Beckingham Palace, our lovely home

It's camp, tacky, a tart's boudoir... and that's how Posh'n'Becks' mansion is described by Victoria herself. Meanwhile, how have the good people of Sawbridgeworth taken to their new neighbours?
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The Independent Online

There is nothing to suggest the house's presence from the busy main road. It sits at the end of a winding lane that leads from the road, and is hidden from view by dozens of leafy trees. At the start of the lane is a small, red-brick gatehouse. A grey-haired woman carrying a bucket of water comes out of it to wash her car.

Fifty yards ahead of us is a sign on a tree that barks "Private Lane – No Unauthorised Persons". From it, you can see splashes of the house, a mock-Georgian affair called Rowneybury, in the Hertfordshire town of Sawbridgeworth. It had belonged to her son, the woman says, adding that he bought it a few years ago as a derelict former home for disabled children. After restoring it, he sold it in 1999 to Britain's most famous celebrity couple, Victoria and David Beckham, for £2.5m. Having spent what is rumoured to be up to £3m on refurbishments – which led to the house being dubbed Beckingham Palace by the tabloids – last month the couple and their son Brooklyn, two, finally moved in.

Set in 24 acres, the seven-bedroom house with indoor swimming-pool now boasts a recording studio, a bathroom devoted to Victoria's idol, Audrey Hepburn, a snooker room, a gym, and state-of-the-art floodlit tennis courts.

It appears that the house's French chateau-style interior, created by the former owner, was not to Posh'n'Becks' taste. "It's an old house and I've themed every room. It's really camp," Victoria has revealed. "There's a room like a tart's boudoir, with leopard print everywhere and a mirrored ceiling. Then there's our bedroom, which is quite virginal and white, with a big four-poster, old-oak bed. The hall is completely camp, with bright red walls, a huge big tacky chandelier, and big, thick velvet curtains."

Despite Victoria's desire for her son to lead "as normal a childhood as possible", the couple has spent £20,000 on hundreds of fibre-optic lights to recreate the night sky in Brooklyn's bedroom. They have kept the Disney frieze put up by the previous owner, but have had their faces superimposed on Cinderella and Prince Charming.

The garden has three £10,000 gazebos, each with a different theme – lakeside, romantic and ornamental. They have also installed a 52ft garden pavilion with a marble floor, which houses a 4ft barbecue that cost £70,000.

They have spent a small fortune on security measures said to include two lines of fencing (one with seven watchtowers), security cameras and security guards.

Despite the couple winning a legal battle in June to prevent a newspaper publishing photos of the inside of the house taken by a builder, last week the singer launched a website (www.victoriabeckham.mu) featuring a virtual tour of Beckingham Palace. It is not an exact replica of the house, but Dominic Cook, new media promotions manager at Virgin Records, which runs the site, says: "Victoria says that it's spookily like the inside of her house."

It is, indeed, frightening. The virtual house boasts a throne room (the couple sat on thrones at their wedding), including one for their toddler. By clicking on to the room, you can read about the family's secrets, such as Victoria's frequent nose-picking, her tendency to wear knickers in her hair, and the fact that she picks at hairs growing below her belly button, all of which is, frankly, too much information.

The bathroom has his'n'hers monogrammed toilets, and the Audrey Hepburn room features a life-sized model of the film star. The gallery room has carefully selected pictures of Victoria on tour and singing in studios. Click on to her dressing-room containing her vast clothes and make-up collection, and you can read tributes from her staff.

So, how have the residents of Sawbridgeworth, a wealthy market town with a high population of London commuters, taken to their new neighbours? Traders are delighted that the couple famed for their extraordinary shopping excesses – he bought her a £10,000 jewellery box in the shape of the Palace of Versailles on St Valentine's Day – are on their patch.

Barbara Bristow, the owner of the ladies' dress shop Barbara B, which she describes as "the upmarket Bond Street boutique of Sawbridgeworth", says: "It would be nice to think that Victoria would come in. I certainly do evening and day wear in her size. She could get a lovely long evening dress like these." She points out some slinky sequinned numbers costing up to £700 that wouldn't look out of place in Vegas.

