Putting on a united front: what is our fascination with David and Victoria Beckham?
After David and Victoria Beckham dismissed split rumours as 'laughable', Tanya Sweeney considers our fascination with the star couple's ups and downs
Exactly two decades ago, a pair of young lovebirds from relatively ordinary backgrounds stood and giggled in front of photographers.
He was a footballer on the rise, before Premiership stars were automatically conferred demi-god status. She, meanwhile, was the slightly aloof girl-band member that all the boys fancied.
Much has happened in the 20 years since then - there have been 13 more engagement rings accumulated, for a start - but for many reasons, David and Victoria Beckham are now barely recognisable as that fresh-faced couple of old.
Last weekend, the two were forced to deny rumours that a marriage split announcement was imminent. The story took on a life of its own, eventually reaching a point where bookmakers suspended betting on the break-up. Rumours of an alleged infidelity were shot down by a PR representative, who called the entire story "embarrassing and laughable", ultimately dismissing it as "a crock of s***".
As if to hammer home the denial, the Beckhams attended the Kent & Curwen Men's Fashion Week Show in London on Sunday and, to use the vernacular, put on a massive display of affection.
Some fans could well be feeling a massive sense of déjà vu: after Brand Beckham was rocked in 2004 with other allegations of infidelity, the couple took to the slopes of Courchevel together where, in front of the cameras, the two made a firm - some might say theatrically exaggerated - show of unity.
But here's the thing: Celebrity couples are wont to moments of high drama. In fact, others have taken high drama to the next level (the comings and goings of the Kardashians are better than any soap opera you care to mention).
So why, even after 20 years, the ongoing obsession of Posh & Becks? And, more specifically, the fascination with the condition of their marriage?
Last year, David reiterated that their marriage was in rude health in an interview on Desert Island Discs: "People have talked about 'Do we stay together because it's a brand?'. Of course not. We stay together because we love each other. We stay together because we have four amazing children.
"Of course you make mistakes, and we all know that marriage is difficult at times. It is about working through it. We have come up against tough times. But we know each other better than anyone else knows us. And we talk."
Much of our ongoing fascination with the Beckhams has to do with the fact that they were one of the first true power couples in showbiz. We collectively adore the idea that David laid eyes on Victoria in a music video and remarked to teammate Gary Neville: "That's the girl I'm going to marry."
At the outset of their union, David was the working class hero and Victoria, the proto-wag who adored shopping in high-end designer stores (and didn't mind being photographed doing so). Soon, they crossed over into ostentatious territory. Many grumbled that they were taking themselves too seriously, and the eye-watering fortunes, including a $22 million villa in LA, only fuelled the contention.
According to celebrity/music PR Lindsey Holmes, celebrity couples who court media attention often need to "take the rough with the smooth". "If celebrities milk the press to get their products sold, they have to be prepared to take on that interest when the stakes are down," she notes. "Some couples are more private than others (like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) and don't actively court the press, even if the press courts them. But if you use the press to further your career, this attention is part of the territory. The rewards you reap have side effects, and unfortunately, 'the Beckhams splitting' is a much better story than 'they're so in love'."
Yet despite evidence that often points to the contrary, the world is convinced that Brand Beckham is constantly on the brink of collapse. And last weekend, for some, nearly heralded the end of this particularly grim deathwatch.
It's worth exploring the apparent fascination in how miserable David and Victoria Beckham seemingly are with each other. At last month's royal wedding, the pair stood out for one reason: the photos that ran of the pair showed them to be distant and unhappy. Victoria in particular was blasted on social media for looking stern-faced (later, she told the Evening Standard: "Quite honestly, it was such a relief not to be hugely pregnant at this royal wedding that it was a joy to be able to choose anything I wanted to wear.")
Victoria's famously dry sense of humour has never gone down well, not least in LA, but the ongoing fascination with her reluctance to smile for the cameras is another matter entirely, and one she poked fun at last year by designing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "fashion stole my smile".
"There's nothing wrong with my teeth!" she insisted to the E! channel. "I can't help the fact I actually look dead in most paparazzi pictures. I just think there's often so many paparazzi, I'm always sort of 'head down, get in the car and off we go'... I'm just not a big grinner on camera."
There were many pictures taken of the Beckhams holding hands and looking relaxed at the royal wedding, but the photos that were eventually published seem to feed into the ongoing narrative that Brand Beckham is a flimsy and fake house of cards.
In fact, the opposite appears to be true: the Beckhams' marriage has survived and thrived after seeing more vagaries than most. Their respective careers have endured varying degrees of fortune, for a start. For years, David was the megastar and Victoria the pop nearly-ran, yet more recently she has been the fashion powerhouse and he the retiree.
"Every marriage goes through rough patches and getting through them is a sign of strength, not failure," reasons Beth Fitzpatrick of Access Counselling (accesscounselling.ie). "I have no idea how they cope with being so high profile, and they have to be so secretive the whole time. The pressure to keep it all going - what must that be like?
"But as with any pressure on a relationship, the main thing is to connect with each other on an ongoing basis. I call it 'money in the bank' - if I put money in every week and I have an overdraft, the bank should be able to say, 'that's no problem' if I have a rough patch. It's the same with marriages, and affection and communication - you need to put something into the bank regularly in case of a rainy day."