How Victoria Beckham became Britain’s top businesswoman

“The Victorian Beckham story is a post-modern fairy-tale,” says The Guardian. First, she was famous for being famous. Then she became – against all expectations – famous for actually being good at something.

“She is the Spice Girl who took on the fashion industry and won it over; the Wag who became a player.”

Earlier this month, Beckham achieved possibly “the crowning glory” of her business career to date, says Forbes – topping the list of Britain’s 100 most successful entrepreneurs of 2014.

Some have been snooty about this (see below), but the numbers speak for themselves. Sales growth of 2,900% is not “the kind of performance that can be generated by the sparkle of celebrity alone”.

Since its birth at New York fashion week in 2008, “just in time for the recession”, Victoria Beckham – the brand – has defied all retail trends, says the Financial Times.

Beckham relates that the best advice she was given ahead of the launch was from designer Marc Jacobs. “This is not about being better than anyone else or about competing with anyone else,” he told her. “It’s about competing with yourself.” Clearly, Jacobs knew his woman.

For all the giddiness of her rise to fame in a “manufactured bubble-gum group”, and her subsequent elevation to celebrity royalty following her marriage to David Beckham, Posh Spice has always been a creature of formidable self-discipline and drive.

Credited as the moving force behind “Brand Beckham” (the couple’s joint wealth is put at £380m), she has a powerful work ethic.

“Let other designers play the eccentric artist,” says The Guardian. “Beckham is the multi-tasking modern woman.” To ram home the point, she sat her children next to the formidable UK Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, at a recent fashion show.

Born Victoria Adams in Harlow, Essex in 1974, Beckham grew up in Hertfordshire – her “Posh” soubriquet stems from her father’s successful electronics wholesale business.

She later told Hello! magazine that she was embarrassed by her family’s wealth and often begged her father not to drop her off at school in the Roller.

Stage struck by an early encounter with Fame, the film, she attended drama school and, in 1993, answered an advertisement in The Stage for girls who were “street smart, extrovert, ambitious and able to sing and dance”.

It had been placed by a youthful impresario, Simon Fuller, who, as the Spice Girls’ founder, shaper and manager, plotted the path of ‘girl power’, culminating in their first blockbuster hit, Wannabe, in 1996, says The Observer.

Sacked by the band a year later, Fuller was later re-embraced by both Beckhams, who joined the books of his agency, 19 Management.

It’s easy to see Fuller’s hand in Beckham’s apotheosis as a fashion designer. She launched her brand a year after he’d signed a deal with designer Roland Mouret – famed for the corseted silhouette-sculptured dresses that were initially Beckham’s trademark too.

But her style swiftly evolved into looser, more fluid shapes, says The Guardian. “If you were to psychoanalyse the clothes, you could say that they have become less about a perfect body and more about personality.” Rather like Beckham herself.

An entrepreneur? She’s certainly transformed fashion

“Britons have a nasty habit of building up celebrities and then… knocking them down,” says David Prosser in Forbes. Hence “the predictable round of back-biting” when Victoria Beckham topped Management Today’s entrepreneurs survey. But those who claim she got there because of her celebrity are just “patronising and snobbish”.

The criteria for judging centred on hard data. Since 2008, Beckham has grown turnover to £30m and staff numbers to 100. “Hard-nosed fashion industry insiders… consistently praise… her work.”

As Philip Beresford, who compiled the list, observed: she has parlayed a flair for design into commercial success, mainly because of her “finely tuned business acumen”.

Beresford is also the compiler of The Sunday Times Rich List, and “you don’t pull sequined wool over his eyes”, said Gene Marks on Inc.com. My problem is the award itself: “I don’t think Victoria Beckham is an entrepreneur”.

That’s because entrepreneurship is “not just about business savvy, which she definitely has. Or celebrity. Or wealth. Or even about financial success… It’s about the risk one takes”.

When she started, Beckham “was already sitting on enough money to live a thousand lifetimes”. She had plenty of capital and fame with which to launch her business. “Brand names lined up to do business with her.” I don’t begrudge her success, “but she’s not an entrepreneur”.

Whatever you want to call her, Beckham has certainly been a disruptive influence in fashion – constantly feeding her critics “a fine meal out of their words”, says Vanessa Friedman in the FT. “She proved that the celebrity-turned-creative director is not a joke any more – it’s a job description.”

In doing so, “she has paved the way for a new kind of designer to emerge: one without an art school education, but with an education of an entirely different kind”. Fashion hasn’t been the same since.