At the top of a steep, snowy slope on Hampstead Heath a few winters back, so the story goes, a disparate group of north London parents were expressing mild concern to one another about their unruly children, tobogganing down the ice together on assorted tea trays and sledges. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” agreed one slim man in a grey beanie hat, looking round good-naturedly. In response the other parents started edging away, as of one mind, and the friendly banter froze in the frosty air. Yet there was nothing visibly wrong with this father. Far from it. In fact, he was near perfect. He was also, they had realised, David Beckham.
For all the vast, enviable wealth revealed last week in the joint Beckham family bank account, each of its members – father, mother, three sons and a little daughter – are condemned to walk a strangely isolated path through the world. High levels of grooming, good looks and international fame ensure that David and Victoria, his wife of 17 years, and their children rarely pass among us without provoking, at most, a paparazzi frenzy and, at least, a moment of social awkwardness.
On Friday, Beckham père had another crack at normal seasonal fun. He gamely took his children along to sample the tinselly delights of Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland fairground. Flanked by a bodyguard, their every move was snapped by photographers. Some might think this a fair exchange for daily luxury and the security of knowing you and your family will always be able to afford the best of everything, but it does also mean that a celebrity couple once affectionately ridiculed for the ordinariness of their outlook now operate on a restrictive level of status previously reserved for heads of state. Their riches, estimated at more than £500m, actually make them better off than the Queen.
As a result, like a royal family, it has become difficult to relate to their lives or judge how genuine their public personas are. After all, when Romeo Beckham wants to try out tennis he gets to have a knockabout on court with Andy Murray, and when Harper Beckham, five, wants a new party dress she goes straight to the front row of a Paris catwalk.
Last week attention focused on 11-year-old Cruz Beckham, who has just released a charity single with an eye to the Christmas charts. Victoria’s Instagram followers have already been treated to glimpses of Cruz crooning. And fair enough, why not? She is a proud mother. But the ease with which this boy has been able to fulfil a dream of singing success has rankled with some. Piers Morgan was characteristically forthright, accusing the Beckhams of “pimping out” their son. “I don’t know how he managed to release a pop single. It’s sickening. Put him on a talent show if you wanna see how good he is,” he added.
Sales of the song, If Every Day Was Christmas, will raise money for Make Some Noise, which aids families coping with disadvantage, and it is certainly true that Cruz’s approach to the project has been down-to-earth. The project, he guilelessly announced, combines “two of my favourite things, Christmas and singing”. So perhaps the only questionable element here is the wisdom of exposing a young lad to so much potential criticism, even on a charitable footing. David and Victoria pride themselves on their strict and unfussy approach to parenting, so those without malevolence should wish that Cruz was clued-up in advance about just how unsparingly his talents were likely to be critiqued.
The handling of wealth and privilege, and specifically of inheritance, is now a hot topic among super-rich families. American tech moguls Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have set a high bar by granting much of their personal fortunes to good works and posterity, rather than their children. In Britain, multimillionaires Duncan Bannatyne and Simon Cowell have made similar indications, while financial service companies have new departments advising people with large fortunes how to bestow their cash legacies. The fiscally encumbered need only look at troubled dynasties such as the Rausings to remind them of the damage a giant bequest can do.
So far the younger Beckhams appear to be doing well. Not only do they look happy gadding about in designer schmutter, they also have gained work experience aplenty. Brooklyn, 17, trained with Arsenal’s youth academy and has become both a photographer and the face of the Pull & Bear brand; Romeo, 14, has worked with Burberry and also tried out football with the Gunners; and Cruz, as we know, is flexing his vocal cords; finally, Harper has her own fashion blog.
