Queen Victoria - an ordinary girl with an extraordinary life
She pads into the room without any fanfare. Even in flip flops, ‘boyfriend’ jeans and a T-shirt that either cost a bomb or was made in school by one of her boys (I suspect the former), she looks gorgeous and perfectly pert.
Her face is fresh, quite perfect and doll-like and her skin glows, She's not too skinny either. But most of all it is her very Victoria Beckham-ness that gets you. We see her so much, as an icon, that you kind of forget she is a real woman, who is the basis for the image and the brand and the icon that is Victoria Beckham.
I tell her it's a bit unsettling, a bit like seeing Marilyn Monroe or Elvis in the flesh. She pronounces herself flattered. But, in fact, she knows exactly what I'm talking about. Because later she will tell me it happens to her, sometimes, too. She is sometimes taken aback by the sight of Victoria Beckham.
“It's kind of weird,” she says, “I was designing my dresses the other day [she has just launched a new high-end fashion range] and I put the dress on — because it's very important that everything is very me. So I put the dress on and I put the shoes on, got the handbag, I put my big sunglasses on and I looked in the mirror and I was almost a bit freaked out because I went in like this, in jeans and a T-shirt, and then I turned into Victoria Beckham, and I said: ‘Oh my God. I look like her!' It's kind of weird. I mean, I don't read tabloids, I don't read magazines unless I have to, unless we're going to be suing someone. But it is kind of weird.”
We're meeting in Manchester to discuss the new scents by Victoria and husband, David. This is one of the only print interviews she's doing for the launch. The people from Coty, with whom she does the perfumes, all seem genuinely impressed with how involved she is in the whole process. The perfume is Signature. There is one for men and one for women, and it is actually classy. It is an important one for dVb, the brand that Victoria co-owns with David and Spice Girls manager and 19 Management supremo Simon Fuller. This is their first proper launch into the US market, though their last perfume did very well there without a big launch. It will be sold in all the high-end department stores around the world.
Victoria says: “Everything that I put my name on is part of me. I'm not just another celebrity who has got a licensing deal. This isn't just about me saying: ‘I'm Victoria Beckham; sell this.' I think there are lots of celebrities who don't have any involvement with what they do. I don't think there's anything wrong in that, but I'm just blessed that I do and I can continue to be as involved.”
The interview is kind of supposed to be about perfume and, from what I've heard about similar set-ups, that generally involves the interviewer sitting with the talent and 10 of their ‘people’ around them waiting to jump in at any sign of a real question. Amazingly, no one sits in on our interview. There is just one of Victoria's people in the suite with us and she sits in the next room, albeit with the door open. What started out as a 10-minute chat turns out to be about 45 minutes where we chat freely about everything from David Beckham, to family, to, well, being Victoria Beckham. And I can report that she's lovely and she's normal and well adjusted. She’s also one of the smartest cookies you could meet.
Basically, she seems to reconcile her own down-to-earth nature with the very unreal notion of being an international icon and brand, recognising, sensibly, that we play different roles in different aspects of our lives. So, of the style-icon business, she explains: “I love fashion and I love to have fun with fashion. I like to play with different images. I wouldn't say it's playing a role. I think that it is definitely part of me, but I have another side of me which is dressed like this, knocking around at home with the kids. I never wear make-up unless I'm going out or going to work. I'm much more relaxed at home. But I love clothes, I love to put on an image and that's definitely me as well.”
Certainly, she can, at times, say things that sound wildly unreal, but that’s just because of the extraordinary nature of her life. So she can be telling you how a lot of their social life in LA is just, you know, normal stuff like going to other people's houses, but then it will emerge casually that other people's houses can often mean Tom Cruise's house. Her kids, too, seem to have taken the reality/unreality in their stride. She tells me about when they first watched Spiceworld: The Movie a couple of years ago: “We were living in Spain, and I was out working on the jeans collection and I came in and they were watching Spiceworld. Romeo ran up to me and he said: ‘Mummy, have you been at work?' and I said: ‘Yeah,’ and he said: ‘Have you been with the Spice Girls?' and I didn't have the heart to tell him no, and he said: ‘Have you been riding that bus?' because obviously I drive a bus in the movie, which was quite cute.”
With Victoria Beckham, any topic of conversation invariably comes back to one thing — family. For example, when she's talking about perfume she drifts back to reminiscing about her mum, who is clearly also her role model. She remembers fondly the Eighties when you would “smell someone before you saw them”. Her mum wore Raffinee.
