Written By Shaun Curran
It is impossible not to consider David Beckham’s extraordinary life and conclude that he’s the man who has it all. Over two decades in the public eye as elite sportsman, fashion icon, entrepreneur and celebrity influencer, he is a global icon and rare breed of superstar; not only recognisable from Macclesfield to Mumbai, but also with the distinction of having both such disparate luminaries as Prince William and Tom Cruise on his speed dial.
Professionally, he has attained a status bestowed on very few footballers. With Manchester United, his childhood club and the one with who he made his name as part of the Class of 92 youth team, he lived out his dreams, winning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one Champions League as part of the club’s historic treble in 1999. He played for England 115 times – 59 as captain – which is a record for an outfield player. In 2003, the year he signed for the Galácticos of Real Madrid (with whom he would win another domestic title) he was awarded an OBE for services to football. It wasn’t just in this country he was appreciated – he was twice voted runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1999 and 2001, while his high-profile, multi-million dollar 2007 move to LA Galaxy in the MLS in America ended with him as popular on that side of the Atlantic as this one. Naturally for someone whose success followed him around, another league winner’s medal was added to his collection there too.
Personally, his marriage to Victoria Beckham, the former Spice Girl whose nickname in the all-conquering, record-breaking girl group handed the couple the distinctive and endearing moniker Posh and Becks, elevated his fame above that of mere sports superstar. Beckham has stated variously over the years that his priority has been to “a strong family man, a strong husband and a strong father”, and with four children he dotes on – Brooklyn, 16, Romeo, 13, Cruz, ten and Harper, four – he remains true to his pledge.
Inevitably, though, the Beckham family is one of the most publicised and discussed in the world, and the increased commercial revenues available to him as a result are staggering. For just one example, during the first season he was in MLS, LA Galaxy sold 300,000 replica jerseys bearing Beckham’s name – more than any other sportsperson in the entirety of American sport that year.
Together, their celebrity has helped him and Victoria create a money-making machine that has transcended their respective professions – David is retired, while Victoria has long since stopped making records – to amass a fortune in excess of £210m. While she has created a successful fashion line, he has made the most of is handsome good looks and sense of style to cash in on lucrative modelling deals and endorsement contracts. With a lifetime deal with Adidas worth over around £100m, signed in his playing days, already in the bag, Beckham has variously been the face of such luxury brands as Armani and Breitling, technology giants Samsung and EA Sports, billboard underwear model for H&M (earning him £7.5m and an incalculable number of gawping looks) and, latterly, a deal with Hong Kong-based fashion empire Global Brands, home to Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger among others, to follow in Victoria’s footsteps and design his own clothing line.
Brand Beckham, indeed, and it’s not for nothing that Victoria nicknamed him “Goldenballs”; extending the metaphorical moniker past the sidelines of a football pitch, whatever Beckham touches invariably turns to gold.
But exactly how did this working-class boy from London – who by his own admission couldn’t even spell the word ‘professional’ when writing about his ambition to be a footballer on a school careers form – achieve so much? And what exact role, if any, have his religious and spiritual beliefs aided him along the way?
The first question is much easier to answer than the second. In football circles, it is well known that Beckham practised himself into brilliance, maximising every ounce of his potential through sheer graft. “I never do anything half-heartedly. I will continue to work hard and play hard and do everything I can to be successful, whatever I do. I want to be the best. I think it’s a good way to be,” Beckham said upon retiring from football, and anybody who ever watched Beckham’s unflinching commitment on the pitch, as well as his unswerving dedication to maintaining his cultivated image off it, will know that statement to be true. Few have worked as hard as Beckham for their lot.
But the question of Beckham’s faith is much more difficult to define. He was born on 2 May 1975 in Leytonstone to his mother Sandra Georgina, a hairdresser, and his father David Edward Alan ‘Ted’ Beckham, a kitchen fitter. While he may not have had an overtly religious upbringing – he insists that was the case – one of Beckham’s grandfathers, Joseph West, was Jewish, and Beckham once stated that: “I’ve probably had more contact with Judaism than with any other religion. I used to wear the traditional Jewish skullcaps when I was younger, and I also went along to some Jewish weddings with my grandfather.”
