The Mag­nif­i­cent David Beckham

July, 2001: The Divine David Beckham: casting a godspell over Britain. But does the King of England really want to be Emperor of Europe?

To cel­e­brate the long-await­ed return of The Face, we have select­ed a stand-out sto­ry from each year of our exten­sive archive, from 1980 to 2004.

Remembered by photographer Vincent Peters

I was not very much into foot­ball back in the day, and I got the call ask­ing if I want­ed to shoot David in Man­ches­ter. I was like: Yeah he’s a good look­ing guy, why not?’ He hadn’t done so much [press] at that time. I think he shaved that mohawk espe­cial­ly for the shoot; that was his con­tri­bu­tion. Then I was up all night think­ing about what to do. I was watch­ing Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan on TV and I was think­ing: Yeah, man, these foot­ballers are like glad­i­a­tors – war­rior sol­diers. Let’s shoot him like this, get him dirty and make him look real­ly rough.’ He gave us three hours. I remem­ber him walk­ing in – I think it was some­where back of the sta­di­um of Man­ches­ter Unit­ed. He didn’t have a lot of tat­toos then, almost none. He was this very clean, very beau­ti­ful boy, almost like a Bot­ti­cel­li sculp­ture. For lunch, we had Chi­nese food and he was wear­ing this jeans jack­et with cut-up sleeves and I was, like: Woah, let’s save this soy sauce, it looks like blood.’ I put it over his jack­et, and he said: Give me this sauce for a sec­ond…’ And he start­ed pour­ing it on his face. I was, like: Woah, cool!’ So the blood soy sauce on his face was actu­al­ly David’s idea. And that shot made the entire front cov­er of The Sun news­pa­per. I think it was my only Sun cov­er, besides Kylie Minogue. Back then I was so young and these things just hap­pened. With David, he was just a foot­baller who I so hap­pened to get some good pics of. It was the same when I shot Bey­on­cé for The Face. We shot her in the toi­let in the hotel room, pour­ing water from the show­er over her face. And she kept get­ting shit in her mouth, and, in between, she was just say­ing: I think this is a real­ly artis­tic shoot, I’ve nev­er done any­thing like this!’ I don’t think today I would approach a celebri­ty shoot like that. And I don’t think Bey­on­cé would go back to the toilet.” 

Ger­man-born Vin­cent Peters start­ed his career in the UK work­ing for The Face and Vogue. He has been exhib­it­ed exten­sive­ly in fine art gal­leries and has his first muse­um show this spring/​summer, at Fotografiska Muse­um, Stock­holm. His clients have includ­ed Louis Vuit­ton, Yves Saint Lau­rent, Miu Miu, Bot­te­ga Vene­ta, Dun­hill, Her­més, Guess, Seiko, Lan­come, Diesel, Nike, Adi­das, Sam­sonite, Yves Saint Lau­rent, La Per­la, Net­flix and many more. 


He shoots, he scores, his hair­cut is a nation­al scan­dal. The Divine David Beck­ham: cast­ing a god­spell over Britain. But does the King of Eng­land real­ly want to be Emper­or of Europe?

Excerpt from a con­ver­sa­tion out­side the pub, North Lon­don, May 2001

So what d’you want to be when you grow up?

I wan­na be the new David Beck­ham. I’m good at foot­ball. I’m gonna prac­tise and prac­tise and get like him.” – Harley, an eight-year-old girl

The chil­dren love him. He talks like them, he mar­ried a pop star, he loves his son, he’s soft and gen­tle, he’s car­toon-pret­ty, in fun­ny clothes, he shoots, he scores, he’s a win­ner with every­thing that everyone’s ever dreamed of.

The hard men hate him. A per­fumed ponce, a celebri­ty hair­cut, an unnerv­ing­ly rich, famous and good-look­ing super­star, the stu­pid­est man in the uni­verse and a sports­man who mar­ried a woman who’s stronger than him.

Every­one else either fan­cies him, thinks noth­ing mat­ters but the cut of his feet, thinks he’s a decent man and the press should back off, or dis­plays peren­ni­al­ly British envy and self-loathing in the face of impos­si­bly spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess. The more over-the-moon he becomes, the more sick-as-a-par­rot they are.

To oth­ers still, he’s more impor­tant to the nation’s well being than Tony Blair, the real hold­er of the high­est office’ in the land.

Being Cap­tain of Eng­land makes you King of Eng­land, real­ly, doesn’t it? No, Cap­tain of Eng­land,” scolds David Beck­ham, ever so gen­tly, not King of Eng­land – yet.

Maybe one day, you nev­er know.”

