He has the face that launched a thousand endorsements, the most famous right foot in Britain and an obsessive fan following. David Beckham tells Melissa Twigg about life after football.
Women are sobbing; men are clambering on ladders to get a better view; children are screaming and everybody is waving a smartphone in the air. It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon in Macau and the appearance of David Beckham has turned the Shoppes at Four Seasons into a heaving mass of hysteria.
There aren’t many people in the world that can generate this kind of reaction, and those that do are usually film or music stars. But Beckham’s fame has always transcended football. For more than a decade, he was the world’s most recognisable sportsman. At Manchester United, he won six Premier League titles and two FA Cups. On an international level, he played for England 115 times and was captain for 59 of the matches.
However, Beckham, now retired from the sport, hasn’t participated in an international tournament since 2006 and spent the final years of his career in the footballing wilderness that is Los Angeles. For any other sportsman, it would spell the beginning of obscurity, but for Beckham, it has catapulted him to even greater fame and fortune.
After a VIP cocktail party in his honour, I’m led up to a private room where the man himself is waiting to be interviewed. The hum of excitement is still audible throughout the hotel and I feel like I’m being granted a private audience with the gods. Indeed, god-like he is. Unlike many other famous people, in the flesh David Beckham isn’t taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, uglier or better looking than he appears on screen or in print. And yes, he’s outrageously handsome, with fine features, crinkling blue eyes, blonde waves and a chiselled body ensconced in a navy blue Dior suit.
Deific appearances aside, Beckham’s also disarmingly normal. He has a light London accent and his voice, often mocked in the British media for being ridiculously high-pitched, is entirely unremarkable. He’s open, friendly and immediately fulsome in his praise of Macau (“Every time I come to this amazing place I have fun”), Hong Kong (“One of my favourite Asian cities, the energy is incredible”) and even what appears to be a rather exhausting press junket (“Everyone’s been so amazing to me”). Beckham’s easy demeanour is key to his success.
Despite the gentle ribbing he receives in print, people are above all rooting for him to succeed, on and off the pitch. When I mention this, he smiles modestly, shrugs and says, “I’m not sure why I’m popular, but I am proud that people notice me and what I do and wear. And I like the fact that I have an influence in the footballing world. It’s a real privilege to have that.” Influence is an understatement. In 2007, then-CEO Tim Leiweke of sports and entertainment giant AEG, which owns LA Galaxy, predicted that David Beckham would have a greater impact on football in the US than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally.
He was proved right: Beckham was responsible for a 300 per cent rise in attendance for Galaxy and a US$2 billion increase in advertising. While he was in the US, Major League Soccer also grew from 12 teams to 19, and many sports commentators believe that this was a direct result of Beckham’s popularity.
Following this astonishing success, in 2013, Beckham was appointed as China’s first global football ambassador in a bid to revive the game’s local image after match-fixing scandals and the departure of international players.
“I’ve always been popular in Asia for myself and for the teams I’ve played for,” he says. “I’ve gone from being a footballer for the last 22 years into the business side of things, but I have been planning this a long time. I knew that once I stopped playing, I had to keep doing something in football to make me happy. I enjoy it a lot and I think that’s what brought the success. I’m also very passionate about getting people moving and making kids exercise in particular. That’s what motivates me.”
To read the full feature of David Beckham, get a copy of Malaysia Tatler February 2015 issue, available on newsstands now or click here to purchase the digital version.