While living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that Hollywood A-listers drive the same routes, frequent the same coffee shops, and take their kids to parks just like you.
Last Friday I was trapped again at the local playground with Eloise, who was still not ready to go home. I felt the sting of the summer sun on my skin after hours of pushing her on the swings, spotting her on the monkey bars, and acting as her sled on the hot slide. Three minutes into our final five she overheard an English accent from across the climbing wall. I turned towards the voice and could only see arms covered in tattoos and a baseball cap.
“I’m still waiting on my parcel, darling,” he lightly teased his daughter of their ongoing imaginary play.
He looked up, and I found myself staring straight at David Beckham. I tried to mask my bewilderment while elated expletives screamed in my head. Eloise was subconsciously concerned about the pain he had to endure for all his tattoos, but refrained from commenting as she did not want to hurt his feelings.
“Go and tell him you were born in England, and that you used to have a British accent,” I coaxed. She took the bait and walked straight up to Beckham.
“Um, excuse me. Do you know I was born in England? I used to have an accent, but now I do not,” she declared with two hands on her hips. He looked across to me and smiled. I was in utter disbelief. Their conversation was interrupted as a mother asked for a photograph of him with her kids.
Unlike me, Eloise lost interest in the Englishman quicker than her persuit. She began to engage with a bubbly toddler. Two minutes later, the toddler found a loose pebble more interesting than Eloise, so my daughter walked back to Beckham and asked if he would like to play tag.
“Do I want to play tag?” he asked. “I think I must pass, but I bet Harper would love to play if you ask.”
Beckham and I watched our daughters chase each other around the playground. I focused on keeping my wobbly knees steady and tried to think of something casual to say to one of the world’s most recognized athletes.
Beckham has met the Queen numerous times. He and Victoria attended the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. In 2012, he conjured up a James Bond mystique when he delivered the Olympic torch to London’s opening ceremony via speedboat. He rubs shoulders with politicians, actors and activists, and has a net worth more than some countries. I tried to conceal my awe of these social ties by keeping the conversation light and focused on our kids.
“Your daughter is a fast runner! I think she might have a slight advantage over mine,” I said.
“Perhaps. She has three older brothers,” he replied.
“And a world class athlete for a father,” I thought, but refrained from verbalizing. I assumed he arrived to the park after 5pm in hopes he could just be dad, and not make small talk with strangers.
As they moved to the other side of the playground, he graciously posed for more photos while his daughter patiently waited for the return of her father’s full attention. This was their norm, and I found it all too surreal. I twirled Eloise around the vertigo spinner and tried to slow the thoughts spinning in my head. I could not stop thinking about all the people he had met and the life experiences he enjoys thanks to fame and fortune.
Eloise’s request for more twirls in the spinner bowl brought my wandering thoughts back to the playground. David was whirling his daughter in the bowl, so I persuaded Eloise to swing and allow them a minute of belly laughs before another fan approached for a photo.
Beckham and his daughter soon joined us on the swings, and Eloise asked, “What is your daughter’s name?”
“Well, I’m David. And this is Harper,” he answered. “And what is your name?”
“Eloise. E-L-O-I-S-E. I’m 4. Watch me…. wheeeee!” she replied and stretched her legs towards the sky.
David stood in front of Harper and her feet bumped his chest. He feigned pain, likely the same way he use to prompt a penalty kick on the football pitch. Harper found this hilarious and begged him to do it over and over again. And so he did. Eloise tried to take a jab at his chest by lunging her swing to the right. I was relieved when after a few tries she ceased the side attack.
“How’s living in LA?” I asked. “Do you ever enjoy five minutes without someone recognizing you or asking for a photograph or signature?”
“Not very often,” he shrugged. “But I guess that is just part of it.”
After a few minutes more of play and requested photos, it was time for them to go. He helped Harper mount her pink bike. Her bicycle’s basket was filled with baby dolls and other treasures, just like Eloise’s own. With one hand steadying Harper’s bike, he waved a quick goodbye to me with the other. I smiled and returned the wave, pleased to have met David Beckham simply as a parent like me.
Do I have a photo of Beckham and me or Eloise with Beckham? No, I don’t. I chose not to ask. Instead, it was pure serendipity, a pleasant surprise that will forever be imprinted on my mind, and a fun childhood memory to share over the years with Eloise. I realised again that the cameras are always rolling here in Hollywood. And while most follow a screenplay, some of the best stories are the ones left unscripted.
I would never complain about the position I’m in or the attention I get. At the end of the day, I’m very lucky to have what I have and do what I do, but I don’t see myself as any different from anyone else who works hard and is a dad and a husband. -David Beckham