Wagatha Christie: Celebrity soccer wives' feud spills into court

By Holly Honderich
BBC News, Washington

  • Published
Rebekah VardyImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Football wife Rebekah Vardy is at the heart of Britain's biggest (Instagram) scandal

Forget The Crown. The only British drama you need right now is the real-life feud between two Wags - wives and girlfriends of football stars - currently playing out in the UK High Court.

It all began in October 2019, when Coleen Rooney, wife of former England striker Wayne Rooney, accused fellow soccer spouse Rebekah Vardy of leaking her personal information to British tabloids.

She made the sensational allegation after apparently ensnaring Vardy in an Instagram sting operation worthy of the FBI - and earning Mrs Rooney the nickname "Wagatha Christie" for her apparently sleuthing skills.

Vardy, 40, has vehemently denied allegations that she passed information from Rooney's private social media account onto The Sun newspaper and sued her fellow Wag, 36, for defamation.

The trial - expected to last about seven days - kicked off in London's High Court last week.

On Monday, Coleen Rooney took to the stand for a second day, telling the court she believed Vardy was "fame hungry".

Her testimony will be crucial thanks to England's libel laws, which require Rooney to prove it was, in fact Vardy, who violated her privacy.

It's a lot. So here's what you need to know about the high-profile spat that sparked the court battle, inspired hundreds of memes and riveted a nation.

Who - or what - is a Wag?

First, the basics.

Even outside the Royal Family, the British like their titles. And on the sidelines of a professional football pitch, these women may as well be royalty. The term first entered the popular vernacular alongside Victoria Beckham - also known as Posh Spice - international pop star and wife to football phenomenon David Beckham.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Victoria Beckham (R) - the original Wag - watches a match with Cheryl Tweedy, who was then with footballer Ashley Cole

With Posh at the helm, the mid to late-2000s became the golden age of Wag-dom, with attention turned increasingly away from the field and into the stands. So much so, that some blamed England's poor performance at the 2006 World Cup on the Wags, who were dubbed a distraction.

So who are these Wags?

As mentioned, Instagram sleuth Coleen Rooney is married to Wayne Rooney, England star and also a former player for Manchester United, DC United and others. The supposed leaker, Rebekah Vardy, is the wife of Jamie Vardy, who plays for Premier League club Leicester City.

Both Wayne and Jamie had also played together for the England football team, though Rooney has told the court she and Vardy were "not good friends".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Coleen and Rebekah were pictured together at Euro 2016

According to British journalist Elizabeth Paton - who has tried to explain all this to Americans in the pages of the New York Times - Rooney used her time as Wag to grow her celebrity status - reaching "peak Wag royalty" while Vardy is "a more recent addition to the fold". The two were not "known enemies", Ms Paton said, but this has obviously changed.

And who is Wagatha?

In October 2019, Rooney made the claim that someone had leaked information from her Instagram account to a tabloid newspaper. In a display of digital skill, Rooney blocked all of her followers - except for one - from seeing her Instagram stories to smoke out the culprit. Rooney then posted a series of fake stories which later appeared in The Sun.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Coleen Rooney aka Wagatha Christie

And who was the one account left?

"It's.............. Rebekah Vardy's account," Rooney wrote in the post heard round the world, complete with the cliffhanger ellipses. The episode earned her the nickname Wagatha Christie - a play on Wag and Agatha Christie, the English writer famed for her detective novels.

Rooney this week told the court she thinks the moniker is "ridiculous".

"I feel like in public it has been made out a lot bigger than it actually was, it wasn't hard to do it," she said.

The bombshell claim was quickly rejected by Vardy, who said she had "never" discussed Rooney with journalists. "I don't need the money, what would I gain from selling stories on you," she wrote in her own Instagram post, and directed her lawyers to conduct a "forensic investigation" into her account to see who had access, and when.

The trial

Since then, Vardy has moved the drama from the internet to the court room, where she has sued Rooney for libel. In court, Vardy's lawyer Hugh Tomlinson called Rooney's posts an "untrue and unjustified defamatory attack... published and republished to millions of people". While the "wag wars" have been trivialised, Mr Tomlinson said, the impact on his client has been serious.

Still, Rooney's legal team has maintained that Vardy was the leaker, "consistently passing on information about the defendant's private Instagram".

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In November 2020, both Vardy and Rooney have agreed to a three-month "stay" of proceedings, giving the two a chance to resolve things outside of court, but no such resolution was reached.

In court, Vardy continued to deny leaking stories. Pressed by Rooney's lawyer, though she appeared to accept that her agent leaked some information from Rooney's account.

Rooney, for her part, said she has "hated every minute" of the attention her Instagram post created.

"I've never craved press attention in my life," she said, adding that her public proclamation had felt like a "last resort".

Rooney's husband, Wayne is expected to take the stand on Tuesday.