On the surface, Brooklyn Beckham looks as if he grew up in a high-end department store window.
His soulful eyes and prominent cheekbones indeed made him model material, while his immaculate taste in clothes indicates he's been well-versed in style since an early age. But though he has all the exterior makings of a hatchling from the beautiful-people lab, he's pure homegrown Beckham.
"Happy Mother's Day mum," Brooklyn captioned a UK Mother's Day post for mom Victoria Beckham in March 2016. "You love, protect and inspire me every day. I love you so much X." And for U.S. Father's Day last year, he posted a photo of himself as a wee boy on papa David Beckham's shoulders out on the soccer field, writing, "Happy Father's Day dad x love you so much :) you are the best and always have been."
So for starters, superstar couple David and Victoria Beckham raised their kids in a household where feelings are acknowledged and expressions of love and gratitude are encouraged.
Victoria wrote in a TIME essay in 2015 that her kids tucked notes in her suitcase for her to find while she was traveling, and that she would arrange family photos by the bed, wherever she was, so theirs would be the first faces she saw when she woke up.
It's been awhile since Brooklyn, who's celebrating his 21st birthday today and can now legally enjoy a pint in the United States with girlfriend Nicola Peltz, has lived with his parents full-time, but as the eldest of the four Beckham children, he was first to make David and Victoria realize that parenthood was the most exciting, rewarding and challenging thing they'd ever tackle together.
"I am an absolutely paranoid mother," Victoria said when her first baby was six months old, speaking at the launch of Baby Watch (set up by the Meningitis Research Foundation). "I want to check that Brooklyn is okay all the time—I can't help myself."
So hyper-vigilance has been part of the package deal from the start, too.
"They are a wonder to me every day," mother of four Victoria wrote in 2015. "From a teenage son through to a toddler daughter, each moment of every day is filled with different energies, activities, feelings and a lot of comedy. From playing sport to lounging on the sofa, each of my children fill every second with laughter, music and discussion. They are kind hearted and well-mannered and have incredibly enquiring minds, and I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by these phenomenal human beings."
Brooklyn was born at London's Portland Hospital (where Meghan Markle gave birth to son Archie) on March 4, 1999—exactly four months before his parents tied the knot at a castle in Ireland. Mum was still in the Spice Girls at the time, while his father was Manchester United's superstar midfielder and soon-to-be captain of England's national team.
Brother Romeo was born on Sept. 1, 2002, and the family relocated to Spain in 2004 when David was shipped to Real Madrid. Brother Cruz was born on Feb. 20, 2005, in Madrid, where Dad would play until the Los Angeles Galaxy acquired him with a blockbuster offer worth—considering salary, endorsements and all the earning potential—a reported $250 million in 2007. So began the family's time in the States, where they settled into a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills. Sister Harper completed the household upon arrival on July 10, 2011.
Meanwhile, the boys were enrolled in private school, Brooklyn attending the Curtis School for a couple of years before moving onto the Willows Community School for junior high. In 2013, however, the family moved their home base back to London after David, having played his last game for Paris St. Germain, retired from soccer for good.
In addition to going to school and playing soccer, Brooklyn also started modeling at 14, appearing on the covers of Vogue China and Miss Vogue at 16 and British Vogue with his mom and siblings at 17.
He trained at Arsenal's youth academy, as did Romeo and Cruz, but in 2015, when he wasn't offered a scholarship to keep playing for two more years, Brooklyn left the idea of pursuing professional soccer behind him.
"One of my boys turned around to me the other day and said, 'Daddy, I'm not sure I want to play football all the time,'" David told ABC News that September. "It broke my heart a little bit. He said, 'Every time I step on to the field, I know people are saying, "This is David Beckham's son," and if I am not as good as you, then it is not good enough.'"
David indicated with a flinch that it was a moment that really got to him—not because Brooklyn wouldn't be continuing in his footsteps but only because his son had ever been weighed down by that pressure.
Meanwhile, David was the one who gave Brooklyn his first camera, unwittingly setting his son on a different career path.
"I love football, but I'm also very passionate about photography and film," Brooklyn told Miss Vogue in 2016. "I'm keeping my options open right now."
Brooklyn worked at a coffee shop to earn extra walking-around money and ended up winning a scholarship to study photography in New York at the Parsons School of Design.
"It would be easy for our kids to sit back and not work for anything, but they're not like that," David Beckham told Men's Health in 2012. "They're as competitive as Victoria and me. We're very lucky with our boys: They want to win. They want to work at something. They know their values. That's the way we've brought them up so far, and that's the way we'll continue to bring them up."
Victoria wrote in TIME a few years later, "Being in a position where they live such a privileged life, it is important that our children understand humility, that they appreciate how their parents have worked very hard to create this life for the family and that they, too, have a responsibility to work hard, be respectful and never, ever take anything for granted."
