'I want people to know that I have made a difference'
Forget about the football and the fashion lines, David Beckham's real passion lies with his Unicef charity work, discovers Barry Egan
Tony Parsons wrote in a GQ article a few years ago that, "all men live in the shadow of David Beckham - who looks far fitter, in every sense of the word, in his late 30s than he did in his early 20s."
I don't think I'm really going out on a limb when I say that Mr Beckham, who turns 40 next month, is very good-looking. When he walked into One Marylebone - once Holy Trinity Church - the temperature in the room seemed to change. Every woman, and possibly a few of the men, appeared to fall swooningly in love, albeit temporarily, with the blond idol.
As a football fan, I appreciated that this was the same half-man, half-god who scored that goal from the halfway line for Manchester United against Wimbledon in August 1996. So, meeting Beckham in London meant that I had ticked off another item on my bucket list.
I ask him who was the best Irishman he has ever played with - Roy or Robbie Keane? (For those of you who view Beckham purely as homoerotic, hunk-in-trunks eye-candy par excellence, allow me to gently remind you: he was rather good with a football for Man United alongside Roy, before going on to play with Robbie at LA Galaxy in Los Angeles.)
The question takes him slightly aback. "I couldn't pick between the two," he says. "But obviously I respect them both. I love them both - as individuals, as players.
"You know, obviously I spent a lot of time with Robbie in the last five years and, you know, he is one of the reasons why we had the success on the field that we had, because of his talent and his drive.
"But, I mean, Roy will always be one of the best midfielders I've ever played with - his passion. He was one of the reasons why we were successful at Manchester United, because of his drive. He made us better players and better people."
Do you weep for your old team now?
"No. No, I don't. But I want to see them get better. We will at some point. We're not doing bad at the moment." (This interview took place a few days before, embarrassingly, Arsenal knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup.)
Do you not think Manchester United would perhaps be better with Louis Walsh rather than Louis Van Gaal as a manager?
"No, no, no, I like Van Gaal. I also like Louis Walsh. But not as manager of Man United!"
Now retired from playing soccer, David has swapped bending it like Beckham with the likes of Man United (as well as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and LA Galaxy) for blending it like Beckham for global beauty-products manufacturer Coty.
Asked about his legacy, he answers: "Obviously, I've been successful on the field and it's what's led to me being successful off the field. I just want people to look back on me in my career as a hard worker, and obviously successful with the teams that I've been with.
"Off the field, I want people to see that I've made a difference in some way; whether that's with the football club we're creating in Miami" - he says of his plans for a potential Major League Soccer expansion club in Miami - "or the business side of things, or more importantly, the stuff that I do with Unicef and the 7 fund we've created."
Beckham - who has been a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for over a decade - has an initiative, 7: The David Beckham Unicef Fund. Its stated aim is to "protect millions of children around the world from danger".
"I just want to make a difference," says Beckham. "Some people turn round to me and say, 'Don't you want to be a manager? A coach?' The thing that I'm most passionate about is the charity work I've done with Unicef over the last 10 years. "
In person, the superstar is very funny, very cool, very gracious, enormously charming, like a Cary Grant from Chingford, whose parents are a hairdresser and a gas-fitter. I was expecting him to be fey, even slightly introspective in person - Julie Burchill wrote, erroneously, in her 2001 book, Burchill on Beckham, that Beckham has the late Lady Diana's shy, downward smile. He doesn't. He is, in fact, all about the eye contact and engagement.
He also doesn't have the voice that all the impersonators think he does. He speaks in a deeper tone than you imagine.
And, of course, he is vain, but it would be bizarre, with the level of adulation he receives, if Beckham was a bit short on narcissism. Be that as it may, he isn't short of candour either.
Beckham has no problems with self-deprecation. As you will see from the following light-hearted exchange ...
Is there a look that you regret, David?
"I don't regret anything," he says like a legitimate superstar, a true pop-culture idol, before reflecting for a fraction of a second. "But it doesn't mean I don't look back and think, 'What was I thinking?' Because there are certain parts throughout my relationship with Victoria or my own individual style ... You know, I do look back and think, 'What was I thinking?' But at the time it was great! Or I thought it was great," he laughs.
"So, yeah, certain moments, like when we wore matching Gucci leather outfits - we both look back on that and think, 'OK ...'
"And obviously, people always talk about the sarong, but I think it was great," he says, laughing again.
But back to 2015 and David. How do you prepare for a date with Victoria?
"How do I prepare?" He repeats the question, possibly playing for time. "They are very few and far between at the moment because we, obviously, have four kids and the majority of our time is spent with them and working, of course, but when we do have date-time ...
"I mean, we don't need to impress each other any more. The time that we spend together could just be going for a walk through the park or just going for dinner.
"Those moments are special, and I think when you show each other attention - I mean, you need that. You need that," he emphasises, with touching emotional realness.
One Marylebone was built in 1826-28 to mark the defeat of Napoleon; today, it's marking the launch of a certain new fragrance, Beckham Instinct Gold Edition. Beckham is here to celebrate 10 years of his Instinct fragrance, and over 10 million bottles being sold worldwide, making it the biggest-selling celebrity fragrance of all time, outselling the likes of Beyonce and Katy Perry.
So, one line of enquiry, slightly exasperatingly, was to be about his new scent, or at least smell. Absolutely no snidey questions about come-hither senoritas.
Other than with perfume, what does David think is the best scent on a woman?
"I don't think there is anything sexier than when a woman has just got out of the shower," he answers. "Without going into too much detail, I just think that can be something that is very special on a woman. On the fragrance side, I think it is always important that it is not overpowering - the smell on a woman, and on a man. I think it is very important that you see the person before you smell them.
"But one smell that always sticks out for me is my gran used to wear this Givenchy (scent), and it was one of those smells. It's like music. Certain moments take you back. My dad used to listen to Michael McDonald and every time I hear one of the songs, it takes me back to happy memories. Fragrances do that exact thing."
What did you inherit from your father?
"Definitely not style. I don't know. I think my parents gave me the right beliefs in how to treat people in general."
You try to pass that on to your children?
"Without a doubt. It is all about respect."
Sitting in the chauffeur-driven, brand-new Mercedes-Benz to Gatwick to catch my flight home - his people do everything in style - I thought that it would be difficult not to have a large amount of said respect for Mr D Beckham.
- David Beckham is celebrating 10 years of fragrance with new release Beckham Instinct Gold Edition; 50ml, £24, available nationwide
Brand Beckham: David and Victoria's big earners
The talented English footballer and his Posh Spice wife have a joint empire estimated to be worth £240m comprising of sporting endorsements from him and a much-lauded fashion line from her.
The Brand Beckham numbers make impressive reading - but David is the big breadwinner with a host of lucrative tie-ins to sport, luxury cars and whisky.
David's £7.5m earnings represent 10-times what his wife makes despite her hugely successful fashion line, VB which was launched in 2008. That breaks down to a daily income of £20,000 from all his promotional activities
David Beckham has deals with sporting brand, Adidas, clothing store H&M and Sky Sports. He has also featured in advertisements for Diageo's Haig Club whisky as well as promoting the Las Vegas Sands Hotel and is brand ambassador for Sainsbury's and Jaguar.