It was, not surprisingly, to the well-favored Meson Txistu restaurant on Plaza Angel Carbajo in the heart of Madrid, that David Beckham, his family and his friends weaved their celebratory way late on the night of June 17.
Real Madrid had just won its first Spanish championship in four years, in Beckham’s final game for the club, and the mood was festive. Choruses of “campeones, campeones, ole, ole, ole,” soon drifted into the night sky from the windows of the restaurant’s private upstairs dining room.
It was a joyous occasion and a sad one, what with Beckham leaving after his turbulent but ultimately triumphant years in Spain.
The wine bill, when it arrived about 5 a.m., came to $60,000. According to some reports, a local vineyard owner picked up the tab. Even then, the festivities were not over.
Beckham, his wife, Victoria -- former Spice Girl Posh Spice -- and close friends Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes then went dancing, the Beckhams not arriving at their multimillion-dollar mansion in the La Moraleja neighborhood until after 7:30 a.m.
It’s a different life that the Beckhams enjoy, and this week as he joins the Galaxy they will be starting to lead part of it in Los Angeles, or rather in the more rarefied air of the 90210 ZIP code in Beverly Hills.
But Jed Clampett and kin they are not. David, Victoria and their children Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz long have been accustomed to the very best of everything. Don’t look for that to change just because the world’s wealthiest soccer player is switching continents.
Beckham’s $33 million income last year -- from soccer and from endorsements with Adidas, PepsiCo, Gillette and image-rights contracts -- puts him in the same tax bracket as, say, Kobe Bryant, according to Forbes magazine, making him slightly better paid than Shaquille O’Neal ($32 million) and Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho ($31 million). Whatever his net worth is, Beckham can party just as well in California as he can in Europe.
On Friday morning, Beckham will be introduced at the Home Depot Center in Carson as the newest member of the Galaxy. A week from Monday, he will train for the first time with the Major League Soccer team. On July 21, he will make his debut in a Galaxy uniform against English club Chelsea and begin earning some of the much-ballyhooed $250 million that his five-year MLS contract potentially could be worth in salary and endorsements.
All of this will be worldwide news, but in the U.S. it will no doubt cause heads to be shaken and scratched in bemusement from Dubuque to Daytona Beach.
Who is this guy?
Leaving soccer and Beckham’s many accomplishments on the field with Manchester United, Real Madrid and in three World Cups with England out of it altogether, the answer is simple and twofold.
David Robert Joseph Beckham is a celebrity and a brand. Soccer was the vehicle he rode to fame and fortune, but the 32-year-old has traveled far, far beyond those teenage years when he slogged through the winter rain and mud of Manchester.
There is, for instance, “Beckingham Palace,” which is what the pun-loving British media dubbed the $15-million riverfront estate that the Beckhams bought in 1999 at Sawbridgeworth in the Hertfordshire countryside just outside London.
That was shortly after their marriage, a lavish affair at Luttrellstown Castle near Dublin. Setting a tone that would echo through the years, the ceremony and reception -- exclusive access was given to one magazine -- cost a reported $1 million and included the Beckhams smiling benevolently at their guests from golden thrones.
This sort of thing will go down well in Hollywood, where excess is often seen as a virtue and where the couple referred to by some English tabloids as “King David and Queen Victoria” will fit right in.
Their base here will be Beckingham Palace West, a $22-million, 13,000-square-foot villa they purchased in Beverly Hills in April and where their close neighbors include Cruise and Holmes.
Victoria is said to be decorating the place in Moroccan style, similar to their Madrid home, so Beckham will feel immediately at ease in his new surroundings.
No doubt he will feel even better once he starts putting a few cars in his new garage. Among his many and varied interests, Beckham is a car collector. In England, his fleet at one time or another has included a $220,000 Lamborghini Gallardo, plus an assortment of high-end Ferraris, Porsches, Jaguars and Mercedes-Benzes.
When he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2003 for his services to soccer, Beckham received the honor from Queen Elizabeth and, suitably, made the trek from Beckingham Palace to Buckingham Palace in his silver Bentley Arnage.
His cars invariably involve some custom tinkering. In Spain, for example, he drove around in an armor-plated BMW X5 SUV that ended up being stolen, but also a $120,000 Range Rover V8 Vogue, with bulletproof doors and windows, a television and a 12-speaker stereo system.
Just what he will drive down the 405 Freeway to Galaxy practice sessions in Carson each morning is not yet known, but perhaps it will be the Rolls-Royce Phantom that Victoria gave him for a Christmas present in 2005 after he had given her a $2.4-million ruby and diamond necklace from Parisian jeweler Boucheron.
