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A pair of stars, an L.A. sky, a happy Galaxy

The Beckhams -- a soccer icon and a former Spice Girl -- are leaving London for the lights of Hollywood.

January 12, 2007|Robin Abcarian, Scott Martelle and Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writers

Somehow, it was just meant to be.

International soccer star David Beckham -- perhaps equally famous hereabouts as the husband of former pop singer "Posh" Spice -- announced Thursday in Madrid that he has agreed to a five-year, potential $250-million deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, injecting a fresh shot of celebrity into a city where it is practiced as an art.

While Galaxy and Major League Soccer officials hope the deal will vault the American professional league into the global ranks, Londoners are feeling a sense of loss and local paparazzi are relishing the arrival of the photogenic jet-setters -- he of the constantly changing locks and quintessential metrosexual wardrobe, and she of the impossibly thin frame and penchant for shopping.

"It's like manifest destiny," said producer Peter Guber, the host of the TV entertainment talk show "Sunday Morning Shootout." "At a certain point in somebody's career, Hollywood is an inevitable stop on the journey. Whatever the luminosity of these celebrities in New York or England or Paris, they want to test it against the ultimate pop culture of Los Angeles."

It's not the first time a couple have come to Los Angeles to revive flagging careers, but few bring the star wattage of David and Victoria Beckham, the splashy English duo who have been making noise since 2003 about conquering America.

Their plan is gaining traction. The Galaxy said it had sold 2,000 season tickets in just a few hours after announcing the deal with Beckham. About 80% of Beckham's deal, according to a source familiar with the contract, will come from endorsements and image rights.

"Clearly, this will raise our profile overseas," Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said Thursday. "The amount of global media attention in the last week leading up to this, and certainly in the last 24 hours, has been more than this league has ever received in our 11-year history."

Beckham, who has played professionally for 15 years, first with Manchester United in England and for the past 3 1/2 years with Real Madrid in Spain, is in decline as a player but at 31 is still young enough to be a significant force for the Galaxy. Part of the reason he made this deal, sources said, was to prove to skeptics that he is not past his prime.

The move is reminiscent of the 1988 blockbuster trade that brought hockey great Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers. His first season in L.A. sparked a large increase in attendance in a city not known for its love of hockey. At the time, some critics claimed Gretzky, whose new wife, Janet, was an actress, joined the Kings to further her career. Unlike Beckham, however, the Great One was still at the top of his game.

Public interest in both Beckhams, particularly 32-year-old Victoria, is intense.

"I would say that since Princess Diana, in terms of selling newspapers, the only person who comes close is Victoria Beckham," said Victoria Newton, show business editor of the Sun, a London tabloid. "There's this kind of fascination about her. People either love her or they love to hate her, but they all love to read about her.... The chemistry between the two of them made them the power couple of London."

"It will be great for us," said Brandy Navarre, co-owner of X17 Inc., one of L.A.'s biggest celebrity photo agencies. By late Thursday morning, she had already met with the team of five photographers that she plans to assign to the Beckhams. Not that the couple will mind, added Navarre: "You don't come to Hollywood being as famous as they are looking to hide out and have a private life."

Meanwhile, the British tabloids are gearing up to spend a fortune with agencies such as X17, and some are even considering sending correspondents to Los Angeles. David Beckham is expected to start work in August for the Galaxy, whose season begins in April.

Recently, the Beckhams have been shopping for a home in the $20-million range in Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air, according to Kurt Rappaport of Westside Estate Agency in Beverly Hills. Before her husband signed his contract, said Bruce Nelson, another real estate agent who works those areas, Victoria had been looking in Malibu.

"I don't see them in Malibu," said Navarre of X17. "She is going to want to be near Beverly Hills."

Dubbed the "alternative royal family" by the English press, which covers them obsessively, the Beckhams married in a castle in Ireland and sat on thrones during the dinner. The media refer to their mansion as Beckingham Palace "because they're like kings and queens," Newton said.

Even though the couple have often been mocked by the British press for their overly flashy parties, their fake tans -- and, in her case, fake body parts -- London already feels a bit bereft, a feeling shared both by those dazzled by their status as style icons in a culture traditionally short on flash and glitz and those who relished making fun of them.

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