David Beckham: 'I'd like to feel that I am a feminist... Having a little girl, I think that's a big part of it'
David Beckham is a symbol of male self-expression and modern masculinity. He talks to Barry Egan about feminism, fatherhood, his mod father, his hipster grandad, the mountains in California, and his new fragrance, Respect
David Beckham's suite in the Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square is not that much smaller than the pitches on which he made his mark, creating magic for Manchester United and Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and LA Galaxy.
His presence in the London hotel suite is just as large. Beckham is so famous at this stage in his life that it's sometimes weird to find it actually is him, in the flesh. Wearing a navy sweater-and-trouser combo with black shiny brogues, he looks quite the hipster gent, with a twist of the street.
His entrance into the room is done with a sense of occasion. You'd think he was walking up to take a free kick in the Champions League Final. You would be hard-pressed to find a man with more swagger than Beckham.
Or, in truth, a man more natural and down-to-earth.
Beckham lives up to his image without being trapped by it. He is friendly and casual.
"You well?" he says, shaking my hand.
I am close enough to see the rose tattoo on his neck and another with the words "Pretty Lady Harper", which refers to his six-year-old daughter. Beckham has said in the past that tattoos are his way of expressing deep feelings about the things he cares about and loves.
I mention to him that the last time we met, in April 2015, I'd asked him if he thought Louis Walsh would make a better manager of Manchester United than Louis van Gaal, and he'd replied, "No, no, no, I like Louis van Gaal and I like Louis Walsh, but not as manager of Man United!"
"The other Louis is gone!" Beckham says now, meaning van Gaal, who has since been replaced by Jose Mourinho in the top job at Old Trafford.
Can Man United, his old team, win the Premiership title this season, I ask.
"I'd like to think so. But I think Man City are playing well. Unfortunately! We'll see."
My mobile phone goes off suddenly, blasting out music. "Good tunes! Do you want me to take that call?" he laughs.
The previous day in London, Beckham's Instagram feed showed him drinking a pint of Guinness. I assume he wasn't getting in the zone for the arrival of LIFE magazine. (Maybe he was, but last summer, Beckham was photographed in a London pub in a shoot for American GQ drinking Guinness and downing oysters.) Beckham says he loves coming to Ireland - lest we forget, he and Victoria were married in Luttrellstown Castle on July 4, 1999 - and would like to come over more often. He has flown in from his home in California to promote his latest fragrance, Respect.
What's his interpretation of the name?
"I think respect is such a massive part of life," he says, "and, in general, respect is such a strong word for many different reasons: in work, in business, in family. And it is one thing, obviously, with the kids, that I have always tried to teach them."
What did you teach them?
"You respect yourselves. You respect other people. And you respect your parents as well," he explains.
"So respect is such a strong word, and it just means so much," he continues. "The fact that we are able to use the name for our latest fragrance is great. It is always difficult with a long partnership," he says, referring to his 10-year relationship with Coty, the American beauty-product giant, which has seen him sell well over 10m bottles of fragrance, "to come up with new, refreshing ideas. If I had done this with the first fragrance [Instinct in 2005] it wouldn't have had the same meaning. So I think that the fact that we have done it now, after so many years, there is a feeling of respect throughout the business."
Asked to describe the fragrance, he uses three words. "Modern. Fresh. Masculine. It is perfect for the modern man. I associate it with style and elegance."
Global fashion icon
He could, of course, have been talking about himself. David Beckham is an exemplar of male self-expression and modern masculinity. From the sarong to the Alice band, via the cornrows and the shawl, to the matching his-and-hers leather Versace outfits, David Beckham has rocked many looks down through the years, cementing his status as a global fashion icon. What he would most like to symbolise, however, is forward-looking fatherhood, as dad to Harper (six), Brooklyn (18), Romeo (15) and Cruz (12) - and a supportive husband to Victoria. (It is always good to bear in mind that David and his family, as Michael Paterniti in American GQ put it last year, get the kind of daily media coverage usually reserved for "the stock market or the British royal family".) Former Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand has been talking about men and their emotions recently in his new autobiography. But uber-metrosexual David Beckham has been talking in that vein for 15 years.
Would you call yourself a feminist, David?
"Would I? Sure, yeah, I'd like to feel that I am a feminist. I stand up for many different things that I believe in."
Where did your feminism come from?
"Probably my parents. My mum. My wife. Having a little girl, I think that's a big part of it. You know, my mum and my dad always brought me up to respect my sisters, my mum, my grandmother. I think that is one thing that I was always brought up with. It is an important part of my life. It has always been an important part of my life."
