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Image: David and Victoria Beckham
Kevin Winter  /  Getty Images file
David Beckham, seen with wife Victoria at the 2003 MTV Awards last May, in Los Angeles, Ca., and former PA Rebecca Loos are under scrutiny for an alleged affair, reported by the News Of The World tabloid.
By Jennifer Carlile Reporter
updated 4/12/2004 1:50:18 PM ET 2004-04-12T17:50:18

British tabloids have been awash this week with claims that soccer star David Beckham has had at least one, if not several, extramarital affairs since his move to Spain.

From the alleged kidnap plot against his wife and sons, to the latest spiraling sex allegations, the U.K. public can’t get enough of the “unofficial royal family’s” soap-opera lifestyle.

As the nation waits to hear his former personal assistant, and possible lover, “tell all” this weekend, some outside the country may wonder at Britain’s own fickle affair with the sportsman, and question: Why do Britons care?

An entirely unscientific survey conducted among rush-hour commuters at Hammersmith train station this week offered a broad range of reasons — and nearly everybody had an opinion.

“He’s seen as a role model because he’s got everything people want,” said Abi Hastie, an intensive care nurse.

“David Beckham is a style icon,” said student Jon Cunningham. “Whereas in history the royal family set the trends, in society now celebrities are the new religion.”

Cementing the 28-year-old's place in pop history, the Queen herself honored Beckham with an Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) last November, and, demonstrating the country’s great interest in his personal life, Beckham’s autobiography won a prize this week for it’s fly-off-the-shelf sales.

Meantime, his name has been branded with the movie “Bend it like Beckham” and a children’s clothing line sold at one of the country’s top department stores.

Working-class kid
Becks, as he’s fondly called, is seen as a working-class boy who managed to break through the country’s age-old class system by pursuing the only goal he ever had: to play for Manchester United.

The team signed him as a trainee when he was just 16 years old, and he was soon making headlines with his powerful, curved, free kicks.

But it was his relationship with Victoria Adams, the singer known as "Posh" from the now disbanded female pop band, Spice Girls, that secured his fame.

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“I think his status really blew up from his relationship with Victoria,” said Hastie, 26.

Crowned and seated on thrones for their 1999 wedding, the couple has been dubbed the “unofficial royal family,” with their Hertfordshire home known as “Beckingham Palace.”

Sons Brooklyn, 5, named after the place he was allegedly conceived, and Romeo, 19 months, have added to the duo’s kitsch perfection.

They can easily afford it, given reports of endorsement contracts worth more than $20 million a year, on top of Beckham's $6.7 million annual salary with Real Madrid, the Spanish team he joined last summer.

“He’s good looking, a good footballer, has good clothes and a good image. He’s got it all; he’s like a pop star as opposed to a footballer,” said musician Richard Brooks.

Meterosexual man
The midfielder is as well known for his fashion sense as for his accurate kicks.

“(Beckham) is the first male style icon who’s heterosexual,” said Cunningham, a drama student.

Video: Beckham affair “Before him, male style was something associated with gay men. He’s straight, married with children, but able to carry off very trendy styles — he’s even worn a sarong without his sexuality being questioned,” Cunningham said, adding that Beckham has “helped straight men learn to express their individuality and creativity.”

Along with Justin Timberlake, Brad Pitt, and Robbie Williams, the sports star has been identified as a “meterosexual” man: a straight urban man in touch with his feminine side, and has advertised make-up for men for a Tokyo company.

“He’s a man that it’s okay for men to like,” said Brooks, the 24-year-old musician.

Not only are children wearing the latest fashions from his Marks & Spencer’s clothing line, but adults and kids alike have copied his high-lighted hair-do.

However, although Beckham is still captain of the England team, some die-hard fans have refused to emulate his look since he left Manchester United for Madrid.

Ten-year-old Thomas Allen said, “I had a friend who really liked him — he dressed like him and bleached his hair like him, but doesn’t anymore.”

All Manchester United supporters, most of his friends now see Beckham as a “traitor,” Allen said.

But, with a shy smile, younger sister Catherine, 8, said she still liked the soccer star.

Alleged lovers speak out
Now, Beckham’s image as a wholesome role-model is on the line.

Since The News of The World claimed last Sunday that the soccer star slept with his former personal assistant, Rebecca Loos, other tabloids have vied to compete with the paper’s story.

While Posh and Becks were photographed skiing in France, and posed for the cameras with a kiss, more Madrileñas came out of the woodwork to claim they’d slept with the famous sportsman.

“Four More?” read a Daily Mirror headline on Thursday.

Beckham has called the original allegations “ludicrous,” but has not issued an outright denial. And Britons question why he hasn’t sued for libel if the story was not based in fact.

The reaction from many Londoners, especially women, has been: “With a wife like that, how can you blame him?”

Victoria has been widely blamed for using her talented but shy husband’s soccer stardom to push their family into the limelight, and promote her own ailing singing career.

Now, some see it as payback time.

“Victoria has been totally parasitic upon his fame. It’s no wonder she’s fighting tooth and nail to keep this marriage together, because without it what is she? A faded, failed pop star,” wrote Amanda Platell, in a Daily Mail article headlined: “Why we women hate Posh.”

Victoria has choreographed their relationship for public consumption, with Platell noting that even their ‘his and hers’ wrist tattoos – his reads VB, hers DB – were chosen for the cameras.

“There’s so much more important stuff going on in the world. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to world peace or anything what’s going on in Beckham’s life,” said Hastie, the intensive care nurse.

But, in a country caught up in the trials and tribulations of the “unofficial royals,” even she said with a note of pride, “[Beckham] used to have a home in Cheshire where I’m from — my mum and sister used to see him at the local grocery.”

As more and more women line up to claim romantic flings with the soccer star, and reports abound that alleged lover Loos will speak out in a “tell all” interview this weekend, it’s hard to avoid the hype over Posh and Becks.

But, in the end, the tabloid claims could end up as false as the November 2002 plot to kidnap Victoria and sons for ransom.

The key witness in that case turned out to be a previously convicted liar who was paid £10,000 ($18,327) by the News of the World tabloid for his concocted story.

MSNBC.com's Jennifer Carlile is based in London.


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