Your black Range Rover pulls to a stop outside the party and you begin the preflight checklist. Hair? Whipped into a soft blond peak. Collar? Starched stiff and open. Shoes? Spit-shined and glowing. You give one last rub to that wrinkle in your metallic-gray suit jacket and inhale. Then you grip your wife’s hand, swing the door open, and descend into your own private hell.

The eight cars that have been tailing you since you left the hotel screech to a halt. Thirty—no, forty—paparazzi just, like, appear. They swarm you. Corral you. Suffocate you. Wielding cameras, throwing elbows, and barking commands (“Becks, over here! Becks!”), they pin you against a wall. Police barricades and orange pylons fall in the crush. Your wife, Victoria, the mother of your three children, is wide-eyed.

With a struggle you move forward, lurching toward the door. But you don’t push back. You do not push back. You do not push back. Much as you might ache to launch into them with your fists, you are powerless. Those cameras have long memories, and a direct line to the gossip-hungry public whose adoration put the Ferrari, the Bentley, the Aston Martin in your garage.

You grit your teeth, jaw muscles bulging. Eyes forward. Shoulders square. A hand through your hair. (Do I look all right?) Finally, you give them what they want: a smile. Flashbulbs pop like muffled machine-gun fire. You’ll look typically dashing on the front pages of the tabloids tomorrow, while inside they’ll print more lies, more wild innuendo about your life. Your crumbling marriage. Your latest supposed affair. But you have no choice. You have to smile. You are David Beckham. And that bull’s-eye on your chest has your fingerprints all over it.

So, do you care yet? This whole Beckham bum rush with the strobe-lit entrances and nonstop speculation—does it intrigue you? Are you impressed by the super-fabulosity of it all?

Truth is, the Beckham entourage could’ve defused the chaos by pulling all the way up to the entrance of the Creative Artists Agency’s Beverly Hills headquarters like every other celebrity crew—not a full 20 yards short. And those photographers? Shooting for foreign papers, every one. British, Spanish, Mexican, and Japanese stringers, they know a properly off-the-cuff picture of the Beckhams is worth as much as $45,000 and a 2 percent circulation jump. The biggest paydays are in England, of course, where Beckham is considered “more influential than God” by 37 percent of the populace. America’s attitude is better characterized by the 10 bored-looking cameramen waiting patiently behind a velvet rope.

“I was down at Venice Beach asking punters if they knew who he was,” says a British reporter. “Nobody had a clue until I showed them his picture. Even then they were a bit fuzzy.”