On the Road With David Beckham, Who’s Happy to Have a Pint Anywhere in the World

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

Few people on earth travel as often as professional athletes. With On the Road, the GQ Sports Travel Questionnaire, they’re weighing in on everything from room service to flying comfortably to their favorite chain restaurants.

It’s nice to be David Beckham. There’s the stellar soccer career, the beautiful family, and recently, the wildly popular Netflix documentary that only increased his worldwide fame and adoration. Now that he’s a global brand ambassador for Stella Artois, the Englishman also has easy access to all the pints he can drink.

Calling in from London earlier this month, Becks loaned some perspective on a life of international travel and the flashbulb moments that mean the most to him. There’s been World Cups, moves to Madrid, and countless paparazzi shots in both UK and American tabloids. One thing that’s been a constant during Beckham’s nearly 30-year run in the spotlight? A whole lot of beer.

Beckham enjoying a pint at a Heat-Nets game at Barclays Center in 2013

Celebrities Attend The Miami Heat Vs Brooklyn Nets Game - November 1, 2013

Beckham enjoying a pint at a Heat-Nets game at Barclays Center in 2013
James Devaney

You grew up in London. What were your first impressions of Manchester when you moved there as a teenager to join United?

I am from the east end of London, and back in the day it wasn’t common for people from London to support Manchester United. But my dad was a huge United fan, so from a very young age, I always supported United. When I got scouted by someone in Manchester, I never thought it was going to happen because Manchester is three and a half hours up the moat. But they came to one of my games, were impressed, and obviously took me out to Manchester.

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I love London, that’s my home, but I wanted to play for Manchester United. Simple as that. At 15 years old I moved out of my mom and dad’s house and stayed in Manchester until I was 27. That was such a great time to be living there. Manchester in the ‘90s? You had Oasis coming through, The Stone Roses were coming through, the music culture at the [famous nightclub] Hacienda—I said in the documentary that I never really went to Hacienda that much—but that was all I cared about. I was doing what I wanted to do, and I was doing it with a club that was my club. It didn’t really get much better than that.

How would you explain the cultural differences between northern and southern England to an American?

Well, it’s hard. I love both places, so it’s hard to be critical or define what the difference is. I suppose at the time, moving out of London for me—everybody in London is hard working, but in Manchester it’s more normal. Even though I just described it as a party scene, Manchester is a lot smaller so I was really playing for a club that felt like family. When I moved up, the first thing that I get labeled as is a flash Cockney. I’m Cockney, but I’m not flash!

That’s what people in Manchester used to call Londoners. I think that humble and hardworking side of Manchester was exactly what I needed at that time. It took me away from the party scene and going out with mates on the weekend.

What do you remember about your first World Cup experience in France in 1998 and seeing that whole spectacle for the first time?

My first memory of the World Cup was in ‘82 actually, watching at home with my dad. But my first experience in 1998, I was 23. It started good and then didn’t end so well. I had played every game up until the tournament and then got left out of the first couple games. But when I came into the third game against Colombia, it was my mom’s birthday. That was a special day: first start in the World Cup and my first goal in the World Cup. As a player, it doesn’t get bigger and better than that. Then, obviously, the game after was Argentina and all of that happened. [In the game against Argentina, Beckham received a red card and was ejected. England then lost in a penalty shootout and was eliminated from the tournament.]

The next one, in 2002, was in Korea and Japan. Had you ever been to either country before?

I had been, because playing for Manchester United, we did a lot of preseason tours. The Asian market was massive for Manchester United. Going to a World Cup there was unbelievable. I also went into that World Cup trying to get myself fit, because I had broken my foot. Four years on from the previous World Cup that ended the way it ended, we came up against Argentina again, and I scored the goal that beat them. That was a special moment. A lot had happened in those four years.

I remember arriving with a mohawk that had a blonde streak going through the middle. I think I’d had it for about a week, so people knew that I had that haircut, but all of a sudden you’ve got granddads who are 60 years old with the same haircut. Dads were carrying their five-year-old kids, and they’ve got the same haircut! It was kind of amazing.

