OPINION - Dylan Jones: Attacks on David and Victoria Beckham fail for this simple reason

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

Last week was Beckham week, although I’m not sure it actually was. Not really. Tom Bower’s hatchet job on David and Victoria Beckham had been promised for ages, and I know that many journalists were looking forward to it. After his successfully skewering of the likes of Mohamed Al-Fayed, Conrad Black, Robert Maxwell, Simon Cowell, Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Richard Branson, I’m sure his publishers were expecting something equally salacious from The House of Beckham, but I’m not sure that has come to pass.

You can tell when a book is about to blow up when you start to see ads for the newspaper serialisations, although the first I saw of Bower’s book was a couple of copies plonked on the desk of our Literary Editor Robbie Smith last week. I had been asked by Bower to contribute to the book last year (I declined), so I flicked through the index to see if I was mentioned.

When I edited GQ I dealt a lot with the Beckhams and always found them relatively cooperative, which is why Bower had wanted to talk to me. At GQ we went out of our way to celebrate David Beckham whenever we could, and during my tenure he had more covers than anyone else (seven — even more than Kylie). It was good for him, and it was good for us. However, according to Bower, I was always too sycophantic towards him — “coming to the rescue”, apparently — whenever he needed some positive PR. Maybe I was, but it worked. For both of us.

I don’t think I come out of the book particularly badly, although I’m sure I would have been treated differently if I had spoken to Bower. I had no intention of helping him, as I have no desire to dump on the Beckhams. As it is, my relationship with David is painted as somewhat co-dependent.

I had no intention of helping Tom Bower as I have no desire to dump on the Beckhams

I haven’t read the book, and probably never will (I think we ran most of the good bits in the Standard last week), but I think the crux of this story is all about public appetite. I’m not naïve enough not to know that the Beckhams are surrounded by a big, fat phalanx of extremely sharp-elbowed legal representatives, and yes of course there will also be many people who won’t speak to journalists like Bower because it might compromise their ongoing relationships with the Golden Couple. And yet regardless of what anyone might think about the Beckham brand, their marriage or the profile of their children, enough people seem to like them.

I first met the Beckhams in the summer of 1997, when the publicist Alan Edwards was steering them around London, introducing the new couple to the media. Victoria was already freshly minted as a bright pop star, talkative and sassy and full of life. Her boyfriend was the opposite: shy, tongue-tied and obviously embarrassed at having to explain his new relationship to curious journalists like me.

Five years later, all hint of bashfulness had evaporated, as I watched him cover himself in body oil in a mocked-up gym in Manchester for a magazine cover story with the photographer David LaChapelle. Beckham was almost naked; his fingernails were painted black, a fake leopardskin shawl was wrapped around his neck and his Dolce & Gabbana trunks were looking decidedly snug.

By 2007, the narrative arc had sunk into deep suspicion as the media began to bite, criticising his imminent move to LA Galaxy and accusing him of grandstanding. But as I wrote at the time, “It’s all very well saying David and Victoria are overreaching in their attempts to ingratiate themselves with their rapidly expanding consumer base, but heed two things: One, they’re extremely good at it, and whether you think it’s just blatant self-promotion, this has always been part of the celebrity DNA. Two, people like them.”

Broadly speaking, that remains true. There may indeed come a point in the future when we want to devour the Beckhams like sacrificial lambs or vilify them for having the audacity to grow like poppies — I’ve lost count of the number of editors who have told me they’re sitting on damaging material, patiently waiting until the public mood changes — but that time doesn’t seem to be now.

Dylan Jones is editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard