Global football superstar David Beckham talks food, whisky and brand Beckham.
It’s nine in the evening at the intimate launch dinner for David Beckham’s new whisky venture, Haig Club, at The Kitchin in Leith, and a small group of friends and journalists are milling around drinking whisky aperitifs. Suddenly, the door opens, and a tanned, groomed Beckham walks in, personally greeting everyone with an assured smile and handshake.
Impeccably dressed, he declares how much he’s looking forward to dinner and clearly knows his stuff when it comes to dining out. It’s just over a year since Beckham retired from football, after a glittering career at Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and finally Paris Saint-Germain, not to mention his 115 caps for England. All that travelling gave him plenty of opportunity to visit some of the best restaurants in the world, and he lights up as he recalls his favourites when we meet the next day.
‘I’d have to say my favourite is L’Ami Louis in Paris,’ he enthuses. ‘It’s not too fancy, the atmosphere is great, typically French. When you walk in the waiters have white jackets and bowties, and it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a North Face jacket or a Chanel jacket, they fold it up and throw it onto the railing above the tables. Then the escargots and frogs legs are incredible, and they’re famous for their roast chicken. So you roll out of there, but I love the food.
‘French cuisine is great, but my favourite is Italian. There’s a restaurant in Parma that [former AC Milan football coach] Carlo Ancelotti took me to when I was playing in Milan, which makes the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. I’m not a huge ice cream fan, but once he’d taken me there I used to drive an hour-and-a-half to Parma to have it.’
Closer to home, his favourite haunts include La Petite Maison and the chef’s table at Maze – ‘I’m slightly biased obviously, with Gordon [Ramsay] being my good friend,’ he smiles. Also, unexpectedly, ‘I love the vibe of Bonnie Gull. I first went on a Sunday afternoon, and you can take your own bottle of wine on Sundays. It has a real social atmosphere.’
Knowing his strong friendship with Ramsay, and his interest in food, it was no surprise when he almost invested in the chef’s Italian-style Union Street Café (pictured left), which opened in 2013. While that partnership didn’t come to fruition, Beckham thinks he’d still like to open his own place someday. ‘I would like to, I wouldn’t want to do something that’s a huge franchise, I’d like something that’s really personal and small,’ he muses. ‘Being from the East End, something that’s always interested me is a pie and mash shop, really traditional with sawdust on the floor, wooden benches and tiles. Something along those lines interests me more than anything bigger. I don’t want anything too modern or traditional, I just want it to be great food.’
Since hanging up his boots, the 39-year-old father of four busies himself with ‘brand Beckham’, the reputation he and wife Victoria have built with help from Svengali entertainment manager Simon Fuller, who has worked with them since 1997.
Brand it like Beckham
From David alone we’ve had aftershaves and underwear deals with H&M, and now he’s launching Haig Club, a single-grain whisky, with drinks company Diageo.
‘Over the years I have had alcohol brands come to me and say “would you like to be involved?” and being a footballer, I never thought it was the right thing to do, until I retired,’ he explains.
‘Whisky is something that I was always interested in, but it scared me a little bit. I didn’t know enough about it, so when I heard about Haig, about the history and heritage behind it [Haig has a 400-year distilling history], it’s a really interesting concept.’
Beckham and Fuller have applied their branding nous to the product, and it is an unusual whisky in many ways – the blue square bottle looks much like that of an aftershave, and the liquid itself is a grain whisky, rather than most Scotches, which are usually made from malted barley.
Grain whisky is inherently lighter in flavour than malts, and Haig Club has a soft sweetness that Beckham says is ideal for newcomers to whisky, much like he is.
‘I’m not going to say I know everything about every single whisky out there. This is relatively new to me. Over the two-and-a-half years, I’ve grown into the position where I am learning about it. If you’re going to start somewhere with whisky, single grain – something very smooth, easy to drink – is a good starting point.’
And with that, he’s off, flying to Asia to continue the promotional whirl and no doubt eat at a few top restaurants along the way.
Haig Club is available at Selfridges priced at £44.99 for a 700ml bottle.