David Beckham may be launching a new swimwear range, but don’t expect him to be venturing out on a board any time soon, finds Tom Ellen
David Beckham has never seen Game Of Thrones. He’s aware that he probably should have (“Everyone tells me I need to watch that”), and one day he probably will (“I have got it downloaded”), but for now, the world of Westeros remains a mystery to him. And fair enough. The simple fact is: David Beckham is not built for boxset culture. His is not a schedule that allows for half-day, sofa-bound binge viewing.
This is the man who essentially reinvented the modern footballer – made it not just acceptable, but hugely appealing, for players to pursue other avenues away from the pitch – and now, a year into retirement from the game, he’s still energetically ploughing those same furrows he originally carved out. The Starks and Lannisters will have to wait, basically.
As well as overseeing the set-up of his MLS team in Miami (“It’ll take time, but the MLS will compete with the biggest leagues in Europe – it’s going to happen”), Beckham’s latest venture is a new swimwear collection with H&M, and I’m on the gloriously sun-drenched roof of London’s Shoreditch House to speak to him ahead of its launch.
Canapés are artfully arranged on tables, champagne is fizzing expectantly in glasses, and the pool area is bedecked with 10ft posters of a topless Beckham modelling the line’s items. Which, I discover, is something he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to seeing…
What was the idea behind the new range?
I have a great relationship with H&M, and we're always looking for something else we can be successful in. The bodywear range has been great since the launch in 2012, so when the swimwear idea came up, we were all over it. The board shorts are something I think will go down well – everyone likes a comfortable pair of shorts. Not everybody likes the tight ones [laughs].
Did you draw on any male swimwear icons to inspire the design – Sean Connery in Dr No, for instance?
Yeah, that [film] was definitely on the reference board when we started. Old Bond movies were a big reference.
Is Connery your Bond of choice?
Oh, I love Sean Connery. Yeah, he’s definitely my favourite.
You mentioned the smaller, tighter briefs in the range. How would you advise men to take that leap from swimming shorts to briefs? It's a big step...
It's a huge step [laughs]. Just embrace it. Sometimes you’ve got to just do it, and not worry what anyone else thinks. That’s what I felt when I first wore a pair that were small and tight. I thought, “You know what? I’m on holiday, I’m tanned. So...”
Do you have memories of freezing UK beach trips when you were a kid?
We used to go to Southend a lot and I remember the water being pretty cold down there [laughs]. I think we went on two trips abroad when I was a kid, but apart from that, it was always Southend or Canvey Island.
The board shorts are a key part of the new range – are you much of a surfer yourself?
No, I’ve never been allowed to surf. My kids do it, but I wasn't allowed to do water sports at all while I was playing. I could do it now [I’ve retired], but I won’t lie, I’m slightly worried about sharks [laughs]. I have tried it a couple of times, though.
Did you manage to stand up on the board?
I did. Not for long, but I managed it. My back’s a little fragile after 20 years playing football.
Do you ever get used to seeing yourself on giant billboards, wearing nothing but underwear or swimwear?
I don’t think so. Especially not when I’ve got my mum calling me up saying, “I’ve just seen another huge billboard of you in London – just you, in your underwear” [laughs]. But it is what it is. At first, I was like, “Oh god, I’m sat there in my underwear and everyone around the world can see it.” This year in New York, at the Super Bowl, it was ridiculous. I’ve never seen so many billboards of myself in one city. Every corner I turned, every street, I was there, so it was verging on embarrassing after a while [laughs].
Do you feel you’ve changed the face of the modern footballer? Made it acceptable for players to dress well, even venture into modelling and design?
I think maybe, on that side of things. Maybe I’ve sometimes overstepped the mark with something I’ve worn, or something that a footballer in the past wouldn’t wear, and that’s led to trends or people trying new things.
When do you think you overstepped the mark?
I personally don’t think I have, but some people would probably look at me wearing the sarong... It’s been mentioned so many times over the years, but personally, I thought it was great. There were always things I wore that made people say, “You're a footballer, you shouldn't be wearing that”. But those days are gone now. And that’s a great thing, because everyone should be allowed to be who they are and dress how they want.
What’s the most outlandish story you’ve ever heard about yourself?
Oh, there's been too many [laughs]. I remember once [I read that] I always wore a brand new pair of pants, every day.
Brand new, as in ‘boxfresh’?
Yeah. Obviously I do change my pants every day [laughs]. But this was about me literally wearing a brand new pair – daily – and throwing away the ones I wore the day before.
The World Cup is just weeks away. Have you got a favourite memory from that competition, as both a player and a spectator?
As a spectator, it was Bryan Robson scoring after 27 seconds [against France in 1982]. He was my hero, so to see him do that in a World Cup always sticks in my mind. In terms of myself [as a player], it has to be scoring that penalty against Argentina [in 2002]. That goal put an end to all the pain I’d been through for the past four years.
How do you celebrate a goal like that? It must have been pretty overwhelming...
It was really overwhelming. It was a big moment for the country, for the travelling fans, and for myself to score that goal against such an old rival. This was the team that, four years earlier, could have ruined my career – not that it was their fault, it was my fault, but still, it was an incredible feeling.
Do you think England can win it in Brazil?
I might be biased, I might be romantic, but I think we’ve always got a chance. The squad Roy has picked is young, but I wouldn’t say it was ballsy, because these are talented young players at the top of their game, playing in the best league in the world. So, they've got a really good chance, I think.
We’ve got to ask about your recent Only Fools And Horses cameo for Sport Relief. Did you know ‘Only Fools…’ is now the first thing that comes up when you Google ‘David Beckham’?
Really? Amazing! It makes me smile because I’ve been a fan of that programme for so many years. So, to be sitting there with Del and Rodney was incredible. As soon as I saw [David Jason] put that sheepskin on, I was like, ‘I can die a happy man’.
Is there any other show you'd fancy a walk-on part in?
No. I've never wanted to act, or be on TV, so [Only Fools...] was really the only thing I wanted to do. And, since it was for charity, it was the only thing I could get away with [laughs].
What’s the one big difference between the media presentation of you and the real David?
People know I’m quiet, but I’m a lot more quiet than people think. I’m really chilled. I love going to pubs, sitting in the corner with friends...
Can you really still do that?
I can, yeah. I pick and choose the locals I go to, but I can still do it. Within reason [laughs].
What did you make of the final few United games this season, when your old pals Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were managing the club?
It just made me proud. Three lads that had grown up around the club, and been so successful with it, and they’re now sat on the bench managing the first team! It was a really proud moment.
Speaking of the ‘Class of 92’, are you keeping tabs on Gary Neville’s increasing popularity as a pundit? Even Liverpool and Man City fans seem to love him...
I wouldn’t say they love him [laughs]. No, I’m joking – he’s made such a huge impact on football fans across the world and, like you say, even City and Liverpool fans are commenting on how good he is. That’s a huge thing. I’ve always said Gary loves the sound of his own voice, so I’m really proud of him. He’s done unbelievably well.
Do you still play football with your sons? Are they now at the stage where they can nutmeg their dad?
Every now and again they nutmeg me. We play together a lot. Brooklyn is really strong now. You get that moment where you suddenly realise, “Hang on, I’ll have to give a bit more back now, because I can’t let my 15-year-old son push me off the ball.”
That must be a proud moment as a dad…
It is a proud moment. But he still hasn’t got me off the ball yet [laughs].
(Images: Glen Luchford/PA/Matrix)