The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, April 14, 2007

David Beckham, footballer and legend.

David Beckham. You didn't expect me to write those words, did you? Well, neither did I. It is just that I couldn't resist after hearing something about David Beckham, yesterday.

David Beckham is one of the most famous young men on Earth - but would you think of him as one of the brightest, too? Anyone who knew anything of him, from his interviews, is unlikely to think so. He comes across as a sweet but tongue-tied man, who finds it diffficult to express himself coherently in words. Yet, if there is one thing he is good at, it is PR. Either it is public relations, at work, or the global effect of Chinese Whispers has led to an interesting view of David Beckham, here in Singapore. Yesterday, a girl from Indonesia, who was twenty years old, told me this about David's life: "He went to Oxford University, but left without finishing his degree, because he wanted to focus on his football."

I greeted this with a long, almost reverent silence, that anyone could believe such a thing. Then I asked her: "Who told you that David Beckham went to Oxford?"

She couldn't remember where she got the information - but was sure of it. Now, either she had read it in a mistaken journalist's article - or had heard it from another, sometime - or she had imagined it. She was unable to source her knowledge. Yet, "know" it, she did.

Now, if you know anything about Oxford University, you would know how immensely difficult it is to get in. It is challenge as unlikely in its own way as becoming a leading professional footballer - but it is a very different kind of challenge. I cannot imagine, in anyway, that Beckham was ever a serious candidate for Oxford University - nor that he could have gained entrance. The internet confirms my view in that I couldn't find a confirmatory story. Indeed, he was a footballer by the age of 17 and, not being a child prodigy, did not have time to go to Oxford before then. So, clearly, this story about Beckham's aborted academic career is just that - a fiction, an urban legend of Indonesia. The question is, where did it come from? Was it a published source, perhaps the result of cheeky PR...or was it a mistaken journalist, perhaps conflating life stories, accidentally and coming up with this amazing tale - or was it a rumour started by an idolizing fan, for whom Beckham was a God? We shall never know, but it does point up one of the strange things that happens to the famous: people relate with confidence, information about them, which simply isn't true. Strangers adorn the life story of the famous one with embellishments and details, adoring additions that create something other than an image of the real person. Perhaps this only happens with a certain kind of celebrity. Perhaps it only happens with those who have popular mass appeal. I feel doubtful that it would happen to a serious individual famous for very sobre achievements - such as Richard Feynman. It may occur - but I somehow doubt it. However, whether or not it is a universal phenomenon of the famous - it is certain that it happens to some of them - and one of the victims of this is David Beckham, here in Asia.

I don't know how widespread this "information" about David Beckham is - but Indonesia is a very populous country (of almost a quarter of a billion people) and my informant came from a small town in Indonesia. It is a remarkable testament to the power of the media that she knew who Beckham was considering her isolated origins - but it is also an indication that perhaps this tale about Beckham's Oxford University days is widespread. If it is the product of a rumour, the rumour monger is, statistically, more likely to have come from a large city. Therefore, if this is so, the fact that the rumour had spread to a small town, in an isolated area, indicates that the rumour has spread far. This reasoning brings us to the hilarious conclusion that many Indonesians might believe that David Beckham, a man of no academic background or pretensions whatsoever, was an Oxford University drop-out.

I wonder what else is believed of Beckham around the world? What a strange thing fame can be.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and four months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, fourteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:04 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked on to see what other urban legends I could find about David Beckham. There was one:

12:08 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Very funny...and quite unsettling. How many people of great wealth would actually behave like that? I don't think as many as one would think...

As for the Oxford University story...I suppose that could arise in a situation where people begin to attribute a general superiority to him, expanding his football gift into other arenas. Their opinion of him is so high they come to believe any positive tale they hear.

Thanks for the story. For those who want to know where the link goes: it tells of a time the Beckhams bought out a couple's mortgage to get their way (not true, though).

Best wishes

1:05 PM  

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