While Ms Bristow does not stock Victoria's favourite labels, Gucci and Versace, the singer needn't fear if ever caught short for an outfit. Further up the elegant main shopping street is House of Harlequin, a nearly-new designer dress agency, where she could pick up a second- hand job, and owner Berrin Denlisoz, 32, wouldn't breathe a word.

But not all in Sawbridgeworth are waiting for the Beckhams to come to them. Joanne Gowan, 36, a designer jeweller, whose creations fetch up to £50,000, has already been in touch with the couple, inviting them to her shop, the Gowan Gallery. "We did actually write a letter to them, telling them we were here and that if they did want to come in at a special time they could always let us know. I imagine people like that aren't going to want to come in and have everybody knowing what they're doing," she says.

Sawbridgeworth can also cater for the footballer's whims. Should he ever get sick of wearing his wife's thongs – a habit his wife revealed to the nation – he could always pop into Frillies, a high-class ladies' lingerie store stuffed with French lacy jobs, and get his own.

And if he ever decides that he wishes to bring his son up as a Christian (he once told Parkinson that he wanted Brooklyn christened, but wasn't sure which religion...) he could have a look around Chapter and Verse, the Christian bookshop.

Kevin Eve, a hairdresser and the chairman of the Sawbridgeworth Business Association, is pinning his hopes on David opening the May fair. "Obviously, if we could get someone like that we would be laughing," says Eve, 38. Some of his customers have been working on the house, he reveals. "They say it's awesome. We had the bloke come in who did the kitchen. He said you'd be surprised what they threw out and what they'd had done. It's much, much better. It absolutely gorgeous down there."

Does he think David is likely to pop in for a haircut? "If he knew what we were like, he would. We're well into football and we speak his language – we're not posh- talking." What would Eve say to him? "How ya doing, mate? Nice wever. Been away on holiday? That sort of thing."

The footballer is sure to get a bargain. Rather than forking out the reputed £300 he pays for his No 1, a skinhead cut at the local Hair Cutting Shop would only set him back a tenner.

And then there are the legendary sightings of the stars in Budgens and Unwins, the minute details of which have whipped round the town as fast as the flu. Victoria was spotted in the supermarket wearing a baseball cap pulled down over her eyes, buying batteries. Alison Molineaux, the assistant manager, says: "Everyone was well excited. The woman who served her didn't even realise who she was."

Alex Head, 22, an assistant at the off-licence, is still glowing after having served David about three weeks ago. "He came in and some boy dropped a bottle of beer because he turned round and saw him," she says, eyes wide while recalling her encounter. "He spent just over 200 quid. He bought beer, wine, spirits and a couple of bottles of champagne. He was better- looking in real life. I don't really think he's that good-looking.

"He seemed like a normal bloke. Everyone has been asking me about it, and they'll keep asking me for months. They've even asked me to call them the next time he comes in."

But undoubtedly the best Posh'n'Becks tale comes via James Gardner, 21, manager of the restaurant Goose Fat and Garlic. The story started circulating around the town after a recent visit by the couple to the Straw Hat, a fine-dining restaurant five minutes' walk from their home. "They went in there and she asked for a bottle of Liebfraumilch, so the story goes, and they had to go out and buy it for her because they didn't have it on the wine list," says Gardner. "If we see them in here, they won't get Liebfraumilch either, and I'm not going to go out to buy any. I detest it."

Could it be that our foremost style icon has a secret penchant for the type of wine that even one's musty old parents now refuse to drink?

At the Straw Hat, a 500-year-old thatched job, the owner, who declined to give his name, refuses to confirm or deny the story. The unfashionable 1970s favourite, isn't, however, on the wine list.

Back at Unwins, Alex Head has no problem remembering what type of wine David bought. "It was Liebfraumilch," she answers. Whether Victoria can do for Liebfraumilch what Delia Smith did for eggs remains to be seen.

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