Today is one week before the David Beck­ham Mohi­can Scan­dal 2001. Cut specif­i­cal­ly for these pho­tographs because he fan­cied a change’, it was a close-cropped, sub­tle, one-off visu­al idea for some cool’ pho­tos, due to be shaved off the next day. Instead, Beck­ham kept his hair on, decid­ed he real­ly liked it” and with­in the week it grew into the ver­ti­cal-mohawk-abuse-bonan­za-which-made-the-world explode. Beckham’s lat­est image was con­demned by Bri­an Clough as more like a bloody con­vict than an Eng­land captain”.

Eng­land man­ag­er Sven-Goran Eriks­son, Beck­ham will lat­er say, has laughed about it. I don’t think Mr Eriks­son can believe how much is being made of it… This is me. I am not doing it to cre­ate atten­tion. It’s just me.”

Then Eng­land beat Mex­i­co 4 – 0, David Beck­ham per­form­ing one of Them Free Kicks, and even the cop­pers were cheer­ing. Speak­ing from Athens three weeks after The Face shoot, the night before Eng­land play Greece in the World Cup qual­i­fi­er, Beck­ham will rea­son that it’s every­one else that’s mad, not him.

I’m not try­ing to say any­thing to the world through my hair­cut! I cer­tain­ly don’t see it as a scan­dal. What­ev­er any­one thinks about an Eng­land cap­tain hav­ing a hair­style, it’s what you do on the pitch rather than what you look like. The guys at Man Unit­ed had a good laugh at it and they gave me some stick. Even Alex Fer­gu­son had a chuck­le. A lot of kids will fol­low it, but then a lot fol­low by wear­ing a Man­ches­ter Unit­ed shirt with Beck­ham on the back.”

David Beck­ham 1, Foot­ball Estab­lish­ment 0. But that’s all in the future. Today, in Man­ches­ter, fresh­ly shorn David Beck­ham is the sort of Fan­ta­sy Dream Boy you’d sketch on paper if you were an artis­ti­cal­ly gift­ed ten-year-old child.

Vic­to­ria Beck­ham shocked’ the nation by declar­ing her hus­band an ani­mal in bed”

Last year, Vic­to­ria Beck­ham shocked’ the nation, again, by declar­ing her hus­band an ani­mal in bed”. The rea­son she was so thin, she quipped in her car­toon Sybil Fawl­ty lilt, was because she was hav­ing colos­sal amounts of sex all the time.

Course I am,” she trilled, I’m mar­ried to David Beck­ham – I’d be sil­ly not to, wouldn’t I, for good-nees sayik? He’s real­ly good!”

Right now, the Becks Machine is wan­der­ing silent­ly around the airy, white stu­dio in Sal­ford. In a crisp, white, plain T-shirt, shiny grey com­bats, Adi­das train­ers, dia­mond cross in each ear, dia­mond wed­ding ring giv­ing it bling-bling, Beckham’s sex­u­al allure is so tan­gi­ble it makes you grin, com­pul­sive­ly, like a goon.

It’s ridicu­lous.

The famous smile catch­es you like a flash­bulb – pop! flash! shim­mer! – but he doesn’t turn it on for effect. It’s more some­thing he’s try­ing hard to sup­press, but it’s waaaay too big. He’s deeply shy, doesn’t speak til he’s spo­ken to, and pos­sess­es the Zen-state seren­i­ty of absolute­ly no one you’ve ever met in your life. He’s a world-class 26-year-old ath­lete, for a start. Uncom­mon­ly dis­arm­ing, remark­ably sweet-natured. Today he pours a bot­tle of soy sauce on his head in the name of pho­to­graph­ic art. And then he laughs – neuh heuh!” – and his eyes turn into crys­tals, like he’s acute­ly, and per­ma­nent­ly, stoned out of his mind.

David Beck­ham is away-with-the-fairies alright. How could he not be? He’s one of the most tal­ent­ed peo­ple in the his­to­ry of tal­ent, Mr Britain and the most famous Eng­lish­man in the world. And the biggest woman in the entire his­to­ry of sport.

Look,” he says, in his high­ly com­i­cal, cock­ernee lilt, splay­ing out his big, hand­some hands. He is casu­al­ly seat­ed on a sofa in a tiny dress­ing room. Me nails have got all soy sauce in em. Ang on…” He floats out of his seat and chirps round the cor­ner to his’ make-up artist (David Beck­ham doesn’t do shout­ing): Louise? You wouldn’t do me nails, would you?” Well,” he says, float­ing back, I’ve got a do to go to tonight [a Man­ches­ter Unit­ed din­ner in aid of UNICEF at the city’s Mid­land Hotel]. (Pop!) I’ve got­ta wear a bow tie. (Flash!) I can’t go out with nails like that! (Shim­mer!) David Beck­ham: Super­star, Icon, Car­toon, Hero, Vil­lain, Laugh­ing Stock, Athen­ian Sex God, Tabloid Punch­bag, Gay Rights Rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Cor­po­rate Brand, Undis­put­ed Sport­ing Great. Floats like a but­ter­fly, stings like a but­ter­fly as well, Desmond. Except when he’s a mer­ci­less math­e­mati­cian on a foot­ball pitch.

I want to be the best,” says Becks, that’s the nature of me.”

World-class ath­letes: one-dimen­sion­al, mute-per­son­al­i­ty, focus-to-the-cause mus­cle-machines, prone to the cliché’s cliché (Muhammed Ali except­ed). With Beck­ham, it’s the same. He sim­ply doesn’t speak much; instead he’s a poet with his feet (and fond of the foot­er clas­sic you can nev­er write off the Ger­mans”). With him, how­ev­er, he’s got three times the worries:

1. He’s aware he’s per­ma­nent­ly talk­ing to The Sun, that the bland­est pro­nounce­ment poten­tial­ly turns, overnight, into Posh Spice Ate My Hamster”.

2. Every­one believes he’s daft, so he’s nat­u­ral­ly wary. Every­one,” he’s said, tries to catch me out.”

3. Right now, he shouldn’t be talk­ing to the press at all. (The Face asked, he said yes, that’s all there is to it.)

This sum­mer, David Beckham’s career is at its most impor­tant cross­roads yet. Cur­rent­ly in the midst of con­trac­tu­al nego­ti­a­tions, he’ll either stay at Man­ches­ter Unit­ed, the world’s wealth­i­est foot­ball club and up until the sea­son just gone, the world’s most suc­cess­ful foot­ball club (Unit­ed failed to dom­i­nate Europe this sea­son, though they won the Pre­mier­ship from a metaphor­i­cal ham­mock); or he’ll go off to Europe to play in the best leagues in the world, the tra­di­tion­al way you become the best”. Cur­rent title hold­er: Zinedane Zidane of Juventus.

In June 2002, Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, the man who ele­vat­ed Man U from medi­oc­rity to might, retires from man­age­ment. His plan had been that he would assume a pow­er­ful ambas­sado­r­i­al’ role at Man­ches­ter Unit­ed. Three days after our ini­tial inter­view, how­ev­er, the Unit­ed board reject this plan, talks break down’, and Sir Alex announces that he’ll be sev­er­ing all ties with the club from next Sum­mer onward. Which makes David Beckham’s com­ments on The Boss even more point­ed than they are on first hearing.

(Mus­ter­ing finest imper­son­ation of Alan Hansen) So… how impor­tant to you is Alex Ferguson’s pres­ence at Man Unit­ed?
It’s one of the biggest rea­sons why I signed for Man Unit­ed and why I’m here now, because of him. The man­ag­er is the rea­son I’m at Man Unit­ed and if I’m hap­py with the nego­ti­a­tions then I’ll sign.

(Total­ly bewil­dered already) So what does that mean, when this is his last year?
(Swerv­ing) Well, it’ll be inter­est­ing what hap­pens after that. It’s gonna be an emo­tion­al year next year, for all of us, because we grew up with him. I want to stay. (Firm­ly) I wan­na stay. At the end of the day, I’m a Man Unit­ed player.

Are you will­ing to play under a dif­fer­ent man­ag­er?
Uuum. I’m just going to have to wait and see. If it goes well, I’ll stay.

Because he signed his stan­dard five-year con­tract when he was a ris­ing star, for the last few years David Beck­ham has earned half the salary – £25,000 a week, of fel­low Man U play­ers Andy Cole, Jaap Stam, Ryan Gig­gs, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes (all cur­rent­ly on £50 – 55,000 a week). He could have cho­sen, years ago, to rene­go­ti­ate for finan­cial par­i­ty but he didn’t. The result being that, today, with his sta­tus nev­er high­er, he’s at his all-time opti­mum earn­ing poten­tial. Which also means he’s nev­er been a poten­tial­ly more expen­sive play­er to buy. If a trans­fer to Europe hap­pens, it is gen­er­al­ly agreed that he will be the most expen­sive foot­ball play­er on the plan­et, top­ping the £37 mil­lion Real Madrid paid for Portugal’s Luis Figo. To buy David Beck­ham now, you would prob­a­bly need around £40 million.

Is it as sim­ple as whether there’s more mon­ey to stay or whether there’s more mon­ey to go?
I don’t think it’s all about who gives the most mon­ey. Because there’s noth­ing that beats the feel­ing of win­ning medals and win­ning trophies.

