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.
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.
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?
(Professionally)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…
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.
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?
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?
(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.
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.”
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?
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.”