The offer has been laid out. A one-on-one interview with David Beckham.
At a party.
For 15 seconds.
One question, two maybe.
Also: I'm not sure it's definitely David Beckham.
I've just hung up on a phone call laced with ambiguity and doubletalk, as though we were being monitored and/or about to be pinched. Henry-Hill-looking-for-the-helicopter-in-the-sky kinda vibe.
The situation, I'm told, is as follows: on Sunday a luxury flagship store will open in Mayfair, and, the publicist says, "the world's most famous football-playing metrosexual" will be in attendance.
Then there's the 15 seconds. It's funny, it's ludicrous, it's borderline mockery. I've resolved to embrace the absurdity. Plus, when it's 15 seconds with David Beckham, it seems bizarrely worthwhile. He's just that kind of guy.
The underrated thing about scarcity is that it forces ingenuity. Just as MacGyver could fashion a worthy fix from a dire situation, a stingy vis-à-vis with DB would, hopefully, bring out the best of journalistic instincts.
Of course, this will all come down to the question. It's a clutch situation.
I need to carve out a potent arrangement of words: a phrase that would disarm, endear, pique, spark.
This is where my agony begins.
A very real option, a friend suggests, is to screw with him. "Ask him where the toilet is."
"Ask him about his eyebrows."
"Ask him about Loos."
"Nah, ask him about the padding in his undies."
I'm not green to celebrity interviews. I refuse to bust out a highlights reel, for fear of Piers Morganing, but needless to say, I've done enough to feel vaguely competent.
But Beckham? Oof. Different ball game. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Everybody knows Beckham. His fame isn't rooted in sub-culture or niche or clique. Even my 60-year-old mother in the southern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, so sweet, so deeply culture-deaf, knows Beckham.
I need to get this 15 seconds right.
On Saturday night – T-17 hours 'til DB – my friend Kieran and I drink off-license Red Stripe in his apartment.
Down by our feet, gathering dust on Kieran's unvacuumed floor is a copy of FIFA 13. And somewhere, etched by laser into that disc, is a digital Becks, kitted up in Paris St Germain, still ready to have a kickabout. I'd guess that Digital Becks is sat on the dusty floors of tens of millions of homes right now. Easily.
Sure, the whole reason I came to Kieran's house was to play the game for the purpose of gathering colour for this story, but we end up getting drunk and watch the last 10 minutes of 8 Mile on YouTube instead.
So, at roughly 2:17am on the N7 back from Acton Central, I scrawl out what I know about David Beckham, trying to engineer an unlikely home run question.
- man U
- (hasn't always been well-groomed)
- Responsible for film that made Keira Knightley famous
On the Sunday, with a few hours until the interview, I pull on my sharpest navy suit (£385, on sale). I polish my shoes in a manner that I have very literally never done for a date, wedding or anything.
I'm really bloody preening, here. It seems stupid, but it's compulsion. The man is the original groomer. The founding father of metrosexuality.
I'm still no closer to cracking the story. Honest, I know it's only 15 seconds and it started as a joke and it's only a man, but here I am, all rising dread and polished brogues.
I grab some bright socks and look down at my toe knuckle hair. I wonder if H&M or Samsung would ever use my likeness to flog things.
My phone buzzes. It's a text.
How was Backam? Mum asks.
Outside, the rain is coming down something beastly. It's whipping across at an angle, weaving past even the deftest movements of the flimsy umbrella that I've nicked off my housemate.
I arrive on New Bond Street, now kitted up in a shiny, streaky, slimy sartorial wetsuit.
Right by the store, packed in like tuna behind a red velvet rope under a leaky marquee, are fifty, maybe sixty photographers. Over the next few hours, they'll be rained on for David Beckham. They'll have squelching, wettened socks for David Beckham. That rain will probably be accompanied by sweat, too, owing to the huge crowd and equipment and flash bulbs going off.
By now, I've realised that David Beckham is immortal. This many people left home on a miserable Sunday late-afternoon to see him. The guy doesn't play anymore, barely even for Paris St Germain in FIFA 13.
But David Beckham has earned himself, surely, a hundred years or so of posthumous immortality. He has his name etched into enough buildings, his likeness borrowed by enough brands, his face iconified, glorified, fanaticised.
I feel like I'm attending another man's birthday. I feel like it's always David Beckham's birthday.
