David Beckham, 48, is almost as famous for his talent on the soccer field as for his changing hairstyles. From mohawks to ponytails and a bleached buzzcut to curtains, he’s tried just about everything. But there is only one style that he regrets: cornrows.
The former Real Madrid player appeared with cornrows in a 2003 soccer match in South Africa, where he met the esteemed former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. Now, two decades later, he has confessed that he regrets the look. Since then, other celebrities who have sported cornrows, such as Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry, have been accused of cultural appropriation.
In an interview with the British tabloid The Sun, Beckham explained that he had the hairdo done on a whim while on holiday with his wife, Victoria Beckham, in the south of France. “We were there with family and one of Victoria’s friends who is a hairdresser,” he said. “I asked if she could do something with my hair and she said, ‘Do you want cornrows?’ and I said, ‘Yeah. I don’t know what they are. But yeah’. It was painful having them done but I liked them.”
“People ask if I have any regrets about my hairstyles, and while I don’t regret any of them, I do sort of regret the cornrows,” he confessed. Beckham explained that he had them put in on a Sunday, and flew to South Africa two days later.
“I got to meet the great Nelson Mandela. And the picture that I’ve got of Nelson Mandela is me holding his hand with cornrows in my hair. That’s my only regret,” he said.
In a 2018 interview with the Australian TV program The Sunday Project in 2018, he also lamented the hairstyle. “There was also one photo I have of meeting Nelson Mandela with cornrows,” Beckham recalled. “There I was with one of the greatest and inspirational men, and I’ve got cornrows!”
When journalists asked the late Mandela in 2003 what he thought of the soccer star’s look, he laughed: “I’m too old to express an opinion on this latest development.”
In 2019, the soccer player’s son Romeo chose to imitate the look. In an Instagram story, the teenager — the second son of David and Victoria Beckham — posted a photo of his father with cornrows next to a photo of himself with the same hairstyle. “Who wore it better?” he asked in the post, which included a poll. Shortly after sharing the story, 70% of voters had chosen Romeo. Given David Beckham’s regret over the look, it’s unlikely he was upset at losing.
When Beckham was still playing soccer professionally, his style was often the subject of conversations and even the source of conflict. When a high school student wore his Beckham-style locks to class, he was expelled from his school.
Beckham, who has been dubbed a U.K. cultural icon, has always chosen big occasions to debut new looks. For example, when receiving the Order of the British Empire from the late Queen Elizabeth II — a medal awarded to people who have made major contributions to the country — he sported a slicked-back bun. And at the 2021 FIFA awards ceremony, where he was named the best soccer player of the year, he had a completely shaved head.
For Beckham, who has achieved great professional success in the business world since retiring, reinvention is key.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition