Last Sunday was the third and final day of Victoria Beckham’s extended 46th birthday celebrations. Already she had enjoyed a ‘virtual’ party hosted by a celebrity DJ friend and broadcast on Instagram, and had a chocolate cake which she had also proudly displayed on her favourite social media platform. The day was supposed to happy one, perhaps accompanied by more posted images of Happy Family Beckham toasting the former Spice Girl with their favourite £2,000-a-bottle red wine.
Only things didn’t quite go as planned.
The Beckhams may have been lucky enough to have decamped from their £31 million home in Holland Park, West London, to enjoy the country sunshine at their luxury barn conversion in the Cotswolds, but their morning was soon interrupted by panicky phone calls from their public relations and management teams.
The cause of the furore was The Mail on Sunday’s front-page revelation that Victoria Beckham had furloughed 30 staff at her struggling fashion label, despite having a staggering family fortune of £335 million.
Without doubt, the Beckhams’ carefully – and expensively – cultivated public image was damaged by the fact that with thousands of people dying, and millions of livelihoods at risk, this hugely wealthy woman was taking advantage of a Government emergency scheme to claim what was estimated to be tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
Victoria Beckham demanded to know why there was such a fuss about her use of the furlough scheme which Chancellor Rishi Sunak had said was intended as a lifeline for Britain’s struggling businesses
With a perverse sense of victimhood, a ‘furious and stressed’ Mrs Beckham demanded to know why there was such a fuss about her use of a scheme which Chancellor Rishi Sunak had said was intended as a lifeline for Britain’s struggling businesses which had ‘done nothing wrong but are watching their finances fall off a cliff’.
Many will think it was not meant for a small luxury fashion brand which has racked up about £35 million of losses since it was founded in 2008, or for a woman whose family business empire paid £38 million to its owners, despite its own near-90 per cent fall in profits, in November.
So the mood on Sunday was ‘dreadfully tense,’ according to a source. ‘There were many crisis calls to discuss how they should react. It would be no exaggeration to say Victoria was sulking. She is used to David being criticised but other than some light ribbing for not being able to sing very well, or never smiling, she has never come under scrutiny like this.’
Make no mistake, it was a very bad day for Brand Beckham. Perhaps the worst day since leaked emails revealed that former England captain David had bad-mouthed the Honours Committee as ‘a bunch of c***s’ when told his possible knighthood had been blocked. It followed claims that HM Revenue & Customs had suggested he had been involved in a controversial form of lawful tax avoidance.
She had furloughed 30 staff at her struggling fashion label, despite having a staggering family fortune of £335 million
And it didn’t help when it emerged that Mrs Beckham’s reaction was that it was ‘the worst week of her life’. But, of course, in the self-obsessed celebrity world, priorities are always different.
So how should Brand Beckham play this latest crisis? Amid the blizzard of PR advice, it seems no one suggested she should announce that her decision to furlough her staff and take taxpayers’ money was a mistake and that she should reconsider. Instead, it was all about superficial image issues.
The advice was to hold back on any more boastful Instagram posts of the Beckhams’ luxury lifestyle.
There were none last Sunday, nor have there been any since.
Quite a surprise for Victoria’s 28 million followers.
In previous days, there had been a constant supply, with the couple making public videos of themselves baking or designing tie-dye T-shirts with their daughter Harper.
Even their weekly ritual of posting videos of themselves clapping for NHS staff every Thursday night was ditched as they attempted to ride out the storm by using the well-worn showbusiness tactic of keeping your head down and hoping things will pass.
But the storm didn’t pass. It just got more fierce. Comedian Ricky Gervais ‘liked’ a comment on social media which said: ‘The f****** Beckhams, sorry I’m done with them now. Shame on them.’
And then Piers Morgan weighed in after the Beckham family spokesman justified the decision to get taxpayers to fork out 80 per cent of the wages for 30 of her staff by saying: ‘Having assessed all our options, we made the decision to furlough a proportion of staff on an enhanced package.’
He said Victoria’s business was only a vanity project, adding: ‘Lost money year after year. Been bailed out by her famously rich husband David Beckham. Sorry, this furlough scheme was not for prima donna millionaires like you.’