But you’re not going to play for a los­ing side are you?
No. I don’t want to. I’ve nev­er done it.

So you real­ly don’t know whether you’re stay­ing or going?
I real­ly wish I could just say, That’s it, I’m here for good.” But there’s been play­ers that’ve set the line and said, No, I wan­na play, but [not] if it’s come to a point where I’m not gonna get what I deserve.”

What do you think you deserve?
Just what­ev­er the club thinks I deserve. As long as it’s fair and I’m looked after, then great. We’ve always been promised to be looked after by the club, and the man­ag­er always has looked after us, always, and he turns round to us now and says, Look after your­selves…” (Grip­ping my arm) Can we talk about some­think else now? I don’t like talk­ing about contracts!

But… we could be los­ing you for­ev­er here!
You’re not gonna lose me forever.

If you go to Barcelona you’ll be on, appar­ent­ly, £160,000 a week.
(Teas­ing­ly) How much?

One hun­dred and six­ty thou­sand pounds a week.
Bloody ell. Might as well go, then!

Three days lat­er, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed pie make it clear they aren’t inter­est­ed in look­ing after’ Sir Alex Fer­gu­son. Two-and-a-half weeks after that, Beck­ham – a man who could defuse a bomb by look­ing at it – tells me from Athens: What­ev­er goes on with Alex and the club is his busi­ness. All the team want him to stay. You have to be win­ning, though, to be happy.”

Infamy infamy, they’ve all got it infamy…

He didn’t have many close school friends because he didn’t join in with teenage tomfoolery”

David Beck­ham saw a doc­u­men­tary once about mod­ern celebri­ty fea­tur­ing a girl who hat­ed’ Posh n’ Becks, but bought every pub­li­ca­tion they appeared in any­way to find out what we’re doing”.

The new Roy­al Fam­i­ly, Mr & Mrs Tabloid Tyran­ny, the King and Queen of Pop­u­lar Cul­ture, the twin-head­ed, love/​hate, media-stoked celebri­ty obses­sion of the Celebri­ty Age… It is, says Beck­ham, a strange fas­ci­na­tion”. He nev­er” goes out with­out being recog­nised. His per­son­al rep­u­ta­tion as a pub­lic­i­ty junkie, Beck­ham thinks unfair. He (with his wife) has sold pho­tographs once: £1 mil­lion for wed­ding shots to OK! (to thwart the inevitable paparazzi pic­tures). Today is only his sixth mag­a­zine pho­to­shoot ever.

Peo­ple say we enjoy it,” he says, and to an extent you do. But if they’re gonna get pic­tures and put em on the front of mag­a­zines, it’s not our choice.”

For Brooklyn’s sec­ond birth­day in March, he and Vic­to­ria hired out a children’s play­park called Wacky Ware­house, near their pent­house flat in Alder­ley Edge, Cheshire. The press, as ever, went berserk.

We didn’t spend enough,” hoots Beck­ham. It only cost £300, appar­ent­ly, and last year we spent too much – £50,000, appar­ent­ly, which it wasn’t. Peo­ple always com­plain. Peo­ple always get car­ried away.”

Did you shave your head ini­tial­ly because West­life were at their peak fea­tur­ing three David Beck­hams”, and they’re the worst band in the world?
(Rolling around sofa) Neuh heuh! I can’t answer that! I shaved my hair ini­tial­ly cause there was so many peo­ple with my sort of hairstyle.

You had your trade­mark pinched. And trade­marks are real­ly impor­tant to you, aren’t they?

Are you aware of your­self as David Beck­ham: the Brand’?
Yes. It’s very weird. I was dri­ving through Lon­don the oth­er day and I looked up and I was on the back of a big red bus and I’m think­ing, What’s that all about?”

Why did you want to be the face of Police sun­glass­es?
I real­ly like the idea. I real­ly thought it was cool.

You obvi­ous­ly don’t need the mon­ey.
No I don’t, but I like doing it. I enjoy it.

Is it because you fan­cy your­self as a bit of a mod­el?
(Appalled) Oh no! No no no! I def­i­nite­ly don’t fan­cy meself as a mod­el, def­i­nite­ly not. I’m not good-look­ing enough for that. I’m not!

Well, why then?
I just like it! I think you’ve always got­ta have some­think out­side of your job. Shoots like this I enjoy, it’s an hon­our. Even though I’m all soy sauce.

Is it because you always want­ed to be much more than just’ a great foot­ball play­er. A leg­end? An icon?
Well, you don’t see the pos­si­bil­i­ties that you get com­ing. I nev­er thought of myself as being a leg­end. At a young age, I want­ed to be… I want­ed to be the best foot­baller in the world. Well, see… peo­ple say icon” and it’s a bit sort of embar­rass­ing for me to talk about…

I always thought you were at ease with it all.
I am in a way. So many peo­ple have talked about it I have got used to it. But I don’t turn round to Vic­to­ria and say, Good morn­ing, I am an icon.”

