Meet the Beckhams
updated 06/09/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/09/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
For Yanks in need of some translation: "Posh" is former Spice Girl Victoria Adams, 29, and "Becks" would be her soccer superstar husband, David Beckham, 28. Together they have captivated Britain like no couple since Charles and Diana. "They're our showbiz royalty," says Sean Hoare of Britain's News of the World, one of the tabloids that chronicled the couple some 18,500 times in the last year. "People seem to be endlessly fascinated with them," says David Furnish, Elton John's longtime partner and a good friend of the pair's. "I think it's because David and Victoria represent the dreams of a lot of British people. Every British boy wants to grow up and be a footballer, and every British girl would love to grow up and be a pop star and marry a footballer."
And if he's as devastatingly handsome as Beckham, even better. The fashion-forward midfielder—who's been pictured in everything from pink nail polish to a sarong—can scarcely touch a hair on his head without inciting imitation. Case in point: On May 17, David—who was vacationing at John's mansion near Nice, France, with Victoria and their sons Brooklyn, 4 (so named because he was conceived in New York City), and Romeo, 9 months—turned up in cornrows; soon after, stylists in Britain braced for an onslaught of copycats. Says Furnish: "You can't believe the impact he has."
It's an impact the couple have yet to duplicate here. Now they are hoping to make a splash Stateside—a challenge, considering that Americans remain relatively uninterested in soccer and that the Spice Girls, who broke up in '01, haven't been hot since dot-com was a new term. But the two are giving it their best shot: David is touring the U.S. this summer with his soccer team Manchester United (he suffered a wrist injury in a May 22 game but hopes for a speedy recovery), while Victoria just signed to be a face of the hip New York City-based clothing line Rocawear. If the success of Bend It Like Beckham, a low-budget movie about an Anglo-Indian girl who idolizes the blond player, is any sign, America may be ready for this British invasion. "They are a beautiful couple," says designer Stefano Gabbana, half of the label Dolce & Gabbana, a Posh fave. "Together, they are more powerful than alone."
Not to mention richer. Britain's Sunday Times estimated their combined net worth at $80 million, including a $4 million Hertfordshire mansion dubbed "Beckingham Palace." But friends note that the couple—who claim to employ no nannies, personal chefs or live-in housekeepers—are actually less glitzy than their paparazzi-snapped images suggest. "They are content to stay in and watch Audrey Hepburn videos," says a pal. Adds Furnish: "They go together to pick up their groceries. David takes Brooklyn to McDonald's. They cherish their everyday freedom."
That freedom was threatened last November, when the pair learned of a plot to kidnap Victoria and hold her ransom for $8 million. (Five suspects, members of what is believed to be an Eastern European gang, are now awaiting trial in London this fall.) "It really was horrendous," she told 20/20 this spring. "I was being driven around in bulletproof cars, and I wasn't allowed to go out of the house."
The couple have nonetheless tried to return to their normal lives—which for them includes the occasional fashion face-off. "They are always trying to outdo one another," says a friend. For his wife's birthday last year, Beckham had a pair of Dolce & Gabbana suede pants custom-made months before they were to hit the market. "He loves buying gifts for her," says Gabbana.
Still, Beckham admitted to 20/20 that he "was worried at one point" about his wife's health. The petite singer, whose gaunt appearance in 1999 after Brooklyn's birth earned her the tabloid nickname "Skeletal Spice," has long denied an eating disorder. But in April she acknowledged, "I was never anorexic, I was never bulimic, but I was probably very close."
Throughout "all the ups and downs," says Furnish, "their bedrock has been their families." Victoria is especially close to her parents, Tony, 57, and Jackie, 55, who ran an electrical wholesale business. The eldest of three siblings, she grew up privileged (hence the "Posh Spice" handle) and took dance lessons beginning at age 3. Her future husband was just as precocious. The middle of three children born to Ted, 53, a kitchen-equipment repairman, and Sandra, 48, a hairdresser (they are now divorced), Beckham began playing for his local soccer team at 8. At 18, he was drafted by Manchester United, eventually helping to win 11 national titles and captaining England's 2002 World Cup squad. In 1997 he and a teammate caught a Spice Girls video on TV. "I pointed at the screen and told him, 'That's the girl for me, and I'm going to get her,'" Beckham has said. "She's my idea of perfection."
Their wedding was some people's idea of excess. The 1999 mock-royal union, held in a castle near Dublin and featuring the happy couple seated on red-velvet thrones, cost a reported $800,000, including a wedding cake with a nearly nude sculpture of the newlyweds. Friends say that behind the playful flamboyance the couple are typical young parents. Both boys, along with Victoria, will accompany Beckham on parts of his soccer tour this summer, which kicks off July 22 in Seattle. Victoria, meanwhile, is reportedly working on her second solo album. (The first, which was released in '01, sold a dismal 50,000 copies.) But even if their U.S. campaign flops, they are unlikely to lose their royal status at home anytime soon. "They both have this amazing star quality, in addition to being successful at what they do," says Furnish. "As a society, we can't seem to get enough of it."
Sara Hammel Eileen Finan and Pate Norman in London