She has also just designed a range of dresses and, like the perfume, this is a high-end endeavour. The clothing range is “handmade in London, with great fabrics — some handmade embroideries from India. It's things that I like to wear, dresses that are timeless, that are good quality, that are flattering, relatively simple. When you invest in one of my dresses, you'll be able to wear it for years.”
While she was mentored in the project by her friend Roland Mouret, he did not design the dresses. She did. I believe her on that, too. But still, all the work is organised around David's schedule and the needs of the kids. The only reason she can sit happily talking to me today is because she knows her boys are with her mum at the theme park Diggerland, near London.
Is it strange for her that her kids, for the time being anyway, are growing up American? “Well, I mean they
have little American accents,” she says, “but myself and David, we're very British. But it's a great place to live with the boys. They're playing ice hockey, basketball, soccer, American football, gymnastics, they do everything. Surfing, breakdancing, which is great, you know. I think that we're lucky that we can travel but, as I say, we are very British, the way we run our home.”
Very British seems to mean partially that Victoria is quite traditional in her role as wife and mother and also “quite strict” with the boys. I'd imagine it would be very easy for them to get a bit spoiled, I say.
“Of course it would. I mean, I've always been very strict with them. Even now my three-year-old will say: ‘Excuse me, Mummy.’ At three years old! And ‘please' and ‘thank you', and if they don't say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, then they just don't get. You know, they're free spirits and they're fun and they have very good personalities and sense of humours, and they're all very, very funny. But they're incredibly well behaved. You know, every time we fly to Europe — and it's a long journey for a kid, it might be 11 or 12 hours — they are perfectly behaved and every single time, without fail, someone will compliment me, or David, if they're travelling with him, on how well behaved the boys are. And I think that's important, that's how I was brought up.”
Are the kids very aware that mum was a Spice Girl? “Not really. I mean, obviously I've told them, you know, they've heard songs on the radio and I'd say: ‘Well, this is Mummy.’ But up until the Spice Girls reunion, really everything in our family revolved around football and what David does, and I'm lucky that with my job I can do that when the kids are at school, because I don't like to spend very much time away from David and the boys. I'll always make sure my priority is my family. But they're becoming more and more aware of what I do. That's the reason that I did the tour, for the kids to sit in the front row and see Mummy as a pop star. You know, I don't just moan and say: ‘Do your homework, clean your teeth,' you know, wow, Mummy's cool. I was the cool one in the family for a while, which was great, you know.”
Clearly, the family is what keeps her so grounded: “I think it helps that we're so close as a family, not just with my family but with David's as well. We do really regular stuff.” The first thing they did when they touched down in England this time was to go to the local Chinese with David's sister and the kids to celebrate David's dad's birthday. On Sunday, they took his nan and granddad out to the local pub for lunch.
Normality is also helped by the fact that Victoria manages to avoid a lot of what is written about her. “I don't read newspapers,” she says, “and I don't read magazines, so I'm kind of a bit unaware of it. I'd like to say I live in my own little world, but I mean that in a very normal way. I don't see myself, possibly, as maybe other people do. I'm too busy running around after the kids. Everything I do, I do for the kids.”
I believe that living in LA has helped the Beckhams live a more normal life than they might be able to do elsewhere. LA is probably set up a bit more for celebrities to live normal lives. “You know,” she says, “I think it depends where you go. I think that sometimes you go out and you know you're going to get photographed, which is fine, you know. Make sure you do your hair, and put some nice make-up on. But quite often we go out and we might socialise around people's houses or go to restaurants where they're not restaurants that are going to call the paparazzi. So we have a really great social life but we tend to mix more with the children and do things with our friends at their houses as opposed to going out.”
But she is firm that “we can definitely still go out”. She would never, she says, become “some sort of recluse” and she will never start leaving her kids at home because she is worried about them being photographed. She is determined they will have a normal life.
Again, all so normal, until you consider that the friends they might be calling around to with the kids could be Eva Longoria, Gordon Ramsay or even Tom and Katie.
“Tom is a really nice guy,” she says, “and I always say he's a very normal guy and people always think: ‘How can Tom Cruise be normal?' But you know what? He is. He'll invite us around to his house on a Sunday with Katie, and the kids, and if my mum or dad are there, or David's mum, we will all go. They will open their house to all of us and they are really normal people.”
So, when you hang around with celebrities like that, does it kind of ruin any interest you might have in celeb culture?
