PIERS MOR­GAN

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - SEVEN DAYS -

David Beck­ham has re­tired from football, prompt­ing an­other gutwrench­ingly nau­se­at­ing avalanche of Becks-mania in the me­dia and gen­eral pop­u­lace. It hap­pened when he quit Manch­ester United, Real Madrid, AC Mi­lan, LA Galaxy, Eng­land and now Paris Saint-Ger­main.

And will doubt­less hap­pen again when he be­comes Sir David, then Lord Beck­ham of Ley­ton­stone, and even­tu­ally, pre­sum­ably, King David — af­ter Bri­tain in­evitably changes its rules on royal qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

I’ve noth­ing against the guy per­son­ally. We’ve met only once, at 2am in Soho House, West Hol­ly­wood a few years ago. And he was per­fectly charm­ing, de­spite all the crit­i­cism I’ve lev­elled at his golden boots over the years. ( I’ve al­ways got on well with his wife, Vic­to­ria. I once sug­gested to her that she try to per­suade David to join Arse­nal — to which she replied with im­pe­ri­ous WAG-style logic: ‘I’d love him to, too, it’s nearer the shops.’)

But let’s be hon­est, he was never ac­tu­ally that good a player. He could take a great free kick, and swing in a dev­il­ish cor­ner. But David has never been in the same league as Lionel Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. Or even his for­mer United com­rade Paul Sc­holes, who also re­tired this month, qui­etly and with­out fan­fare.

What David HAS been is the great­est self- mar­keter the game’s ever known — a ge­nius for pro­mot­ing Brand Beck­ham on and off the pitch, and mak­ing him­self rich and fa­mous in the process.

And as some­body who knows a thing or two about this par­tic­u­lar art form, I sa­lute his bril­liant tal­ent.

Per­haps the great­est il­lus­tra­tion of how suc­cess­ful his strat­egy has been came when I met ar­guably the most well known, and re­spected per­son on the planet, Nel­son Man­dela, in 2003.

We dis­cussed se­ri­ous is­sues such as the war in Iraq and AIDS, be­fore I said to him, ‘ Now, Mr Man­dela, I won­der if I could ask you the RE­ALLY big ques­tion?’

‘And what is that, young man?’ he replied. ‘Well, it’s this: who do you think, on bal­ance, is more fa­mous? You or David Beck­ham?’ Man­dela burst out laugh­ing. ‘Ah, Beck­ham! He is very fa­mous now. I think he is more fa­mous than me, def­i­nitely!’

As I write this, David Beck­ham has 423 mil­lion en­tries on Google. And Nel­son Man­dela has 43 mil­lion.

The great South African leader, once again, was right. Rod Ste­wart’s new al­bum has gone to No. 1 in the Bri­tish charts — his first chart-top­per for 34 years. This news broke min­utes af­ter my team, Arse­nal, scraped through to come fourth in the Pre­mier League — spark­ing scenes of such un­bri­dled joy from the play­ers and man­ager that you would have thought they had just won the Cham­pi­ons League.

‘Mas­sive con­grats,’ I told Rod. ‘Arsene Wenger would cel­e­brate you com­ing fourth; I pre­fer re­serv­ing my praise for com­ing first.’

‘Thanks, me old sausage,’ he replied. ‘ There’s al­ways next sea­son for the Gun­ners!’

Hmmm. If Wenger — once a god-like coach, now Sam­son with the hair re­moved — re­mains in charge, I fear I could be wait­ing for an­other tro­phy even longer than Rod waited for his No. 1 al­bum. There are some things that even the most in­com­pe­tent men in the kitchen should be able to cook suc­cess­fully. And baked beans on toast would be at the top of most peo­ple’s list.

The recipe, and ex­e­cu­tion of that recipe, is straight­for­ward: you take two pieces of bread, put them in a toaster, then open a can of beans, put them in a saucepan, cook them for a few min­utes un­til they bub­ble, and I some­times stum­ble across the most bizarre gifts lurk­ing in my var­i­ous of­fices. To­day, for ex­am­ple, a copy of Ed Sheeran’s new al­bum fell out of a cup­board in my New York lair, where it had been sit­ting for a cou­ple of months. On it, he’d scrawled: ‘Piers! I prom­ise one day to have sex. I just can’t prom­ise with whom. Love Ed.’

I was still try­ing to work out what on earth had prompted him to write this when my as­sis­tant called from Los An­ge­les. ‘Ger­ard But­ler’s sent you a present, as a thank-you for tak­ing him to the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner.’

I as­sumed it would be a bot­tle of wine or a DVD of his new movie — but I had un­der­es­ti­mated Mr But­ler’s gen­eros­ity.

He’d given me a brand-new Surly road bike, gift-wrapped with a red bow on the han­dle­bars.

‘Thanks so much,’ I told him this evening. ‘Re­ally kind of you.’

‘Plea­sure,’ he replied, ‘Now we can get fit to­gether!’ I think it’s safe to say that Ger­ard and I are now firmly mov­ing into Mav­er­ick/Goose ter­ri­tory.

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