The footballer avoiding a speeding charge on a technicality has turned into a PR disaster, writes Aidan Smith
The greatest sportswriter of his generation died the other day, just as David Beckham was dodging a speeding conviction. How I wished I could have enjoyed Jim Lawton tearing into Goldenballs one more time.
Strictly speaking, Lawton had retired from penning the Tuesday column that was such a must-read and of course Beckham wasn’t a footballer at the time of the offence. He’s retired, too.
But I’d like to think that Lawto, if he’d still been in his scribbling pomp, would have considered Beckham fair game here. The ace scribe refused to be dazzled by the glitzy Becks lifestyle or the drama of the ever-changing hairstyle. He could clearly see Beckham’s limitations as a player and would regularly expose them.
Now it’s Beckham’s status as a role model which is being questioned. He admitted speeding – 59mph in a 40mph zone – but got off on a technicality.
In the same circumstances, you or I might have been able to wriggle free without punishment if we could have hired a lawyer smart enough to construct a case for the defence around notice of the offence apparently being sent a day late. But we would need £20,000 – thought to be the fees pocketed by solicitor Nick Freeman, who’s so good at doing this kind of thing for famous folk in a tearing hurry that he’s nicknamed “Mr Loophole”.
There was no Jim Lawton anymore to remind us that Beckham is not, after all, a gift from God sent down in tight-fitting underpants to entertain us with a few free-kicks and lots of celebrity piffle – rather that he’s somewhat depressingly mortal and prone to the odd lapse in judgment. Others, though, have taken the former England captain to task for buying his way out of bother. Joshua Harris from road safety campaigners Brake said: “It is hugely disappointing to see a role model like David Beckham shirking his responsibility and getting off a speeding prosecution on a mere technicality.” Claire Armstrong from Safe Speed added: “The problem it sets is that it says if you have enough money you can live a different life to everyone else.”
Different right enough. Beckham wasn’t in court and the paparazzi next caught up with him at Paris Fashion Week from where his wife Victoria posted a snap on Instagram of what they would be drinking that night – a £1,300 bottle of Grands Echezeaux wine. And Beckham issued a statement with which he wanted to put the whole unfortunate incident with the Bentley to bed: “I am very relieved and very happy with my legal team.”
Very relieved? That reads like arrogance. He can be “very relieved” that his free-kick hit the net playing for his country against Greece – the high point of a thin showreel for one of football’s greats, in the deluded eyes of some – but not “very relieved” that he’s weaseled his way out of six points on his licence and a fine for driving at a speed where, according to Harris, he was “very lucky [that] no incident occurred and tragedy was avoided”.
Or he can be “very relieved” that he’s not going bald. The other big Beckham news right now concerns his hair. Where has it gone? How come it has just returned? Was surgery involved? These were the burning questions necessitating two-page spreads in the papers. Maybe Beckham was preparing a statement along the lines of “I am very relieved that I’m not a slaphead and very happy with my transplant team” only for the speeding case to intervene. And I’m sure the hair clinic involved would have been very happy with Beckham declaring himself “very happy” with their work, given that the man’s endorsement of anything is usually worth millions, and Freeman must be delighted with his “very happy” as well.
By the way, the top brief has had “Mr Loophole” trademarked.
Freeman stressed Beckham was in the wrong, that he’d always acknowledged he was. “Anyone who accepts that they were the driver and they were speeding, you would think in the normal course from a moral standpoint they should be convicted,” he said. So why didn’t Beckham take the rap and, if necessary, use the chauffeur in future? As others have pointed out, this has turned into a PR car crash for him. He’s got off with the conviction but invited – and received – universal scorn. The two-page features sparked by the speeding case have recalled other less-than-gilded moments recently. Good PR would erase these moments from the collective memory (though not the Jim Lawton Appreciation Society’s memory).
Good PR has almost smoothed away his disappointing performances at World Cups – or those occasions when he tried to slow games right down to make them about him and free-kicks, when he almost succeeded in turning football into American football or golf – and heavily implied that goals like the one against Greece were ten-a-drachma in his career. Good PR has heavily implied there’s a prize for International Metrosexual Figurehead Tattooed Clothes-Horse Family Man of the Year and that he always wins it.
Bad PR, on the other hand, allowed him to make his remark about being “relieved” and “happy” and to flaunt his expensive taste in wine. Someone at Brand Beckham is clearly not advising him properly. Maybe when he gets back from Paris he should drive straight over to HQ and sack them. Keeping to the speed limit, of course.
Then he could front a road safety campaign aimed at young people. Becks revives the Tufty Club? Note the name – it could do wonders for his disappearing hair as well. That’s some decent PR right there. And you can have it for free, David.