Sadly, for many of those pop culture fans who dutifully watch the Beckhams from the sidelines, it is all about the schadenfreude. There is a bleak public faith in the law that people who “have it all” must surely fall, just as Brad and Angelina’s fairytale came down with a bump this September when their private jet landed on the tarmac that ill-fated day. The Beckhams, too, have been shaken by bouts of turbulence. A claim of illicit love sold to the media by David’s former assistant, Rebecca Loos, in 2004 took an effort to recover from, while Victoria’s health, weight and happiness were once a source of repeated speculation in celebrity magazines.
In truth, this family’s biggest asset is not money. To the extent the Beckhams inspire public goodwill, it is down to the hard work that the boy from Leytonstone and the girl from Harlow clearly put into shaping their lives. As such, they contrast gloriously with that other conspicuously wealthy clan who are about to move into the White House.
David, 41, has inspired works of art, films and musicals, and made huge amounts last year from fashion sponsorships. But he continues to work with Unicef and has invested in a plan to build a new soccer stadium in Miami.
Veteran sports writer Brian Oliver is a fan of Beckham’s elegance on the pitch, but he concedes that his football was never quite as good as his fame suggested; not up against contemporaries such as Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldhino.
“I wouldn’t knock him as an England player though,” says Oliver. “I won’t forget when John Motson told millions of BBC viewers ‘Beckham has virtually played Greece on his own,’ when he scored the last-minute free-kick that earned England a place in the 2002 World Cup finals.”
Despite plenty of triumphs with his various clubs, abiding memories of Beckham on the field are from England games, adds Oliver.
When it comes to Victoria, 42, perhaps the most remarkable achievement is that today it can take a moment to remember to call her Posh Spice. Manufactured with the rest of the Spice Girls in the 1990s, she rode a rocket to VIP land, regardless of a consensus that her singing was not up to much. This year she ducked involvement in another reunion project, GEM, and she generally exhibits an aloof attitude to the whole girl power thing.
Instead, she is a genuinely respected force in the world of fashion. Observer Magazine deputy editor Alice Fisher has watched her design career flower. “The industry has always been fascinated by her, and from the debut collection she’s always had good reviews,” Fisher says. “The clothes may not be widely affordable, but a lot of women covet that style. In the early days there were rumours that other designers were involved, but that was a media thing.”
Working with a large creative team is not unusual, according to Fisher. “And she works really hard. When she opened her Dover Street store she personally showed various fashion editors around. That was an impressive level of effort. She was extraordinarily knowledgable about the design, the fixtures in the fitting room, everything.”
Intrigued, the renowned fashion writer Suzy Menkes pulled a random shirt off a rail and asked how much it cost. “Victoria didn’t know, but saw the funny side.”
A duo of few words – he perceived as shy, she as sulky – David and Victoria emit abundant star wattage: The Beckham Effect. As Oliver puts it: “England matches have been turgid for many years, but that was not the case when David played. He often lit up the game.”
No surprise, then, when he was chosen to swoosh down the Thames in a speedboat to hand the Olympic torch to Sir Steve Redgrave in 2012. A moment of true national pride.
THE BECKHAM FILE
The Beckham file
Moment of birth Twenty years ago in the Manchester United players’ lounge, when a lovestruck Victoria Adams gave David her phone number, scrawled on a plane ticket. She recalled: “Other football players stand at the bar drinking with their mates… David [is] standing aside with his family. And he has such a cute smile…”
Best of times The monarchs of pop and football celebrate their union on bling-tastic thrones at their wedding in 1999. Their joy is soon amplified by the birth of three sons: Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz, and their daughter, Harper.
Worst of times PA Rebecca Loos’s claims about David’s infidelity in 2004 cut deep. Victoria is reported to have controlled the family “brand” image ever since, although rumours about the marriage are a constant feature of celebrity magazines.
He says “I’ve never seen myself as a celebrity, but I see it in a positive way, the fact that people are still interested in most parts of my life.”
She says “I want to make women feel like the best version of themselves. I want to empower women and share things I have learned over the years.”
They say ”Nothing against poor little Cruz Beckham, but I’ve got a lot of issues with what his parents are doing.” Piers Morgan.
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