By Karl Malakunas
TACLOBAN (AFP) – Football superstar David Beckham visited the Philippines on Thursday to give comfort to survivors of the Asian country’s deadliest-ever typhoon – although not everyone was sure who he was.
Hundreds of survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan rushed out of their tent shelters in the central city of Tacloban to welcome the global celebrity, who is nevertheless unfamiliar to many citizens of the Philippines, where basketball rather than soccer is king.
“He’s so handsome. I heard he plays for the Azkals,” gushed mother-of-four Darilyn Bascug, referring to the Philippines’ national football team.
Shortly after Beckham’s arrival, another woman from the area approached an AFP reporter and asked timidly: “Is that man a celebrity?”
Wearing a black T-shirt with the logo of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the 38-year-old ex-England international visited a tent city for several hundred families who lost their homes when giant waves unleashed by Haiyan crashed into Tacloban’s coast.
Beckham spent more than an hour inside a UNICEF tent set up as a nursery, where he played with dozens of young typhoon survivors.
The father-of-four stopped to greet babies and children staying in a shanty home made of scrap corrugated iron and wood.
“Very happy, very happy to visit everybody,” Beckham told reporters.
“Oh, my God,” a young woman screamed as she reached out to grab his hand.
He also visited a warehouse for relief goods donated by the UN in the nearby town of Palo.
Beckham, who ended his illustrious career last year, is on his second visit to the Philippines in his role as a “goodwill ambassador” for UNICEF.
The star, who was travelling with heavy security, flew by private plane Thursday to Tacloban, one of the areas worst-hit by Haiyan.
Zafrin Chowhdury, communications chief for UNICEF in the Philippines, told AFP Beckham was making a two-day visit to help out in the international humanitarian effort.
“His focus is meeting the children, meeting the families,” she said.
The typhoon, one of the strongest ever to hit land, left about 8,000 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November last year.
It also left more than four million people homeless as it tore up 171 towns and cities with winds of up to 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour.
Weeks after the disaster, Beckham and his wife Victoria, formerly of the Spice Girls, donated 20 boxes of clothes and shoes to the British Red Cross that were auctioned off to raise money for the victims.
Some Tacloban locals did follow Beckham. The city club’s goalkeeper took his two daughters outside the UNICEF tent in a failed bid to get them to meet the Englishman, said businessman Ramil Sumapig, a friend of the keeper.
Sumapig, 42, told AFP he himself watched Beckham on cable television playing for European giants Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Beckham also played in the United States before closing out his career with Paris Saint-Germain in France.
“He played with artistry. He was able to bend the ball,” said Sumapig, who nevertheless said his own three children were too young to have seen Beckham in his prime. They idolised Argentina’s Lionel Messi instead.
Beckham last visited the Philippines in December 2011, where he played a seven-a-side football match with young Filipinos at a government-run centre for abused or abandoned children.