Into the Unknown: David Beckham’s motorcycle diary
Too old to play in the World Cup, Becks sets off for the jungle. But is he really tired of fame?
Few men could be better placed to reflect on the nature of modern celebrity than David Beckham. Yet fewer still could spend so long on camera while providing so little in the way of insight.
'Into the Unknown' is built on an odd, paradoxical premise. Frustrated by the impositions of fame, Beckham and two old friends set out by motorbike to visit the Yanomami people, deep in the Amazonian jungle. They have no television and little contact with the outside world, and Beckham is confident that they will neither know nor care who he is.
"I haven't walked through a park in 15, 20 years without being recognised, without being chased, without being photographed,” he says.
And then, presumably by accident, he invades his own privacy by taking along a TV camera, filming the journey and handing all the footage to the BBC.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to begrudge Becks the pleasure he derives from being out in the wilds of Brazil. Even when torrential rain turns dirt roads into a deep and dangerous slog, the grin never leaves his face.
Like many before him, he says he is travelling to find himself. Beneath the truism, however, the psychology of his journey seems more complex.
For half the time he is actually trying to lose himself, seeking refuge from Brand Beckham in the anonymity of the jungle – but for the other half he clings dearly to the only adult life he has known.
"When I'm wearing a helmet no one knows who I am," he says, as he sets off to ride through Rio. Then, moments later, he spots a game of beach football, and he can't help ditching his helmet – and his anonymity – to join the starstruck young men for a kickaround.
His meeting with the lost tribe is equally self-defeating. To prove that they know nothing about football, Beckham has to talk to them about football. Having explained the game from first principles – which he does, by his own admission, badly – he tells them of his own playing career. Thus he can cross one more name off the list of places in which he can pass unknown.
In his defence, he seems to be motivated less by ego than by a mixture of habit and fear. Football and fame have directed his life for the past two decades, but now their hold on him is loosening – and he’s not yet ready to be let go.
When asked if he might buy a football club and turn out for the team, his answer is swift and revealing. "There's never been a player-owner," he says, with the certainty of someone who has checked.
But he knows that the game will soon be up. In a favela on the edge of Rio, a man asks Beckham if he will be playing in the World Cup. "No," he says ruefully, "I'm finished. Too old."
His answer may well provide the key to this rather odd documentary. Becks wanted one more World Cup, and this was as close as he could get.
David Beckham: Into the Unknown is available on the BBC iPlayer