Learning to Fly: The Autobiography
ISBN 9780141003948 | 528 pages | 16 May 2005 | Penguin Global | 4.37 x 7.12in | 18 - AND UP
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From the time when, as an eight-year-old girl, she saw the movie Fame, Victoria wanted to be a star. There was a line from the title song that stayed with her-'I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly'. With this extraordinary book she gives us the chance to follow her on her journey from lonely teenager to international star; to fly alongside her.'Daddy! I'm going to be killed.'
'No, you're not, Victoria. I'm right behind you. I'll look after you.’
I can't see him. We're too close together, jammed in by the crowd. But I can feel his hand on my shoulder, and his hand and his voice are just enough to keep me from screaming. Calm, in control, like he always is. Not like my mum who lives off her nerves. When people say, who do you take after, I say, my dad. But when I panic like this I know I'm like my mum.
Another lurch from the crowd. I need space, air. I'm being pushed, my dad behind, me in the middle, the bodyguard in front, so big that all I can see is his back, wet with sweat. I can hardly breathe. Only one thing is louder than the roaring of the crowd and that's my heart thumping in my ears. Even when I'm about to go on stage it's never this bad.
Without my glasses, I'm half blind. But I can sense the crowd towering up on my right. painted faces that loom up from nowhere, red, white and blue. A hand reaches out and pushes my baseball cap down over my eyes. I'm shaking.
'Over 'ere, Posh, Posh.'
They're drunk. I can smell the beer. Laughing and shouting. Their hands sticking out, jabbing their fingers in some drunken impression of Posh Spice.
'Get yer tits out.'
Don't make eye-contact, one of the Spice Girls' security once told me. That's why celebrities wear dark glasses. Like me today. So head down. A flash of a camera. Little red lights everywhere, infra-red autofocus. Like they have on guns. A lens pokes through the wire fence on my left that separates the crowd from the pitch. There are people the other side. Fingers are poking through the wire trying to touch me. That fence shouldn't be there. Haven't they heard of Hillsborough, these morons? The semi-final of the 1989 FA Cup when ninety-six people were killed, crushed against the wire? Only this week they'd had the pictures on the television again. A court case was just starting against the two policemen in charge.
'We love you, Posh.' Then laughter. 'Only kidding!'
We're on the strip of concrete that runs around the pitch at Eindhoven trying to get back to our seats. I know it's concrete because I saw it on our way up; now I can't see anything. Just a blur of bodies and arms reaching out. Trying to touch me.
It's Monday 12 June 2000. The Football Association had organized everything as they always do for all England away games: a chartered plane from Stansted to Brussels, then a coach to Eindhoven. The driver parked in some backstreet, so we'd had to walk a good twenty minutes to the stadium. But we'd still got there two hours before kick-off. Our seats were about five rows from the front, in the middle, opposite the tunnel where the players come out and when people saw me sitting there like a bloody lemon, out came the cameras. Some of them were press: Sky zooming in on my face. some were just ordinary people, taking a snap to show their friends. Show them what? A moody cow with a baseball cap pulled down over her eyes. I felt a complete idiot, just sitting there with hardly anyone else about. Wasn't there somewhere we could go until kick-off, I asked my security. I mean, what were we supposed to do for two hours. Read the programme?
It was then that we heard about the VIP lounge. We asked Ted and Sandra, David's parents, who were in the row behind if they wanted to come along, but they said no thank you, they'd rather stay.
It was the other side of the pitch, but as the place was practically empty getting there had only taken five minutes. They'd got us champagne and we' d been so busy chatting with Doreen, my mum 's friend who was over from Athens and had never been to a football match in her life, we hadn't noticed the stadium filling up. Now with only ten minutes to go the place was absolutely rammed. Thank God I'd decided not to bring Brooklyn. He was safely back at my mum's house in London with my sister Louise.
I'd never wanted to come to Eindhoven. I was booked into the studio in London all week, working on my solo album. But it wasn't just because of that. Everybody was expecting so much from David that I thought it better all round not to go. It's like when he takes an important free kick, or a penalty, sometimes I think it's better not to look.
And David was already out there, kicking the ball around, as they always do before a game. I'd seen him as I walked down the steps into this nightmare. Even without my glasses I can pick him out on the field just by the way he moves even if l can't see the big number 7 on his back. But he hadn't seen me. He'd been looking the other way, across the pitch where the wives and families are always put. He always looks for me. It calms him down to know I'm there, he says. I knew he'd be worried now, not seeing me. I shouldn't have come. I should just be sitting at home, with Brooklyn watching his Daddy on television. Then at least David would know his family were safe.
