From the moment the actor and the singer were photographed kissing in Rhode Island last summer, they became one of the most talked about couples in the world. Within the first month alone, Hiddleston and Swift—dubbed Hiddleswift—met each other's parents and traveled the world together. But when the public reacted to their whirlwind romance with skepticism, Hiddleston was confused. Fans wondered: Was their relationship a publicity stunt?
After a long pause, Hiddleston tells GQ, "Of course it was real."
The magazine's March cover story marks the first time Hiddleston speaks in-depth about his ex-girlfriend. Ever the gentleman, he only has nice things to say. "Taylor is an amazing woman," the 35-year-old actor tells GQ. "She's generous and kind and lovely, and we had the best time."
Swift had just ended her relationship with Calvin Harris when she met Hiddleston at the 2016 Met Gala. As he tells it, they were both looking for a genuine connection at the time. "So we decided to go out for dinner, we decided to travel…She's incredible," he says. But with the paparazzi trailing their every move, staying connected wasn't so easy. "A relationship in the limelight...A relationship always takes work. And it's not just the limelight. It's everything else."
Hiddleswift's relationship reached fever pitch when the Kong: Skull Island actor was photographed wearing an "I ♥ T.S." tank top at Swift's annual Fourth of July party. As he bonded with Swift's squad (including Cara Delevingne, Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Blake Lively and Ruby Rose), their romance seemed stronger than ever; Swift even shared photos of herself with Hiddleston—something she'd rarely done with Harris (and never did with previous boyfriends.)
So, why did Hiddleston make such a bold fashion statement?
"The truth is it was the Fourth of July and a public holiday and we were playing a game and I slipped and hurt my back," Hiddleston tells the magazine. "And I wanted to protect the graze from the sun and said, 'Does anyone have a T-shirt?' And one of her friends said, 'I've got this.'"
The friend gave him the "I ♥ T.S." tank top, he says, "and we all laughed about it. It was a joke."
"It was a joke," Hiddleston reiterates. "Among friends."
The think pieces and conspiracy theories that his tank top inspired drove him mad. "I have to be so psychologically strong about not letting other people's interpretations about my life affect my life. A relationship exists between two people. We will always know what it was," he says. "The narratives that are out there altogether have been extrapolated from pictures that were taken without consent or permission, with no context. Nobody had the context for that story."
For Hiddleston, it was a learning experience. "I'm still trying to work out a way of having a personal life and protecting it, but also without hiding. So the hardest thing is that that was a joke among friends on the Fourth of July...I just, I was surprised," the actor says in hindsight. "I was just surprised that it got so much attention. The tank top became an emblem of this thing."
The couple called it quits shortly before the 2016 Emmys; Swift, who wrapped her 1989 World Tour last year, has not yet commented on their relationship. Hiddleston doesn't regret dating the world's most famous pop star, though, "because you have to fight for love. You can't live in fear of what people might say," the actor explains. "You know, you have to be true to yourself."
Swift, no doubt, shares that sentiment.
No matter what, Hiddleston says, "I'm not going to live my life in hiding."
GQ's March issue hits newsstands in New York and L.A Feb. 14 and is out nationwide Feb. 21.