A pair of stars, an L.A. sky, a happy Galaxy

Times Staff Writers

Somehow, it was just meant to be.

International soccer star David Beckham -- perhaps equally famous hereabouts as the husband of former pop singer “Posh” Spice -- announced Thursday in Madrid that he has agreed to a five-year, potential $250-million deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, injecting a fresh shot of celebrity into a city where it is practiced as an art.

While Galaxy and Major League Soccer officials hope the deal will vault the American professional league into the global ranks, Londoners are feeling a sense of loss and local paparazzi are relishing the arrival of the photogenic jet-setters -- he of the constantly changing locks and quintessential metrosexual wardrobe, and she of the impossibly thin frame and penchant for shopping.

“It’s like manifest destiny,” said producer Peter Guber, the host of the TV entertainment talk show “Sunday Morning Shootout.” “At a certain point in somebody’s career, Hollywood is an inevitable stop on the journey. Whatever the luminosity of these celebrities in New York or England or Paris, they want to test it against the ultimate pop culture of Los Angeles.”


It’s not the first time a couple have come to Los Angeles to revive flagging careers, but few bring the star wattage of David and Victoria Beckham, the splashy English duo who have been making noise since 2003 about conquering America.

Their plan is gaining traction. The Galaxy said it had sold 2,000 season tickets in just a few hours after announcing the deal with Beckham. About 80% of Beckham’s deal, according to a source familiar with the contract, will come from endorsements and image rights.

“Clearly, this will raise our profile overseas,” Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said Thursday. “The amount of global media attention in the last week leading up to this, and certainly in the last 24 hours, has been more than this league has ever received in our 11-year history.”

Beckham, who has played professionally for 15 years, first with Manchester United in England and for the past 3 1/2 years with Real Madrid in Spain, is in decline as a player but at 31 is still young enough to be a significant force for the Galaxy. Part of the reason he made this deal, sources said, was to prove to skeptics that he is not past his prime.

The move is reminiscent of the 1988 blockbuster trade that brought hockey great Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers. His first season in L.A. sparked a large increase in attendance in a city not known for its love of hockey. At the time, some critics claimed Gretzky, whose new wife, Janet, was an actress, joined the Kings to further her career. Unlike Beckham, however, the Great One was still at the top of his game.

Public interest in both Beckhams, particularly 32-year-old Victoria, is intense.

“I would say that since Princess Diana, in terms of selling newspapers, the only person who comes close is Victoria Beckham,” said Victoria Newton, show business editor of the Sun, a London tabloid. “There’s this kind of fascination about her. People either love her or they love to hate her, but they all love to read about her.... The chemistry between the two of them made them the power couple of London.”

“It will be great for us,” said Brandy Navarre, co-owner of X17 Inc., one of L.A.’s biggest celebrity photo agencies. By late Thursday morning, she had already met with the team of five photographers that she plans to assign to the Beckhams. Not that the couple will mind, added Navarre: “You don’t come to Hollywood being as famous as they are looking to hide out and have a private life.”

Meanwhile, the British tabloids are gearing up to spend a fortune with agencies such as X17, and some are even considering sending correspondents to Los Angeles. David Beckham is expected to start work in August for the Galaxy, whose season begins in April.

Recently, the Beckhams have been shopping for a home in the $20-million range in Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air, according to Kurt Rappaport of Westside Estate Agency in Beverly Hills. Before her husband signed his contract, said Bruce Nelson, another real estate agent who works those areas, Victoria had been looking in Malibu.

“I don’t see them in Malibu,” said Navarre of X17. “She is going to want to be near Beverly Hills.”

Dubbed the “alternative royal family” by the English press, which covers them obsessively, the Beckhams married in a castle in Ireland and sat on thrones during the dinner. The media refer to their mansion as Beckingham Palace “because they’re like kings and queens,” Newton said.

Even though the couple have often been mocked by the British press for their overly flashy parties, their fake tans -- and, in her case, fake body parts -- London already feels a bit bereft, a feeling shared both by those dazzled by their status as style icons in a culture traditionally short on flash and glitz and those who relished making fun of them.

