David Beckham into the Unknown, BBC1 - TV review: Brand Beckham's Amazon adventure is a bit of an own goal

Amazon trip was merely next phase of Beckham's self-marketing strategy

One of the more interesting moments in last night's not-uninteresting BBC1 documentary David Beckham into the Unknown, in which the footballing star and three of his closest male friends travelled by motorbike through the Amazon rainforests, occurred before he even left home.

Poring over a map of South America with wife Victoria and teenage son Brooklyn on the bed of an antiseptically clean and tidy-looking bedroom in their Notting Hill mansion, Victoria stated her main worry: not that her husband would fall off his bike or be bitten by a snake, but that his hair would frizz up in the humidity.

"You should wear a hat through the whole thing," she solemnly advised, father and son sharing a knowing glance.

The fact that David and Brooklyn felt able, however gently, to rib Victoria on camera was interesting – although perhaps, like most families, they just don't notice their dynamics any more.

 

Not that Victoria doesn't have a point. After all, the David Beckham brand is ultimately not really about the glittering football career but about the grooming and dressing. However, with his 22 years as a player now at an end, David felt in need of a bit of unstructured "me time" with his male muckers – Derek "a mate of mine from LA who knows a lot about motorbikes", Dave "my oldest and best friend" and American Anthony Mandler, who just happens to be one of the world's foremost music-video directors and who shot this film.

Beckham was right to trust Mandler to do a stylish job – after all, this is a man whose clients include Rihanna and Jay Z – and except for one shot where a mud-splattered Becks looks curiously like Ricky Gervais, even the hardships of the rain-soaked jungle didn't prevent our hero from giving his best profile.

And if Beckham was momentarily Gervais, then Dave Gardner (a successful football agent who has known Beckham since they played in the Manchester United youth team) was his Karl Pilkington, the jester at the court of King David. One of Beckham's more touching admissions was that he doesn't make new friends – he can't trust new acquaintances' motives.

Brand Beckham is ultimately not really about the football career but the grooming and dressing

In fact, the film worked best as in inside look at what it must be like to be globally famous, and the fact that Beckham was wearing a crash helmet – favoured headgear of assassins and shop stick-up merchants – was no coincidence. As it happened, the Yanomami people of the Amazon not only failed to recognise Beckham, they'd never even heard of football, a fact which those dreading the onrushing World Cup might call blissful ignorance. Had he ever tried to explain football to anyone before? Beckham was asked. "Only to my wife." Boom, boom, and there we go again.

He did seem genuinely happy helping the Yanomami harvest their lunch – and when his bike broke down in the middle of nowhere and there was no need to be anywhere. Above all, Beckham seemed like a man in dire need of a holiday.

There's no doubt that he is a genius at controlling a ball and marketing his image, but is he otherwise of any interest? This artfully executed travelogue revealed a decent and deeply ordinary family man, whose chosen bedtime "reading" is the latest level of Flappy Bird, but also a bloke in an extraordinary position: a 39-year-old who hasn't known the freedom to goof-around since he was 14 and who is chased and screamed at wherever he goes.

I might have sympathised more if I hadn't been left with the suspicion that David Beckham into the Unknown was merely the next phase of his self-marketing strategy. Even when he takes time out to find himself, the world goes with him.

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