David Beckham flashes that famous disarming smile as he greets me and takes a seat.
It’s around 3pm on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon and the clouds overhead look like they may burst at any minute. It feels like we’re in London, but we aren’t.
We’re seated next to an exquisite pond by the koi terrace at the Saxon hotel in Sandhurst, Johannesburg.
“It’s warm for us here,” he laughs, when I mention this must feel like home. It’s been raining all day in London, he adds, then explains how he makes a habit of following the weather even when he’s out of town.
Beckham is in South Africa on a promotional run for Haig Club, the whisky brand he’s been affiliated with since its inception in 2014.
I ask him if he ever imagined he’d be in this position.
“I think I had many ambitions when I was growing up and being involved with a beverage brand was not one of them because my dream was always to be a professional footballer.
“That’s all I cared about and for many years. Thankfully, I was able to do it professionally. But it wasn’t until later in my career that we started discussions with Diageo. We talked about the possibilities and I said that once I had finish playing we could go into a partnership.”
Having played professionally for just over two decades, finding a way to fill the void of retirement was not easy. But his work with Haig Club has gone a long way towards keeping him busy.
“To be honest, I was always gonna miss it,” he says. “I was doing something I loved for years, doing it professionally for 22 years and playing in the teams and countries I’ve played in.
“But I think I’ve replaced part of that with the team in my office. I have a great team that works really well with me, that does great, innovative stuff. We’ve enjoyed the last few years and I think being successful, working hard are what I enjoy now.”
Many purists insist the best way to enjoy a good whisky is neat or with water. Beckham shares his favourite ways of enjoying the Haig Club Clubman that is perched in the bucket of ice on the table in front of us.
“It’s a difficult question because since we started this partnership I’ve travelled to so many different places where so many mixologists or barmen have made cocktails and different ways of drinking Haig. It’s great to see, but it’s also confusing because I’m a creature of habit; so when I find something I like, I stick to it.
“Three ways, I’d say: on the rocks, neat, and I actually like the new one with orange and tonic.”
The bottle itself is a beautiful part of the whisky. Ever the perfectionist, he played an integral role in its design. “You’ll get to know that when I’m involved in something, I’m really involved in it,” he says.
“I don’t just say take my name and go and use it. When I’m involved in a project and I believe in a partnership, I’m there from day one - to the point where I might annoy everyone at Diageo.
“I was involved with the discussions of the liquid, the family, the history, the colour of the bottle, the colour of the cap, how big the words go on the bottle - I’ve been involved in every process we’ve done from day one.”