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From the handful of snaps uploaded to David Beckham’s Instagram page between Christmas and New Year’s Day, his 65 million followers would be forgiven for thinking that the ex-footballer, his wife Victoria and the couple’s four children – Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper – were celebrating at the family’s £6 million Oxfordshire home.
On Christmas Day, Victoria, David, Romeo and Cruz each posted an identical photograph on their respective Instagram pages, showing the entire family gathered under the distinctive sloped wooden ceiling of their converted Cotswolds barn, clad in matching satin pyjamas, with Beckham Sr sporting a Christmas hat. “Special moments together as a family,” he wrote. “Merry Christmas to everyone.”
Last week, however, tabloid reports suggested that, rather than hunkering down in Chipping Norton, where temperatures dropped to a toe-nipping zero degrees on Christmas Day, the Beckhams were actually en route to Florida, where he co-owns a football team.
“David needed to be in Miami in January, on Inter Miami duty, because it’s the start of the MLS (Major League Soccer) pre-season, and he is helping recruit new players,” a source told The Sun.
If accurate, it makes the photograph uploaded two days later of David alongside Brooklyn and Cruz wearing winter clothes and wellies, in what very much appears to be the English countryside, seem rather like a sleight of hand.
Victoria, meanwhile, has published only a handful of selfies since December 25, each of them a dramatic close-up, disclosing little of her surroundings. It certainly makes a change from the Beckhams’ usual modus operandi on social media, which includes sharing every detail of their adventures, whether they’re enjoying a luxury mini-break in Paris or a nine-course meal in Puglia.
They aren’t the only celebrities keeping unusually circumspect about how they spent Christmas: a number of usually prolific social media users seem to have refrained from sharing any snaps of their festivities under the guise of an ‘Insta break’.
Although international travel for “legally permitted reasons”, such as work, is allowed – even under the new lockdown – celebrities are, perhaps understandably, keen to avoid the disapprobation of their many followers by posting selfies in exotic locations.
And because “travel shaming” has reached such a fervour, even non-celebrities feel compelled to keep quiet about their holidays.
I first sensed something was afoot when the parents’ WhatsApp group at my son’s nursery fell mysteriously quiet in mid-December. Whereas previously my phone had frequently pinged with messages from parents suggesting socially distanced outdoor play dates, or sending updates about prep school assessments, instead dawned a deafening silence. It took me a while to realise it was because at least a handful had fled abroad. One family, it emerged, made an aborted trip to continental Europe before re-routing to the United Arab Emirates; another loaded up their car and hightailed it through the Channel Tunnel just hours after the Prime Minister’s emergency press conference, in which he tore up rules that would have allowed up to three households to form a “bubble” over a five-day period.
“We were desperate to get out of here after being locked down for the entire year,” a fellow mum confessed of the family’s winter globe-trotting. “For that week, it felt like life went back to normal.” Far from being an anomaly, she reveals most of her friends also escaped to the Maldives or Dubai, having already booked trips costing in the region of £20,000. “Literally everyone went,” she says, but admits: “No one I know dared publish a thing about it on Instagram.”
In an example of how much life has been turned upside down by Covid, far from showing off endless photos of one’s travels, the trend is for “secret holidays”, in order to escape possible travel shaming. Which means no Facebook posts, no sun-soaked selfies and no Instagram slideshows for those who got away just in time, or found a way around lockdown restrictions. Such is the fear of inviting critical comments, holiday-makers have even spent their break avoiding the sun for fear of picking up a telltale tan.
Travelling with small children has also become an occupational hazard; I know of one instance where, on his first day back at nursery, a toddler announced to his entire class that he’d spent New Year in Dubai…
One mum I spoke to told only her closest family she was jetting off to Barbados with her husband and children three days after Boris Johnson introduced Tier 4 rules across most of England. She said she arrived at Heathrow half expecting to be stopped by police. “I was so nervous because I was travelling with two children and sure that people were going to stare, because, come on, Barbados is not a business destination,” she says. “But everyone [at Heathrow] was so friendly and just happy to see customers.”
The reaction from a friend she’d confided in, however, was much more lukewarm. “Her response to our going away was very curt. I’m sure her opinion of me has changed for good over this.”
For those like the Beckham family who had legitimate reasons to jet off over the festive season, it’s not all been sun and games, with the constant changes in travel restrictions. On Friday, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, announced that passengers arriving back in the UK will now need to have tested negative 72 hours earlier, if they are to be let in. One family I know abandoned their Scandinavian holiday just hours after stepping off their pre-Christmas flight. Worried that their scheduled return back would be cancelled, they booked on to the next London-bound plane they could find. Meanwhile, a teacher who quietly flew to South Africa to visit her family for Christmas admitted that constant rule changes in the UK and abroad marred her trip. “I’m not an anxious person, but I did feel quite anxious on this holiday,” she said. “All the time there, I was glued to the news, listening in and looking on Facebook for any changes.”
Then there’s the small matter of submitting to numerous Covid tests and quarantines on both the inbound and outbound legs. “You have to quarantine when you get there, you have to have another negative test done, you don’t walk on the street without wearing a mask,” says the mum who flew to Barbados.
Still, after a difficult year, which included a miscarriage, she has no regrets about the trip. “I thought, by going on this holiday I’m learning to live with the virus,” she adds, “rather than in fear of it.”