You have to have been to a football match to know what the noise does to you. I'd seen football on television before I went near a stadium and what you hear on television is nothing, even in those pubs with big screens and wraparound sound. Mark, my first boyfriend, would sometimes take me to watch football in pubs, with his friends - his idea of an evening out. Funnily enough, I'd even watched the semi-final against Germany in Euro 1996 in a pub in Enfield; that time when Gareth Southgate missed the penalty. If anyone had told me then I'd be married to a footballer I wouldn't have believed them. It's the noise that's as frightening as an express train when you're standing on a platform. It engulfs you. It's a noise that makes you want to scream.
Dress down, David had said. I knew all the other wives would be in their Away-Day best - first England match in Euro 2000 and all that. And bring security. My dad and a bodyguard - that would be enough, he'd said. But it wasn't.
It was the Friday before that the Daily Mail found out my name wasn't on the list and said I was snubbing the other England wives and girlfriends by not going. It was picked up by the radio. I heard them talking about it on Capital as I drove into work. They were talking as if my going would make the difference as to whether England won or lost. Phil Neville's wife wasn't going, nor Gary Neville's girlfriend. No one said anything about them. Just went on about how I thought I should be treated differently.
But didn't they understand, I was treated differently. Were the other wives having fingers poked at them now? No. Even if they were dressed up in their England-Expects best, nobody knew who they were. But Posh Spice. Who everyone knows wants to take their precious Golden Boy away from Manchester United, everyone knows who she is. The most hated woman in England, that's what I've been called. Nice.
And what do football supporters do when they hate? They shout abuse. When I was little my mum used to say that old thing about sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never harm you. That was when I was being bullied at school. But she was wrong. It wasn't true then and it's not true now.
I remember not long after I started going out with David, my mum came up to Manchester to a match and when they saw me the crowd began chanting 'Posh Spice takes it up the arse'. And she said, 'What's that they're singing, Victoria?' She'd heard the Posh Spice bit, but not the rest. I mean, how embarrassing is that? I just said I didn't know and could she please pass me another bag of crisps.
The abuse that me and David get at Old Trafford is hideous - at least it never gets physical, unless you count banging on the glass of a corporate box - but since Euro 2000 started all we'd heard about in the English press was football violence and yob culture. People think I read the papers just to find out what they're writing about Posh and Becks. And I would be lying if l said I wasn't interested - it's the lies they print that mean I have to read that crap. Lies and things that are only too true, photographs you literally had no idea were being taken. Photographs of you and your baby and your husband and your sister and your sister's little girl, and your mum and your dad and anybody else whose lives they feel like poking their lenses into. Yes, I read the newspapers. But I also watch the news every night. No matter how tired I am. It's the only television do watch. And I knew what was going on in Belgium, how the England fans were a disgrace and were already cluttering up police cells. But David wanted me to come. He says he plays better when I'm there. The game had just started by the time we got back to our seats. Stadium security had eventually turned up, about six of them, and, just like bull bars on a 4WD, didn't ask any questions, just pushed everyone back. It turned out they'd roped off where the players came through, which was why the place was rammed.
When David saw me, his face broke into that smile and it was like it always is. Like Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like It Hot 'my spine turns to custard' and I forget everything except how much I love him and how lucky I am that he loves me.
I knew how important this game was to him. So many people were saying that Beckham was going to do it for us. But they were saying that at the World Cup when he ballsed up, and then they turned on him completely. Jeremy Clarkson said he would like to get David in a padded cell with a baseball bat. The Daily Mirror had a pull-out dartboard with David's face in the middle. The Sun got a dummy, dressed it up like David, put some naff sarong and a num- ber 7 shirt on it and hanged it, not hung it, hanged it with a rope round the neck on a gallows outside a pub in South London, took a picture and put it on the front page. No footballer has ever had such negative press, which is why it was so important that he had a good game.
And he did. Even though it ended in a draw, that first match against Portugal was the best of the three games England played in Euro 2000. And David played so well, I was so proud of him. I kept looking at my dad to check that I was right. He just smiled. David created two goals - which means he kicked the ball to the person who kicked the goal. And I was nearly crying I was so happy, and for me that is unheard of, as any Manchester United supporter will tell you, I'm not really into football at all. My interest in football is limited to David. I don't watch the ball, I watch David. If the two coincide, then fine.