Naturally, the occasion has called for a long, lush – and now wet – red carpet. A dapper couple approach the carpet, where a similarly dapper man holding a clipboard smiles big and sincere and moves to one side, welcoming them in.
When I approach the start of the carpet, he squares his shoulders and half-scowls, checking and re-checking my name to a list.
The inside of the store is luxe as hell. Mirrors and mood lighting and brilliant clothes and the kind of couches that are better to look at than sit on.
I drip around the store, cradling some champagne. Not many people are here, yet.
I lap around the room aimlessly. I canapé. I champagne (again). I perve on an incredible leather jacket. For a while, I couch. (It's precisely as uncomfortable as it looks.)
So, I'm tipsy and getting a little nervy and the only person I've met is a man with a Cheshire Cat smile who first claimed to be a designer, then a makeup artist, who repeatedly offers me his business card. Bloody hell.
People start to flow out of the rain and into the store.
Anna Wintour – who, if you're as culture-deaf as my mother, is easily the most famous and influential figure in fashion – walks in.
Notorious for her iciness, she wanders around the store right up to the far corner where David Beckham, I shit you not, is drinking a Becks.
The tiny crowd of guests that have arrived stand and gawk.
It doesn't take long. Definitely less than 15 seconds. Anna melts. She laughs. She isolates with David Beckham. She reacts to him. They banter. You can hear her laugh. Loudly.
It's a remarkable scene. There can't be more than 20 people in the room – the party hasn't properly started. But only two are in the moment.
Everyone else is watching. Like reality TV, but really, really high-def. 4K even.
Some in the audience feign apathy, turning a shoulder and only occasionally glancing. Others giggle and smile to strangers, raising both eyebrows as if to say, we're goddamn witness to this.
Men and women pose for surreptitious long-distance photos, capturing themselves, Beckham and Wintour in some sort of nasty reverse photobomb.
Finally, the photo call is happening. After this song-and-dance, my time will come. Becks heads outside.
A great white floodlight carves his silhouette as David walks into the rain. The crowd, now in its hundreds inside and out, watch. We all watch. Anna watches.
And then he's back.
Traffic picks up. A series of actors whose names you can't quite recall appear. They're the Bradleys, the Michaels, the pop culture orbiters.
The room is laughably crowded now, the kind of crowd-blob that makes you feel approximately three inches shorter than you really are. Somehow, even in this circus, I keep on goddamn bumping into the predatory Cheshire Cat man, whose grin grows more Cheshire-y each time. Christ.
By now, every nook and cranny of the store is intimately familiar. I've polished off a despicable champagne-to-finger-food ratio.
DB's minders signal over to me – it's almost time. I must have invested 5 or 6 hours into my 15 seconds with Becks.
I try to compose myself, but a French woman keeps poking the small of my back with her boxy old Blackberry. I'm convinced she's electromagnetically triggered heart palpitations.
Finally, ushered into the VIP area of the VIP party, I get stood next to David Beckham.
I take in Real Life Becks.
Shorter than I thought.
Little patches of white through his beard. Big boots. Wearing a chain on his trousers; somehow doesn't look stupid.
I remind myself to make sure to hold eye contact. I puff out my boy-chest.
"Hi, I'm Adam."
Good handshake. Nice start. Get on with it, now.
"We've met before, haven't we?" says Becks, smiling big and sincere. "It's great to see you again."
Wait – what the hell? 9…8…
"No…we definitely haven't met," I say.
Becks is thrown. He breaks eye contact. A minder puts a hand on his shoulder.
"Oh. Um," he stutters.
"You have a really familiar face."
Suddenly, to my side, an assured cast of international journalists muscle in – they're a motley crew of fashion types and grumpy hacks who start expertly grilling DB on jackets and motorcycles and Victoria.
The seconds eke out. My moment is done. Becks laughs and banters and is very, very polite and says his nice-to-meet-yous.
15 seconds later, I'm back in the zoo of people who are still clamouring for prime social position. My appetite for crowds and chat and canapé is entirely gone.
Getting out of the store couldn't be easier. I glide, I weave – the crowd parts like I'm a one-man motorcade.
Soon, I'm walking down the soggy red carpet: the leavers' direction. It's empty. No photographers. No fans.
It's stopped raining. The streets ahead look clean and wet and fresh.
The end of the carpet is in sight. The man with the clipboard is gone. And, for the first time in hours, I know where I'm going.