At the time, my wife Irene and I were on a flight to London, comfortably ensconced in business class. Nature called. The bathrooms on this flight were situated between business and first class, and I found myself queuing up next to a scruffy-looking young man.
He wore a T-shirt that could stand a wash and torn jeans. He also sported a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. He only caught my attention for I thought him a poor candidate to be riding in first class.
I had flown enough to know this is the preferred dress of many high rollers, though. I decided this young man was probably either a Wall Street wizard or some rock star out slumming. Our eyes met for a split second as I was sizing him up.
He flashed me a quick smile. It was one of those looks that celebrities use to say, “Yes, it really is me.” Then he disappeared through the bathroom door leaving me unconvinced. I thought nothing more of this until we landed at Heathrow International.
On our way to the exit, my wife and I found ourselves directly behind the young man and his family. Next to his stylishly attired wife, his shabby dress really stood out. She was very slender and had the sculptured look of a model. She wore a Cockney-style hat at a jaunty angle and large amber colored glasses. Her jeans must have been painted on, and she balanced on top of five-inch (12 cm) stilettos. This exotic looking young couple had two lovely children with them.
In the general pushing that precedes the plane exit, we were shoved tightly against the young couple at the cabin door. As it opened, we were swept along in that group egress that resembles nothing more a cattle drive.
All the panicky travelers about to miss their connecting flights propelled us along from the rear. It was go with the flow or be trampled.
I have always likened the exiting of an aircraft to working in an anthill. It is the one time in most people’s lives when courtesy goes out the door in the mad dash to get feet back on earth. This time it was no different. A sea of humanity swept us along the ramp. Nothing could have prepared us for the next event.
The moment we reached the lobby an avalanche of flash bulbs blinded us. Just as quickly, a cordon of uniformed police officers surrounded us with orders to keep moving. Microphones were thrust at us from all directions while the photographers continued to blast away. All the while, our wedge of policemen kept urging us to move along and not stop.
Needless to say at this point, we became aware that the young couple in front of us were major celebrities of some sort. What they and the police were not aware of was that my wife and I had become part of this caravan quite by accident.
The police were chanting a mantra now, “Keep moving, keep moving,” so we all did. There were several film crews all walking backwards while firing questions at the scruffy young man who took it all in stride. Obviously, he was used to being mobbed while stepping off a plane.
He walked straight ahead, answering questions as he went. While walking and smiling for the cameras my wife now turned to the nearest policeman and quietly asked, “Who is that?” referring to the young man running interference for us. The officer gave her a raised eyebrow and then laughed — nothing like humor in the middle of a mob.
When she inquired a second time as to the man’s identity, we were instantly ejected from the pack. It took the policeman a few seconds to realize we had no idea who we were walking with and were not part of his entourage. “BECKHAM!” he cried. When this drew a blank, he tried again, “FOOTBALL!”
With that, he turned on his heel and ran off to join the rest of his comrades and left us alone to watch the moving sea of paparazzi disappear into the lobby.
So now we knew the young man’s name was Beckham and he played football. To an American, the term football means large hulking brutes wearing 50 pounds (23 kg) of body armor.
We had no idea this young fellow was the captain of the British national football team (soccer to us), and a midfielder for Manchester United. He was also in the process of being traded to Real Madrid for something in the neighborhood of 40 million US dollars.
We were blissfully unaware of this being the biggest current news story of the day. We picked up our bags and made our way to the train for a ride to the main station.
Now British trains have television monitors on board showing the BBC news 24 hours a day. Irene and I settled into our seats and were suddenly staring at ourselves on television walking with David Beckham. Not five minutes had passed since this happened; yet there we were on national television. Irene turned to me and wondered with a laugh if we would be on CNN that evening. A prophetic thought.
I found this quite amusing until I noticed the fellow across from me staring intently as he looked from the television monitor to us and back again. Then I realized the entire car was doing the same. One older gentleman rose and started to approach us when our stop arrived, and we hurried off onto the platform.
We had a good laugh about it all until we jumped into a taxi for a ride to the hotel and found the driver wearing a Soccer Jersey with the number 7 and the name BECKHAM emblazoned on the back.
That night in our room we watched the BBC for hours, endlessly seeing ourselves walk along with David Beckham. After that, CNN was kind enough to explain to us that his wife was a former Spice Girl and together they were more popular than the Royal Family.
In the morning I stepped outside to pick up our complimentary copy of the Daily Mail newspaper and there we were on the cover, just David and us. I have a copy of the Daily Mail as a souvenir, but the photo of us is so grainy our friends joke it is not really us at all. The story has made for endless dinner conversation, and I have wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Beckham have ever wondered, “Who were those people?”