Celebrity in Britain is a double-edged sword, and it's David Beckham's turn to bleed.
The British press is in a tizzy over allegations that Beckham, the handsome England soccer captain and half of Britain's reigning celebrity couple, had an extramarital affair with a personal assistant. But Beckham-watchers expressed little surprise at the fall of celebrity royalty.
"We've all been expecting this," said Andrew Parker, a sociologist at Warwick University in central England who has studied Beckham's cultural influence. "The bubble had to burst at some point. It was inevitable that some allegation was going to be made about one or the other of them."
Newspapers reveled Wednesday in stories about the athlete, his wife, the sultry assistant and the fusillade of smoldering text messages he allegedly sent her — truly a romance for our techno-savvy times.
"We are family" declared The Daily Mirror next to photos of David and Victoria Beckham with their two young sons, apparently mending their relationship during a ski holiday in the French Alps.
The Sun was less sure, heading its coverage "Beckham and the sleazy senorita" and saying the soccer star had been "lured into a trap" by former assistant Rebecca Loos.
On Sunday the News of the World newspaper reported that David Beckham, 28, had a sexual relationship with Loos, 26. The daughter of a Dutch diplomat and an English mother, Loos worked for the star's management company SFX Group and acted as his assistant in Madrid until he cut ties with the firm in December.
The News of the World printed allegedly racy mobile phone text messages that it said David Beckham and Loos had sent one another. To spare readers' blushes they were heavily edited, sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility.
Victoria and David Beckham — Posh and Becks — are more than a top athlete and a former Spice Girl. They are celebrity gold, and he is a cultural icon. With his ever-changing blonde hairstyles and flamboyant fashions, Beckman combines athletic masculinity with metrosexual flair. He loves to show off designer duds and eye-catching jewelry and, on at least one occasion, bright pink nail polish. He's also been photographed wearing a sarong.
He and his wife, the former "Posh Spice" from the Spice Girls pop group, are a garish but well-loved couple with a palatial country home — "Beckingham Palace" — and two adorable, creatively named sons, Brooklyn and Romeo.
But after years of fawning coverage, Britain's famously fickle tabloid press appeared this week to have turned.
Rumors of tensions in the Beckhams' marriage have circulated since David left Manchester United last summer to play for superstar-packed Real Madrid. Victoria continued to spend most of her time in England, working to resurrect a sputtering solo career and looking after Brooklyn, 5, and Romeo, 18 months.
The press was soon speculating about the couple's time apart; the Beckhams issued a statement in September denying any marital rift. In a statement released Sunday, Beckham insisted his marriage was happy and condemned "more and more ludicrous stories about my private life." But he stopped short of denying that an affair took place.
Beckham is the world's most famous soccer star, drawing hordes of fans from London to Tokyo, lending his name to a hit film — "Bend It Like Beckham" — and appearing in lucrative ad campaigns for Adidas, Vodafone and Pepsi.
Some observers said the media drubbing might hurt Beckham's multimillion-dollar marketing pull, built on his carefully crafted image as a style leader and family man.
John Harris, a senior lecturer in sports at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, said Beckham had been given "an almost saintly image" by the British press.
The Beckhams "have cleverly built up a branded image, especially overseas. Within that, his clean-cut image is very important," he said.
"But a cynic might say that all publicity is good publicity."
There may be more tabloid revelations to come. Celebrity publicist Max Clifford said Tuesday that he'd "been led to believe, that in the next week or two, there could well be something else that will come out concerning David Beckham."
Whatever happens, Parker thinks the Beckhams will weather the storm.
"They are the people's royalty," he said. "David Beckham is a working-class boy made good, obviously very talented and seems to have a degree of humility about him. "It would take an incredible amount of undermining before it changed people's opinions about him."