He is one of the most famous men on the planet, instantly recognisable almost everywhere. Now some might say that David Beckham has broadened his appeal even further: he told a rapt audience at London’s JW3 that he sees himself as Jewish.
Mr Beckham, 41, made it clear that Judaism had been a part of his life, and paid tribute to his beloved Jewish grandfather, Joseph West.
Asked “do you see yourself as Jewish in any way?” he replied: “My grandfather was Jewish, that was on my mother’s side, so yes, I do see myself…”
The comment was interrupted by appreciative laughter but the former England captain continued: “I was never brought up Jewish, but like I said, my grandfather was, and every time we went to synagogue I was part of that.”
Mr Beckham was known to be close to his grandfather, who died in 2009, aged 83. Mr West was the father of Mr Beckham’s mother, Sandra, and was once described by the former Manchester United and Real Madred player as his “footballing inspiration”. He accompanied his grandson when he received his OBE in 2003.
Mr Beckham mentioned his family regularly during the hour-long talk, hosted by broadcaster Kirsty Young, saying that he was “lucky” to have benefited from their support over his career.
Surprisingly Ms Young did not ask Beckham any questions with a Jewish theme, despite the fact that the audience was mainly Jewish and the event hosted at a Jewish community centre.
During the Q&A – which was attended by 270 guests who won tickets in a ballot – the former midfielder made it clear that he was saddened by the fact that only his eldest son, Brooklyn, had strong memories of Mr West.
“He is really the only one who remembers him,” Mr Beckham said. “It was explained to him, obviously the religion, but he was very young.”
He added: “From a very young age I was very lucky that I had parents that supported me, I had two sisters that supported me, I had grandparents that supported me. My grandad would follow me everywhere to watch me play, whether it was Sunday league, or whether it was school games.”
The former footballer, who also played for LA Galaxy and Paris Saint-Germain, was appearing at JW3 in his capacity as a Unicef ambassador, and made it clear that his involvement with the charity – which now includes his own “Seven Fund” – is his main focus or “passion”. He returned from a trip to Swaziland only last week.
He said: “My first involvement with Unicef was with Manchester United 15 years ago. I knew that was what I wanted to do when I finished playing, to be involved with a charity that did so much for children around the world.
“Even before I had children, I always really cared about children and children’s future.
“When Kofi Annan contacted me and asked me to become an ambassador, it was amazing and very emotional for me because it was a charity that I really wanted to be involved in.”
He spoke in detail about his work with Unicef but was also happy to talk about football in general, his excitement about Manchester United’s new manager Jose Mourinho (“I’ve always loved him as a manager. I love his character. I think he’s great for the Premiership”) and how becoming England captain was the highlight of his career.
He also revealed that being sent off in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina had made him “stronger… I didn’t realise it at the time and I probably didn’t realise it for a number of years but it kind of changed me as a player, it changed me as a person. It made me grow up,” he said, adding: “Maybe I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had and the life I’ve had if it hadn’t have happened, so I try and put as positive a spin on it as possible.”
And Mr Beckham also said that his relationship with wife, Victoria, was aided by Jewish businessman Michael Edelson, a non-executive director of Manchester United.
He recalled how he had met Victoria, then a member of the Spice Girls, at the players’ lounge following a match against Chelsea. “A week later she turned up at Old Trafford,” he added, saying that was when he “got her number”. Victoria was accompanied by Mr Edelson – who seems to have become something of a Jewish matchmaker.
Asked by a member of the audience if Mr Edelson was telling the truth when he says he introduced the couple, Mr Beckham replied, to gales of laughter: “He actually did.” The perfect shidduch…