Opinion: Beckhams' litigation feeds the media fire

Never mind the talent, money and the designer togs, apart from a few star-struck teenage football fans, I suspect that few of us would wish to be in David Beckham's boots at the moment - or Victoria's for that matter. In their situation, the instinct of most individuals would probably be to go to ground, keep their heads low and wait for the storm to blow over. As all PROs know, media archives may run deep but the daily news agenda soon moves on.

But the Beckhams are not most people. They have almost grown up in the media spotlight and garnered a fortune from living every aspect of their life in the glare of the media - a sort of two-person reality show. So instead of doing what comes naturally, the Beckhams are of course prolonging the agonising speculation about the state of their marriage by suing their former nanny Abigail Gibson, having previously failed to gag her damaging allegations.

Yes, there are principles to defend, and there is money to be made both by litigants, lawyers and even the new breed of very successful litigation PROs, but at what cost? Cases of celebrities resorting to court abound and even where the legal outcome was in their favour, the PR fallout was often far less so. Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, for example, may have won their privacy case against Hello!, but aspects of it, including Zeta Jones' dismissive comments that £1m didn't represent a great deal of money to the couple, didn't go down well with the couple's fan base.

In fact, the urge to pursue legal action often seems downright wilful.

When you consider the level of control that celebrities often seek to exert over media interviews, it seems perverse that they would be willing to take the stand and endure cross-examination and the attendant media coverage that this guarantees.

Chris Evans' decision a few years back to hit back at his previous employer Virgin, for example, gave the media a cast-iron excuse to examine all his previous misdemeanours and misjudgments. And Justice Lightman's summing up amounted to little less than a character assassination and was obviously delivered with one eye on the media.

So what do the Beckhams have to look forward to? Between now and when the case goes to court in December, the Beckhams' private life will be subject to sustained attack and repeated focus on previous allegations.

And the media are no doubt salivating over the prospect of what will be revealed when the Beckhams take the stand. Their PR advisers are going to be as busy as their lawyers.

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