Partly this is because the Beckhams have always been interesting to look at. His fashion taste, which sometimes veered into the weird -- sarongs, plucked eyebrows, the occasional skirt -- was off-putting to some.

She, meanwhile, is known (and sometimes chastised) for her sticklike frame and outsized cleavage and is an ostentatious clotheshorse who has designed a line of high-end jeans for the Culver City denim manufacturer Rock and Republic.

Last October, during New York’s fashion week, Victoria Beckham was spotted in outfits by Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Stella McCartney and Balenciaga. She skis in head-to-toe Chanel, according to OK magazine. She has talked about having her own TV show about fashion.

David Beckham has had endorsement contracts with such companies as Gillette, Vodafone, Pepsi and Brylcreem and may be plotting his own Hollywood moment.

In a story last November, the Sunday Times of London reported that American entrepreneur Robert F.X. Sillerman has developed a plan to help turn Beckham into an action star. He would start, according to the report, where all aspiring actors do: by taking voice and acting classes.

Even their romance has a Hollywood tinge. Tom Cruise introduced the pair, and they are said to have named their third son, Cruz, in his honor. (Their two other sons are Romeo and Brooklyn, who was named for the place of his conception.) Victoria was among the guests at Cruise and Katie Holmes’ November wedding (her husband missed the nuptials because of his work schedule). According to reports, Holmes recently told Victoria that she should try acting.

When they married in 1999, “Posh” was at the height of her fame as a Spice Girl, with numerous pop hits, and he was the great hope of British soccer who would not become a household name in America until 2002, when an indie film about two soccer-playing girls in England -- “Bend It Like Beckham” -- hit it big.

The next year, Victoria Beckham descended on New York, meeting with fashion editors and journalists in hopes of raising the couple’s U.S. profile. Since then, the Beckhams have spent enough time in Los Angeles to know their way around the city’s hot spots. When Victoria Beckham was in L.A. in November 2004 to promote her jeans line, she said she liked to dine at Koi and Spago.

Koi manager Mark Basile was happy to hear the couple are coming to town. “As far as the buzz around town, everyone knows who she is, but I don’t think a lot of people know who he is,” Basile said. “He’s a B-plus celebrity. But he can be A-plus-plus if he does well for the Galaxy.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is rooting for him: “David Beckham will generate tremendous exposure for the L.A. Galaxy and increase an already heightened level of interest in the sport of soccer among Angelenos and all Americans,” he said.

Like many celebrity couples, the Beckhams have had brushes with scandal. In 2004, Rebecca Loos, a personal assistant to David Beckham in Madrid, claimed she had an affair with him. The couple’s nanny wrote a tell-all about screaming fights and Beckham’s intention to leave his wife.

“The allegations of infidelity were on the front pages almost continuously and that was kind of a negative time for them,” said Juliet Herd, features editor of Hello magazine. “But it just fueled the fascination for them as a couple. And the way they got through that was important too. Victoria just held her head up, and the accusations and the people behind them just flitted away.”

Losing the Beckhams to Los Angeles is a mixed bag for London, said the Sun’s Newton. “People here are shocked at the amount of money he’s being paid,” she said. “It’s quite staggering. It’ll make him the richest footballer ever, in the world. I guess lots of people won’t be too sorry to see them go, and in any case, we’ll still be reading about them every day.”


Times staff writers Grahame L. Jones and Ruth Ryon contributed to this report. Kim Murphy reported from London.



Facts on Beckham

Name: David Robert Joseph Beckham

Age: 31

Born: May 2, 1975, in Leytonstone district of east London

Position: Midfielder (scored 17 international goals for England)

Career: With Manchester United, 1991-2003, winning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one European Cup title; with Real Madrid, 2003-2007

Family: Married Victoria Adams (Posh Spice), July 4, 1999; they have three sons, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz

Trivia: He is the only Englishman to score in three World Cups

Source: Times research by Scott Wilson