It's in your DNA.
"I'd like to think it is, and I want to do the same for my children. My sons."
How do you teach your sons respect for women?
"It runs all the way through the house. You know, I think at the end of the day, I have an amazing mum; I had an amazing grandmother. I have amazing sisters. I have an amazing daughter," he says, "and I want my sons and people around them to respect them [women] in the way that they deserve."
I am here to ask David Beckham questions about Respect, not modern feminism. So what kind of man wears Respect?
"I think any man, to be honest. I think someone who loves that woodiness. Someone who loves the citrus. Someone who loves that refreshing kind of non-overpowering smell."
Doesn't the kind of man who wears Respect want to be a bit like you?
"No. It doesn't have to be [like that]. It doesn't have to be. I think it could be anybody that loves fragrance and loves great smells. At the end of the day, it can be anyone. It doesn't have to be someone who wants to be like me."
What do you focus on with your personal style, your grooming?
"Feeling comfortable. I have always felt that I don't need to break rules or break boundaries. But my main focus isn't getting up two hours earlier before I take the kids to school to get ready. I want it simple, uncomplicated. And that's how I have it. I shower. I moisturise. I use a little bit of eye cream. I am very organized with what I wear. It is not the fact that I am conscious of looking great. It is simple: jeans; T-shirt. But I think looking good and feeling good is a massive part of people's lives these days. But consciously, I don't really make too much of an effort. But I still like to feel good and smell good, and look good."
Are there any particular smells that bring you back to your childhood?
"Definitely. There is one in particular that made me realise that I love fragrances. It was when I was very young around my grandad's house, and he used to disappear into his room and open his cabinet. There it was - a bottle of Obsession. Which when I think back, my grandad must have been really cool!"
Clearly a bit of a hipster, I say.
"A bit of a hipster!" repeats the King of the Hipsters, David Beckham, laughing. "And really cool. And Obsession was the first real fragrance where I was like, 'This is amazing'. He actually ended up buying me a bottle for Christmas one day."
Why was that?
"Probably because I kept on using his!" he says, laughing. "And he was fed up with that. But it's true - it's like music, it's like fashion: it takes you back to those memories. And the memories are great. Fragrances do that."
Is that where you got the initial desire to be a hipster yourself, from your grandad?
"I think it must have been. My dad was very much like that, too, but the fragrance side came from my grandad. Maybe the clothing side came from my dad. He was a mod when he was younger. He had the moped with the flags, which actually got stolen outside my grandad's house at one point, apparently. Maybe that comes from him. My grandad was definitely someone that I aspired to be like. My grandad was always smart."
And the respect for women? Did that come from your father, too?
"Yeah, definitely, and through my family, and with my grandad, especially. My grandad was such an amazing, strong person. Personality-wise, respect-wise."
How has your penchant for smells evolved over the years?
"I think it has evolved, but one of the things we have always tried to do is keep it very, very simple, elegant and very classic. I also love the citrus that runs through it [Respect]. Personally, it is very refreshing. But the woodiness is something that makes me feel great."
How does the fragrance relate to your personality?
"I think the fragrances have always tried to relate to me and the authenticity of what I love, and what I like, and how I like to smell," he says. "That is something that I have always tried to get right. I think we have done it with Respect."
"If someone was to turn around to me and say: 'OK, you've got two days. Where would you like to ride on your bike?' It would be into the mountains, where there are trees. So, the woodiness runs throughout this fragrance. That is very authentic, and I think when we do fragrances, people want to really feel that they're getting something that I love. And it is."
You put your love of motorbiking in the mountains of California into the fragrance, essentially…
"That's exactly what it is," he says. "Because I ride my bike a lot, I like the motorbike, and the smells of riding through the mountains and the smells of pines and the woods; that is something I love. That is one of the reasons why I ride bikes.
"That is one of the reasons why I like to ride in California. That kind of woodiness while you are riding in the mountains is something that really resonates with me, personally."
The working-class East End kid has done good. He has gone from kicking a football about in his native Chingford with his mates and his gas-fitter dad, to going for night motorbike rides with his mate Tom Cruise. Despite all the wealth, all the fame, all the global adulation, Beckham is - and always will be - a family man. "I feel very blessed to have the life that I have, and everything that I have that goes on around me, but," he says, getting up to leave after his tete-a-tete with LIFE, "my main priority will always be family, and how my kids are brought up, how they grow up and how they live their lives."
Respect is due.
David Beckham's new fragrance, Respect, is available from pharmacies and department stores nationwide, from €23.95