Had it not been for the (at the time of writing) 573,000 likes, it could have been mistaken for any other post on Instagram; a proud dad’s picture of his four kids, captured walking their dog in a darkening woodland park as the sun set.
The reason for the picture going viral? It just so happened to be David Beckham with the cameraphone and his kids Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz, and Harper who were in the picture.
There’s probably only one other family who are as famous as the Beckhams in the UK–the Cambridges.
But what a remarkable difference that one picture points up between the two families very different approaches to the unique challenges of dealing with massive global fame.
The Beckhams' accepting and positive attitude to social media is in stark contrast to the increasingly paranoid mentality displayed by the Royals, which is doing so much to limit their freedom, forcing them into a self-imposed gilded cage.
In August, Kensington Palace released an emotional letter, warning that if the “dangerous and distressing” tactics of paparazzi photographers pursuing the royal children were not curtailed, Prince George and Princess Charlotte would be at risk of growing up, “exclusively behind palace gates and in walled gardens.”
William and Kate, the letter said, want “both children to be free to play in public and semi-public spaces with other children without being photographed."
Two years ago, the British Royals roped in David Beckham as an informal mentor for Prince Harry, when it appeared his drinking was getting out of control after he was sick in a London nightclub toilet.
Beckham is not teetotal, but he drinks in very strict moderation, and there was a hope that he might be able to show Harry that getting legless is not a prerequisite for a good night out.
To be honest, it’s no longer Harry who needs the mentoring. It’s William. And the demon drink is not the subject on which he needs an education; it’s a Beckham lesson on fame in the era of the iPhone that needs to be drilled into William’s head.
William, quite reasonably given what happened to his mother, has a hatred of intrusive and what the palace terms ‘unauthorized’ photography.
But while once upon a time, trying to stop ‘unauthorized’ pictures being taken and published was within the realms of possibility, in the era of the camera phone and social media, it is an impossible dream. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, being anti-social media is a bit like being anti-glacier.
People will take pictures of the future King and his sister when they see them, indeed one could make a convincing argument that as taxpayers funding the royal lifestyle, we plebs are very much entitled to do so. Will and Kate may not like it, but pictures of the young royals will be taken whenever they are in a public or semi-public place.
Will and Kate are far from unique in having this admittedly trying situation imposed on them. Every mega-celeb has the same problem. The Beckhams would certainly be able to relate.
Indeed there was recently a glimmer of hope, an encouraging sign that Kate may be taking a more realistic line on the issue, when she took George to the National History Museum in London to view the dinosaur bones.
It was right and proper that such an important rite of passage for a London child was conducted within normal opening hours.
And guess what? A few pictures of George and his mom made it onto Twitter. The world didn’t grind to a halt.
Victoria Beckham could have told her this. She regularly shares pictures of her kids on Instagram with her 7.7 m followers.
The ease with which their parents approach social media has no doubt helped the Beckham children grow up as apparently well balanced social media users.
Brooklyn, David and Victoria’s oldest son, is a keen instagrammer, whose 4.8 million followers know many details of his life, including his favorite new toys such as his Leica R9 and hoverboard.
Refusing to be cowed by social media is important in its own right, but there’s also an important professional dividend for the Beckhams. They make tantalizing glimpses of their family life public, allowing them to keep their private life truly private—it's a canny sleight of hand.
For example, David’s currently posting about his 10-day, 10-nation football fundraiser and Victoria recently interspersed shout-outs to the charity mothers2mothers and Christopher Bailey (for his new Burberry campaign featuring her kids) with pictures of fake tattoos drawn on David’s hand by his daughter Harper.
It’s smart, simple—and as honest as any celebrity media channel can be.
Contrast this with the Cambridge’s clunky use of social media.
Since the Palace started to send out tweets from the @kensingtonroyal account in earnest last year, the tone has been utterly bewildering and completely non-uniform.
It’s hard to avoid the impression that the social media account is being updated by an unpaid intern.
For example, the account usually majors on official announcements, or tweeting out snippets of Prince Harry’s latest speech, then it does something really weird, like post a picture of Prince William and Kate when they were at university.
Yes, there has been a ‘social media strategy’ at Kensington Palace, but it’s been handled horribly. But how could any such strategy be a success when it’s all too clear that the principal actors in the drama—Will, Kate and Harry—have a deep-seated belief that social media is the work of the devil.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Royal accounts come across as advertising, clearly managed by ‘their people’.
In real life, the Beckhams share with the Cambridges a love of domesticity. Both families like nothing better than a quiet night in with popcorn and a box set.
But the Beckhams understand that part of public life for the mega-famous these days is being prepared to share carefully curated 'private' moments with millions of fans.
If Kate and William really want their kids to have some kind of normal life, they could do worse than take a leaf out of the Beckham playbook.
Giving all those cute childhood moments away for free could just be the most effective way of starving the hated paps out of business.
Will and Kate’s solution to the problem of photographer harassment—going into solitary family confinement—is only making things worse.
The price payable for the first candid picture of George, Charlotte, William and Kate climbs every day they lock themselves away from all lenses in their Norfolk palace.
The international tabs, mags and websites which feed off such images are only made more and more desperate by the ever-extending wait.
Allowing lots and lots of pictures of your kids to be published on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter—whether taken by yourself or your pals or other punters at the National History Museum—doesn’t harm them. It doesn’t make them commodities.
It does the exact opposite. Indeed, deployed cleverly, it could help the Royals publicly and privately.