For more than 100 years, the closest English footballers got to film star status was Bobby Moore’s turn in Escape To Victory. Then came David Beckham. His pop star wife, on-pitch ability and, let’s face it, above average looks have made him one of the most famous faces on the planet.
On top of this, and partly because of it, Beckham has become a style icon, setting trends, letting men know it’s OK to moisturise and freeing us to wear sarongs. OK, that’s pushing it, but he is a leader when it comes to how men look and, indeed, smell, as his latest fragrance Essence demonstrates. So, what does he think of all that?
Are you proud to have had a huge part to play in smartening up the British male?
I never think of it like that, but obviously people have said that in the past. Of course, it’s nice to have an influence over people, and throughout my career I’ve been able to do that on the field with kids going into the game, but to do it outside my job makes me feel special.
Did Victoria help you create your latest fragrance?
No. Mostly it was myself, but Victoria has a big influence in many things I do. We ask for each other’s opinions. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but we’re always involved with what each other are doing, so we run things past each other all the time.
Does a man need a signature fragrance or is it OK to mix and match?
It’s up to the individual. Everyone’s different. Some people like to wear the same fragrance every day, whether it is morning, afternoon or evening. Some people like to wear a different one every day.
Are there any grooming disasters from before you were famous you can tell us about?
I don’t know. Maybe haircuts. There have been one or two that were close to the mark, that I look back on and think were mistakes. Not mistakes, but different to what I’d do now. But I’m a lot older now.
Which haircuts would they be?
I think the cornrows were something a bit different, but I was in holiday mode when I had them done – I was with a friend who’s a hairdresser and who’s very good at cornrows. So I thought, “Why not do that?” I think I’d had a glass of wine or two. That was one. And I’d have to say the mohican. I wouldn’t do them now, but at the time they felt good.
You’ve influenced so many people’s style – who influences you?
I’ve always looked at people such as Steve McQueen for influence. The clothes that he wore, his sense of style, the way he looked in pictures, the way he was as a personality.
How does it feel to be a bona fide style icon?
Like I said, I don’t think of myself like that. I don’t get up in the morning and think, “I’m going to wear this because it will make a statement.” I just wear what I want to wear. I don’t really go into it too deeply. But it’s great to have that kind of label. It’s nice that people like what you wear most of the time and want to wear it.
Is there pressure on you whenever you go out to be looking ‘right’?
No, not at all. I just wear what I want to wear, and if I’m comfortable then I’m not really worried about what anyone else thinks or whether someone likes it or not. I’ve never felt pressured to wear a certain thing or look a certain way.
Are you aware of your national treasure status?
I think over the past five years I’ve gone into a more ambassadorial role with certain things. Being involved in getting the Olympics – it all started back then. And I’m just growing into it. It’s something I never thought I’d enjoy as much as I have done, but being an ambassador for your country, that’s something I’m very proud of. So it’s something that I’ve really started to enjoy over the past five years.
Is it something you saw coming 10 years ago?
No, not at all because 10 years ago I was in a totally different position shortly after the World Cup [in 2002, when Beckham finally shook off his red card in the 1998 World Cup in England’s defeat to Argentina]. Things turned around after I got the captain’s armband and things like that. I started seeing changes then. I never expected to go into this kind of role, but I’m lucky to be here.
What did you think of the Games?
Back in Singapore, I said we’d put on the best Olympic Games for many years. I think we did that. Seb Coe and his team were incredible. The volunteers, the military, the police, the Olympic organisations – all were incredible. And that’s without talking about the athletes. The athletes made the Games, along with the fans. The atmosphere was fantastic. It was – and it sounds silly – a real British Olympic Games. It couldn’t have gone better. It was perfect.
Your appearance was pretty memorable…
It was amazing. It was something that I was very proud to be part of. To be part of bringing the Olympics to London was special, but then to be involved in the Opening Ceremony like I was, driving the speedboat with the flame on it, under the bridge, past the place where I grew up – that was special.
