'My own fashion sense has had a chequered history ... good sometimes, bad sometimes'
For his next act David Beckham is opening a new menswear store in London this week. He talks family, fashion and growing up in a working class home to Charlotte Edwardes
Really, David Beckham is very earnest when he talks about clothes. It's not that he's "obsessed", it's not that he "wakes up in the morning thinking, 'I need to look good today'." It's just a gnawing concern.
What "colours" is he wearing? Which boots? These things are "important". At the peak of his footballing fame he thought about "how I looked after a game, how I looked on my way to a game". Presentation is key "whether it's my hair, the shoes, the clothes; whether it's a pair of jeans or a tracksuit". Even as a child he was more interested in fashion than his sisters. While one sister pawed photos of Wham!, his first album was Culture Club, with a picture of Boy George in mauve lipstick and hair rags.
So no one should be surprised that he has bought a stake in Kent & Curwen, a menswear brand formerly of Savile Row, and planted it in London's Covent Garden. It's the latest acquisition by his company Seven Global, which he co-owns with Simon Fuller. Separately he invests in his wife's fashion brand, Victoria Beckham, and his stated new career direction is to "own and build businesses".
The label has been around since 1926, a sort of glorified school outfitters dressing England's cricketers, the rowing teams of Oxford and Cambridge and the military, and providing wardrobe for the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire. Beckham has overseen a revamp, hiring the Irish designer Daniel Kearns (previously of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen) to give a "rebellious twist" to the preppy stripes, V-neck jerseys and Ascot scarves ("it's not a cravat").
The brand is a little nostalgic. Kearns says it has the "counter-culture feel" of the Beatles and Mick Jagger, "Jagger wearing a rugby shirt". It's knowing the rules and breaking them, he says, "which is unique to Britain, above and beyond all that Brexit (stuff)".
Beckham is the first to admit his fashion sense has a chequered history - "It was sometimes good; it was sometimes bad." Outfits co-ordinated with Victoria were definitely bad. Then there were the full-length sarongs, matching leather jacket and leather jeans, and that gold and cream tailcoat (switched to purple later) for his wedding.
Today it's mostly good. He's in a white shirt and blue chinos, with white trainers that look like Lego bricks. I expected a quiff, but his hair is bobbed with beachy highlights, the goatee now about four centimetres of beard. I mean to ask if he dyes his eyebrows but he puts me off my stride with a massive wink.
Not that he would have minded - Beckham is extreme metrosexual. He has houses in Notting Hill and the Cotswolds, hangs out with Lady Mary Charteris, goes to Glastonbury. When I ask him how he sees himself - macho footballer or metrosexual fashionista, working class or posh? - he replies that he is "probably all those things".
"But I am from a working-class East End family," he adds. His father Ted was "and is" a gas engineer; his mother Sandra, a hairdresser. His grandfather worked in 'the print' - the presses. "He was still going in at 82 years old, overnights at the weekend. My work ethic was instilled by them."
With some half a billion in the bank clocked up from a 22-year career in football, endorsements, interests in Haig whisky and fashion, he could retire several times over. But Beckham is obsessed with hard work.
"It's something we talk about a lot, Victoria and I," he says. "It's something we definitely try to instil in the kids, by talking to them, in our own actions."
Brooklyn (18), Romeo (15), Cruz (12), Harper (six), know, for example, that the reason their parents travel so much is for work. "When we are going away we like our kids to know why: 'so Daddy can pay the bills for the house', or 'pay for your school education'."
It has an impact. He says Harper "turned to me the other day when we were in the car on the way to the airport in LA and said, 'Dad, how do you get money?' And I said, 'Well, when you go to work you get paid and then I pay for your school uniform or the books for school'. And she said, 'OK, Daddy. So when are you next going away?' And I said, 'Well Daddy's going away this week because Daddy has to pay for the holiday we've just been on'. She said, 'Oh, OK'. So she opened the glove box and got two dollars out and she gave me the two dollars and said, 'You don't have to go away now Daddy'. I was like 'Aaahhh'." He clutches his heart.
As parents they alternate trips so that "one of us is always with the kids", he says, so he and Victoria haven't been away on their own for years. Their snatched time together is spent on 'date nights'.
Still, parenting is hands-on. He does the school run "every single day" he is in town, dropping the kids one by one, watching them go in dressed in uniforms - "It makes you proud to be English." And like all parents he gets nits. "It sometimes rages through the school. I just think if the kids get it, well..."
Back at home I am incredulous to hear that all four kids are made to unload the dishwasher and clean up after themselves. "No, really," he insists. "Kids need to know there are boundaries, in life and in school: 'Pick up your clothes - don't make your parents do it. Pick up the wet towel from the floor. Unload the dishwasher. Clean up'."
And they all do that? "Most of the time." The effect of this proclaimed self-sufficiency is marginally dampened by the 15 or so people milling around him fiddling with phones, fetching coffee, fending off, one imagines, the screaming, swooning fans who throw themselves in his path.
While for most of our chat he is utterly laid-back in his armchair, he tenses on the subject of politics.
For instance, he says, "I do definitely feel passionate about politics at the moment" but it would be "unfair" to actually say anything "until I really need to".
Is there anything he does feel comfortable saying?
He pauses. "When you have children - young children and older children going to university in America - you are of course concerned and worried. What are their lives going to be like? That's my main concern.
"Obviously there are a lot of other things in terms of how businesses are going to survive, how people from Europe and other parts of the world are going to cope with changes. Hopefully that is going to be worked out. But in this current climate it's uncertain."
He votes, yes. "Always."
His fear of slipping up is palpable. Later he halts midway through a paean on how wonderful Edward Enninful will be as the new editor of Vogue because he is such a nice person.
And he shares that his two great style heroes are Paul Newman and Steve McQueen: "People I've always looked at and thought, 'It's so effortless', whether in a suit or jeans and a white T-shirt."
At 42, he suspects either he's had one long mid-life crisis or that it's yet to come. "The long hair has been there for ages, so that's not a crisis," he says.
"Riding my bike, I've done that since I was 30, so that's not a mid-life crisis. So no, maybe I haven't. Not yet."
Kent & Curwen is at 12 Floral Street, WC2; kentandcurwen.com