Yet that contradicts Beckham’s previous claims to have attended church regularly as a child – although he never specifically mentioned a denomination – which suggests that Beckham has never had a strong religious conviction. He once famously said that “he wanted his children baptised, although I’m not sure into what religion”, so it is safe to assume there might be some confusion as to where his views lie, if they exist at all. He is, however, adamant that his good friend Tom Cruise has never tried to convert him to the church of Scientology. “No he hasn’t, that isn’t true,” he said in an interview last year.
As befits someone who has spent fortunes on media training, his savviness in interviews means he reveals as much or as little as he sees fit, so it is little wonder people have read so much into the religious imagery present on a number of his many tattoos. Body ink is often a form of outwardly expressing beliefs and values, be that religious, cultural or otherwise, so naturally people have wondered how much Beckham has considered his own artwork. One tattooed Chinese motif translated reads as: “Death and life have determined appointments. Riches and honour depend upon heaven.” Another, depicting Jesus thinking about his death on the cross reads: ‘The Man of Sorrows’ . Other religious-themed tattoos include a crucifix, a guardian angel watching over the names of his children and Jesus being raised from the tomb surrounded by cherubs that represent his children. He has tatted a verse from the Bible’s Song of Songs in Hebrew.
So does his extensive tattoo collection indicate a belief in God? Not necessarily, as he once said: “People look at my tattoos and the majority of them are religious images so people think, ‘Oh, he must be very religious.’ I respect all religions but I’m not a deeply religious person. But I try and live life in the right way, respecting other people. I wasn’t brought up in a religious way but I believe there’s something out there that looks after you.”
Instead of worshipping a specific higher being, it appears that Beckham has taken his lead from religious teachings. He says that such virtues were instilled in him from a young age by his parents and grandparents, virtues that he himself has instilled into his children as they grow up in the most public of circumstances. He once commented: “My parents were always very strict and they gave me the right beliefs in how to treat people. It was very strict and all about morals – I try to pass that on to my own children. I was asked what advice I give my boys about women, and I tell them my granddad used to say ‘you treat everyone with respect, you behave like a gentleman, especially to women, and I think women appreciate that’. I always say that to my boys.”
It is this desire to lead his life in the right way which helped Beckham on the path to being a devout family man. It is clear from many of his public declarations – and again, his tattoos – that he adores his wife and children, and that they remain the cornerstone of his existence. Once invited to describe Victoria to someone who’s never met her, he said: “She’s charming, she’s funny, she’s immensely talented, first with being a Spice Girl and especially now with being a designer. She’s a very committed person. When she wants something she knows what to do to get it.” Yet he pointedly added: “And she’s an amazing mum. That’s her strongest quality for me. Being her husband and the father of her children, there’s nothing better than seeing a woman who is amazing with her children.”
The sanctity of marriage is one Christian belief that Beckham holds true, and the notion that love is an eternal commitment. “We’ve been married for 17 years, it’s an amazing part of our life and we’ve created something with our children, our family, that’s very special, we’ve got four amazing kids,” he said. Those children remain his priority, although he recognises the importance of maintaining a loving relationship with his wife.
He once said: “Dates for Victoria and I are very few and far between – we have four kids so the majority of our time is spent with them and working, but when we do have date night, we don’t need to impress each other too much anymore. It’s always important to spend time with your partner, but the time that you spend with them, you could just go for a walk through the park, just go for dinner. Those moments you spend together are special. When you show each other attention, you need that.”
Yet it tells you all about his commitment to matrimony that Beckham says the most romantic thing he ever did for Victoria was arranging to renew their wedding vows. He said: “It was a whole surprise, Victoria knew nothing about it. I had it all organised. I told her we were going out for lunch and I packed her bag. I had a dress ready for her to change into on the plane.”
It is to Beckham’s credit that he seeks to live in the correct way when his life is so abnormal to most people’s perceptions. But despite his overwhelming levels of notoriety, and the riches he has amassed, Beckham’s only wish is to be remembered not for the fame or fortune, but for the skills that catapulted him into the life he now leads.
“I just want to be remembered as a hard-working footballer,” he said last year. “I want to be remembered firstly as a good and successful footballer because that’s what I’ve done for many years. And then who knows after that?”
Who knows indeed, and when it comes to Beckham’s true religious views, they remain a mystery until he decides to set the record straight once and for all.