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TV review: David Beckham goes into the unknown

David Beckham is free. Retired from the game and with nothing to worry about except posing in tight white pants, he has grabbed a rucksack and run off to the Amazon to rough it where no-one knows him.

You could say Brazil on the eve of the World Cup is a disingenuous choice for a footballer seeking peace, but maybe the BBC wouldn't fork out for the Galapagos whose resident tortoises are surely the only creatures on the planet unlikely to nudge one another and go 'aye, there's your David Beckham.'

So, this documentary follows him and his friends - and he stresses these are true friends and not camp followers - as they ditch the wives and the Bentley Continentals to travel through Brazil on muddy motorbikes.

But if the pals had fantasised about tearing heroically down a dusty highway on a growling motorbike they were soon disappointed. The camera captured them as they revved, wobbled, skidded and toppled in the Amazonian mud. Then came the difficult crossing of the pesky river itself, and the bike dream became a pipe dream, turning into a messy succession of bikes and boats and bikes on boats.

Beckham confessed he is always happy when on his motorbike. He says he craves the anonymity the helmet offers and maybe he relishes going so fast that the hot hands of the autograph hunters can't clutch him.

He was happier still when the gang stopped at a dim little store on the edge of the rainforest and he realised not one single person knew him. He turned to the camera with a look of true delight on his face, and the delight only rose further when he saw they had Super Noodles on the shelf.

When they ventured deep into the rainforest there were some uncomfortable moments. In the darkness, someone yelped when they spotted a 'big ass frog' eyeing them from a tree and then, by torchlight, they almost stepped onto a fat anaconda. When someone piped up to ask how long the trek will take, the guide scoffs 'here in the Amazon you don't talk about hours!'

Throughout the journey, David Beckham never appeared as a spoilt celebrity or silly rich boy - and maybe he isn't. Perhaps he is genuinely nice and decent and this was a surprise to me! I only hear of footballers when they're on trial for assault, so how nice it was to see Beckham (he's the main one, isn't he?) speaking to the camera about his hopes for his children and how he misses his wife and how he taught himself to cook as a young 'un living alone in Manchester. By the end of the programme I sounded like the old women from Father Ted, saying again and again 'ah, isn't he lovely!'

His humility showed when he gladly surrendered his hat to the tribal chief who had indicated he, as the leader, should be wearing it. He lifted it off his head without hesitation, without grumbling and certainly without texting his PR people to demand a new hat be sent down by seaplane immediately. He was humbler still when he tried to explain to the tribe what he does for a living. He stood amidst a crowd of women who were hacking and chopping at crops, whilst toddlers worked alongside them with carving knives in their tiny fists, and he tried to say, with a straight face, that he kicks a football for a living. His efforts ended in an appropriate silence.

This was a pleasant documentary although, running at 90 minutes, it was far too long. And if you are curious about life in Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup then the BBC's Welcome to Rio programmes are infinitely superior. However, this didn't have the lofty aim of examining poverty or the drug barons or the rainforest: it was just about David Beckham having a splendid, old-fashioned boy's adventure and so most of the film was given over to him revving his motorbike in red mud and wading through the gloopy Amazon and bumping over the gnarled roads in a spattered car, occasionally stopping to ruminate about how his life might have turned out if he'd become a gas-fitter, and what his hopes were for his children. Essentially, this was a Top Gear Special with some fatherly philosophy thrown in.

The most poignant thing of all was that he kept saying he craved the simple life. When he knelt to fry an egg or catch a fish he'd say this is the simple life! This is what he wants! But this life is anything but simple for the poor in the favelas or the tribe who lost 20% of their people to measles when a new road opened nearby. He says he wants their life but would soon be exhausted by living it, just as the proud people of the tribe would soon be appalled by the corruption, crime and excess of Beckham's London set. If this nice programme has any deeper message it's that we should count our blessings - and stay away from big-ass frogs.

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