Beckham at 40: a Role Model for Middle Age

He\'s growing old immaculately and thriving off the pitch by just being true to himself, says James Brown.

Published: 02nd May 2015 08:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd May 2015 08:58 AM   |  A+A-


David Beckham turns 40 today(Saturday) - but you can bet your season ticket that he didn't spend it wishing he was slimmer and better off, as he opened his presents: a Dad-branded mug, a Dad-genre music CD and a football scarf of the team he's supported since he was a kid.

While the rest of us middle-aged dads wonder why the mortgage doesn't appear to be getting any smaller and why we still ache after playing football despite running about less, Beckham has glided into an outrageously attractive second life with a bar set so high it's almost unfair on the rest of us.

At a time when many people are wishing they are something else (younger, thinner, doing a different job), Beckham is thriving by simply being himself. He's created a sort of commercial ''Beckhamouflage'', where he looks right in whatever advertising or ambassadorial work he does. Like a film star who wins you over no matter how bad the film.

If you still need role models as you hit middle age, Beckham is piling a huge amount of pressure for those who've accepted that the best they can be in life is a good husband and father and forget all the rest. Businessman Luke Johnson recently wrote how ambition is bad for your health - but Beckham's greatest feat has been in making what he does look effortless.

A few years before Roy Hodgson was named England manager, I put a bet on that Beckham would be Fabio Cappello's successor, such was the wave of optimism he seems to have crashing around him. Although he had a few severe downs in an often-stellar career, he saved himself and us from the managerial sackings, the affairs, the boozing and the stress that can go with football management.

To understand how well Beckham has done, you have to look at what is the norm for footballer when they retire. Most ex-players take jobs like postmen, salesmen, business ambassadors or run ventures they invested in as players. Some stay in the game by coaching at all sorts of levels, corporate hosting at former clubs, or perhaps commenting for media or becoming agents. Others simply become ex-footballers - and what they do doesn't matter, so long as they can live off the adulation of those that loved them on the pitch and ''Yes, mate, I will have a drink, that's very kind of you''.

You've only to look at Gazza to see how badly you can crash from greatness. And it's not just about status but physicality, too. A lot of players will

tell you: "I had to look after myself during my career, so I can do what I want now"; however, most ex-footballers I know or meet still look in good condition. This is not always the case. Like the rest of us, ex-footballers without a strict training regime become mere mortals, too.

Two blokes were at a random bar watching an important game and were becoming increasingly annoyed by a huge walrus of a bloke who was shouting at the television. The guy looked like he couldn't make his way to turn the television off, never mind kick a football, and the irate guys turned to the barman and asked: "Why does that fat b------ think he knows anything about football?" And the barman replied: "Ask him - he won two European Cups with Nottingham Forest, and the Cup with Liverpool, so he'll probably be able to tell you." This was the legendary 1970s centreback Larry Lloyd, who now clearly enjoys the things that come on plates.

It's a lot easier for the average bloke to assume a sedentary lifestyle based around the TV and the car, and be a member of fat Larry's band, than to aspire to doing the sort of thing Beckham does. Any time a normal guy over 40 buys a motorbike or a guitar, he's accused of having a midlife crisis.

By beginning to reinvent himself early on, Beckham has avoided the pitfalls that many of us face in mid-life. The glamorous switch to LA, then Madrid and Paris, then back to America gave him status on another continent.

Beckham was an ever-evolving fashion icon for young men, but you can thank God he isn't chopping and changing his look so much now. By the time you hit your forties, it's hard enough to deal with the phrase male pattern baldness, never mind wonder how many different looks you might need during the coming season.

Beckham still sets a very high bar, opting for the sort of battered millionaire biker chic you on Sunset Strip: big jeans, kerchiefs, jackets, long shirts over vests, an expensive beaten-up leather jacket, a lot of black... and he looks good. A dash of engine oil across his jeans or cheek would make him look better, not worse. In Britain, blokes who dress like Beckham ride trials races or run a garage somewhere unglamorous like Middlesborough. In Hollywood, the look says: "I've achieved enough to wear what I want." Here, it says: "Your MOT will be finished on Tuesday."

If you're an average British dad, round of waist and short of hairline, you're going to struggle to carry off the Beckham look. Let the average 40-year-old Dad loose in Beckham's wardrobe and he'd come out looking like Captain Pugwash.

I don't think he's doing anyone a deliberate disservice by still being remarkably good-looking, well-dressed and at ease with himself, but it can be cause frustration when you know how great you used to look when you were 19. And nowadays, we have constant reminders of this as friends upload their old photo albums to social media. Like George Clooney, Beckham has managed to grow old not gracefully, but immaculately.

Compare him to Madonna, who, for a long time, carried her age very well and looked cool, sexy and stylish, but right now looks very much like someone trying to impress her son's friends.

Without the constant need to sell a new album, Beckham has settled into his look and his own outlook. And it's an admirable one. It doesn't matter how long you spend staring into a mirror at J.Crew, your jaw doesn't get any more chiselled and your core doesn't get any stronger.

A couple of years ago, Beckham and a bunch of his friends made a road movie about flying some great-looking motorbikes down to Brazil and riding them across the country into the jungle. Imagine Easy Rider with hugs, not drugs.

He once said that whenever he walks into a room, he knows someone will want something from him, which I thought was a very candid view of his life. So this was his chance to get away: essentially a very expensive and impressive version of a weekend with the lads.

The documentary's narrative structure was clunky - "Where are we David?" "In a hotel in Rio" - but the guy who came through was every bit as easy to warm to as that young man who beamed triumphantly when he scored from his own half for Manchester United in his first season.

Again, it set a standard that might be difficult for the average bloke to attain, but it was interesting to watch. When Beckham and his mates were making sure a very expensive motorbike didn't fall in a river, the average British bloke was probably pulling his crying kid and their Barbie pink bicycle out of a puddle. But it did show something quite starkly that all dads should retain, and that's the degree of identity you had as a young man, when you hoped or believed anything was possible. When Beckham had a map spread out in his west London home, showing his wife where he and his mates were going, she uttered he must be mad. And, of course, he liked that because all men want to be seen to be wild, and you could see his teenage son wishing he was going with him.

The scene when he walked round the garden with his arm round Brooklyn's shoulders saying "You have to look after your mum and brother and sister" is as touching as it is cliched, but it reminded us of his role as a family man. And that's the best most of us can be after the fires of youth have dimmed.

Parenthood creates routines, and by the time you hit 40, it's very easy for those routines to smother the man you once were, or least confine your interests to attic, garage or shed. It's vital you don't let them stay there, so it's probably good Beckham is shaking things up a bit. By the time my first child was five, I could not longer converse with former colleagues in the music business about new bands and latest gigs and albums because I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. I could sing them the theme tune to The Fimbles or 64 Zoo lane but I don't think this is an issue for Beckham. He could just ask Kanye West what's going on.

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