Goldenballs... Blend It Like Beckham
He is one of the world's most famous, and idolised, male superstars. David Beckham meets Barry Egan in London to tell LIFE magazine exclusively about his new fragrance; his biggest fashion regrets - matching leather Gucci outfits, in case you are wondering; hipster beards; and his memories of getting married on a throne in Ireland. He also says what he thinks of Louis Walsh, Roy Keane, Robbie Keane; what his kids think of him, and how he prepares for a date with his wife
Tony Parsons wrote in a GQ article a few years ago that, "all men live in the shadow of David Beckham - who looks far fitter, in every sense of the word, in his late 30s than he did in his early 20s."
I don't think I'm really going out on a limb when I say that Mr Beckham, who turns 40 next month, is very good-looking. When he walked into One Marylebone - once Holy Trinity Church - the temperature in the room seemed to change. Every woman, and possibly a few of the men, appeared to fall swooningly in love, albeit temporarily, with the blond idol.
As a football fan, I appreciated that this was the same half-man, half-god who scored that goal from the halfway line for Manchester United against Wimbledon in August 1996. So, meeting Beckham in London meant that I had ticked off another item on my bucket list.
I ask him who was the best Irish man he has ever played with - Roy or Robbie Keane? (For those of you who view Beckham purely as homoerotic, hunk-in-trunks eye-candy par excellence, allow me to gently remind you: he was rather good with a football for Man U alongside Roy, before going on to play with Robbie at LA Galaxy in Los Angeles.)
The question takes him slightly aback. "I couldn't pick between the two," he says, "but obviously I respect them both. I love them both - as individuals, as players."
"You know, obviously I spent a lot of time with Robbie in the last five years and, you know, he is one of the reasons why we had the success on the field that we had, because of his talent and his drive.
"But, I mean, Roy will always be one of the best midfielders I've ever played with - his passion. There are not many players I've played with who have the passion that he has, and the drive. He was one of the reasons why we were successful at Manchester United, because of his drive. He made us better players and better people."
Do you weep for your old team now?
"No. No, I don't. But I want to see them get better. We will at some point. We're not doing bad at the moment." [This interview took place a few days before, embarrassingly, Arsenal knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup.]
Do you not think Manchester United would perhaps be better with Louis Walsh rather than Louis Van Gaal as a manager?
"No, no, no, I like Van Gaal. I also like Louis Walsh. But not as manager of Man United!"
Now retired from playing soccer, David has swapped bending it like Beckham with the likes of Man United (as well as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and LA Galaxy) for blending it like Beckham for global beauty-products manufacturer Coty.
Asked about his legacy, he answers: "Obviously, I've been successful on the field and it's what's led to me being successful off the field. I just want people to look back on me in my career as a hard worker, and obviously successful with the teams that I've been with.
"Off the field, I want people to see that I've made a difference in some way; whether that's with the football club we're creating in Miami" - he says of his plans for a potential Major League Soccer expansion club in Miami -"or the business side of things, or more importantly, the stuff that I do with Unicef and the 7 fund we've created." Beckham - who has been a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for over a decade - has an initiative, 7: The David Beckham Unicef Fund. Its stated aim is to "protect millions of children around the world from danger".
"I just want to make a difference," says Beckham. "Some people turn round to me and say, 'Don't you want to be a manager? A coach?' The thing that I'm most passionate about is the charity work I've done with Unicef over the last 10 years. We've also just agreed to do another 10 years with the 7 fund."
In person, the superstar is very funny, very cool, very gracious, enormously charming, like a Cary Grant from Chingford, whose parents are a hairdresser and a gas-fitter. I was expecting him to be fey, even slightly introspective in person - Julie Burchill wrote, erroneously, in her 2001 book, Burchill on Beckham, that Beckham has the late Lady Diana's shy, downward smile. He doesn't. He is, in fact, all about the eye contact and engagement.
He also doesn't have the voice that all the impersonators think he does. He speaks in a deeper tone than you imagine.
And, of course, he is vain, but it would be bizarre, with the level of adulation he receives, if Beckham was a bit short on narcissism. Be that as it may, he isn't short of candour either.
I don't make any claims for having found out who David Beckham really is behind the mask he presents to the world. But I felt I got a glimpse, however fleeting, of the real deal, complete with a real sense of humour: most superstars who are worth hundreds of millions do not have it in them to laugh at themselves, because their self-importance overtakes them.
Beckham - whose peacocky style defines him as much as he defines the age in which he lives - has no such problems with self-deprecation. As you will see from the following light-hearted exchange . . .
Is there a look that you regret, David?
"I don't regret anything," he says like a legitimate superstar, a true pop-culture idol, before reflecting for a fraction of a second. "But it doesn't mean I don't look back and think, 'What was I thinking?' Because there are certain parts throughout my relationship with Victoria or my own individual style . . . You know, I do look back and think, 'What was I thinking?' But at the time it was great! Or I thought it was great," he laughs.
"So, yeah, certain moments, like when we wore matching Gucci leather outfits - we both look back on that and think, 'OK . . .'