"I'm nervous, and my mum's upset about me leaving," he confided in GQ before he left for college, "but it's really exciting. I kind of live in the moment. I don't think people in New York will annoy me, and I feel like when I go there, I'll meet lifelong friends. Stuff like that."
Brooklyn said he was a bit shy when it came to approaching people about taking their picture, but by the age of 17, when he published his first book of photography, What I See, he had already shot a Burberry Brit fragrance campaign and had obviously enjoyed more VIP access to the inner workings of the fashion world than most teenagers—starting with snapping photos backstage at Victoria Beckham runway shows.
He gave his mom the first copy of his book off the press, "and she cried," Brooklyn told E! News in 2017. "She's really proud."
The teen shared that he was hoping to make a name for himself, albeit an already familiar name, as a photographer. "That's why I'm going to New York, so people know me as a photographer and take me more seriously," he said.
After moving back to London at 13, "I was picking all my GCSE's and I saw 'photography,'" he recalled, referring to the exams that most students in the United Kingdom take as teenagers, some in required subjects like math and literature, and others in electives. "I wanted to pick it. My mum was like, 'You can do it but if you don't like it you can pick something else.' So I did it, and I started taking pictures on my phone and then posting them, and then my dad saw that I was good at it."
It was David who bought him his first camera, a Fujifilm. "It kind of started from there," Brooklyn said. Soon enough, his dad became one of Brooklyn's regular subjects, "especially his tattoos," though Harper and Romeo were his favorite family members to photograph at the time.
The first camera he bought himself came from a vintage store. "I prefer black and white," he told GQ in 2017, "and portrait photography. But I don't really like taking pictures of pretty faces. I like old, interesting faces. So black and white, I think, brings out the contrasts."
Shyness aside, he would snap a few pictures and then relax, after which he wouldn't really ask people if he could photograph them. "I kind of just get in their face," he told GQ. "So some people hate it, some people find it funny."
Unlike some photographers, though, he's very well-versed in being on the other side of the lens as well, voluntarily or not—something he shares with both parents.
"I kind of act like him," Brooklyn told E! News about his dad, whom he identified as the goofball parent, though also the stricter of the two in all arenas other than girls, when mom takes over as the family watchdog. "We're so similar."
In addition to both being models, style-minded fellows and really nice guys, Brooklyn and his dad (whom he's been known to borrow clothes from) also share a love of cars and motorsports. "Me and my dad are proper car guys... proper," Brooklyn told British GQ, which had commissioned the lad to photograph the magazine's sports car of the year, the BMW Z4, in 2019. "I've been in go-karts since I was a little kid. Am I a handy driver? I think I'm all right. My friends think I am."
He told Miss Vogue that his idea of a perfect road trip was "a bike trip with my dad and his biker mates along the East Coast." Aw.
His first car was a Land Rover, obviously a very British choice but on that also matched his driving-cap aesthetic at the time.
"My favorite outfit is like a Peaky Blinders kind of look," he told GQ in 2017. "I have a really old-man style. I'm also really into skateboarding outfits, like the baggy Vans jeans? But I don't like dressing saggy, like American my-age kids do."
Brooklyn didn't just dress the part—he was also a skateboarder, having picked it up while living in Los Angeles, though in London he mainly used it as a mode of transport to get around, saving his tricks for visits to L.A. skate parks.
And as much as he seemed to be getting along well in New York, he missed home and decided to leave Parsons after a year. Once back in London in 2018 he secured an internship with photographer Nick Knight and decided to just focus on work.
He's still a frequent presence important family happenings, such as Victoria Beckham fashion shows and, most recently, Inter Miami FC's debut game at Los Angeles' Banc of California Stadium last Sunday. David Beckham led the charge to bring the brand-new club to Major League Soccer.
"So proud of you dad," Brooklyn wrote on Instagram Story afterward.
Also with the VIP group, which included Eva Longoria, Liv Tyler and Gordon Ramsay: Brooklyn's girlfriend.
After a high-profile, off-and-on romance with Chloë Grace Moretz that ended in 2018 after four years, Brooklyn dated a few people but now appears to be seriously involved with Transformers: Age of Extinction actress Nicola Peltz, 25.
He made it Instagram official on Jan. 1 and on Feb. 28 he captioned a photo of the two of them with "love u." She commented, "i love u more." The next day he wrote on another pic, "I promise to always take care of you and to love you with all my heart." Peltz posted the same photo, writing, "u have my heart."
"my boyfriends a photographer how lucky am i," the actress captioned a solo shot of herself this week. His comment: "my girl for life."
The couple were also at Paris Fashion Week last month and surely Peltz is planning something sweet for her boyfriend's big birthday. As is his family, because the Beckhams never miss a chance to show each other that they care.