“You know, Tom is incredibly talented and I have enormous respect for him,” she says. “Celebrities that have talent I have an enormous amount of respect for. There's lots of celebrities nowadays; I mean, I have respect for anybody, any human being, but you don't have the same kind of respect because you can be in Big Brother and then be a celebrity.” And is it a case that she can trust the kind of people she meets in LA more because they are less likely to be jealous of her
or less likely to be trying to get something out of her? “I think that, you know, you've just got to have your wits about you. I think that we've met some great people living here in Manchester, living in Madrid, being in LA, there are people that, if you like, are full of shit, let's just say, anywhere. It makes no difference if you're in LA, if you're in London, it makes no difference whatsoever, I think that you've just got to try to have your wits about you. You know, I always listen to my gut instinct. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong. But we're very true to ourselves and, like I said, most of the time we hang out at home with the boys. We might be socialising with Tom Cruise one day but then the next day I'll be round with one of the mums from school, you know, who has a completely different profession. I enjoy their company just as much.”
Settling in LA has also meant, you suspect, that they are getting to spend more time together as a family. Is there much time apart these days?
“Not so much now,” she says, “because my work is in LA. I have offices there, the boys are at school there and while David travels if he has away games, that's the day before the game and then he's back the day after. So, we're more settled now. But, I mean, the only reason that we were ever apart in Madrid really, at the start, was the fact that the boys couldn't get into school and we didn't have a house and, obviously, when you have children, their schoolwork is very important. As soon as the kids got into school, you know, we were over there. David used to go away a lot more when he was playing for Madrid: they'd go away a few days before a game.
“It's a little bit more relaxed now, which is nice, and everything I do, I plan around David. I'll never work when he's got days off.”
Her husband is another of her favourite subjects for enthusiastic conversation. Despite the three kids, they make sure to take plenty of time for their own relationship, and, mainly, they seem to have a great laugh.
“We always spend time together,” she says. “We go out a lot together, we laugh. I think that the most important thing is that you can really laugh with the person you are married to. We were just saying the other day how it's funny that we still make each other laugh after all these years. I still get excited when I know that he's coming home from training, you know, I'm there waiting by the door for him to come home.”
But, she insists, they still love Britain and Europe and they are very much still European. Exhibit A in the ‘you can take the girl out of Britain but not Britain out of the girl,’ is that she still loves the high street. She’s enthusiastic about Claire's Accessories, one
of her favourites, and she is still partial to a bit of Oxfam. “It's incredible,” she says charmingly, “what some people throw out.”
But can you really just go into Oxfam and browse around without there being a riot?
“Yeah, I mean, every now and then there might be some press outside, or I might say to my sister: ‘You know, I've seen something in the window I quite like, can you pop in and get it for me?' I mean, to be fair, I haven't really been shopping in London for a long, long time and I don't really go shopping a lot in Los Angeles.”
So how does she shop then?
“I do a lot of internet shopping,” she says, “because I know very well my shape, I know what's going to suit me, so I buy a lot of things on the internet.”
She goes on: “I'm very lucky. I get sent lots of nice things as well, which is really great. You know, I'm very lucky and I wake up every morning and I think: ‘Crikey, I'm really lucky.’
“I would never take it for granted. I would never ask for anything. And I will always ring everybody who sends me anything. Someone sent me a batch of baby wipes for the kids and I phoned them to say thank you. It can be something as small as that or a fabulous new Prada bag, and I will always ring and say thank you and send a thank-you note, and I think that's really important.”
So, basically, any new bags or stuff that comes out, people send it to her in the hope that she'll be seen wearing it?
“Yeah, a lot of the time they do.”
So do you have mountains of stuff you've never worn?
“No, I wear most things.”
After all, this is a person who thinks that it's amazing what some people throw away.
That night, Victoria is out in Manchester and there is a frenzy in the newspapers about what appears to be dirt in her ears. Before, I would have probably just have looked at those pictures and thought nothing of it. But when you've met her, and when you've just met her, and it is fresh in your mind what a normal person she is, you can't help but think that it is extraordinary to have to live life like that, to literally have the insides of your ears pored over in the newspapers.
In the following week, I read dozens of other pieces of tittle tattle about her and I begin to understand why she never reads newspapers. Because, truly, the person that is sometimes portrayed in the gutter press bears absolutely no resemblance to the person I met.
And I don't think even Victoria Beckham is that good an actress.