Everybody knows that before an England match players are banned from seeing their families, but what most people don't realize is that they're banned from seeing them afterwards as well. Football teams, whether Manchester United or England, are run like concentration camps. All I wanted to do after that game was to hug David, and tell him how proud I was. But when the final whistle blew, and they did the thing of taking off their shirts and giving them to the other side, we were already being led back to our coach in a crocodile like good little schoolchildren, back to the airport and home.
As we were making our way out of the stadium I tapped out a text message on my mobile. There was no point calling him, I knew he'd be in the shower or the bath, being boys together after the game. We spend half our lives sending messages to each other. The other half we're on the phone. David's physio even says his back trouble comes from having his ear glued to his phone. But sometimes there are things you want to say that you don't want anyone else to hear, whether it's your mum or your dad, or the driver or security or make-up or hair or one of the girls. Or perhaps other people are talking or listening to a CD and it would be rude to just pick up the mobile and chat. There are some people in the music business who think that just because they're up there, they can behave how they like. I suppose it's all about how you are brought up. Some people find sending text messages fiddly, but I don't. I'm like a mobile phone touch typist, though long nails mean I use the side of my finger. I don't even have to think where the letters are.
Then just as my screen flashed Sent I get an alert -a message from David. Call me asap Love you lots XXD. I punch the keypad, a number I could do in my sleep, then it's two rings and 'Hello'.
Other people can mock David's voice if they like. I love it.
'Hi, Babes,' I said. 'I know you think I know nothing, but you really did well. I feel so, so proud of you.'
'I don't think you will be when you hear what I've done, Victoria.’
I felt my heart do what seemed like a double beat.
'What's that, then?'
'I've just heard the press have got a picture of me sticking my finger up at the fans.’
I couldn't believe I was hearing this.
'You're' kidding me, David.' We'd been over it again and again.
Don't react. Just don't react.
'I just couldn't help myself'
'But why? We've been over and over this. Why did you do it?'
Stupid question. I knew why. It's the abuse and David's short fuse. But he knows there is such a spotlight on him.
'It was the things they were shouting about you and Brooklyn. I couldn't handle it any more.'
'Like what were they saying?'
'I want to hear.'
'Brooklyn takes it up the arse.'
That wasn't a new one. But it still made me sick when I heard it.
'Well, we've heard that one before.'
’And then they said they hoped Brooklyn died of cancer.'
I just closed my eyes and said nothing. A picture of Brooklyn flashed in front of my eyes, as I had left him, wandering around the kitchen just wearing his nappy holding his football.
’Are you still there, Victoria?'
‘I’m still here.’
'I just couldn't help myself I had run my bollocks off for ninety minutes and then there were just these three or four blokes shouting abuse. And I just gave them one finger. I didn't think anyone had seen.’
'And you're sure they did?'
'Gary said they did.'
Gary Neville is David's best friend at Manchester United. They've both been there since they were sixteen.
Another silence. It takes a lot to shut me up, but I didn't know what to say.
'How's Brooklyn?' David said.
'He's fine. Louise just called. She said he watched his daddy on television and he's fine.'
'Don't be angry, Babes. I know it was stupid, but I couldn't help myself'
I lost him as the coach went into a tunnel. I decided he could call me if he wanted and I opened up another stick of chewing gum, folding the old bit in the new wrapper and putting it in the ashtray in the seat in front. I've always been brought up to be tidy.
He was right. I was angry. I just wanted to get him by the neck and throttle him. No prizes for guessing the picture on the front page of every paper in England the next day.
My mum and dad were up at the front of the coach talking to David's mum and dad. I didn't feel like telling them. They'd find out soon enough. I just curled up in the seat, chomped on the chewing gum and stared out at the sky, still streaked with red. Red for Manchester United. Red for England. There had been so much talk since Euro 2000 started as to why the England fans were more violent than anybody else, worse than Scottish fans, worse than Welsh fans, worse than Irish fans. I couldn't understand it. I'd grown up with these people, so had David. Both English, both the same age as these stupid louts. So what was different? Why weren't we going around kicking the shit out of anybody who got in our way? And we knew they wanted to be like us, copying everything we did, or everything they could, like the way we looked, the way we dressed, our hairstyles and so on.
David and I have both got very strong personalities. We both knew where we were going, right from when we were very young. Of course I didn't know David when he was little, but the other day, when Brooklyn was rushing around kicking a football, David's mum Sandra said that he reminded her of David when he was that age, that she'd forgotten just what a menace he had been. We were talking about whether Brooklyn looked more like me or David.
