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SOCCER Beckham's luxurious life graces Chicago



Published: Wed, July 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



His Real Madrid squad will play at Soldier Field on Saturday.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

He owns an estate outside London known locally as "Beckingham Palace" and legend has it he drives 15 luxury cars -- including two Ferraris, a Lamborghini and a Bentley.

A BBC report estimated that last year published stories containing his name consumed twice as many column inches as Queen Elizabeth's. And after a vacation picture of his shaved chest appeared in a tabloid last month, home-waxing kits flew off the shelves in record numbers all over Britain.

David Beckham, who will make a rare U.S. appearance on Saturday when his Real Madrid team plays Guadalajara Chivas at Chicago's Soldier Field, lives in a fishbowl where only athletes such as Tiger, Michael and Ali reside.

His reality is millions of other people's fantasy, his name as recognizable worldwide as a wave.

That was the reason the London delegation to the International Olympic Committee invited Beckham to Singapore to make what turned out to be a successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, to be David Beckham, England's most influential export since Princess Diana.

Shaken and stirred

But when Beckham arrived back in town last Thursday morning amid the horror after an all-night flight, he felt like another Englishman whose faith was shaken along with his country after terrorists' bombs exploded in downtown London.

"There was fear," Beckham said Saturday in a phone interview. "But at the end of the day, you can't let them win and you have to live your life. It's like in America for [Sept. 11], with struggle people come together.

"People will see how strong English people are, especially people in London."

Even if Beckham, 30, plays professional soccer in Spain and jets around the world often enough to have inspired protests in England from environmentalists, he still considers himself a man of those people, having grown up in the gritty town of Leytonstone just outside London.

In his speech to the IOC last weekend, Beckham referred to London as "my manor," and noted how the Olympic complex would be built on the grounds where he learned soccer.

Glory and grief

Helping land the Olympics in his homeland ranked up there for Beckham with any World Cup goal or European championship, his pride exceeded only by the grief that would overcome him less than 24 hours after getting the good news.

"I don't think anyone can prepare themselves for the range of emotions our country went through," Beckham said. "It was joy, and then just incredible pain and sadness. But we have to go forward and move on."

Scuttlebutt in the soccer community wonders whether Beckham, whose $9 million-a-year contract with Real Madrid runs out in 2007, eventually might move on to America and play on an MLS team.

He plans to open the David Beckham Soccer Academy in Carson, Calif., in the fall, and a guy who earns nearly $28 million annually in endorsements might find the marketing potential on this side of the Atlantic irresistible.

Interest in America

"Kids in the States are so into soccer and that surprised me a lot, so it does sort of interest me in playing in America," Beckham said. "I just love the mentality of American people. Everyone is so together, every street is like stars and stripes.

"When I walk around [the United States], people will come up to me and say really nice to meet you and see you and hope you come over here and play."

Beckham and his wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girl, used to think living in America might grant them more privacy, too, but a recent trip to Los Angeles dispelled that notion. When the Beckhams peeked out the window of the house where they were staying, they saw 55 cars.

"All of them were paparazzi," he said.

Intensified glare

The glare has intensified since 2003 when an extramarital affair between Beckham and former personal assistant Rebecca Loos knocked Prince Charles and Camilla off the front pages of the tabloids.

Accusations of past trysts followed and before long "Bend It Like Beckham" was the catchphrase for what he did with the truth instead of a soccer ball.

But the glamour couple reconciled, and keeping track of their extravagant lifestyles--he gave her a $35,000 ring last weekend in Singapore for their anniversary--has become almost as much fun as following cricket for Brits.

In the last month alone, "Bex," as he is known in headlines, has mugged for cameras with Prime Minister Tony Blair, has introduced Robbie Williams at the Live8 concert and has been labeled by R & amp;B singer Usher as "the ultimate style guru."

Such fame comes with a price. Britain's highest court recently ruled a former nanny could share details of the Beckhams' marriage with a newspaper because it served "the public interest," and a tattoo artist has sued Beckham for appearing in an ad displaying her artwork on his skin.

"I'd never say there's a bad part about my life, but the only thing I get unhappy with is the intrusion into my children's lives," the father of three said.

"But most of what happens to me is pretty amazing."

Beckham expects to put his upcoming trip to Chicago in that category.

Never having been to the city, he only knows what a former Spice Girl told him about the sugar fix he must satisfy here.

"I have heard all about the cheesecake because my wife has told me," Beckham said. "That's a must.

"She said Chicago was one of the best tour stops she played in America and I don't know what I'm missing."




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