As Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney await a ruling in the Wagatha Christie trial, Stylist dives into the complicated motivations behind celebs airing their dirty laundry in court
There have been many moments from the Wagatha Christie trial, which has dominated the news this past week, that will remain bound in the public’s consciousness forevermore.
There’s Rebekah’s observation that arguing with Coleen was like “arguing with a pigeon” being read out in the High Court. “You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to shit in your hair,” the quote concluded. There was Coleen’s response when asked why she wasn’t bothered about crashing her Honda 4x4: “I’m not a snob,” she said. “It wasn’t because it wasn’t a nice car.” There’s been tears, melodrama and public hysteria.
Instead of attending court on the final day of the trial last Thursday, Coleen and Wayne boarded a plane to take their children on holiday, leaving Vardy to appear alone. An apparent sign they felt they had done all they could in the courtroom. Or simply, that they didn’t care.
We, the public, have watched the daily reporting, the paparazzi pictures and the court sketches spill out of this trial with astonishment, glee and horror – hooked and hungry for more. “Rebekah Vardy calling Coleen Rooney a c*nt for unfollowing her on Instagram, I honestly have no idea why this trial isn’t being broadcast on big screens outside pubs like the Wimbledon final,” read one viral tweet, while the BBC’s documental It’s… Wagatha Christie podcast has remained one of the country’s most popular.
If, however, you need a recap, then let me oblige: the case dates back three years to when Coleen Rooney logged onto Twitter to reveal she was the mastermind of a sting operation. She had narrowed down the person selling stories about her to the press through her Instagram stories, revealing the alleged culprit to her followers with the dramatic line: ‘… it’s Rebekah Vardy’s account’. This led writer and comedian Dan Atkinson to term Rooney ‘WAGatha Christie’, a phrase now cemented in all our minds and news cycles. He has since called this phenomenon a “WAGalanche’.
Still, could anyone have predicted that these two women would actually go to court? That they would willingly air their grievances, WhatsApp messages and snarky comments so publicly? “I certainly didn’t anticipate this trial would reach the level of public interest it has,” says media lawyer Antonia Foster, whose firm Carter-Ruck deals with defamation cases. “If, like me, you hadn’t followed the initial reveal by Coleen, you wouldn’t know about what happened at all. But the fact of the proceedings culminating in a High Court trial, means now, there’s no chance of that. It’s more widely reported than ever before.”
This raises an intriguing question: why would you waste massive amounts of money (legal fees are expected to reach £3 million) in an effort to protect your reputation when the details that will surface about you in the process are likely to counter that goal? For instance, when Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne, shared in court that Vardy had previously said Peter Andre was “hung like a chipolata” in an interview following their fling in an attempt to attack her character. Meanwhile, Rooney has invoked her inner Mean Girl at times, dismissing Vardy as someone desperate to be her friend and “fame hungry”. Both women’s partners haven’t come off particularly well either, with headlines focusing on Wayne being “fuming” with Jamie and accusing him of “talking nonsense” instead of “having the guts to say something in court”. A childish playground spat comes to mind.
This kind of emotional intensity – and let’s face it, downright nastiness – is not unusual in defamation cases, explains Foster, who regularly deals with clients going through this process. “Rarely do people bring a defamation claim solely because they’re interested in the damages they might recover at the end,” she explains. “It is much more likely that they are hurt, upset and very concerned by the damage to their reputation and their overwhelming concern is to set the record straight.” It’s important to note that Vardy and Rooney were advised to settle several times, but when money is not the main motivator, it’s easy to see how the idea of settling privately loses all allure. “Both these women clearly feel extremely strongly because otherwise this could have been resolved in other ways. It takes a lot to get to this point; it’s a stressful thing to bring litigation, and all the more so because of the high-profile nature of this case.”
