Why David Beckham thinks China will win the World Cup soon, plus his love of Asia, brand success – and newest Chinese tattoo
Travelling through Asia as global ambassador for Las Vegas Sands, Beckham talks to the Post about the secret behind his growing business empire, why he spends so much time in the region and the bright future of Chinese football
David Beckham may not do many one-on-one interviews, but that does not stop him from appearing in the news almost as often as Donald Trump.
Google the former England football captain’s name on any given day and up will pop a stream of fresh stories: the latest outings with his kids, a new tattoo or hairstyle, sponsorship deals, friends – and what the British tabloids presume his wife Victoria thinks about all of them. Then there are the parties, business ventures, foreign trips – it is all there, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
At the time of writing, fresh off the press is news that Beckham’s attempt to get a Major League Soccer franchise off the ground in Miami has been thrown into doubt due to complications over securing land for a stadium. Within the same 24-hour cycle, it has been reported that he had shared a photo on Instagram of a bowl of cod sperm at a Japanese restaurant.
Then there is the revelation that he has no idea how much wealth he has amassed – something he admitted at a dinner where, we also learn, he was served a dessert with his face drawn on it in chocolate.
But back to the rare one-on-one interviews and foreign trips. Beckham, 42, is perched comfortably on a plush sofa in the largest suite at The Parisian Macao casino and hotel on his latest trip to Asia. He has just hurried up to the 37th-floor suite from a video shoot in the Brasserie on ground level, running an hour late even though he has already postponed a photo shoot. But he still manages to look relaxed, if not a bit jet lagged, with that familiar “cat that got the cream” smile.
On this trip, Beckham is in the role of global ambassador for Las Vegas Sands, which operates a string of hotels and casinos in Macau – a former Portuguese outpost on the South China coast – including the Parisian.
After his day in front of the cameras, he is due to attend a VIP dinner at another Sands property. Next on the agenda is a weekend stopover in Singapore for other ambassadorial engagements, including the Singapore International Film Festival Benefit Dinner Red Carpet at the Marina Bay Sands.
It is all familiar territory for one of the world’s most famous former footballers, whose star – and bank balance – have continued to rise since he hung up his boots in 2013. Beckham reveals that he is a regular visitor to Asia, a part of the world for which he has great fondness, and travels to the region “every couple of months” for a growing number of business engagements.
“We have quite a few partners and businesses in this part of the world. We try to spend as much time with them and show commitment as much as possible. So we’re here quite frequently,” he says, referring to “Team DB”.
“I spend so much time, and I’ve spent so much time, in Asia – China and Japan – over the past 20 years. I’ve always had an affection for this part of the world – and for the people – because culturally I think it’s so special. I’ve always loved food. I’ve always loved culture.
“I think that people in this part of the world are so nice, so kind, so genuine. It’s just one of those places that I’ve always loved coming to. It’s why I spend so much time here.”
Beckham recalls that he first visited the region in his late teens when he went to China with his first club, Manchester United. But it was so long ago, he says, that he no longer remembers exactly where they went, though it could have been Beijing.
“There was a spell where we came here every off-season … either to China or Japan. That was something we did for a long time. So every year, or every other year, we were back here,” he says.
Beckham’s fondness for Chinese culture is reflected in his ever-expanding body art (the tabloids say he has had three new tattoos this year alone). One, down the left side of his body, is a string of characters – a proverb that roughly translates as: “Life and death are determined by fate, rank and riches.” He caused hysteria when he lifted his shirt to reveal it to students at Beijing’s Peking University in 2013.
His most recent Chinese tattoo, which he had needled onto his shin earlier this year, portrays Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess.
“I decided I wanted to have something that was beautiful, that was pretty, and I found this image and just went with it,” he says, but firmly refuses to let us photograph it.
Beckham’s rise to fame may have begun with his skills on the pitch, but it took on another dimension in the mid-1990s when his blossoming relationship with pop star Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams became lucrative tabloid fodder. (The Spice Girls phenomenon even reached Hong Kong’s shores; the all-girl band had performed in the city in the early 1990s.)
And if Hongkongers had not already heard of him, they certainly did after a gigantic poster was hung from the wall of a Central District high-rise in 2007, causing a stir. Towering over the city like Godzilla, there was Beckham, wearing nothing but a pair of Armani briefs.
Today, “Golden Balls” is more likely to be seen in Hong Kong in a smart Kent & Curwen suit. Maintaining a string of endorsement deals too numerous to mention, Beckham has evolved in recent years into a bona fide businessman. In 2015, he and business partner Simon Fuller formed a joint licensing venture, Seven Global, with Hong Kong-listed Global Brands Group to promote the Beckham brand globally. The main focus currently, Beckham says, is Kent & Curwen, a British heritage menswear label in which he owns a stake.
“It’s something that we’ve been working hard on, something that we’ve had a lot of success with,” says Beckham, adding that the label has been highly successful in China.
In March this year, he added another Hong Kong string to his bow when he became an ambassador for the locally headquartered AIA insurance group.
Although Beckham says he does not know how much he is worth, estimates for his and Victoria’s joint wealth hover around the £300 million (US$402 million) mark. In 2014, the power couple established Brand Beckham Holdings as a corporate umbrella for their numerous sources of income.
Despite putting in place a tidy corporate structure, however, Beckham insists he is not a businessman first and foremost.
“First off I’m a father. That’s the most important job for me. Even when I was playing football, it was the most important job for me,” the dad of four says.
“Obviously since retiring from football, I was already in the business world. For the last five years I’ve built a pretty successful business and a pretty successful brand, which is all about hard work, dedication, passion and commitment. And I think I have a great team of people around me, good friends around me, great family, and when you have that you have a good chance of being successful. It takes hard work, and I’ve never been afraid of hard work.”
As a former ambassador of the Chinese Football Association, Beckham is also still involved in development of the game on the mainland.
“I’ve been part of the soccer organisation for a number of years. That was also something I was very excited about. Obviously with my past career, it’s something that I’m very passionate about. It’s important for me to be involved in organisations that help young kids and countries to develop in different areas of sport. I was very proud to be ambassador of the league and very proud to give my knowledge over to young kids and help them become better players,” he says.
And if the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and LA Galaxy player is to be believed, we may soon see China lift the football World Cup.
“In a country as big as China, with the passion that they have and the development that is going on throughout the country, I don’t think it is going to take too long,” he says.
“Sometimes it’s the simple things, like academy systems, coaches, having people with great knowledge. I think when this country puts their minds to things, they can make great things happen, especially in sport.”