The Daily Mail, as regular readers will know, is terribly concerned about the celebrities it covers.
It frets endlessly about their weight.
It frets endlessly about their skin.
It frets endlessly about their clothing—too revealing, or not revealing enough.
It frets endlessly about their marital status.
It frets endlessly about them going out, or staying in, about who they are seen with.
It frets endlessly about the examples these celebrities are setting to the rest of us mere mortals.
And oh, the Daily Mail worries about parenting most of all, because it sees itself as the Norland Nanny of the World, judging, insulting, praising, condemning, and endlessly doling out advice—except, in footballer, model, and all-round gasparoo hunk David Beckham’s case, it just picked on the wrong celebrity to offer advice to.
“Why does Harper, four, still use a dummy [pacifier]?” the Mail fretted this week, in its usual weird mix of coddling and judgey. “Experts warn David and Victoria Beckham’s little girl may end up with ‘speech or dental issues’ if she continues to use one.”
A parenting expert offered: “David and Victoria seem wonderful parents and I’m sure they give Harper lots of attention but, like it or not, they are role models and lots of people will see this and think that having a dummy at this age is normal when it is not. It could be last child syndrome—because she is the youngest David and Victoria could be clinging on to her being a baby.”
Another expert—so many experts!—said it was up to the parents themselves.
There were lots of pictures of Harper Beckham damningly sporting a pacifier.
While the Daily Mail’s readers seem pretty united that the story is bone-headed and whose business is it that Harper has a pacifier, it is a rare celebrity who takes the tabloid to task. They may be too scared the Mail will come after them—and not prettily—should they criticize the tabloid.
But in almost 20 years of public life—where in and out of soccer Beckham has been cast variously as hero, villain, Spice Girl paramour, accused adulterer, and now celebrity stratosphere-occupying, metrosexual superdad—you sense Beckham has been there, done that. The tabloids have loved and bashed him, and he and his family have survived it all. Indeed, both he and his wife seem to be engaged, loving parents.
After the Mail’s story about his daughter using a pacifier, Beckham posted on Instagram: “Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts?? Everybody who has children knows that when they aren’t feeling well or have a fever you do what comforts them best and most of the time it’s a pacifier so those who criticize think twice about what you say about other people’s children because actually you have no right to criticize me as a parent…”
Beckham isn’t the first to give the Daily Mail a bloody nose. George Clooney also did it, and brilliantly, when he forced the paper last year to admit it had published a false story stating that Amal Alamuddin’s mother objected to their marriage for religious reasons.
Clooney thanked the Mail for its subsequent apology, writing: “Not that I would ever accept it, but because in doing so they’ve exposed themselves as the worst kind of tabloid. One that makes up its facts to the detriment of its readers and to all the publications that blindly reprint them.”
One can only imagine that Beckham and Clooney enjoyed delivering those jabs, given the amount of time the Mail devotes to following their lives and crafting soap opera narratives for its readers.
For years, Beckham and his family have featured in the tabloids—from what he is wearing, to speculation about his marriage, their partying, jet-setting, and celebrity friends, and, of course, their children.
And yet it was this article, inviting the expertise of “experts” to pass judgment on Harper Beckham’s pacifier that finally made Beckham angry enough to respond—and it is the anger, as he writes, of an attacked parent.
His message to the Mail and its “experts” is clear: Back off.
This relentless, vicious circle is made all the more intriguing by celebrities like Clooney and Beckham beginning to determinedly redraw the boundaries of engagement with the Mail itself. In this dance à deux, expect some chastened behavior from the latter, but probably only temporarily.