It’s also a weird time for the case to take place culturally. Look to the States, and you’ll find Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, stars of a very different realm, battling it out in court in a trial so publicised we’re devouring it like a Netflix series. While the stakes feel much lower here – rather than domestic violence, it’s something as banal as selling secrets that is being alleged – the coverage feels eerily similar, reminiscent of early 00s tabloid journalism when celebrities (particularly female celebrities) were treated as comedic relief and stoking the fire was always the point. And as far as regression goes, is there an acronym that crystallises it better than WAG? It first came into parlance in 2006, when Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham came to epitomise the glamorous, disinterested partner watching their man play football from the sidelines, and were synonymous with gossip and fallouts. It also reduced them to this alone – they existed through the lens of their partner as a sexist stereotype. Its resurrection during this trial has cast a surreal, from-another-time shadow over it, and surely set back views of women in the public eye, too.
That the issue has been left to stew for two years since Rooney’s first tweet probably isn’t helpful (for us as observers, but mainly for Vardy and Rooney). “In situations of prolonged verbal violence and stress, such as the Vardy-Rooney case, and of domestic violence and abuse, such as it’s been alleged in the Depp-Heard case, those involved become traumatised and often we see that they tend to repeat the same patterns of stress/abuse in their future life circumstances,” explains psychologist Dr Martina Paglia. It’s why we often repeat the same mistakes over and over in life – they feel familiar and safe. In this case, it might be that the trial seems more palatable to them because of the previous stress they’ve endured – it pales in comparison to the initial shockwaves it caused.
Indeed, Wayne Rooney testified that his wife had become “a different mother and wife” during the early days of the scandal, while Vardy has been visibly upset at several points throughout the trial. Similarly, on a much grimmer scale, the allegations both parties are lobbing at each other in the Depp v Heard case signal they have endured years of trauma together. For those involved, going to court likely represents the next step in some strange form of closure-come-revenge, while to us, when it comes to the Wagatha Christie case, it just seems sadistic.
According to psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, playing out publicly could actually be part of the draw for both Vardy and Rooney. “The motivations are likely to be about validation, which is a powerful driver of behaviour. Never underestimate the power of having a third party say you were right and someone else was at fault,” she says. Indeed, research from Ohio State University has shown the hold that emotional validation has on us when we’re going through an upsetting period. When researchers didn’t show support or understanding to participants who were asked to recall an incident that had sparked intense anger, positive emotions declined steeply. Seeking it out, therefore, can become a driver in helping ourselves feel better about the situation.
There is also the fact that many of the issues at play in these cases aren’t particularly relatable. Most of us do not have to worry about our friends selling stories about us, yet the kind of emotions it brings up will be familiar to most: betrayal, anxiety and loss. “It’s one of the most stressful things that can happen to a client, really,” explains Lauren Beeching, founder of the celebrity reputation management agency Honest London. “And among the celebrities I work with, there hasn’t been one who hasn’t raised it with me as a concern at some point; for most, it’s a deep rooted fear that their inner circle would betray them. When it actually happens to a client, you can see the stress in their eyes, and it takes over their life.”
For Vardy, meanwhile, more may hinge on the verdict than meets the eye. By trying to prove she didn’t sell stories about Rooney, she is really trying to prove to the public that she isn’t a bad friend, and in a climate of cancel culture, it’s an accusation with heavier consequences than it may have had five years ago. “Cancel culture via social media is a relatively new phenomenon and it’s brutal – it really can ruin careers,” says Beecher. “For Vardy, who I would guess earns the majority of her money through social media collaborations, it would be financially damaging if brands no longer wanted to work with her, as well as emotionally [damaging]. This case probably seemed like an opportunity to rectify that for her.” Rooney’s public persona is at risk too – if she comes off as a Mean Girl, unlikeable, or even loses the trial, will brands want to work with her?
And so, whether it’s future brand collaboration at stake, pure vindication or some odd form of closure, the real and perhaps more interesting question is this: why on earth do we care? When I ask Dr Arroll about the hungry way we’ve gobbled up the details in this case, she points me to a word that sums it up nicely: schadenfreude. “It means the joy we experience when some harm or misfortune is suffered by another,” she explains. “And it’s particularly strong when the individual is someone with a perceived privileged life.”
Of course, watching wealthy, seemingly out-of-touch women battle over something that doesn’t feel like it truly matters to anyone but them is an almost-anaesthetising form of relief from an otherwise horrendous news cycle. But maybe, what this trial has really shown us, is that when the world feels like it’s on fire, it’s kindness that we need more of now than ever before. It’s a thought worth considering when the verdict comes in.