This is not Beckham’s first attempt to charm his way onto America’s cultural radar, and his failure to catch on so far is a bit confounding. What are we missing? Ridiculously telegenic 30-year-old sports star with a raging (if often misguided) eye for fashion weds a properly monikered (“Posh”) pop singer, has three kids, weathers reports of affairs, redeems himself with well-timed photo ops and meaningful tattoos. This should be working. Yet the Becks-and-Posh act plays to a resounding chorus of crickets in the States. For all his elfin good looks and net-shredding skill, Beckham is the victim of two Yank absolutes: Soccer bores us, and we remain red-faced about the Spice Girls.
Still, the man the Brits call Goldenballs comes, hoping to claim the rewards American advertisers shower on athletes with his talent and bone structure. His $9 million deal to push Gillette’s razors sounds nice until you compare it with the $80 million in endorsements Tiger Woods lapped up last year. Beckham’s weeklong assault on the U.S. began on Tuesday in New York, where he led the English national team against Colombia. There was an Adidas store to christen—and $210 signature cleats to sell—on Wednesday. This morning, Thursday, he announced the opening of the David Beckham Academy at a stadium in a Los Angeles suburb. As he demonstrated corner kicks to the children, Simon Fuller stood on the sidelines.
Fuller, the man who brought the Spice Girls and American Idol to our shores, also introduced Beckham to Victoria. As their manager, he’s helped Beckham pocket more than $30 million a year in salary and endorsements and negotiated Victoria’s entry into the designer-jeans business.
“Everywhere else in the world, David is huge, but we’re not giving up,” Fuller says. He looks pleased. “America is the final frontier.”
There is a gooey red blotch of pizza stuck in David Beckham’s teeth. But I say nothing. The guy needs a flaw.
In person, lounging in the glassed-in living room of a rental house just off the Pacific Coast Highway, Beckham is neither rugged nor particularly handsome. Just frustratingly pretty. Beautiful, even, in a way usually reserved for runway models and gay men. Which, considering soccer’s place in English culture as the sport of the bloke, testifies to the amazing feats of Beckham’s right foot. But doesn’t he ever wish he had a scar or something? “No, no, no, no,” he laughs. The pizza is still lodged against his canine tooth.
The only thing more astounding than the architectural perfection of his face is his willingness to go there in the name of fashion. Slathering himself in baby oil and nail polish, twirling leopard-print bikini briefs around a finger, wearing a sarong. In public. Since kicking his way into Britain’s heart in 1996, he has carried the stylistic burden of a nation on his narrow shoulders. If David Beckham shaved his head or twisted his locks into a ponytail, then, by damn, the whole of England’s male population would demand the same from their perplexed barbers. That’s not counting, of course, those unfortunate cornrows.