David Beckham and the dark side of fame

He used to receive knickers in the mail from smitten fans.

(Translation: women’s undergarments.)

Then it all stopped.

The fans started mailing him bullets.

They burned an effigy of him in front of his parents’ house.

They spit on him in the streets.

After a controversial red card in the 1998 World Cup, David Beckham became Public Enemy #1.

The wind blows strongest at the top of the mountain

After bursting onto the soccer scene in the mid 1990s, the handsome footballer became a household name after a spectacular goal from the halfway line.


He started dating Posh Spice (aka Victoria Beckham) and the two became a global tabloid sensation.

But it all came crashing down in the 1998 World Cup.

After getting fouled by Argentina’s Diego Simeone, a 23 year old Beckham foolishly retaliated with a flimsy leg kick.

Swiftly thereafter, he was ejected with a red card.

England went on to lose the match in penalty kicks. Its World Cup dreams shattered.

Chasing the Idol of Fame

My daughter wants to be a YouTuber when she grows up.

And she’s not alone – a recent study by Lego showed that one-third of kids aged 8-12 want to be YouTubers or vloggers.

The sweet nectar of fame is seductive.

In the post 31 Lessons I’ve learned about money, the author Ryan Holliday describes one common trait of “extremely wealthy people” (emphasis mine):

[Few of them] like what they do for a living (for instance, half the ones I meet all seem like they’d rather be writing books for some crazy reason). Rarest is the one you’d want to trade places with.

But Beckham’s red card fiasco should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone pursuing fame.

It’s easy to think of him and Posh today as a power couple who goes out of their way to get attention.

But that overlooks the fact that Beckham was 23 years old when we has vilified by a nation of 50 million people for nearly a year.

The dragons of fame

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In the pursuit of becoming a writer and online personality, I too have swapped the money game for the fame game.

And I often think about Tim Ferriss’ description of fame:

“You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube.”

Now Tim Ferriss is a micro-celebrity of sorts. He pales in comparison to Beckham or Beyonce – but probably would get recognized at a Whole Foods or Starbucks.

In Ferriss’ post 11 reasons not to become famous he describes death threats, extortion attempts, identity theft and even the risk of getting kidnapped at an airport (to be held as ransom).

He mentions dating woes (“it could be someone hoping to write a clickbait article about their date with you”) and tragic pleas for help (“You’re my last hope. I have no one else to ask. If you can’t help me with X, Y, and Z in the next 48 hours, I’m going to kill myself.”)

Ferriss delivers a harrowing conclusion on the perils of fame:

“If I’ve learned anything, it is this: fame will not fix your problems.”

Rich and Anonymous

So what’s the difference between being rich and famous? According to the actor Bill Murray:

I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first.’ See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job

In his post Rich and Anonymous, the author Morgan Housel described working with a family that was worth $8 billion. They were not on a Forbes list and no Wikipedia profile.

If you Google’d them – nothing came up.

They were completely anonymous.

“They had total freedom, privacy, and independence. They chose their friends carefully and gave money away anonymously. It may have been their most valuable asset.”

What would 23 year old Beckham say to that?

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