There must have been moments over the past week when David Beckham wished he was stranded on a desert island in real life.
Reports on Sunday revealed a cache of leaked emails between the former England captain and his advisers, with the threat of further revelations to come. It seems fitting, then, that only a week previously he was asked to envisage being marooned on a fictional island as the special guest for Desert Island Discs’ 75th anniversary episode, with only his 115 England caps and a copy of Francis Mallman’s ‘On Fire’ for company.
Amid what was an otherwise pleasant edition of the long-running BBC radio show, the interview was interspersed with heart-warming tales from his peak years in football. A particular highlight was the infamous boot incident where Alex Ferguson kicked a heap of shirts on the floor of the changing room in frustration, inadvertently hitting Beckham on the eye with a rogue boot. Beckham’s summary? ‘I knew the boss didn’t really mean to hit me, I’ve seen him play in training.’
It was also difficult not to feel genuinely moved by his explanation of ‘The Girl is Mine’ by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, the song reminding him of trying to make his daughter smile when she was only a few weeks old. Another tale recounted his grandfather’s favourite song, Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’, and his insistence on sitting in his favourite chair to listen to it. His grandparents, incidentally, were the worst affected family members from hoards of paparazzi camping outside their house following Beckham’s dismissal against Argentina in 1998. One journalist asked them, ‘How does it feel that your grandson has let the whole country down?’ What a world.
You get the feeling that Beckham genuinely adores Manchester United, and although he suggested he had no regrets from that period, such was the acrimony of his departure, he refused to even watch them play for over three years afterwards. Turning down a switch to Barcelona, his intention was clear, ‘If I am going to move, I want to move to Real Madrid.’
All the while though, you scalded yourself for smiling along, all too aware that the PR machine was in full flow. After all, these were perfectly normal, everyday occurrences for most families, so why elevate the man’s reputation as a result. Therein lies the key issue in all of this, Beckham doesn’t just represent us, he is us. His ‘everyman’ image, along with his contentment at being the spearhead of the term ‘metrosexual’ has come to define a generation, a movement, an identity.
In Britain, the formula and narrative arc for celebrity status is a simple one. We build people up, and then we knock them down. No doubt what concerns Beckham the most is not the initial release of emails, in which he brandished the Honours committee ‘unappreciative c***s’, but more the extent of further damaging emails to follow.
The news that further revelations are afoot raises an interesting question – is it truly in the public’s interest to know the gory details about Beckham’s private life, to unsheathe the beast within? Do we really want to destroy the commonly-held view of Beckham himself – English lion heart, philanthropist, all-round national treasure?
There is something more sinister at play here too, with alleged blackmail claims made by cyber criminals believed to be using Russian servers. This charade raises questions about the supposed worthlessness of injunctions and the dangerous precedence in protecting the privacy of high-profile public figures.
We live in an era where information has never been more accessible and immediate, ‘fake news’ reports have become commonplace, most recently present during the recent US presidential campaign. The social web has become the perfect platform for this reporting, particularly on Facebook, where there is a potential audience of 1.8bn. Incidentally, fake news has become the challenge, the great enemy, of any self-respecting writer, followed closely by hyperbole and cliché.
The Court of Appeal often stresses that it is down to the person seeking an injunction to prove that interference with press freedom is in the public interest. In Beckham’s case, at least in the short term, this appears to be a case of vindictively and gleefully casting sunlight in upon magic.
Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here