There is probably nothing more futile for a celebrity to attempt than changing their name.
For millions of us, despite their best efforts to the contrary, Puff Daddy is still Puff Daddy, Prince is still Prince and Posh Spice will forever be Posh Spice.
So I can’t have been alone in doing something of a double take when I saw the headlines declaring that Victoria Beckham—I’m trying here—was at the U.N. last week, addressing that mighty body on HIV issues.
For Posh has been named the new Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS, the U.N.’s HIV charity, and will be campaigning on HIV issues on behalf of the U.N.
Is she an expert on AIDS? Decidedly not. And at a press conference in New York on Thursday, she addressed potential critics on that score head on by saying that the reason behind her appointment was simply because, “For some reason people will listen to me.”
She has a point.
As depressing as it may be that even an allegedly sober and bureaucratic body like the U.N. is a card-carrying member of the cult of celebrity worship, the reality is that while the percentage of adults infected with HIV in southern Africa is rapidly approaching (and in places exceeds) 25 percent, the vast majority of the rest of the world steadfastly refuses to care.
Can Victoria change that? Maybe. The U.N. has actually been using “celebrity ambassadors” with sometimes positive results since the 1950s, when the Broadway star Danny Kaye was recruited to promote children’s rights.
Since then, a seemingly endless parade of stars have been buttonholed by the U.N. to highlight various issues.
Muhammed Ali campaigned on poverty, Michael Douglas on small arms control and Victoria’s erstwhile bandmate Geri “Sporty Spice” Halliwell promoted safe sex to teenage girls in the Philippines—where the Spice Girls were even more famous than they ever were at home. Fergie almost landed a U.N. role until the offer was swiftly dropped, amid rumours both of pressure from Buckingham Palace.
I’m not convinced, personally, that the charms of Posh Spice are exactly what is needed to make the world care about the HIV epidemic again, but journalism can make a cynic of anyone. I hope she can prove me wrong, and hats off to her for trying.
But what is not in doubt is that being appointed a U.N. goodwill ambassador is yet another remarkable staging post on Posh’s extraordinary journey from middle-class girl-next-door to global icon.
Victoria Adams was born to middle-class parents in the affluent county of Hertfordshire. Like millions of other girls around the world, she decided she wanted to be a performer after becoming addicted to the series Fame.
Unlike the rest of us, she actually did it.
In 1993, at the age of 19, she saw an advertisement in the UK theatrical paper The Stage looking for girls who were “street smart, extrovert, ambitious and able to sing and dance” which ultimately led to the creation of the Spice Girls. The group’s first single was called “Wannabe” and went to No. 1 in the United Kingdom and United States—and another 29 countries to boot. It was the July 1996 issue of the British music magazine Top of the Pops which gave the girls their monikers.
By the time they hung up their Union Jack dresses in 2000, the Spice Girls had sold over 55 million records worldwide.
And while Spices Scary, Sporty, Ginger and Baby drifted into a life of post-pop flotsam, it turned out that the Spice Girls was only the first act of Posh’s story.
She married the most celebrated English footballer of his generation, David Beckham, in 1999, and as a result of a decade and a half of canny marketing, including a significant stint spent living and working in America, the couple’s joint wealth is now estimated at a staggering £380 million.
Posh is the brains behind the business. David is lovely, but, people who have worked with him have told me over the years, a bit thick.
Slightly to everyone’s surprise, Posh has been extremely successful with her “Victoria Beckham” label, which has found favor with the fashion world, and she opened her first eponymous store in London last week—Victoria missed the grand opening to be at the U.N., so David went along in her place.
The Dover Street store is a dream in polished concrete, where the cheapest item on sale is a silver Victoria Beckham embossed keyring, ringing up at a very spicy £165.
Despite the profusion of products, the star—as the U.N. clearly knows—will always be Posh herself.
And if Posh really can help reduce the incidence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, then even Angeline Jolie herself will be forced to sit up and take note.