Could David Beckham be the next Michael Palin?

His debut as a travel presenter airs on BBC1 tonight, but does Golden Balls have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of the former Monty Python star, asks Ben Dowell

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Could David Beckham be the next Michael Palin?
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Ben Dowell

Tonight David Beckham makes his debut fronting a TV travel show.

Already the omens for David Beckham Into the Unknown are good with fellow (or should that be rival?) travelogue host Michael Palin endorsing the former England footballer's first forays.

Palin says the BBC1 one-off, in which Becks travels with three friends into the heart of the Amazon jungle, shows aspects of the footballing megastar he has not seen before.

And while he admits that parts of it are "more David Beckham than David Attenborough", he added at a screening of the show: “I hope you do do some more because the combination works really well. It works well. You are a good observer. You are not pushing your own ideas."

Beckham also seems keen to continue. Despite the discomforts of the trip he said he wanted to do another travelogue "without a doubt".

“This is something I would definitely like to continue doing,” he said. (Having said that, a source at Becks' management company 19 assures me that he is so busy at the moment with his work in the US, China and the UK that any new film would be “a long way off”.)

But, if he gets the time, should he make more?

Well, sorry to poop the party but the answer to that is a resounding, er, maybe.....

Tonight’s show is certainly fascinating. Watching a millionaire superstar like Beckham up close and without all the comforts of his normal life – press minders, security, opulent housing and the like – is compelling in itself. Here’s the man with so much suddenly trying to survive in the jungle with just a piece of canvas over his head and a motorbike to travel on. Added to that he is nothing if not likable and comes across as sincere and gentle.

Before he sets off we get to see Beckham hanging at home with son Brooklyn and wife Victoria, who seems most anxious about how his hair will cope in the humidity. That (already heavily trailed) moment was quite funny.

But is this enough? I don’t want to sound unkind, but I question whether Beckham has, among his many undoubted talents, quite the imagination or intelligence to carry a travel show.

Can Michael Palin really have thought that observations like ”it’s exhilarating” or “amazing” or “I have always got time for the fans I used to be one myself but we have to get going” really get under the skin of the country Beckham is visiting?

When he does interact with one of the two guides for the trip, the whole point of the encounter seems to be the astonishing news that this man, brought up in the Brazilian jungle, does not know he is talking to a global megastar.

During his long career, Palin has made a string of travel classics including Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days and Full Circle with Michael Palin. All his shows were packed with insight and had, in Palin, a quick-witted, easily amused and easily amusing host capable of responding with intelligence to what he saw around him.

The most interesting thing about David Beckham Into the Unknown isn’t the country he is visiting but the superstar who is doing the visiting. It’s still quite good for that reason. But Beckham won't have Palin quaking in his walking boots just yet...

David Beckham Into the Unknown airs on BBC1 at 8:30pm on Monday 9 June

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