'When his hair's spiked up,' she said, 'he looks like David but when his hair is flat I think he's more like you. But how he behaves is exactly how David did as a baby, into everything, he'd never sit still and always kicking a ball. As long as he was free to run around, he was happy. Give him a set of steps to climb up and down and he'd be quite content.'
As for me, I wanted to be a dancer. Not from as early as eighteen months perhaps, but from when I was about eight. So maybe it was easier for David and me, we both had a dream. There was nothing different between us and the football hooligans, except that we had ambition. We knew who we were and who we wanted to be, and nothing was going to stop us, it was only a question of time. Whereas they were so lacking in identity they had to paint red, white and blue stripes on their faces when they punched and kicked and drank. And now they would blame it on David.
Brooklyn was asleep by the time I got home. I still think of my mum and dad's house as home, because it's where I've lived ever since I can remember. Brooklyn's room wasn't there then: Dad made it a couple of years ago by going into the roof space, and putting in a dormer window.
My baby boy had kicked off his duvet and was lying spread out like a starfish, on top of Postman Pat. I lifted him up, moved Postman Pat to the top of the cot, then kissed his head with its silky brown hair, like David's. He smelled like toast. I covered him, then just sat there in the dark, listening to his breathing, like I used to do when he was first born, terrified he was going to stop.
The next morning David Beckham's one-finger salute to the England football supporters was front page on every newspaper, as I knew it would be. His 'yobbish' behaviour had taken over from football violence as the topic of media interest. Stuck in his hotel room in France I must have spoken to him twenty times that day. There was still no word from the FA. The last time he'd put two fingers up at the fans he'd been fined £25,000. But Kevin Keegan was being very supportive, he said. It turned out the manager had heard every word.
The next day, from the moment I got up the phone never stopped ringing. Press. Luckily I left the house around nine and missed the worst of it as I was in the recording studio most of the day. I keep telling my mum that she should change the phone number. But, as she always reminds me, apart from anything else, it's my dad's work number. There's no point in talking to them- it's not as if it made any difference to what they write. Inaccuracies, my mum calls them. She could have been a diplomat. Lies would be the word I'd use.
Next day, my call wasn't till the afternoon so I was in the kitchen just having a bowl of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and giving Brooklyn his cereal when the phone rang. The Daily Mirror. It was about ten o'clock.
'I've nothing to say.'
'We were just wondering if you' d seen the Mail today, Victoria.’
'Can't say I have.'
'Well, we're sending someone over with one, and a copy of the Mirror. Take a look at both. Perhaps we can talk later.'
In fact we did have a copy of the Daily Mail. I just hadn't read it.
Twenty minutes later, the buzzer went. Someone at the gate. I pressed the intercom.
‘Daily Mirror. Newspapers for you.’
A woman's voice.
I looked at the screen. No cameras. Mum was upstairs having a bath.
'OK .I'll open the gates. Then if you can bring them to the front door. Over on the right.’
I tied the belt on my old Spice Girls Tour dressing gown that David had got for all of us with Our names on, but only opened the door a few inches.
'How do you feel about the way David's being hounded, Victoria?'
They always tried it on.
'Like I said, I don't want to say anything.'
'Well, perhaps you'll feel differently when you've read Roy Hattersley's piece in the Mail, and then ours supporting David.'
I smiled and took the newspapers.
And shut the door. I was taught always to be polite.
'Who was that, Victoria?'
Mum had come down, her hair in a towel, looking for the dryer.
'What did they want?'
I was reading Roy Hattersley.
The phone went. Mum picked up the one on the wall. I didn't listen. I carried on reading what this Roy Hattersley person had written about David.
It began on the front page: right at the top, a picture of David with his finger up and the words So, is this man a national liability? Turn to page 12.
I turned to page 12. It went on and on - a whole page of it, but basically it said how can we expect England's young people to behave properly when they have such terrible role models as David Beckham and his Spice Girl wife? And I'm thinking, Who is this prick?
My dad had just walked in and was making a cup of tea.
'Who is Roy Hattersley?'
'An MP I think.'
'What's he doing writing about football, then?'
Mum was holding the phone out to me.
'It's Alan. Says what do you want to do about Roy Hattersley?'
Alan Edwards is the Spice Girls' PR and he handles anything to do with the press for me and David.
'Tell him I don't want to do anything about Roy Hattersley, but I know what I'd like to do to him.' But I took the phone anyway.