"And obviously, people always talk about the sarong, but I think it was great," he says, laughing again.
What about the thrones when you and Victoria got married in Ireland?
"Yeah, the thrones," he says. "We've still got the thrones, actually, believe it or not," he roars. "Yes - that was definitely one thing that we look back on and think, 'Oh my goodness!'
"But . . ." he sighs at the memory of the July day in 1999 that he married one of the Spice Girls, Posh Spice aka Victoria Adams, in Luttrellstown Castle. (It was the celebrity wedding of the decade, complete with the aforementioned and impossibly kitsch his 'n' hers golden thrones at their reception.)
As for other parts of Posh 'n' Becks' past that he might or might not regret, sadly, I didn't have the courage to mention the myth, perhaps unwittingly propagated by his wife, that he wore her underwear.
For the record: When I met Victoria in London way back in August 2001, she laughed that her husband understood her "tongue-in-cheek sense of humour" - a reference to Victoria telling the world Becks wears her knickers. I remember telling her that I was surprised that they would fit him.
"That's the thing," she spluttered. "He would be squashed up! And then there's a big debate in the papers. I couldn't believe the amount of attention that that one quote caused. It was totally misunderstood. I wanted to say to people: 'Do you really think David would wear my knickers?'"
But back to 2015 and David. How do you prepare for a date with Victoria?
"How do I prepare?" He repeats the question, possibly playing for time. "They are very few and far between at the moment because we, obviously, have four kids and the majority of our time is spent with the kids and working, of course, but when we do have date-time . . .
"I mean, we don't need to impress each other any more. I think it is important that you always spend time with your wife, with your partner, and the time that you spend with them could just be going for a walk through the park or just going for dinner.
"Those moments are special, and I think when you show each other attention - I mean, you need that. You need that," he emphasises, with touching emotional realness.
"We've been married for 15 years and we've lived together for 17 years. It's an amazing part of our life and we have created something with our children and with our family that is very special. We have got four amazing kids. But, you know, it is the little things that mean a lot, and I think when you make time for each other, that is the most important thing in a relationship."
Tragically, he didn't mention the importance of cute nicknames in a marriage. Lest we forget, in 2001, Victoria dubbed him Goldenballs because, as the apocryphal tale went (and David and Victoria's past is filled with apocryphal tales), he'd apparently turned his image around after being sent off at the 1998 World Cup for kicking out at Diego Simeone, captain of Argentina.
One Marylebone was built in 1826-28 to mark the defeat of Napoleon; today, it's marking the launch of a certain new fragrance, Beckham Instinct Gold Edition. Beckham is here to celebrate 10 years of his Instinct fragrance, and over 10 million bottles being sold worldwide, making it the biggest-selling celebrity fragrance of all time, outselling the likes of Beyonce and Katy Perry.
So, one line of enquiry, slightly exasperatingly, was to be about his new scent, or at least smell. Absolutely no snidey questions about come-hither senoritas.
I am told, before being granted access to the main man, that my questions to him have to have, at least initially, a scent theme. Stick to getting him talking, as he did, about blending the notes of lemon, bergamot oil, cardamom, rosemary oil, vetiver and patchouli for Instinct. Got that? The bottle is gold - like his balls, according to no better source than his wife . . .
Other than with perfume, what does David think is the best scent on a woman?
"I don't think there is anything sexier than when a woman has just got out of the shower," he answers, "and has that fresh kind of smell. Without going into too much detail, I just think that can be something that is very special on a woman. On the fragrance side, I think it is always important that it is not overpowering - the smell on a woman, and on a man. I think it is very important that you see the person before you smell them."
What do your sons think of you?
"Well, thankfully, my two younger boys still think I'm a cool dad."
"Brooklyn not so much any more," he laughs. "But I keep on having to remind him that I'm actually one of the cooler dads. And I dress kind of cool at times. But there are, I think, moments now for him as a 16-year-old, where he is going to be thinking, 'that's so embarrassing, Dad'." (Becks seems to be used to personal slights from his bambinos. He told the host on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January: "My little girl turned around to me the other day - I had just bathed her and I was towelling her down, and she said, 'Daddy, I love you so much. But I don't like you, you're so chubby'. I mean, I didn't think I was!" )
"But for Brooklyn's birthday," he continues, "I got him a pair of the Kanye shoes. So for about five hours I was in his cool books. Other than that, the other boys," he says, meaning Romeo and Cruz, "thankfully find me cool, still."
Do they take things out of their old man's wardrobe?
"Brooklyn. Every single day. Every single day. I had a pair of Saint Laurent leather trousers, which I'd never worn. Leather trousers. Very daring. And Brooklyn found them and wore them. And is still wearing them."
I saw Brooklyn wearing the trousers in a picture with his dad."Well, those pants were my pants. So, they were my trousers, but they definitely are not mine any more. I notice something missing in my wardrobe every single day. So I'm obviously not that embarrassing."
