WAGS is an acronym for the wives and girlfriends of high-profile athletes (or sportsmen). This week, two WAGS are at the center of a libel case in Britain.
Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, both married to soccer (or football, as they say over the pond) players, are in court over an accusation first leveled in a Twitter interaction in 2019. Rooney accused Vardy of leaking posts from her Instagram account to The Sun, the British tabloid, in an Oct. 2019 tweet.
The trial started on Tuesday, May 10, per Reuters, and is set to last for seven days. During the trial, Rooney’s legal team will attempt to prove the accusations leveled in her Twitter statement were “substantially true,” per the Independent’s explanation of English defamation law.
If you’ve been following this since 2019, then the sentence, “It’s…Rebecca Vardy’s account” may ring immediately familiar. If not, this is what you need to know about the libel case making headlines in the U.K., and the key players involved.
Who is Rebecca Vardy?
Vardy is a 40-year-old British personality and model who’s been a contestant on British realities series like “I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!” and “Dancing on Ice.”
She’s also the wife of Jamie Vardy, a soccer player in the Premier League — specifically, he’s a striker for Leicester City. Jamie played for the England national team, including the 2018 World Cup.
Who is Coleen Rooney?
Rooney, 36, is also a television personality married to an athlete. Her husband, Wayne Rooney, is a former soccer player and current manager of the club Derby County. The couple met in school and began dating when Rooney was 16, per the British newspaper the Times.
She started her career as a writer, working on a column called ‘Welcome to My World’ for the celebrity magazine Closer, and later wrote for OK! Magazine. Later, she starred in her own ITV series called “Coleen’s Real Women,” where she scouted “naturally beautiful women” to be the new “face of brands” in advertising campaigns.
Why is Vardy suing Rooney?
It all goes back to a 2019 tweet.
As a celebrity, Rooney could expect a certain degree of public exposure. However, she felt that someone, somehow, had been betraying details about her and her family to the publication The Sun, and set out to find out who.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Rooney explained her methods for rooting out this individual. Rooney said she “had a suspicion” for who the person was. So, she wrote in the statement, she “blocked everyone from viewing … Instagram stories” on her private account, except for that one individual.
Over the course of five months, Rooney said, she posted a series of “false stories” to see if they would land in the Sun, and she said they did.
At the end of the statement, Rooney revealed whose account it was, with long ellipses to drum up anticipation. She accused Vardy of being behind the leak. In court testimony, per the BBC, Rooney characterized her post as a “last resort.” Her intention with the post, Rooney stated, was “to stop the person who was leaking my private information to the Sun.”
On Oct. 9, Vardy hit back with a Twitter statement of her own, denying culpability and underlining that anyone with access to her Instagram account could have leaked the information. “I wish you had called me if you thought this,” Vardy wrote in response. “I could have changed my password to see if it stopped.”
In June 2020, Vardy filed a civil lawsuit for defamation, per the CNN. During an earlier appearance on ITV’s “Loose Women” in Feb. 2020, Vardy detailed online harassment in the wake of the accusation, as the Independent details. “I had people messaging me saying nasty stuff, one in particular said, ‘You fat ugly rat, I genuinely hope you and your baby rot,” she said. Vardy said her mental health suffered and she was hospitalized.
During the 2022 trial, Vardy’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson said Vardy was “jeered and heckled” at football matches, per the Independent.
Where does 'Wagatha Christie' come from?
Let’s break it down. WAGS is an acronym used to refer to the partners of celebrity athletes. Agatha Christie is one of the world’s most celebrated English authors of all time.”
Rooney did some impressive internet sleuthing and is largely considered a WAG, ergo was named Wagatha Christie. The nickname was first coined by Phoebe Roberts in a tweet.
“It was this amazing story with the dot dot dot ending,” Roberts told the BBC. “It had a lot of drama in it. So, I was just like, this is a detective novel or something, and that’s when I came up with Wagatha Christie.
Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, is another player in the trial
Vardy’s team maintains that Vardy was not behind the leak: “Vardy does not actually know what happened, she doesn’t know how this information got into the press, all she knows is what she did and she knows it wasn’t her,” Vardy’s lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, said in court per the Independent.
The court heard text messages between Caroline Watt, Vardy's agent since 2015 per the BBC, and Vardy, which indicate that Watt may have been behind the leak. Forwarding Rooney’s tweet to Vardy, Watt wrote, “It wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me,” per the BBC.
Vardy’s lawyer, Tomlinson, spoke to Vardy’s perspective on Watt’s involvement, per the Independent: “She is no longer confident, she can’t say Ms Watt didn’t do it, she simply doesn’t know. She is not able to say of her friend ‘she was the leaker.' She doesn’t know what Ms Watt was doing without her knowledge, all she can tell the court is what she did.”
Watt will not be included in the trial for medical reasons, per the BBC, based on a report from a consultant forensic psychiatrist.
Texts on a missing cell phone, now in ‘Davy Jones locker,’ may hold the answers
Rooney’s lawyer, David Sherborne, said in court that a “catalog of unfortunate events” led to missing evidence, per the BBC.
In the summer of 2021, Rooney’s lawyers asked to see Watt’s phone to extract further evidence. Before that could take place, Watt dropped her phone into the North Sea. Watt claimed a wave hit the boat, causing her to lose her grip on the phone, as the Guardian summarized.
Tomlinson said Vardy has “has no personal knowledge” of this incident.
While cross-examining Vardy, Sherborne said the phone was lying “at the bottom of the sea in Davy Jones’s locker.” Vardy responded, “Who is Davy Jones?”
As for the Whatsapp texts on Vardy’s phone: Vardy said she lost them during a back-up gone awry, the Guardian summarized.
What is at stake?
According to a media lawyer who spoke with the BBC, the legal costs for each side could climb upwards of £1m (about $1.2 million). If any damages are awarded, there will likely only be £15,000 (about $18,000 USD) to £40,000 (about $ 49,000 USD) to collect.
“It makes no sense for either of them. Even the winner is going to come out with a massive loss,” lawyer Jonathan Coad told the BBC of the trial.
In a written witness statement read at court, per the Telegraph, Rooney said she tried “three times” to resolve the libel battle before going to court. “I was of the view that the time, money, resources and efforts involved could be better spent elsewhere, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement read.
“I have no doubt that this litigation, whatever the outcome, will benefit neither Becky nor myself.”