Happy 40th Birthday Becks: How Long Can an Ex Celebrity Last?

As David Beckham enters his fifth decade, Lecturer in Sport Sociology At Staffordshire University Alison Bambridge, celebrates the phenomenon that is David Beckham and asks how long an ex celebrity can last? 


Celebrity can be a cruel mistress. She lures you in, massages your ego then the minute you turn up late or forget the flowers you are dead, your once-prime body tossed into the scrap heap or destined for C-list daytime TV appearances or bookings to open leisure centres in Macclesfield.

In all areas of culture, stars rise, fall then disappear from the public domain in mere nanoseconds. It is rare then to discover a celebrity who has survived the normal onslaught of disinterest, character assassinations, scandals and run of the mill mockeries. David Beckham, ex footballer and current megastar is one such man.

The vagaries of celebrity shelf life are perhaps not as marked within the world of sport as they are in the more constructed worlds of music and TV but then the lifetime of an athlete is already limited. For sporting celebrities, those who rise above and beyond their initial sporting success to grasp onto a wider platform, the potential rewards are phenomenal. In recent times it is probably David Beckham who has encapsulated this more than anyone. He has been transformed from a footballer, to a national sporting hero, to a spokesperson, to an entrepreneur to an institution. He is ubiquity personified. To put it simply, despite the fact that he no longer does what he was famous for, there seems no escape from Brand Beckham. Or is there?

Despite earning £20,000 a week from image rights alone ( in fact to use an image of him here would cost me £2.75) and millions in contracts connected to advertising and sports promotions Beckham himself is aware that he may possibly have a celebrity shelf life. After retiring from playing, last year he suggested that at 39 he might not be able to carry on being the torso of H&M’s underwear campaign, a decision that would leave a multitude of women sobbing into their copies of OK. Now, as he reaches 40, there is a debate on whether without the boots and the body the longevity of Brand Beckham is under threat.


One of many David Beckham look-a-likes (www.fakefaces.co.uk/lookalikes).  Despite the real David Beckham earning £20,000 a week from image rights alone to use an image of him here would cost me £2.75!

In his favour, Beckham has created a well crafted all round nice guy persona; he interacts with his multiple children, appears devoted to his wife who herself is similarly branded, and has connections to so many charities, sports franchises and media outlets that one begins to suspect he must have hired a slew of body doubles to be able to be so many places at once.

Perhaps spurred on by the double-retirement Beckham recently announced his decision to launch his own sporting brand, a joint venture with Simon Fuller that takes him away from the lucrative sponsorship deals and into a new domain. This is not without risks; there are many other celebrities who have attempted the same move into clothing lines and failed, dramatically. Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, Kanye West and Paris Hilton, all celebrities with avid fans and all with constant media attention. One of the suggestions behind the sartorial fall outs is that the level of hype and expectation can never be realised by what is in essence a pair of jeans with some sparkly bits on them. So how to make a tracksuit a global commodity people would kill for might even be beyond Beckham yet for the man at 40, there is also an obvious need to reinforce an iconic status. For the majority of the consumers that Brand Beckham  will undoubtedly be aimed at, Beckham’s Manchester Utd. playing days are just  folk tales as it’s 12 years since he played in the Premier League. Perhaps for the sportswear shoppers of today, a Harry Kane range would be more appealing.


Hilarious Guy Richie directed Beckham Underwear advert for his H&M range

Whatever David Beckham chooses to do post 40; management, media or even politics (now there’s a thought) it seems unlikely that the robust self-confidence that informed his playing days will desert him. Beckham appears to have manufactured himself perfectly, appealing to everyone, disappointing no-one. Brand Beckham likewise will probably roll on, Brooklyn and Cruz in the wings of a franchise that seems, at least at the moment, unstoppable.



Alison Bambridge (a.bambridge@staffs.ac.uk; @alicrime) is a Lecturer in Sports Sociology in the School of Psychology, Sport and Exercise at Staffordshire University

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