he was voted “Most Irritating Man in the UK”.
Peel back the moustache, undo the bow tie, remove the curly wig, and behind the character of Gio is a man – a Welsh opera singer named Wynne Evans who spends most of his time in suburban Cardiff, to be exact. I wanted to meet Wynne to know what it was like to be the target of such omnipresent vitriol. How do you live with over a decade of public resentment – one that looks set to continue with the January launch of the new Go Compare campaign?
Wynne hosted a 60-person party last night, so this afternoon he’s feeling pretty shit. Stacked up in the 47-year-old’s garden are large buckets, which only a few hours earlier were filled with champagne. There was a pizza van. It remains unclear whether his hot tub was turned on. Wynne walks about his kitchen in a grey cardigan and jeans, scraping his fingers across his forehead.
He’s paying for all that excess now, but his manner makes me feel immediately comfortable, like I'm with a long-time family friend – the one who tells your parents to lay off you when they nag about applying for that scholarship or swearing too much. So how did he end up starring in the Go Compare ads?
Wynne sits me down in front of a perfectly brewed cup of tea. “My dad was a farmer who became a carpenter, but really he could have been an opera singer,” he explains. “My mum ran the local amateur dramatics company in our small town – Carmarthen – of 16,000.”
Growing up, Wynne went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama before becoming an established opera singer with the Welsh National Opera. His roles included Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore, Cassio in Otello, The Duke in Rigoletto, Rodolfo in La bohème and more. On a whim, a friend asked him to be the singing voice of Gary Lineker in a Walkers crisps advert. It went so well that an agent got in touch a few months later to see if he was able to audition for an advert for the price comparison website Go Compare.
Initially they wanted a thin, dandy-ish man who was light on his feet – Wynne was only meant to be the voice. But he says he was so charismatic in front of the camera that they decided to use him for the whole thing.
The Go Compare song is a riff off First World War anthem “Over There”, first written to try and persuade men to sign up to fight and donate money to the war effort. Wynne sang it, added in some comedy improv and walked away from the shoot thinking no more about the advert other than how pleased he was with his new paycheck.
No one was expecting a reaction on the scale that it took place. Wynne was on a family holiday in France when the adverts aired. On a sun-lounger, he scrolled through the social media comments, which varied in severity from calling him fat to warnings that they would kill his mother. Wynne’s then-wife told him to stop reading. Everyone told him to stop reading. But it’s a difficult thing to ignore when your phone is at your fingertips.
“I was absolutely devastated by the reaction because I thought everybody would love it," Wynne explains. "But within minutes there were hate sites dedicated to me on social media. You know, it's like an addiction. I’d get up every day and read through them and it was horrible."
Much of the problem lay with how often the advert was playing on TV. In 2010, Go Compare invested £28 million on making sure Gio Di Compario was literally everywhere. In 2013, its jingle became the most played music in adverts. People were sick of seeing it. Thanks to the arrival of Facebook and Twitter, they could also tell Wynne they were sick of seeing it.
Aside from hurting due to the nasty comments, a lot of Wynne’s concern was financial. “I’d been given this decent sum of money for featuring in the ads. It wasn’t huge, but it was more than I had ever earned in one chunk before, right? I thought that’s going to go now, because there’s no way they’re going to get me back to film another.”
He also felt that he’d failed a company filled with people he cared about. “When I started working there, it was a startup with about 20 people all crammed into one the room,” he says. “I felt like I’d let them all down.”
Wynne returned from France nervous to confront the CEO of Go Compare, Hayley Parsons. Wynne apologised when he walked into her office. “I said ‘I’m so sorry, this is terrible’ and she was like, ‘Wynne, we’ve quadrupled our profits by 500 percent.’ Go Compare went from losing millions to making millions within six months. I remember meeting with one of the ad execs, I said, ‘But I thought people found it annoying?’ She replied, ‘Annoying is another word for effective’.”
Ad agency DDB knew what they were doing all along. Rather than make ads that focussed on explaining the functions of the product, they made ads that sold an idea, a lifestyle, or were just so damn annoying that they got inside your brain in a way that made it hard to think of anything else. DDB were behind the Smash Martians of Smash instant mash potato, the red telephone from Direct Line and the glam blondes of Shelia’s Wheels car insurance.
“I remember one of them saying to me at dinner the night before the first ad came out: ‘Tomorrow your life is going to change forever,’" Wynne recalls. "But I didn’t really comprehend what they meant."