Over the next few days Roy Hattersley got what was coming to him. Not only from me, but it seemed from every other journalist in the country and 90 per cent of the population. Several newspapers ran dial-a-verdict lines for readers to phone in and vote for or against David. In the end it was something like 98 per cent for David. Kevin Keegan had decided to tell the papers exactly what he had heard these so-called England fans say, though the words were toned down a bit. I mean you wouldn't want to read what they really said over your Shredded Wheat.
Ted, David's dad, had also spoken to the press, something he never does. About how this was not the first time and how the abuse David got from so-called fans had been going on for years. Even a spokesman for the FA said they were 100 per cent for David and then had a go at Roy Hattersley - apparently the Daily Mail's rent-a-quote was no longer an MP but a life peer - saying he didn't know what he was talking about. But then this was a man, I had found out, who wrote novels about what it's like to be a dog. If I hadn't despised him so much I might even have felt sorry for him. Joke. No, I wouldn't.
Suddenly everything had changed. When it came out what David had put up with he went from being 'a national liability' to a national hero, literally overnight, 'our greatest footballing hope for the future', blah blah blah. From hurling abuse at David, people would smile, and tap on the car windows, giving him the thumbs-up sign.
In all the time since we had known each other it had never happened before.
David is the most amazing footballer and I want him to be the best that he can. I will support him in anything he wants to do. I just want him to be happy. Although it was disappointing when England failed to reach the next round of Euro 2000, at least it meant David would be coming back to his family a little earlier than expected. We had so little time anyway - only three weeks before he had to be back in Manchester for pre-season training.
Just to make life easy I had my single coming out. In the same way as I support David over what's important to him, he supports me. In actual fact, it was David who persuaded me that the best way of stopping the constant caning I was getting - the only Spice Girl not to have gone solo - was to do something no one expected me to do. And this was definitely it.
Dane Bowers, a really bright young guy from the boyband Another Level who had recently gone solo himself, had this idea of having me sing with him on 'Out of Your Mind', a follow-up he'd written to 'Buggin' which had been a surprise hit for him earlier in the year.
As soon as I heard the track, I was really excited. Because 'Out of Your Mind' like 'Buggin' , was dance music - a completely different world music-wise from pop - it had credibility. No one would be expecting Posh Spice to do anything like it. Then when Dane suggested we launch it at Party in the Park, The Prince's Trust charity show in Hyde Park at the beginning of July, everything fell into place. The record company were prepared to back us totally in what we wanted to do with the song: costumes, dancers, a great video. As Posh Spice I'd rarely had to do more than totter around in heels I could barely walk in. Most people probably had no idea I was a trained dancer.
Which was why I was so tired when I walked into the kitchen that evening, the day after David had come back from Belgium. Every morning that week I'd left home at seven, spent three hours rehearsing with the dancers then gone to the other side of London to the Olympic Studios in Barnes working with Andrew Frampton and Steve Kipner, who had come over from LA specially to work with me on my new album.
So I was still hyped up when I got home and, while David carried on with his Jamie Oliver impression involving a piece of halibut and assorted chopped vegetables, I put on the tape of 'Out of Your Mind' and started doing the routine, with Brooklyn jigging around my feet singing 'Mind, Mind' - only eighteen months old and ready to boogie.
'So. What d'you think, Babes?' I said, peering over David's shoulder, my arms around his waist as he stood at the stove.
'It's not meant to be smooth, you nutter,' I said whacking him over the head with a baguette. 'It's meant to be jagged, jerky, futuristic.' Suddenly exhausted, I flopped down on a chair by the kitchen table and began to pick from a bowl of grapes. Brooklyn put down his football, and ran over to me.
'Do you want some grapes, big boy?'
I lifted him up on to my lap. My God, he was getting so heavy. 'What do you say?'
'There's a good boy.'
David came over with my plate piled high. I was starving.
'Give Daddy a kiss?' he said, and Brooklyn turned his face up, his mouth in a kiss-shape.
'Now Mummy,' David said. And Brooklyn turned round and I put my face to his as David kissed the top of my head.
Happy families. Yeah. It nearly killed me this life - but it was all worth it.
Just then my mobile rang. Did I want to talk to this person?
Probably not. The only person I wanted to talk to was right here cooking my dinner. I looked at the number. My lawyer. I listened and said nothing, then flicked the off key and closed my eyes.
‘Anything wrong?' David always knows.
'Ever heard of Andrew Morton?'
'Don't think so.'
'Well,' I said, 'you have now.'
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