1999: The year of Posh and Becks, a perfectly fitting (and often matching) tribute to the end of the 20th century

``I get frustrated when I go shopping and I don't buy anything. Actually, David does a lot of the shopping for me. He's got the most brilliant eye," Victoria Beckham confided. David's "brilliant eye" has, in the last year, picked out a Tiffany necklace costing pounds 13,000, and an engagement ring from Van Cleef and Arpels for pounds 40,000.

She, meanwhile, has returned the favour with an pounds 11,000 diamond bracelet and That Ring - a gold-and-diamond eternity band to celebrate the couple's engagement, which came in at a whopping pounds 50,000. "I've become a lot more sophisticated," Victoria told me, when I interviewed her for Elle magazine. "I know a lot more designers than before and I wear a lot more designer stuff. Dolce & Gabbana and bits of Gucci. I did used to wear some dodgy gear..." Would she be referring to the Spice Girls' platformed past? "It's what made us," Victoria laughed.

The sophisticated Mrs Beckham has not cast off her history entirely, then. Indeed only recently she was spotted at that none-too-salubrious frock shop, Tarts of Hertfordshire, a proud-to-be-tacky boutique, far removed from the hallowed vistas of Sloane or Bond Street. And it is precisely because of the couple's ability to mix high fashion with low taste - to live proudly in the public eye while never forgetting their humble beginnings - that Posh and Becks have won the hearts of a nation.

Not for them the removed and elevated sang-froid of other, older style icons such as the icy Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and even, to a lesser extent, the latter-day Diana. Indeed, despite being hotter these days than Kate and Naomi, more fashionable than those fusty old toffs Liz and Hugh, Posh and Becks positively embrace their new-found wealth and happiness and don't mind who knows it.

And, of course, they embrace each other all the time. In spite of the life they live, day after day, in the thousand-eyed glare of the camera lights, there is every evidence that they love each other to bits. You cannot imagine Beckham being asked, like Prince Charles, if he loved his partner and replying, "Yeah - whatever love means". It seems, and sounds, and looks like the real thing.

When they kiss in public, and dress in cute if ill-advised going-steady leathers or skirts, and when they talk about each other's little ways, and what Posh once overheard Becks saying to Brooklyn down the baby monitor, and how they communicate when apart, and when they gaily volunteer all the other lovey-dovey little details that should, by

rights, make us puke, the nation responds with a warmth normally reserved for members of one's own family or honeymooning royals.

There's something about the apparent vulnerability of this couple - the feeling you get that they could blow it all at any moment - that makes us feel protective, even while they're swanning around the globe as the globe's most conspicuous consumers. And something about their artlessness, their reach-me-down sophistication, that tugs the heart.

When we learned that Beckham, while he was in France for the last World Cup, kept Victoria assured of his love by faxing her his drawings of Disney animals from The Lion King, some thought it childish, or a fatuously proletarian form of wooing. Not at all. It's an oddly regal gesture. King George I had a plump mistress with whom, after dinner, he liked nothing more than to sit on the floor of her boudoir, cutting pieces of paper into the shapes of elephants and giraffes. Not for the first time, one reflects that Victoria and David somehow pull together two extreme ends of the class spectrum, despite hailing from the lower.

Their wedding day, for instance, was more of a royal event than Edward and Sophie's, a display of unbridled tackiness, in which nothing was too over-the-top. While the royal film producer and his PR bride allowed the locals to gawp at their arrival, and the TV cameras to record their nuptials, Posh and Becks were far more aristocratically exclusive. Only close friends were allowed near the premises when they tied the knot in a castle outside Dublin.

The only immediate record of the event itself were some grainy, fuzzy, stolen snapshots that appeared in The Mirror and seemed to depict some gruesome, brocaded ritual humiliation ceremony, something from the Borgias or the Hellfire Club. So keen were the Beckhams to appear to the world on their own terms that they sold their wedding bliss to OK! magazine, not once, not twice, but three weeks running.

Like the royal family, though, their attitude to privacy is protean. Dark glasses and wigs to conceal their identity? Not likely. This couple eagerly postures and pouts for the cameras every time the paparazzi call on them to do so. What's more, not only are they the most photographed couple in the world, they are also the most photogenic. He, the footballing hero with the six-pack stomach and that head of perfectly highlighted hair. She the sexy woodland creature, the elf with the tiny singing voice, the Tinkerbell pout, the pointy, spell-casting finger.

And despite the couple's unashamedly non-elitist approach, the fashion establishment has been happy to embrace them. Mr and Mrs David Beckham are now the industry's favourite clothes horses, and have appeared in the front row of every designer show from Versace and Antonio Berardi (who created their matching his, hers and baby's purple post-wedding outfits) to Julien MacDonald (recently responsible for an image overhaul for Victoria and her fellow Spices. For their stage outfits, he bestowed a more grown- up, sophisticated look on all of them, from birds-of-paradise feathered coats to rock'n'roll studded leather).

Not that fashion's love affair with the Beckhams has been entirely stress- free. A little over a year ago, Victoria was unceremoniously excluded from Alexander McQueen's spring/ summer 1999 catwalk extravaganza in London: she applied for tickets too late, or so the story went. The media were quick to suggest that she had been deemed not cool enough for this, the hottest ticket in town. The singer responded by bad-mouthing McQueen in the pages of Vogue. He can stick his clothes "right up his backside", she said. "We'll just find someone else and start wearing their clothes instead."

And, oh, how the Beckhams have worn them! There were the matching black leather all-in-ones they strutted in at Donatella Versace's Bond Street shop opening earlier this year; there was her wedding dress, courtesy of Oscar-nominee favourite Vera Wang, and his bright white tuxedo, by bright young tailor Timothy Everest. There was, indeed, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci galore.

But despite their designer indulgences and wardrobes to give them an edge over the supermodels, perhaps the best thing about the Beckhams - the reason we have chosen them as our style icons of 1999 - is the fact that they remain accessible. Posh might have the billboard cachet of Kate Moss, but she is clearly not made from the same exquisitely proportioned, finely chiselled raw material. Becks, meanwhile, though pleasingly golden, is just a little too cheesy to be deemed handsome in anything but a Next Directory model kind of a way. The thinking woman's pin-up he is not.

You get the feeling that, given sufficient financial means and an appetite for self-publicity, almost anyone could become Posh, forsaking all privacy and trace of self-consciousness in order to become an icon. Victoria herself, however, is in many ways just like any other twentysomething, recently- married, young mother. In the flesh, before she has been camouflaged by make-up and hairspray into her Spice alter ego, she can look deflated and tired. "I'm so ill. I look terrible," she said, snuffling with flu, at our meeting snatched between rehearsals for the Christmas tour.

When I mentioned how surprised I was to see her in scuffed trainers and an old sweatshirt, without a designer label in sight, she said: "Well, I'm working. I've got to be practical. You think I look bad now. You should have seen me in this sweatshirt when I was pregnant. I looked like an egg."

And despite his penchant for diamonds and Ferraris, her husband is no less down to earth. With his whiney Estuarine accent and frequently awkward manner, there's not such a huge gulf between glamorous David Beckham and gawky Rodney Trotter.

He may dress like a catwalk model, but when his wife phones up for a moan, he listens attentively and is keen to oblige her. "Oh, he's so brilliant," she told me. "He's coming round to drop off loads of flu pills, medicine and stuff." Bless him.

Bless them both!

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