The truth about Beckham, Britney, and Big Brother
The nineties and noughties big-hitters are having a moment.
The digitalisation of our entire existence allows us to relive and reappraise the past more easily than ever. Chances are, if you coughed on camera in the 1990s, eventually Netflix will show up and offer a few quid to make a documentary about you. Latest cab off the rank of treating trivial stuff that happened two minutes ago like it’s the dawn of civilisation is David Beckham’s new hagiography. Charting Goldenballs’ rise from floppy-haired prince of the Premier League to twinkly-eyed, perma-barbecuing Wife Guy, Beckham was a fascinating romp through the nineties and early noughties – before it all got a little boring once he and Victoria stopped turning up everywhere dressed like they’d been rolled round the floor of TK Maxx covered in Gorilla Glue. I surprised myself by bingeing the entire ‘limited series’ in one evening while my boyfriend was out, the memories of what I was doing (and wearing) while Beckham dominated the front pages flooding back – not all of them happy, I regret those poplin jeans – but interesting nevertheless. The aim, I suppose, was to cement Becks’s status as a demigod in popular culture through intimate interviews with David and Victoria themselves, David’s parents and various men who I assume were footballers, the only one of whom I recognised and remembered was Paul Ince. Oh, and Alex Ferguson too, who had the air of someone promised steak pie and chips, only to find nothing but the unflinching cyclops of a camera waiting for him.
The oft-shared clip of David forcing his wife to admit that, yes, she was driven to school in a Rolls Royce seemed cute badinage in isolation, but as the show unfolded, it struck me how much of a hard time old Posh seemed to be getting, often blamed for David’s problems. That Becks was obsessed with her from the moment they met, often driving hundreds of miles to see her for only a few minutes – Victoria was, of course, one of the most famous people on the planet at this point – was cited by teammates as the catalyst for his off-days and rucks with his manager, as if Becks was powerless under Victoria’s spell and not completely responsible for his own actions. Ditto the sly kick to his Argentinian opponent in the France ’98 world cup – which I watched in a pub in a tiny village outside York, on a night off from my summer job, in a Levi’s T-shirt, how very hetero – was not very subtly pinned on Victoria’s telling David she was pregnant with future quadruple-threat Brooklyn. Her reluctance to move to Spain – a life change both admitted was dropped on Victoria with hours to spare – was painted as a ‘her’ problem, and when she finally ‘got her way’ and the family moved to the US, David sodded off to Milan so he could qualify to be picked for England. It was illuminating in all the ways it was probably trying not to be. Every move Beckham made was for the benefit of his own career and Victoria was expected to dumbly fall into line – and when she didn’t: Rebecca Loos. Perhaps the second most hilarious highlight of the show – after their Pinot Grigio-fuelled line dancing to ‘Islands in the Stream’ – was stony-faced David and a stoic Victoria posed rigid on comfortable couches, like a Bashir-era Princess Di, opening their hearts about the tough time they had when news of the affair broke. I was agog, not because it was in any way revelatory, as every syllable was PR’ed and legalled until flavourless, but because they didn't deny the affair happened. Much like Prince Harry did when giving his merino jumper interviews around the publication of his autobiography, the Beckhams focused on the media’s role in reporting the incidents rather than… what people actually did. I suppose the thinking was that homing in on press intrusion would garner sympathy, but if anything it makes the treatment of Rebecca Loos after the story broke seem even more grotesque, and has dragged her, unwillingly, back into the spotlight. Despite the opulent, panelled lounges, hi-spec kitchens and sumptuous knitwear, this wasn’t the warm and cosy peek through rose-tinted windows the Beckhams may have hoped for.
MOOD: LOST ON PENALTIES
– Beckham is available to watch on Netflix
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Far more open and illuminating – and all the more harrowing for it – Britney Spears’ memoir The Woman In Me is in the shops now. It’s no surprise to anyone with eyes and ears that Justin Timberlake comes off badly in the excerpts that have leaked in the papers. Timberlake, once he ditched the denim and shaved off his instant noodle locks, dedicated a not inconsiderable part of his early career to trashing Britney or manipulating their breakup to fuel speculation and drum up interest in his music.
Britney’s heartbreaking revelation that she felt strong-armed into a termination feels like the long-missing piece of the jigsaw when put it into context alongside the demure image constructed by her management and the young motherhood and mental health issues that followed in years to come. Forcing Britney to convey an image of purity, while sexualising her just enough onstage to preempt the inevitable ‘good girl goes bad’ image for album three, robbed Britney of her agency and the wider public of a flawed yet relatable and vivacious superstar. A young woman who, according to the book, smoked her first ciggie aged 14 and lost her virginity around the same time, like many other teenagers before her and since. Britney’s innocence was an impossible standard to live up to – both for the star herself and the millions of kids and teens who adored her. Dehumanising those in the public eye, and covering up the harsh realities of life in the name of puritanism and the endless pursuit of ‘protecting children’ usually does more harm than good. Britney may never sing again, but her voice has never been so loud, so strong, so clear – she’s regained control of her narrative, a right still denied so many young women and queer teens. Plus, she’s now allowed to eat chocolate again, previously banned under her conservatorship, among many other indignities. Wherever you are right now, Britney, I hope you’re making your way through a really big bag of Minstrels. You’ve earned it.
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