And she says, Good morn­ing, so am I.”
Exact­ly! And then you say, My icon’s big­ger than your icon.” Yeah. Then we explain to each oth­er what icons we are. Then I say, I’m a gay icon!”

That’s def­i­nite­ly a real foot­ball first, a bar­ri­er oblit­er­at­ed.
Yeah, I think it is. Because foot­ballers have always had that label of drink­ing and being macho and I think it’s def­i­nite­ly changing.

Is it because it’s the nature of the world: it’s a big, gay mod­ern world out there and you want to rep­re­sent it?
Well, it’s the nature of my world. So I’m hap­py with it, I’m com­fort­able, it’s nev­er been a prob­lem, ever, and why should it? It’s just the way I am. It’s the way I was brought up, I think. I’m not prej­u­diced against any­one. I’m not being false; I’m not one of them peo­ple that does it in front of peo­ple and then I’m some­thing else at home. I’m not like that at all. That’s who I am all the time.

Do you think it’s real­ly fun­ny that the foot­ball geezers have to give you your due because of your tal­ent when, in their minds, they can­not get over the fact that you are The Per­fumed Ponce?
(Chortling) Yeah. Neuh heuh! I do. I do. It’s hilar­i­ous. Deep down I don’t give a monkey’s. Before the Fin­land game [in March] we was stay­ing at a hotel and I got a phonecall from the press per­son in Lon­don say­ing, Have you just had a man­i­cure?” And I said, Well, yeah,” and she said, Well, one of the papers has got hold of it.” And I was like, Well, what’s the big sto­ry? I have had it done, but tell em I haven’t had it done.” They didn’t run it in the end – Eng­land Cap­tain Gets His Nails Done”!

He got here through prac­tis­ing’. Inher­it­ing his dad’s pas­sion for Man­ches­ter Unit­ed – Ted Beck­ham is a gas engi­neer with a sim­i­lar per­son­al­i­ty’ to Alex Fer­gu­son – the young David spent every night at the local park, Chase Lane in Ching­ford, Essex, shoot­ing, scor­ing and play­ing keepy-up til 11 o’clock.

The first time he scored from the halfway line, aged 13, he was mobbed by my mates”. Now, one of his free-kick spe­cials can seem like a freak goal’, but it isn’t.

He didn’t have many close school­friends because he didn’t join in with teenage tom­fool­ery. They’d be out with a bot­tle of Wood­peck­er and a fag, but he’d be in watch­ing Match Of The Day. Lit­tle Vic­to­ria Adams, mean­while, was exact­ly the same, iso­lat­ed from the Wood­peck­er mas­sive through being stuck-up’, swing­ing through school with her bal­let shoes con­spic­u­ous­ly aloft.

Both born per­for­mance exhi­bi­tion­ists, they’ve loved clothes for­ev­er. David, aged sev­en, went shop­ping with his hair­dress­ing mum San­dra for a page­boy out­fit for a fam­i­ly wed­ding (David has two sis­ters, Lynne, 29, and Joanne, 18). He insist­ed on white socks up to the knees, vel­vet maroon knicker­bock­ers, white bal­let shoes, a frilly Span­ish shirt and match­ing maroon waist­coat. Mum told him he’d be laughed at but David didn’t care. He start­ed wear­ing it round the house.

A skin­ny, plain, qui­et teenag­er, leav­ing school at 16 with no O Levels”

The only thing he was inter­est­ed in at school was art class­es. If foot­ball didn’t exist, he thinks he may have gone to art col­lege. An attendee of London’s Bob­by Charl­ton Soc­cer School and play­er with his local team, Ridge­way Rovers, Beck­ham was spot­ted by a Man­ches­ter Unit­ed tal­ent scout. When he was told he’d been picked for youth train­ing with the club, he leapt into the air and burst into tears. A skin­ny, plain, qui­et teenag­er, leav­ing school at 16 with no O Lev­els was a relief. I was going to Man­ches­ter to live my dream.” Ever since, his progress has been sys­tem­at­ic and relent­less: get­ting into the reserves, get­ting into the first team, win­ning the tro­phies, play­ing for Eng­land, win­ning awards – Best Mid­field­er In Europe, Sec­ond Best Play­er In The World (in 1999, when he lost out to Brazil’s Rival­do), Best Pass­er Of The Ball In The World Today.

