‘I feel blessed to have the life I have but my main priority will always be family’
David Beckham is a symbol of male self-expression and modern masculinity. He talks to Barry Egan about feminism, fatherhood, his mod father, his hipster grandad, the mountains in California, and his new fragrance, Respect.
David Beckham’s suite in the Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square is not that much smaller than the pitches on which he made his mark, creating magic for Manchester United and Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and LA Galaxy.
His presence in the London hotel is just as large. Wearing a navy sweater and trouser combo with black shiny brogues, he looks quite the hipster gent. You’d be hard-pressed to find a man with more swagger than Beckham. Or a man more natural and down-to-earth.
“You well?” he says, shaking my hand.
I am close enough to see the rose tattoo on his neck and another with the words “Pretty Lady Harper”, which refers to his six-year-old daughter. Beckham has said that tattoos are his way of expressing deep feelings about the things he cares about and loves.
Beckham says he loves coming to Ireland — he and Victoria were married in Luttrellstown Castle on July 4, 1999 — and would like to come over more often. He has flown in from his home in California to promote his latest fragrance, Respect.
What’s his interpretation of the name?
“I think respect is such a massive part of life,” he says, “and, in general, respect is such a strong word for many different reasons: in work, in business, in family. And it is one thing, obviously with the kids, that I have always tried to teach them.”
What did you teach them?
“You respect yourselves. You respect other people. And you respect your parents as well,” he explains.
“So respect is such a strong word, and it just means so much,” he continues. “The fact that we are able to use the name for our latest fragrance is great. It is always difficult with a long partnership,” he says, referring to his 10-year relationship with Coty, the American beauty-product giant, which has seen him sell well over 10 million bottles of fragrance, “to come up with new, refreshing ideas. If I had done this with the first fragrance (Instinct in 2005) it wouldn’t have had the same meaning. So I think the fact that we have done it now, after so many years, there is a feeling of respect throughout the business.”
Asked to describe the fragrance, he uses three words: “Modern. Fresh. Masculine. It is perfect for the modern man. I associate it with style and elegance.”
He could, of course, have been talking about himself. David Beckham is an exemplar of modern masculinity. From the sarong to the Alice band to the matching his-and-hers leather Versace outfits, David Beckham has rocked many looks, cementing his status as a global fashion icon.
What he would most like to symbolise, however, is forward-looking fatherhood, as dad to Harper (6), Brooklyn (18), Romeo (15) and Cruz (12) — and a supportive husband to Victoria.
Former Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand has been talking about men and their emotions recently but Beckham has been doing that for 15 years.
Would you call yourself a feminist, David?
“Would I? Sure, yeah, I’d like to feel that I am a feminist. I stand up for many different things that I believe in.”
Where did your feminism come from?
“Probably my parents. My mum. My wife. Having a little girl, I think that’s a big part of it. My mum and my dad always brought me up to respect my sisters, my mum, my grandmother. I think that is one thing that I was always brought up with. It is an important part of my life. It has always been an important part of my life.”
It’s in your DNA?
“I’d like to think it is, and I want to do the same for my children. My sons.”
How do you teach your sons respect for women?
“It runs all the way through the house. You know, I think at the end of the day, I have an amazing mum; I had an amazing grandmother. I have amazing sisters. I have an amazing daughter and I want my sons and people around them to respect them (women) in the way that they deserve.”
So what kind of man wears Respect?
“I think any man, to be honest. I think someone who loves that woodiness. Someone who loves the citrus. Someone who loves that refreshing kind of non-overpowering smell.”
Doesn’t the kind of man who wears Respect want to be a bit like you?
“No. It doesn’t have to be (like that). I think it could be anybody that loves fragrance and loves great smells. At the end of the day, it can be anyone. It doesn’t have to be someone who wants to be like me.”
What do you focus on with your personal style, your grooming?
“Feeling comfortable. I have always felt I don’t need to break rules or break boundaries. But my main focus isn’t getting up two hours earlier before I take the kids to school to get ready. I want it simple, uncomplicated. And that’s how I have it. I shower. I moisturise. I use a little bit of eye cream. I am very organised with what I wear. It is not the fact that I am conscious of looking great. It is simple: jeans; t-shirt. But I think looking good and feeling good is a massive part of people’s lives these days.”
Are there any particular smells that bring you back to your childhood?
“Definitely. There is one in particular that made me realise I love fragrances. It was when I was very young around my grandad’s house and he used to disappear into his room and open his cabinet. There it was — a bottle of Obsession. Which when I think back, my grandad must have been really cool!”
Clearly a bit of a hipster, I say.
“A bit of a hipster! And really cool. And Obsession was the first real fragrance where I was like, ‘This is amazing’. He actually ended up buying me a bottle for Christmas. Probably because I kept on using his and he was fed up with that. But it’s true — it’s like music, it’s like fashion: it takes you back to those memories. And the memories are great. Fragrances do that.”
Is that where you got the initial desire to be a hipster yourself, from your grandad?
“I think it must have been. My dad was very much like that, too, but the fragrance side came from my grandad. Maybe the clothing side came from my dad. He was a mod when he was younger. He had the moped with the flags, which actually got stolen outside my grandad’s house at one point, apparently. Maybe that comes from him. My grandad was definitely someone that I aspired to be like. My grandad was always smart.”
How does the fragrance relate to your personality? “I think the fragrances have always tried to relate to me and the authenticity of what I love, and what I like, and how I like to smell,” he says. “That is something that I have always tried to get right. I think we have done it with Respect.
“If someone was to turn around to me and say: ‘Okay, you’ve got two days. Where would you like to ride on your bike?’ It would be into the mountains, where there are trees. So, the woodiness runs throughout this fragrance. That is very authentic, and I think when we do fragrances, people want to really feel that they’re getting something that I love. And it is.”
You put your love of motorbiking in the mountains of California into the fragrance, essentially?
“That’s exactly what it is,” he says. “Because I ride my bike a lot, I like the motorbike, and the smells of riding through the mountains and the smells of pines and the woods; that is something I love. That is one of the reasons why I ride bikes.”
The working-class East End kid has done good. He has gone from kicking a football about in his native Chingford with his mates and his gas-fitter dad to going for night motorbike rides with pal Tom Cruise.
But despite all the wealth, fame and global adulation, Beckham is — and always will be — a family man.
“I feel very blessed to have the life that I have, and everything that I have that goes on around me, but,” he says, getting up to leave, “my main priority will always be family and how my kids are brought up, how they grow up and how they live their lives.”
Respect is due.
- David Beckham’s new fragrance, Respect, is available from pharmacies and department stores, from £19.95