We should be proud of the Beckhams

It is time to celebrate a great British success story, exemplifying grace, dignity and humour when such things are in short supply. Politicians may be fleecing the system, BBC executives may be growing plump on public money, the Royal Family may be playing the property market with the help of the Crown Estates, but one great national institution remains utterly reliable: the Beckham marriage has reached its 10th anniversary.

Since that moment when, a decade ago, David Beckham and Victoria Adams sat on a throne and, at their OK! magazine-sponsored wedding, were declared man and wife, they have in effect been king and queen in that strange virtual country inhabited by celebrities. Other famous people have come and gone, succumbing to the crazy pressures and temptations of 21st century fame, but the Beckhams have gone from strength to strength. Their lifestyle may not be to everyone’s taste but their achievements are considerable.

For a start, they have not gone mad; that is not the small claim that it may appear. The world in which the Beckhams move is glitzy, superficial and, above all, profoundly nasty. The rewards offered by fame may be great but, with crazed adoration and curiosity, there is cruelty. Goading, prurient gossip about decline and public humiliation are what drives the celebrity business forward.

Some of those caught up in it retire exhausted; others hit out. Some of the most famous morph weirdly from victor to victim, giving the press what it longs for above all else – a tear-soaked final act. It is enormously to their credit that, should David or Victoria Beckham die tomorrow, there would be nothing of the hysterically empathetic grief accorded to Princess Diana, Jade Goody or Michael Jackson.

The Beckhams have not shared their pain. They do not belong to the people. When things have gone wrong, as they have, they have not blubbed on camera. It is rare and valuable, that capacity to keep a dignified distance between the personal and the public.

Some would say they have survived in a plastic, fake world because they are half-human media creatures themselves. Yet there is more to it than that. Through all the madness and the money-making, the branding and the posing in underwear, they have miraculously managed to remain themselves. David Beckham is still an international footballer, in spite of his career having been written off by the experts several times over. Victoria Beckham has built a career in fashion out of a fragile talent.

It is easy to sneer at these people and the celebrity circus to which they belong but, to millions of people, they matter. The Beckhams have done something significant and old-fashioned with this power: they have set an example. He has shown passion on the pitch and good sense off it, has been commendably patriotic and has helped to break down gender stereotypes. Mocked on camera or in the press, they have smiled through, knowing it is all part of public life.

Many a person born and educated in privilege has failed where the Beckhams have succeeded. They represent the best qualities of good, ordinary people in Britain, and we should be proud of them.