From a sol­id, ground­ed, extend­ed, close-knit fam­i­ly of strong indi­vid­u­als’, the best, con­tin­u­al advice he’s ever received has come from the orig­i­nal man who nur­tured him. Chirps Beck­ham: My dad would always say to me, You’ve not done any­thing yet.’” A pause. The smile. Hasn’t said it late­ly. Neuh heuh!

David Beck­ham likes clothes so much because he doesn’t want to be a sheep’ and because they make him feel artis­tic’. The infa­mous Beck­ham sarong (Gaulti­er) wasn’t Victoria’s idea, it was his own, bought while shop­ping with Mel B’s ex-hus­band Jim­my Guizar in Paris. Ever since, the assump­tion is, he notes, that she’s wear­ing the trousers and she’s got him wear­ing a skirt”.

Do you and Vic­to­ria get mixed up talk­ing about the forth­com­ing sea­son’?
(Enor­mous grin) Sol Camp­bell always turns round to me when we meet up and says, So what’s the new thing this sum­mer, then? Come on, tell me, so I can go n’ get it.” He always winds me up. Nah, I nev­er get to the Sum­mer and think, This year I’m gonna be wearin’”… I just wear what­ev­er I feel like. I’m just… tacky. Neuh heuh!

What do you think your clothes say about you?
That I’m relaxed in what­ev­er I wear. I’m not afraid to wear some­think dif­fer­ent. (Flash) What do you think they say about me?

(Momen­tar­i­ly lit­er­al­ly blind­ed) I’m not telling you that.
You’re sup­posed to say you look like a tart!” And David Beck­ham gig­gles his head off.

Here in the 21st Cen­tu­ry, David Beck­ham is Miss World in 1974: a 100 per cent sex­u­al­ly objec­ti­fied fig­ure of intel­lec­tu­al ridicule. He’s seen Alis­tair McGowan’s impres­sion of Posh n’ Becks and finds it very good, one of the bet­ter ones”. He sailed through Ali G’s Com­ic Relief Posh n’ Becks pun­ish­ment with a hand­ful of words and a grin the size of Canada.

Ali G, to Posh: Is your lit­tle boy start­ing to put sen­tences togeth­er? And what about Brook­lyn?” Posh n’ Becks: Hee­hee­hee!

He was born with a phe­nom­e­nal­ly com­e­dy voice, has main­tained the car­toon lan­guage of the East End bar­rer-boy, car­ries a pro­found streak of ephemer­al strange­ness, and is a PR dis­as­ter to him­self. Today he’ll say one of the proud­est awards I ever received was Father Of The Year’. Where from? Er, can’t remem­ber…” and smile sweet­ly, com­plete­ly unperturbed.

On last year’s TV doc­u­men­tary, The Real David Beck­ham, he was ner­vous in the run-up to his Parkin­son inter­view. He was sure Parky would try to throw him with some big words’. Vic­to­ria, sit­ting next to him, was appalled: You make your­self sound stu­pid and you’re not.”

I am stu­pid,” he replied, every­one thinks I’m stu­pid,” (which is not the same thing) to which Vic­to­ria replied, with some accu­ra­cy, Well, they’re all ugly.”

Do you think peo­ple just want to believe you two are stu­pid and utter­ly shal­low beyond belief?
Mmm. Yeah they do. Which we’re not.

Can it only be jeal­ousy?
Mmm. Sup­pose so. Mmm. Nev­er mind.

Do you think it’s sad?
Yes. Very.

In all hon­esty, he looks like he couldn’t give a monkey’s about that either. You’d be as well giv­ing Isaac New­ton a hard time for being rub­bish at darts.

David Beck­ham believes in phys­i­cal per­fec­tion, with him­self, with a foot­ball, and with absolute­ly every­thing else, to the point of com­pul­sive dis­or­der. I’m just a very tidy person.”

Right now the three cen­tral­ly posi­tioned, joined-togeth­er mir­rors on the dress­ing-room wall are both­er­ing him. See, that dis­turbs me, there should be four mir­rors. There just should.” In hotels, he rearranges chairs and com­pli­men­ta­ry bot­tles of water and the like if they’re posi­tion­al­ly wrong’. He fills his room with the selec­tion of can­dles he takes with him every­where in the world.

What kind of can­dles?
Scent­ed candles.

Ehe­heh. Sor­ry!
(Bewil­dered, enor­mous grin) Whaat? I like to feel com­fort­able! I like to go into an envi­ron­ment where it’s like my envi­ron­ment what I live in. It’s a big per­fec­tion thing.

You once said you loved draw­ing round the edges of car­toons.
I just draw car­toons. Dis­ney car­toons. I’m alright. You can see it’s them! Eas­i­ly. Neuh heuh! I just like draw­ing car­toons, I’ve always liked art.

