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Golden balls-up: the veil slips on brand Beckham

AFP/Getty Images - Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The Beckileaks scandal has opened a door on the hidden world of celebrity, and Brand Beckham in particular

Deep down in my cynical soul there’s a tiny part of me that feels sorry for David Beckham. After devoting his life to meticulous self-promotion the former footballer’s carefully-crafted reputation looks to be in tatters. A nation weeps.

On a scale of one to ten, our fallen hero’s chances of the knighthood he so desperately craves are somewhere between nought and zero. And in the eyes of an appalled public his once-saintly status seems to have plummeted from revered to reviled. In soccer parlance, the poor guy must be sick as a parrot.

Clearly, the damning emails that have shattered his cosseted world were illegally obtained. Everyone has a right to privacy and his has been criminally invaded. But in an age where state secrets are routinely hacked and published, ‘Beckileaks’ was hardly the greatest of shocks. And regardless of the nefarious back-story behind them, wannabe ‘Sir’ David’s angry missives reveal an unpleasant reality that has left his millions of fans horribly disillusioned.

In Fleet Street, where long-suffering hacks have endured Brand Beckham’s tiresomely relentless PR machine for many years, the current escalating scandal will have come as far less of a surprise. They who live by the publicity sword always run the risk of dying by it too. In fairness, the only difference between the hapless Beckham and hundreds of other image conscious celebrities is he got found out. Image creation is a kind of lying and if the punters ever cotton on that they’ve been hoodwinked rest assured they will be merciless.

When I was the Daily Mirror’s showbusiness editor during the early noughties, while David and Victoria were pursuing their King and Queen dream, barely a day went by when we weren’t locked in ludicrous horse-trading over what we could and couldn’t print about Mr and Mrs Perfect. If we agreed to leave out some unsavoury detail in tomorrow’s edition they would do something exclusive for us next week. It was soul-destroying. It’s not only war in which the first casualty is the truth.

This was the beginning of the golden couple’s ascent from very handsome sports star and ultra-ambitious Spice Girl to their lofty position at the pinnacle of the global fame game. Behind them was the formative era when they flogged their hideously tacky 1999 wedding to OK! magazine for a million quid. Ahead of them lay untold wealth in terms of advertising and sponsorship deals raking in a reputed half a billion a year.

A lot of people have made a lot of money from polishing Beckham’s halo, especially him. Worth £280million, he reportedly earns £71,000 every 24 hours. Not bad for a Walthamstow lad. The boy done brilliant.

Throughout Posh and Becks’ inexorable rise to the top, the crucial element was pushing the idea of their blissfully happy marriage and – as their kids were born – painting an idyllic picture of dedicated parenthood. Naturally, fab family man David’s profound love for his own offspring triggered his interest in children’s charities. It is now depressingly apparent that he also calculated that his theatrically selfless work for underprivileged youngsters would garner favourable headlines and fast-track him to becoming a knight of the realm.

The last time the good ship Beckham sailed into choppy waters was after he kicked an Argentinian opponent and got sent off in a display of petulance that was widely regarded to have wrecked England’s chances in the 1998 World Cup. Other players would have taken such thoroughly well-deserved unpopularity on the chin.

Beckham called in his expensive public relations team and a couple of flattering photo-spreads later (accompanied by the type of mind-numbingly anodyne interviews for which he is notorious) his squeaky-clean glory was restored. Phew.

Now he has been engulfed by a much more serious storm from which there may be no escape. Calling the honours selection committee ‘a bunch of c***s’ for failing to recognise his suspiciously conspicuous charity work was not the response of a proper role model. And dismissing singer Katherine Jenkins’ OBE as ‘a f***ing joke’ betrayed a nasty jealous streak. David’s ambitious wife – who, incidentally, is anything but posh – is reported to have once dismissed her husband as ‘an Essex yob’. I think we can see where she was coming from.

As more disturbing allegations emerge that he declared ‘it’s my f***ing money’ and refused to personally donate to a charity dinner, demanded that UNICEF pay him £6,685 for a business class flight he never took, got the BBC to foot the bill for a private jet and invested in a legal but dubious tax avoidance scheme, Brand Beckham’s crumbling castle is under siege.

Tragically, Beckham’s defence has been to ‘tell friends’ that he’s just a normal person who was disappointed not to be knighted. Oh that’s all right then.

And, yawn, to post on Instagram yet more of those nauseating great-dad pictures (Brooklyn and co are vital part of the family business) that he believes will make us all love him again. Dream on Dave.

Can he dig his way out of this unmitigated disaster? Around the world, his image may not be quite as damaged as it is in the UK. But damaged it certainly is.

Beckham’s dramatic fall from grace has brought back into focus the tawdry tales that were stumbling blocks on his rocky road to success. Reports of extra-marital affairs were strongly denied. The public wanted to believe that the first family of fame were wonderful.

But therein lies Beckham’s problem. No one is as impossibly perfect as his PR flunkies try to say he is. There is the shiny facade of him weeping for the poor and needy and there is the grim reality of his pathetically small-minded emails. They don’t make him a monster.

They just make him less of a likeable person who, having accrued his vast fortune, was unseemly in his insatiable desire for a title.

Employing his dubious grasp of grammar, he wrote: ‘If I was American I would of got something like this ten years ago.’ But this is Britain, and in these here parts we don’t approve of flashy do-gooders who just want to be feted and adored. Nor – as he is destined to discover – do we forgive them. In showbiz – with honourable exceptions – charity must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. It’s a sickening syndrome. Ironically, if Beckham had gone about his fundraising quietly he’d probably be a Lord.

For the record, Beckham is considering hiring cyber experts to investigate how more than 18 million emails were stolen from his publicity guru Simon Oliviera’s Portugal-based company.

And his spokesman insists: ‘This story is based on outdated material and taken out of context from hacked and doctored private emails from a third-party server and gives a deliberately inaccurate picture.’ Unsurprisingly, we are also instructed that he has given generously to worthy causes.

Fair enough. But the best advice for David Beckham now would be to stop listening to ridiculous PR advice.

Opposing Scottish independence because his squad of lackeys said it would endear him to the establishment and guarantee him a place high on the KBE shortlist was as manipulative as it was fatuous.

The sad fact is that after a traumatic week there are three words Becks will never hear: ‘Arise Sir David’. Somehow one suspects that plain old Mrs Beckham will not be pleased. She could have been a Lady.

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