The real-life teachers at his Warrington comprehensive had discouraged him from going to drama school, on the grounds that for every actor in work, there were 1,000 out of it. He went instead to art college in London but during his second year he dropped out to work for Vivienne Westwood's organisation. While he was in Paris on business, a photographer doing a Calvin Klein jeans shoot suggested that he think about the catwalk. So Williams joined a model agency.
"It was the time of Kate Moss and heroin chic; I was skinny with long hair and was fashionable for a couple of years," he says. In fact, he spent three years in his early twenties in front of the cameras. He was featured in Vogue, Arena, The Face and i-D. He was on the cover of Suede's Coming Up, which is listed in the top 50 album covers ever.
A couple of fashion mannequins were even based on him: "I was a symbol of the times. It was funny walking past Harvey Nichols and seeing myself in a blond wig. I thought, hey - you're the look of the moment!
"I wasn't in cheesy catalogues; it was all high fashion. A few commercials: I was in the first TV commercial for FCUK. There was dialogue between me and a girl in which every word began with the letters F, C, U or K. I had to say, 'Unusual knickers'." This should not, he stresses, be mistaken for anything of a thespian nature: "I always cringe when models say modelling is like acting. It's not. You just stand there and pout. It's exterior, not interior."
It was fun, it was travel, it was David Bailey turning up for lunch. It meant hanging around - upside down in the case of a clothes campaign in which he and a girl posed in Piccadilly while suspended in a cage. The real downside came when he flew to Milan in time to witness a screaming match at Versace about skinny British lads being replaced by bigger US males. Although he wasn't one of the weedy Brits to be sacked, he felt that fun was going out of fashion. He quit when ahead, and at 31 is an actor who, despite his teachers' fears, is actually working. And the right way up.
The 'Teachers' series four DVD boxset was released this month at £19.99
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