Quite strange that. Because that’s what chil­dren do.
Real­ly? What are you say­ing? That I’m a child? Neuh heuh!

I think a part of you def­i­nite­ly is.

And maybe a part of you has to be.
Yeah. Yeah.

Maybe you need some­where to escape to, from the mad­ness of grown-up stuff.

Well I think it’s very sweet.

The world’s full of vio­lence, full of gun-totin’ mad­men, d’youknowhatImean?
And I’m draw­ing car­toons. Of Mick­ey and Minnie.

David Beck­ham first saw Posh Spice on TV with some of the Unit­ed lads. He told his best mate Gary Neville that’s the girl for me, I’m gonna get her one day”. The day he first met her, in the green room at Old Traf­ford, he knew she was The One.

What did you see?
Per­fec­tion.” (Victoria’s par­ents’ reac­tion to their daughter’s news I’ve met a foot­baller”: Oh God…”)

Every sin­gle day up until they were liv­ing togeth­er, David sent Vic­to­ria a sin­gle yel­low rose. Today, when they’re apart, he still does, except now he sends two. When Brooklyn’s home with me, she gets one from him as well. Eheuh! Some­times he com­plete­ly fills their home with flow­ers or bal­loons. The night before she appeared onstage at G.A.Y. in Lon­don last Sum­mer, he sent a note: Good luck, Mum­my, lots of love, I’m think­ing of you, Brooklyn.”

For their first anniver­sary, he sur­prised her with a din­ner on top of Beck­ing­ham Palace, their sev­en-bed­room man­sion on the Hertfordshire/​Essex bor­der, on their roof-gar­den, with views across the grounds. He set up a table and two chairs – white linen, cham­pagne, can­dles every­where – and a Chi­nese take­away perched on an out­door hot-plate, still in its brown paper bag.

And that was the best thing about it,” he grins, the best thing about it. But I took some plates up there too.”

What did you have?

She had chick­en with cashew nuts and I always have every­thing. I just have the works. Every­thing it’s pos­si­ble to have.”

He smiles some more.

Some girls don’t like all that, though,” he says, some girls will be throw­ing up when they read this and some will go, Aaaw!’”

He loves the Posh Spice tunes and wan­ders round the house, says Vic­to­ria, absolute­ly mur­derin’ my bal­lads”. Yeah I do,” grins Beck­ham. He assures us, with con­sid­er­able pride, that her forth­com­ing solo LP is fright­en­ing”.

He still sur­pris­es her all the time. The last time was just before his 26th birth­day this May 2, with a two-day trip abroad.

She thought we was going to Paris,” he beams, but I thought of Venice, we’d nev­er been. And it was soooo roman­tic, hon­est­ly, so roman­tic. And we had quite a bit of prob­lems over there with pho­tog­ra­phers. But you’ve got­ta go on a gon­do­la, that’s the whole point of going to Venice. It was fun­ny – we went to get on the gon­do­la and we looked back and there was a gui­tarist, an organ­ist… organ­ist? Yeah, organ­ist and a singer and we’re think­ing,” We’ve got­ta get these off.’ Cause it’s gonna be obvi­ous it’s us on ere any­way, so we chucked em off. We had to. Can you imag­ine? Us going through the streets of Venice singing, One Cor­net­ta…!”

Oh, it would’ve been funny.

It was fun­ny enough just the thought of it.”

Do you two think each oth­er are excep­tion­al­ly fun­ny, and so are your lives?

We’ve got to,” he nods, cause there’s so many peo­ple wait­ing for us to slip up or have a go at us that we keep our­selves amused by our lives.”

Posh Spice takes it up the arse…nal”

Their rela­tion­ship, right from the start, was a giftwrapped abuse-bomb: 65,000 men in uni­son, week after week, do not chant Posh Spice takes it up the arse…nal” in the name of nice-one respect.

In the after­math of the World Cup 98 foot-flick moment-of-mad­ness send­ing-off, the goal­posts explod­ed. Beck­ham became The Most Hat­ed Man In Britain. The Sun hung his effi­gy – in sarong, head­scarf and Num­ber 7 shirt – from a lamp­post out­side a North Lon­don pub. In the fol­low­ing years, he heard: You’re wife’s a whore” and Hope your son dies of can­cer” (for that one, he stuck the mid­dle fin­ger up).

He’s received death threats, threats to kid­nap Brook­lyn, been booed per­sis­tent­ly on every pitch he’s played on. And absolute­ly none of it stopped him becom­ing Cap­tain of Eng­land. By March 2001, dur­ing the World Cup qual­i­fi­er against Fin­land, the win­ning Beck­ham goal saw a round-the-sta­di­um There’s only one David Beck­ham” chant rise up at Anfield, home of Man United’s life-long ene­mies (that’s Liv­er­pool). The cir­cle was complete.