Indeed, last year, Brooklyn did an eccentric, very dad-like shoot in the New York Times Style Magazine.
Which of your kids is most likely to take after you in the style stakes?
"Probably Romeo to take that kind of mantle. I think he is doing it already with his style," says Daddy, who is perhaps the epitome of a certain uber-chic style himself.
Beckham seems to have a healthy super-ego if his ability to turn fantasies into reality is anything to go by: He became a superstar for Man United; a Galactio at Real Madrid alongside Zidane; he captained England; became a fashion icon; a marketing phenomenon; a global brand almost as recognisably famous as Mickey Mouse ears, and, of course, a sex symbol - to both gay and straight audiences - par excellence. The world stage is his - and Victoria's.
He and his wife have matured beyond the reductive branding of Posh 'n' Becks into something edgier.
"I think people think we live on Bond Street and I totter around on Prada heels all day, shopping. I'd rather buy for Brooklyn than me," Victoria told me in 2001.
Fourteen years on, she doesn't, in fact, have to buy for Brooklyn - as he seems happy to pinch items from his fashion-idol dad's extensive wardrobe.
Does your kids' style come from you and Victoria or from themselves?
"It's all themselves. We let them make their own decisions in what they wear. Obviously, we tweak it from time to time. Harper is wearing Victoria's heels every single day. Literally, she'll walk into the house, put the ballerina outfit on and a pair of heels, which is very funny, because she always puts the boys' football boots on as well. So she has both dimensions." (Paddy Power offered odds of 16:1 on Harper's becoming a singer one day like her one-time Spice Girl ma.)
"I think it is important that children have their own ideas on style and individuality," Beckham continues. "All of our boys are different in the way that they dress. Romeo is different, and so is Brooklyn. Harper has been kind of recognised for what she wears but she likes it."
It would be hard not to find David Beckham even slightly entertaining to be around. The day I meet him, he even has the good grace to deny that he goes to the gym to keep his infuriatingly toned physique. Graham Norton had made a joke about it the night before when Beckham was on his show; as Beckham smiled, Norton turned to the crowd at one point and said: "You're all going to hate this because he doesn't work out at all."
Standing by a desk in a replica library in One Marylebone, Beckham looks, I suppose, smoulderingly chic. His teeth flash a Daz-white smile through his hipster beard. He is wearing a dark designer suit, black boots and the beard.
Please note: Beckham had facial furniture long before it became the signature hipster look it is today. It is the facial furniture that he views as the most embarrassing thing he's ever had to do, grooming-wise, for a shoot.
The lovely PR woman is eyeing me now. So I better ask a few bloody scent questions pronto.
You've been creating fragrances for 10 years. What have you learned?
"I have definitely learned a lot more," he says. "Someone asked me earlier if I had taken a course in the 'nosing' part of the fragrance. I haven't had to, because obviously, being part of Coty, being in a room with a group of experts that know everything about every fragrance and every smell and every note - I mean, that is enough of a lesson that you need to have.
"I have definitely learned a lot over the years and enjoyed the process, because when I go into a project, I like to know everything about it. So to actually sit with these guys and to learn about different things about the fragrance - that, for me has been the nicest process of this."
Marcel Proust wrote that smells could be a powerful reminder of past experience of your childhood. Are there smells now that remind you of growing up, take you back to good times and bad? Like playing football as a child on the marshes at Chingford?
"Not so much on playing football on the marshes," he laughs. "There wasn't too many great smells around then. You know, apart from freshly cut grass, but there wasn't much grass on the marshes back then.
"But one smell that always sticks out for me is my gran used to wear this Givenchy [scent], and it was one of those smells. It's like music. Certain moments take you back. My dad used to listen to Michael McDonald when I was, like, eight or nine, and every time I hear one of the songs, it takes me back to happy memories of when I was a child. Now I think fragrances do that exact thing."
Do your own kids listen to the music you play and react similarly?
"They have their own music that they like. I mean, I try to, but some of the music that I listen to is not suitable."
What did you inherit from your father?
"Definitely not style. I don't know. I think my parents were always very strict and they gave me the right beliefs in how to treat people in general."
They gave you a moral code, I say.
"I mean, that's what my parents were all about. Very strict. All about morals."
You try to pass that on to your own children?
"Without a doubt. I was asked a question earlier: 'What advice would you give your boys about women? How to treat women?' One of the things that my granddad always used to say, and my parents used to say, 'You treat everyone with respect. You be a gentleman, especially to women'. And I think women appreciate that side of things. And I have always said that to my boys. And they listen 99pc of the time."
You teach them to love women without ever being a misogynist.
"Without a doubt, without a doubt," he says. "It is all about respect."
Sitting in the chauffeur-driven, brand-new Mercedes-Benz to Gatwick to catch my flight home - his people do everything in absolute style - I thought that it would be difficult not to have a large amount of said respect for Mr D Beckham.
David Beckham is celebrating 10 years of fragrance (and over 10 million bottles sold) with new release Beckham Instinct Gold Edition; 50ml, €19.95, available nationwide
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