PARIS — In London, the paparazzi hunt in packs, as David Beckham and other celebrities know well. When Beckham moved to Los Angeles, high-speed road chases by photographers were the norm until a Hollywood star became governor and set a few ground rules. The Parisians – soon to have the star in their midst, playing for soccer club Paris-Saint Germain – catch their prey from a distance, equipped with long lenses all the better to see you with.
Three different cities, all feeding a public hungry for celebrities in their own ways.
As the Beckham phenomenon takes on the City of Light, the PSG store was selling jerseys already bearing his name and people were speculating about where he might live.
His wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girl turned fashion designer, is staying behind in Britain but expected to pay frequent visits to the world capital for haute couture.
Games that were already sold out to a Parisian audience are likely to get more global recognition.
“Everybody knows David Beckham intimately. ... It’s not Beckham, the flesh-and-blood Beckham, it’s the Beckham in our own imagination. But then again that’s what celebrities are, aren’t they? Products of our own imaginations,” said Ellis Cashmore, a sociologist at Britain’s Staffordshire University who writes about celebrity, sports and media.
Beckham might have to reacquaint himself with the intrusions of European paparazzi, Cashmore said. In 2007, when Beckham joined the Los Angeles Galaxy and moved to California with his family, he said he once counted 47 cameras following him. It got so bad that when he was a guest on Jay Leno’s show, Beckham apologized for the craziness in the neighborhood the two men shared.
Leno said he knew something was up when the photographers kept waving him along, hoping instead for a glimpse of Beckham. But the soccer player said Los Angeles wasn’t nearly as bad as London.
“So far the paparazzi have actually been really kind to us,” he told Leno at the time. “In England we’ve got a problem at the moment where 15- or 16-year-old children are given cameras and being told to get whatever shot they can.”
Two years later under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who knew about the problem firsthand, California passed a law that targeted celebrity photographers and their reckless driving.
“Beckham has obviously lived in that environment and probably got used to living without paparazzi but he’s going to have to get used to them all over again I imagine now because they will be following his every movement in Europe. But I’m guessing he’s quite comfortable with that,” said Cashmore, who wrote the book “Beckham.”
But where British celebrity photographers are known for swarming a star on the street, the French tend to keep their distance and stay undercover.
“We function in a different way,” said a French photographer who covered Beckham’s arrival in Paris on Thursday and saw the difference firsthand. The photographer refused to be named, saying his job depended upon remaining incognito. “Discretion allows us to get images that are a little more interesting.”
The 1997 death of Princess Diana, killed in a Paris car wreck as her driver raced away from pursuing photographers was a major turning point for some in the profession, especially in a shocked France.
And it was long-distance discretion in the south of France that snared the former Kate Middleton, who was snapped sunbathing topless in a villa the royal family had thought to be safely private for the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband Prince William, Diana’s son.
The French photographer said the British paparazzi were perfectly able to manage in Paris nonetheless, especially with someone like Beckham who “plays the game.”
“If there was a French player who went to London, we’d be a bit lost,” he added.
Paris isn’t Los Angeles, the mother lode for celebrity photographers. Or even London, which has the royal family and – of course – all the Beckhams but one.
Beckham won’t be the only Angeleno transplanted to the banks of the Seine. It was announced last week that Natalie Portman and her husband, the French dancer Benjamin Millepied, will move to Paris in 2014 from Los Angeles.