THERE’S A FRENZIED, smartphone-wielding mob gathering outside the new H&M store in Macau. It’s the height of summer, and it’s horribly hot and humid. But this isn’t putting anyone off, and hundreds are doggedly squeezing their way towards the shop’s glass doors, selfie sticks extended and at the ready. The baying is getting louder, and the security guards are starting to look nervous. “Beckham! Beckham! Beckham!” the crowd is shouting.
David Beckham himself is here, safely ensconced inside the store, and seems unruffled by the noise filtering through the walls. This is, after all, just another day at the office for the former footballer, who is one of the world’s most recognisable faces. Show Beckham’s photo to kids in Zambia, they’ll know who he is. Visit a hairdresser in Chile, there’ll be cut-outs of him pasted on the walls. And thanks to his starring role in H&M’s campaigns, millions of people are now also acquainted with more intimate parts of Beckham’s anatomy. Whether you’re in Manhattan, Mumbai or Moscow, you don’t have to walk very far before you get an eyeful of a sculpted, smouldering Beckham clad in nothing but a pair of briefs.
“I never get used to it,” Beckham admits. “It’s always one of those things that I kind of look up and pinch myself – I can’t believe that I’m in the middle of Times Square on a billboard. That’s the power of H&M, they can take it all over the world and to so many different stores around the world – that’s one of the reasons why they’re a great partner.”
Although Beckham is here today in his capacity as underwear model and designer, it’s impossible to forget the sporting career that propelled him to such stratospheric fame. He entered the public eye in 1991 at the age of 16, when Manchester United signed him for its youth squad and then, two seasons later, bumped him up to its Premier League team. There were plenty of other gifted players in that cohort but it was Beckham, with his famous free kicks and everchanging hairstyles, who emerged as the face of British football. Beckham stayed with Manchester United for 12 years, during which the team won six Premier League titles and two FA Cups.
Beckham then went on to play for Real Madrid and LA Galaxy, for which he relocated to the USA on a five-year, US$32.5million contract. During all this time he was also playing for England, captaining the national team for six years and racking up 115 appearances before he hung up his cleats in 2013. Footballing success aside, there is also, of course, his marriage to the equally famous Victoria and their photogenic brood of four children, a couple of whom are now taking their first tentative steps into the spotlight with modelling gigs for Burberry and Vogue.
The paparazzi are a constant presence in the family’s life, and the British tabloids chronicle their every move. This is despite the fact that, as Beckham insists, his day-to-day life is fairly mundane. “I wake up, make breakfast for my children, take them to school,” Beckham explains. “I go and work out after I’ve done that, then my little girl finishes at 12 o’clock, so I pick her up, take her for lunch and then take her home and go to the park with her. From there I go to pick my boys up and then I take them to football practice, which finishes at 9 o’clock in the evening. So it’s a busy day.”
So far, so normal. But is this domesticity a bit of a shock after decades of the strictly scheduled life of a professional athlete? “It’s a big change,” Beckham confesses. “But it’s one that I’ve actually enjoyed. Spending time with the kids, being able to take them to training every single day, pick them up every day and take them to school – you know, it’s what I love.” Although most of Beckham’s days are spent ferrying his children around, he still has plenty of other commitments to keep him busy. One of these is his ongoing collaboration with H&M, which began in 2012 when he designed the first range of David Beckham Bodywear for the Swedish retailer. That collection has continued and was recently expanded to include loungewear and swimwear, all designed by Beckham himself.
Now that he’s stretched himself a little, there are whispers that Beckham may soon design a whole collection, though he ducks and weaves when pressed on these rumours. “Who knows?” he replies vaguely. “Obviously the fact that we’re going into other areas means that it’s been successful. It seems to be working and I’ve had such a great relationship over the years with H&M – there’s always ideas that come up.”
Beckham also has a long-standing commitment as a Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef. “That’s something that’s very close to my heart and has been for many years,” Beckham says. “I’ve been working with Unicef for the past 14 years. I’ve been an ambassador for 10 years and now we’ve set up a fund that we’re hoping will continue to raise funds and raise awareness for the next 10 years, and so on. It’s something that I’m very passionate about and it’s the thing that I’m most excited about in my life at the moment. Unicef has been so special to me over the years and now we’re doing more and now we’re raising more [money] and more awareness. It’s something that, for me, is the most important thing that I have.
“Victoria is now an ambassador for the UN,” he continues. “She’s doing some great work with HIV/ Aids for the UN, which is incredible for her to be involved in. The power of having a voice that people listen to – you can’t put a value on that. She’s doing great work for the UN and I’m continuing to do good work, hopefully, with Unicef.” Just before meeting Beckham, I read reports online that he’d landed a cameo role in director Guy Ritchie’s next film. “Yeah, I read that last night too,” Beckham quips. “Guy’s a good friend of mine, I went on the set of his movie, King Arthur, just went down there, hung out, and all of a sudden I’m in the movie,” he says, bemused. But then he pauses and cryptically adds, “There’s a chance it might happen, but we’ll see.”
Beckham has since confirmed that he will be making a cameo appearance in that film (he also appeared in the first two instalments of the Goal franchise), and has also told The Times that he “would love” to do more acting. But whether or not his film career takes off, he seems happy to be spending most of his time with his family, who all gathered in Morocco this summer to celebrate his 40th birthday.
“It just felt like another birthday, to be honest,” Beckham says with a laugh. “A little bit of a bigger birthday but people have asked me, do I feel different? I don’t. I don’t feel any different to when I turned 21. I still feel young at heart and in my head as well, and I think that’s important.”