Even now, Victoria is not prepared to backtrack on using the scheme, which will save her £225,000 at the very most. I am told that her team discussed whether the company should resist taking taxpayers’ money but ‘it was decided the story would drag on for longer if they took that route, so they opted to continue in the hope that it would soon be forgotten’.
It emerged that Mrs Beckham’s reaction to criticism of her decision to furlough staff at her struggling fashion label was that it was ‘the worst week of her life’
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that Victoria and her team, led by chief executive Marie LeBlanc de Reynies, may have misunderstood the principle behind the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The rules state that firms can only claim under the scheme if they ‘cannot maintain their current workforce because their operations have been severely affected by coronavirus’.
But Mrs Beckham’s fashion house – which sells dresses for £1,500 – is still actively hunting for staff.
One retail executive told how she received a call from a London branch of recruitment company Hays to see if she was interested in a brand manager role at the label. The starting salary would be £80,000, though she was told it could be pushed up to around £100,000. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: ‘How can you justify taking money from the Government to furlough staff but then offer someone a big salary, potentially a six-figure one?’
The Beckhams deny that such a job has been offered to anyone. Until Thursday, the company was recruiting on the website LinkedIn for a social media manager to ‘design and create compelling social content across multiple channels and platforms.’ The salary is estimated to be between £36,000 and £56,000.
Piers Morgan weighed in on Twitter and said Victoria’s business was only a vanity project, adding: ‘Lost money year after year. Been bailed out by her famously rich husband David Beckham. Sorry, this furlough scheme was not for prima donna millionaires like you.’
After our story last weekend, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was questioned about it on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. He replied: ‘Each person and each company should ask themselves, do they have to rely on the tax bed, because the scheme is meant to be if you’re about to make someone redundant and you haven’t got the money to continue to employ them, then you can rely on the Government to stop people being made redundant. The principle is you should only be using it if you have to.’
Meanwhile, on Twitter, the brickbats continued all week with a hashtag #boycottthebeckhams.
Eventually, it seems, the backlash got too much for Victoria. As well as her PR people admitting it had been her ‘worst week’, despite her birthday, a friend revealed: ‘She’s really upset and doesn’t think it’s fair that she’s getting slammed for something a lot of companies and businesses are doing.’
The truth is that those close to the Beckhams and their business affairs believe that never before has their brand been in such a precarious place.
The launch of David’s US football club, Inter Miami, has left the couple in a quandary over whether to stay in Britain or move to Florida. But it is Victoria’s ever-failing fashion business that is at the forefront of their minds.
David and Victoria took part in the One World broadcast which celebrated health workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic
It has never recorded a profit, and Victoria and her team are anticipating having to announce yet more crippling losses in October. In the past, the company has been propped up with regular handouts from David, whose business DB Ventures has always been much more lucrative. Despite being advised to close her flagship store in Mayfair, Victoria refuses. ‘It’s her baby, her pride and joy,’ said one friend. Inevitably there is talk in the fashion world that the business won’t survive much longer. Without doubt, the chances have reduced dramatically since the coronavirus crisis.
Other factors have been at play too. Last year she split from Simon Fuller, the entertainment mogul responsible for creating Brand Beckham. He had helped launch her fashion label – a dream she had had since childhood.
After more than a year of wrangling, both she and David extracted themselves from him to run their businesses themselves. Ever since, there have been staffing issues, with the couple each losing their long-term PR gurus and new recruits in quick succession.
David’s most recent PR girl, Izzi May, a close friend of Meghan Markle, left his company on Friday amid rumours of a falling out, though she denies that is the case.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s spokesman, Bella Blenkinsopp, has also handed in her notice to take up a senior position at social media phenomenon TikTok. In her place, Nicola Howson, a former ITV publicist and spokesman for actor Kevin Spacey, has been drafted in to work for both Victoria Beckham Limited and David, whose business is now run by best friend David Gardner.
Despite these rescue attempts, having ditched the man who made them their millions and scored the biggest own goal of their career over Victoria’s furlough application, there is no doubt Brand Beckham is suddenly in severe crisis.