It’s a tough job being a national treasure, as former England soccer captain and all-round living billboard David Beckham has been discovering this weekend.
The reputation of Beckham is taking a thorough beating after stolen emails published in U.K. newspaper The Sun paint a picture of a tax-minimizing celebrity obsessed with being knighted, a man reluctant to commit his own money to one of the charities he champions, demanding a paid-for private jet to his son’s football match and spitefully talking down accolades handed out to other British celebs.
However Beckham’s reps have hit back, saying that the emails have been deliberately edited to make him look bad after he refused to give in to a million-dollar blackmail attempt.
The emails published this weekend are said to be part of a cache of 18.6 million messages sent over three years from Beckham’s PR firm. They paint a picture of Beckham engaging in cynical attempts to use his charity work as part of a campaign for a knighthood.
Even worse, the emails reveal that Beckham flew into a rage after he was blocked at the last minute from becoming Sir David by a vetting committee, after objections were raised on the basis of his participation in a controversial investment vehicle.
Beckham’s camp has been forced into damage-control mode, saying publicly that the former England captain was “extremely disappointed” at being passed over for a knighthood after the player revealed a darker side to his usually charming personality, branding Britain’s Honours Committee “unappreciative c***s” and making it clear that he wasn’t interested in any lesser awards, writing: “Unless it’s a knighthood f*** off.”
Beckham’s representatives have stressed that the emails were stolen by hackers and released after Beckham refused to submit to a million-dollar blackmail attempt.
Sources have also been busily briefing the U.K. press that “he has donated over £5 million from his personal bank account” to charity in the past year, while a spokesman for the star said the story was “based on outdated material taken out of context from hacked and doctored private emails from a third-party server and gives a deliberately inaccurate picture.”
Some of the emails, however, will prove extremely damaging to the carefully constructed Brand Beckham image.
For example in one email, Beckham, who has long sought to portray himself as family-friendly everyman, mocks a decision to give the young British opera singer Katherine Jenkins, who previously admitted to using cocaine in her twenties, an OBE, writing, “Katherine Jenkins OBE for what? Singing at the rugby and going to see the troops plus taking coke. F****** joke.”
In another exchange, Beckham allegedly demands that TV producers pay thousands of pounds for a private jet to take him to watch his son play football after he appeared on the Graham Norton Show.
However, the tax-related mud is the most likely to stick. Beckham was one of dozens of wealthy individuals who invested in a scheme called Ingenious Media, which claimed it was set up to fund movies, but in actuality reduced investors’ personal tax liability, and is the subject of a long-running investigation by U.K. tax authorities.
The leaked emails also purport to show Beckham complaining about being approached by a Unicef employee and being asked to contribute cash, writing that the woman “asked me outright which I was p***ed off about... I don’t want to do it and won’t do it with my own money.”
Beckham’s Unicef 7 fund has raised more than £4.3 million since it launched in 2015.
Unicef Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth also backed the global star. He tweeted: “For over 15 years David Beckham has been a dedicated and passionate @UNICEF ambassador, helping many thousands of children.”