all the men to admire, only one proudly wears women’s underwear, has stepped out in a sarong and (almost) made Alice bands an acceptable male accessory. His name is David Beckham and it’s OK to admit to moments where you’ve seen him in a magazine – all cool, cut and cleftchinned – and thought, ‘I want to be him.’ But the thing about Becks is not the way he can carry a suit, have his everyday essentials turned into an H&M collection, set yet more global hair trends, or even have his own Beckham fragrances, but that his fame now transcends the reason he frst came to attention. Ostensibly, Beckham is, or was, a professional footballer. His right foot will forever be a British national treasure, but he was never the greatest player on Earth. (“He can’t kick with his left foot, he can’t head, he can’t tackle, and he doesn’t score many goals – apart from that, he’s alright,” chimed legendary player/boozer George Best). And a signifcant proportion of those who buy into Beckham are unlikely to have ever sat through a game of soccer. While the 40-year-old may have spruiked his talent at three of the biggest clubs (Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan), he’s become far more than the sum of his place on any team – an icon, a yardstick of men’s fashion and beauty and a staple on contemporary society’s cultural billboard. Admit it, he’s a man to admire. Because, void of any initial privilege, his tale is one of redemption through hard work and a dedication that would drive most to tears, or, at least, back to bed. Beckham’s father, Ted, made footballs out of rolled-up socks for a young David, before training his four year-old charge for several hours, daily, at an East London park. “I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands [of free kicks]. I would go to the park, place the ball on the ground and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut,” Beckham’s recalled. “When Dad got home he would stand between me and the goal, forcing me to bend the ball around him. People must have thought we were mad. And I would carry on playing when I got home. I wasn’t allowed a football in the house so would practise with Care Bears in my sister’s bedroom. Mum thought it was funny but it showed how much I loved football. I couldn’t get enough of it.” Those many years of effort, which frst led to Manchester United in the ’90s, went up in the smoke of a hot-headed moment at the France ’98 World Cup – a just-flattened Beckham lashing out at Argentina’s Diego Simeone, earning him a straight red for petulance and a savage helping of opprobrium back in the UK. Perched in a London pub, GQ witnessed, frsthand, the feral, ferocious switch in public opinion over the talismanic England midfelder. Had Beckham walked into that pub that night, or any night for the next few months, no lie, he would have been spat upon and glassed. Only if you’ve seen an Englishman watch a World Cup will you appreciate this as truth. Effgies of Beckham were hung in the streets, he received death threats and was booed, every time he touched the ball, at every English ground for the entirety of the following season. Rather than run and hide in another country’s league, he put his exceedingly handsome head down and played with passion and skill for club and country – winning an unprecedented treble with United within 12 months and going on to become England’s most capped captain – and, on several occasions, their hero. The public forgave him everything, even marrying a Spice Girl with a voice like a, well, nothing complimentary. And he had a sense of humour about it, too. When Victoria was helping Range Rover develop a special ‘VB’ edition of its Evoque, David implored the engineers to add one feature for his sake – a loud stereo system to drown out his wife’s singing. Though the fusing of brand Beckham with that of Posh may have seemed chav-tastic at the time, she did inspire him to push the style envelope to places no footballer had ever been. You can argue the merits of wearing her thong (and publicly discussing it), some of the more questionable hairstyles (the cornrows were terrible) and even the obsession with body art, but you can’t deny they’ve delivered a mature David who today stands as a consummate icon of style – that suited combo for the Royal Box, Wimbledon 2014; the ability to wear leather without suggesting sexual fetish; the casual swagger of little more than T-shirt and chinos. But a true gent is more than a visual motif – and it’s in family and charitable instinct that Beckham’s substance speaks loudest. He may have cursed his four kids with silly, celebrity names, but, no arguments, he’s an attentive and loving father. Today, when not igniting red-carpet flashbulbs, Becks can be found on the sidelines proudly cheering on his boys. Or, just as likely, he’ll be inspiring vulnerable children in the poorest countries around the world in his role as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Yes, David was born blessed, with a face that would have been carved on urns in a different era. But he’s also proved himself fearless, resilient and caring. A true gentleman, sarong and all. n
IT’S IN FAMILY AND CHARITABLE INSTINCT THAT BECKHAM’S SUBSTANCE SPEAKS LOUDEST.