After the success of Gio Di Compario, Wynne says that Go Compare didn’t waste much time before starting on the second round of ads. This time the idea was to accede to the public’s distaste of Gio by acknowledging his irritating nature. One sees Ray Mears catch him in a hunting net. Another shows Stephen Hawking creating a black hole powerful enough to suck him into it. A third saw Gio stalked and shot with a bazooka by Sue Barker. Each advert ended with the slogan “Go Compare: Saving the Nation” – the suggestion being that by capturing, blowing up, or disintegrating Gio Di Compario into a particle-less nothing, we were all going to feel a little bit better about ourselves.
It might seem slightly insensitive for Go Compare to take the target of such real-life hatred and use it as a way to reach more customers, but Wynne is better than most at taking a joke. He tells me about the experience of meeting Stephen Hawking on set: “You're like, ‘oh my god, how is this conversation going?’ I'm talking to the most intelligent man in the world and I probably sound like a dick. But when I turned to walk away, he said, ‘Hasta la vista, fatty’.” I ask Wynne whether that upset him: “I thought that is hilarious. He's a funny guy. He was a very funny guy, actually.”
This wasn’t the only time Wynne mentions his weight. When he walked into the Royal Opera House, the receptionist asked him, “Opera or ballet?” Wynne grins: “I said ‘what do you think?” He jokes about not needing to put on a fat suit to play the part of Gio. When he tells me about a former Page 3 girl who always finds fake accounts that use her picture, he also jokes that his appearance means he’s not in danger of the same thing happening. It’s difficult to tell whether this is because of Wynne’s sense of humour, or because the hate mail means he’s more aware than ever of his body.
When the second round of ads came out, even he struggled with some of their content. “I didn't particularly want to get shot." His lips tighten slightly to indicate he doesn’t want to say much more on the matter. He wasn’t alone on that one – more than 40 people complained about the distressing contents of the ad. “Sometimes I say I don’t care,” Wynne tells me. “But I really do, yeah.”
Wynne has learned that the best way to deal with trolls is to speak to them as it forces them to recognise you as human. Once he responds, they often realise there’s a person behind the screen who doesn’t like being called fat or worthless.
“One time I replied to this guy who would always call me stuff, saying: ‘You know what? I’m paying a mortgage, I’m an opera singer and I’m in an advert for a price comparison website – you can use it if you want to use it, if you don’t want to use it then you don’t have to use it. But don’t do this because it’s pointless.' Eventually, we got a bit of banter going. We actually met up for a beer and after that became great friends. Jeff isn’t with us anymore, sadly he passed away. But he went on to become a presenter on a gay radio show in Manchester.”
Wynne had another similar interaction with a troll after singing at the opening of the new Spurs stadium. “Some guy tweeted: ‘You spent a billion pounds on a stadium all you can afford is the Go Compare man’,” Wynne says. “I followed him and we got chatting. Soon he stopped the nasty comments. He just needed to have that moment of realisation where he sees I’m a football fan, just like he is. People are generally really nice. Even the people that are really nasty.”
Even though it brought him all this hate and opposition, Wynne is grateful for what the Go Compare ads have given him. “People will say ‘sing it to me’ and I always do because this what bought me my house, gave me financial security. Why would I be irritated by it?” Thanks to those paycheques, Wynne now has four houses, a girlfriend, a show on Radio Wales, two critically acclaimed albums and enough connections to get Princess Diana’s wedding dress designer to take his daughter shopping for a prom outfit like she’s on an episode of Say Yes to the Dress.
In Wynne’s latest Go Compare ad, Gio crashes his car into a tree and it flips over, presumably crushing him. So far the ASA has had 70 complaints, but Wynne’s the one living the good life in a house with a smart system where you can verbally ask for the heating to go up rather than having to do it manually, so who’s laughing? Better GO COMPAAAARE which scenario you’d rather be in. After 11 years in the limelight, people being mean online still annoys Wynne, but it doesn’t sting like it used to.
“People can say what they want. I've got my friends around me and I’ve got my family, I know who I am,” he says. “The first time somebody calls you fat it hurts, but after the thousandth time it's water off a duck's back. Now when I hear people winging saying ‘oh, somebody said this to me on social media’, I think, God, you want to try being the Go Compare man for a day! It’s pretty brutal out here’.”