I remember it well. At that time it was you and then it was Brazilian Ronaldo with his little tuft of hair.

I love Ronaldo, he’s one of my closest friends. But even I was like, I don’t know if I can pull that hair off. It seemed to suit him, though!

The Ronaldo haircut in question


The Ronaldo haircut in question
-/Getty Images

At that point, also, you’re one of the most famous people in the world. Did you have any strategies for not getting noticed in public?

It’s kind of hard for me to walk around with a disguise, because everyone knows my tattoos. I’ve got tattoos everywhere. People know the hair. But everyone is so nice when I’m out and about. People are very respectful, so it’s never an issue. There was one time I tried to go out in disguise. I only had my eyes showing. I’m not lying about this! I got out of the car and was walking along. Some kid looked up and went, “Beckham!” Literally only had my eyes showing.

When you joined Real Madrid in 2003, how much did the actual city of Madrid factor into your decision? Did you want to live somewhere that had a little vibrancy?

Well, to be honest, that decision was kind of made for me. Manchester United wanted to sell me. They felt it was right for me to move on at that moment. I had to really make a decision very quickly. I think they had some kind of agreement with Barcelona at the time. As much as I love that city and think they’re an amazing club, I wanted to go to Real Madrid. Once I knew I wasn’t staying at United, I spoke to the president of Real Madrid and he literally said to me, “Do you want to be a Real Madrid player?” I said yes. He said, “Okay, done.” Within 24 hours I was on a plane.

Living in Madrid was amazing. I love the culture there. It took me a while to get used to the late-night eating. But I love the way of life there and the people were incredible. They treated me unbelievably well. And my Spanish is actually okay! It took me a minute to get up and running, I can’t lie. It’s more outside of the pitch and feeling integrated into the city and the country more than anything else. Once you’re on the field, you don’t really need to speak any language other than football.

Beckham showcasing one of his many hairstyles while playing for Madrid in 2003

When you think back on everywhere that you’ve been, which places feel the most improbable to you? What are the ones that make you think, I never ever thought life would bring me here?

Pretty recently I went to India for the first time. It was a place I'd wanted to go for a long time, but my career had never taken me there. I spent six days—two days in Gujarat for a UNICEF project, which was so beautiful—then the other days in Mumbai, which is chaotic but incredible. Everybody treated us so well there. It’s actually one of my biggest social media followings!

I’ve been to Argentina, Brazil, Australia. I also went to Nepal a few years back. I do travel a lot all around the world for business, but in all honesty, I love London. Wherever I am, if I’ve got my family with me, I’m happy.

What’s at the top of your list for places you want to go but haven’t been yet?

There’s not many. I’d like to go somewhere like Peru or Chile. I’ve never been there. We’ll see what happens!

How did this partnership with Stella come together?

You know, I’m actually really excited. When we had the initial conversations with Stella, it was all about creating an authentic partnership. I think they probably got the idea from the documentary, honestly, because in one of the last scenes I’m stood there singing with my wife and a pint of beer.

Everyone was talking about that scene. Everyone saw that I was with the kids and my wife, having a laugh. Those are the moments you want to spend with your family. It’s about genuine moments. People know how much I love my family and friends. I travel around the world a lot, and those moments are very important to me. I’m in partnership with good people and a great brand. It also fits my lifestyle! I’m English. I like a pint from time to time. There’s a lot of good pubs around London. But I do drink responsibly!

When you find yourself in a new location—maybe having a pint or two—does that feeling ever get old? Are you tired of travel at all?

No, you know what? It’s one of the things I've always loved. I get to see great places and meet great people. People do say to me, “You travel so much. You must be tired!” But I think it’s the travel that actually gives me energy. When you do find a moment to yourself or with friends and family and you’re sat there with a pint (or half a pint), those moments are the most precious for me. We all know life goes by so quickly. So no, I’m not fed up with travel. I’m happy to travel anywhere and sit and have a pint.

Sometimes I’ll say, “That pint tasted different in that country than it did in this country.” But Stella tastes great all over the world.

Originally Appeared on GQ