Victoria Beckham exalts in all this attention even more so than her husband, who appears to be in line for further royal honors.
After Spanish newspapers published photographs of Queen Elizabeth presenting Beckham with his OBE, his Real Madrid teammates took delight in teasing him. “They were calling me ‘sir,’ saying ‘your highness’ and bowing,” Beckham said at the time. “It’s been very funny.”
According to a spokesman for then-primer minister Tony Blair, Beckham was honored for being “a great ambassador for the country on and off the field.” Now, the word around Whitehall is that he might one day be knighted for his charity work, especially with UNICEF, and for his influential role in helping London win the right to stage the 2012 Olympic Games.
If so, the former Posh Spice would be ecstatic.
“I would love that, that would be quite fabulous,” she told the BBC last year when the possibility of a knighthood was first raised. “It’s just so camp, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? Lady Victoria ... that would be amazing.”
It would also place Beckham on the same pedestal as such other soccer knights as Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst and Sir Bobby Moore.
For the time being, however, Beckham can content himself with just playing the hero, as he did shortly after signing to play with the Galaxy in January, when no less a photographer than Annie Leibovitz shot pictures of him as the dragon-slaying prince from Sleeping Beauty as part of a Disney advertising campaign.
It’s all storybook stuff, and even Beckham, when he is not kicking a soccer ball across a patch of sunlit or floodlit grass, must wonder whether he is living in a fantasy world.
If so, he has the required multiple costumes and the “look” to keep the fantasy going. Celebrities live off the energy that camera flashes generate, and the paparazzi are never far from the Beckhams’ doorstep, no matter where the family is.
If Beckham changes the color or style or length of his hair, there are cameras on hand to record the event and to broadcast the new look around the world. His clothes and his jewelry are of equal interest because Beckham is as much a fashion model as a soccer player.
Ladbrokes, a British bookmaker, is even giving odds on just what sort of “do” Beckham will sport when he makes his Galaxy debut.
Would-be gamblers can get 33-1 on him bleaching stars and stripes into his hair in honor of his U.S. adventure.
Sometimes all the attention borders on the ridiculous.
In 2003, for instance, Britain’s Channel Four aired a documentary titled “Black Like Beckham,” in which it argued that Beckham’s taste in clothes, cars and music -- he is a fan of and friends with rappers Snoop Dogg and Diddy -- make him Britain’s most famous black man.
“He may really be white, but he has borrowed and begged so much from black culture that he should be considered black,” a Channel Four spokesman said at the time.
As good a reflection as any of their rich and famous lifestyle is the way the Beckhams celebrated their respective birthdays earlier this year.
When Beckham turned 32 on May 2, he chose to spend the day shopping for a new suit on London’s fashionable Savile Row, being measured for a new pair of custom-made shoes and buying himself a $28,000 watch.
He capped the day by going to dinner at Cipriani -- not with one former Spice Girl but with all of them.
That was tame, however, compared to how the couple spent Victoria’s 33rd birthday a few weeks earlier on April 17. Beckham rented a private jet, flew her to Paris for a shopping spree that ended with dinner amid the dark wood and rich leather of the Guy Savoy restaurant and a $12,000-a-night suite at the swank Paris Ritz hotel.
Beckham’s track record for splurging on ostentatious and outrageous gifts for his wife is well-documented.
For another birthday, he gave Victoria a $336,000 painting by Damien Hirst, controversial British artist perhaps best known for his exhibition of various animals preserved in formaldehyde.
On another occasion, while Victoria was expecting their third child, Beckham spent $1.8 million for a diamond-encrusted sex toy with matching 16-carat diamond necklace.
All this, amid their skiing holidays in Switzerland, their beachfront holidays in the South of France and all their other trappings of life in the very fast lane.
The fat contract given to him by MLS means that the ride isn’t over.
“It’s an amazing amount of money,” Beckham told ABC’s “Good Morning America” the day after signing. " ... but this move for me is not about the money.”
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Mixing sports and entertainment
David Beckham and wife Victoria (the former Posh Spice) aren’t the first to blend two worlds of celebrity:
Other power couples:
Bob Waterfield-Jane Russell
John McEnroe-Patti Smyth
John McEnroe-Tatum O’Neal
Mike Tyson-Robin Givens
Jason Sehorn-Angie Harmon
Rick Fox-Vanessa Williams
Pete Sampras-Bridgette Wilson
Jeff Gordon-Ingrid Vandebosch
Dean Paul Martin-Dorothy Hamill