I think since I got the Eng­land cap­tain­cy,” he says, even peo­ple who don’t want to like me want me to do well, because they want Eng­land to do well. But there’ll always be some abuse because peo­ple nev­er for­get. That’s the sad thing.”

Do you love fame?
Nine­ty-five per cent of the time.”

That’s idi­ot­ic. After every­thing that’s hap­pened?
Well, I always want­ed to be a famous foot­baller. And some peo­ple can’t han­dle it and some peo­ple can.”

June 6, Athens. Eng­land beat Greece 2 – 0, Becks per­form­ing one of Them Free Kicks despite being hit by bot­tles, coins and cig­a­rette lighters.

He’s Greek Light­ning,” faints The Sun, Suc­cess On A Plato”.

This wasn’t very good,” says Alan Hansen, this wasn’t out­stand­ing, this was… ab-so-lute-ly bril­liant! It’s the Beck­ham trade­mark, isn’t it?”

Brook­lyn Beck­ham is turn­ing out to be just like his dad. He absolute­ly loves foot­ball and he loves cars.” His first word was ball”. Dad David is think­ing about build­ing a five-a-side pitch in the Palace grounds for when he grows up and goes to school – he can be like, Come back to mine for a game of five-a-side!’”

Cur­rent­ly, David owns sev­en cars, his favourite being a sil­ver Fer­rari, a present from Vic­to­ria, the best present” she’s ever giv­en him, apart from Brook­lyn”. He doesn’t suf­fer wealth guilt. Not at all. I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways but I’ve worked bloody hard. It doesn’t come easy.”

Can you explain this floaty, Zen-like state you have?
I think it’s being hap­py,” he says, hap­pi­ly, in life. I’m not arro­gant, I’m not flash, I’m not big-head­ed, I’m hap­py.” A pause. I was hap­py before. I was hap­py any­way. All I ever want­ed to do was make my fam­i­ly proud of me. I’m just a local lad that’s worked hard. I want my son to be proud of what I’ve done.”

The Liv­ing Embod­i­ment Of The 21st Cen­tu­ry, he didn’t invent its lunatic extremes. It invent­ed him, packed his brown paper bag with every­thing it’s pos­si­ble to have in it, for doing a job he would hap­pi­ly have done for nothing”.

He’s a brand new ver­sion of the aspi­ra­tional, mas­cu­line, roman­tic Hero. A hybrid of a sober, phi­lan­der-free George Best, Brad Pitt, Busi­ness­man Of The Year and Michael Jack­son In Nev­erN­ev­er Land At Num­ber One With Bil­lie Jean

There’s only one David Beck­ham right enough: a tra­di­tion­al­ist in a rebel’s mohi­can, a mid­field gen­er­al with a man­i­cure, a leader of men with the spir­it of a kind­ly (and occa­sion­al­ly stub­born and uncon­trol­lable) child. In the week of the Mohi­can Scan­dal, to one male sports reporter who per­sis­tent­ly ques­tioned him about his hair, he quipped, dain­ti­ly: I think you fan­cy me.”

The tru­ly enig­mat­ic David Beck­ham is, def­i­nite­ly, quite lit­er­al­ly, a flash of genius.

Do you ever think about fate?
A lot. Like, the Euro­pean Cup Final (2000, Bay­ern Munich, both Man Unit­ed goals com­ing from Beck­ham Cor­ners) – that was just… pfff. One-nil down with three min­utes extra time to go and you get two goals… You just… it’s… pfff… that was fate. (Rubs a fore­arm) I’m get­ting goose­bumps. I am! Honestly!

He is. And his eyes are now dou­ble-stoned. He’s trans­form­ing. He seems to be glow­ing all over. Real­ly he is. It’s strange.

Some­times, since you won’t say it, what you do with your feet seems mirac­u­lous. The free kicks, for exam­ple.
(Shim­mer­ing) Well, it is to me when I’m play­ing it. As soon as I’ve hit the ball I know whether it’s in. Hmn. It’s just a feel­ing I get. Instinct, I think.

Or is it? Could it be a com­plete under­stand­ing of what’s going to hap­pen between that foot, the ball, the goal and what’s stand­ing in front of you? A ques­tion of physics?
(Bemused silence)

So if it’s not the angles, what does go through your mind when you’re tak­ing one of Them Free Kicks? Exact­ly?
Everyone’s look­ing at me.”

Good God. And that doesn’t destroy it’?

The spotlight’s actu­al­ly what makes it?
Yeah. (The Smile) This is my time.”

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