Do you think the influx of foreign players in the Premier League and stifling of grassroots players is damaging the national team?
No, because the foreign players that have come in have lifted the level played in our country. When I was a kid, seeing Eric Cantona come to Manchester United, I wanted to watch and learn from everything he did – on the training field and in matches. It’s the same with the foreign players in the league now – it’s what kids need.
Who do your children support? Did you have to get the Manchester United shirts on early?
I tried to get Man United shirts on them early. Two of them are Man United fans and one of them’s an Arsenal fan. I don’t know how it happened, but my middle son, Romeo, is an Arsenal fan. Actually, I do know how it happened.
I took him to an Arsenal game and Arsene Wenger treated him so well, gave him a shirt with his name on the back and his favourite number. I had that when I was a kid with Man United. I let them support whoever they want. They don’t have to support the teams I played for.
What do you make of Manchester City’s emergence? How do you feel about clubs gaining prominence through huge injections of money?
I just think they had one lucky year, to be honest. No, I’m joking. There’s a lot of money being pumped into Man City, and when you do that you have a lot of success, but the staying power with the guys that own Man City, that’s a good thing to see. Of course, I’d rather my side win it every year, but that’s not going to happen. Every now and again we’re going to have another club that comes along with big players and a lot of money, and competes with the best teams in the country, if not the world.
If there was one moment in your career you could change, what would it be?
I don’t have one.
Really? You’re happy with everything?
Yep, absolutely. I want to go through my life without any regrets. There’s moments that have been difficult, but I know there’s always a reason behind why it happens. So I have no regrets.
Do you ever feel that your lifestyle away from the game affected you as a player?
No, it never affected me as a player. Never.
Do you find it easy to block it out?
Yeah, I’ve always been able to do that. Football’s always been my number one priority, other than my family, so I’ve always been able to keep everything else separate outside of that.
Do you keep a lot of memorabilia from the past 20 years?
I have a lot of memorabilia. A hell of a lot. I keep everything because I have three sons to hand it over to.
Any prized possessions?
The first shirt I wore for Man United, the treble-winning shirt, the treble-winning boots, my gold England cap, the boots that I wore for my 100th international. I have quite a few.
You and your family seem settled in LA – what do you miss about the UK?
We’re very settled here. We’ve been treated extremely well and we feel at home, but there are always things we miss about the UK – our family, our friends, going to football games every week. It’s something I did as a kid, but my boys haven’t experienced yet.
Is it weird having your children grow up with American accents?
No, I don’t mind. We’ve lived out of the UK for 10 years, so their accents are going to be different. Two of the boys have never lived in London. It is what it is.
Pictures were recently published of you riding your custom-made bike on the West Coast. What else do you get up to in your downtime?
That’s literally it. Obviously I’ve got four kids, so most of my downtime is spent with them.
When attending US sports games, what’s worth eating at half-time?
I try to keep it healthy, but I like the nachos with cheese.
If you could go back and stop the Goldenballs nickname coming out, would you?
No. Not at all. It made me laugh. It still makes me laugh when people say it.
Would you like to get Victoria back for that indiscretion by telling us a nickname you’ve given to her?
No, I’ve got nothing in my bag.
Retirement can’t be too far away for you – are you thinking about that?
Not really. I’ve thought about stuff after I finish playing, and I have stuff set up, but I want to enjoy being a footballer for as many years as possible. So it’s not something I really think about.
Is there any chance that you’ll follow the usual retired footballer routes of punditry or coaching?
No, not at all.
You’ve never had the managerial bug?
Your friend Gary Neville’s done a bit of both; are you impressed by his punditry?
I haven’t seen a lot of it, because living over here you don’t get much of it. I think he’s enjoyed it. People I’ve spoken to say he’s done a great job. Gary could always talk, so he was always going to be good at it.
Final question: have you managed to find a pie and mash shop over there?
No, not yet. Still looking!
David Beckham The Essence is out now priced £24.95 for 50ml