The rise and fall of the WAG

17 May 2022

4:15 PM

17 May 2022

4:15 PM

The Wagatha Christie case is a brief, exhilarating reminder of a bygone culture. But it’s worth casting our minds back to the height of WAGdom. At the 2006 Germany World Cup, the assorted wives and girlfriends of Britain’s top footballers spent much of the tournament lounging by a hotel pool in Baden-Baden, south west Germany. The staff, wary of paparazzi attempts to snap their high-profile guests, decided to put up screens to protect their privacy. But these weren’t just any guests, and when the WAGs learned what had happened, they demanded the barriers be removed immediately.

While their husbands were representing England on the pitch, the WAGs were busy representing the team in the British press. Newspapers back home were filled with carefully coordinated snaps of the players out with their partners, with just enough ‘leaked’ gossip to keep the column inches filled. Within a few weeks, Cheryl Cole, Victoria Beckham and Elen Rives were the darlings of Fleet Street, prancing around in England tops and designer handbags. This was the unapologetic modern British woman: bleached highlights and oversized sunglasses.

Stagflation, Brexit, partygate. These tabloid phrases have come to define moments in our nation’s history. In the Noughties, that word was WAG. Perhaps the biggest misconception of the WAG is that these young women were forced into the spotlight by the big, bad tabloids. But to argue that would be to trivialise the sheer effort these women put into becoming national slebs. They were totally complicit in their rise to fame, with their boozy shenanigans and ladette attitudes, crawling up from the Z-list status conferred on them by their partners’ careers. Labelled ‘hooligans with Visa cards’ by the Spanish press, they were snapped dancing on tables and going on £60,000 shopping sprees. Isn’t there something glorious, almost aspirational, about the whole thing? Working-class women, the stars of their own success story.

Fast forward 20 years and WAG is now a tired term of a bygone era. And feminism has progressed to such a degree that we no longer believe that wives and girlfriends of millionaire footballers are something to ogle, but are instead objects of pity. Sat on crushed velvet sofas twiddling their thumbs while their husbands earn vulgar amounts for not doing much more, our admiration for the WAG died around 2010.

Alas, this week, WAGs are back on the radar. The Wagatha Christie libel, fought between Colleen Rooney, wife of ex-England captain Wayne, and Rebekah Vardy, partner of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, has shown exactly what bored housewives get up to when left to their own devices. Vardy is accused of selling stories about Mrs Rooney and her husband’s teammates to the tabloids, for what Rooney’s lawyer described as a ‘pretty penny’.

Evidence shown to the court suggests Vardy did so at least once. In one instance she texted her assistant – what exactly she needed assistance with remains a mystery – to leak a story to the Sun. That story concerned the footballer Danny Drinkwater, who spent a night in the cells for driving under the influence. ‘I want paying for this’, she barked, as if she didn’t already have enough money. Meanwhile, Colleen Rooney, sick of the constant intrusion into her life, set up her own investigation when she realised that stories from her private Instagram account were being leaked. By process of elimination, sending fake stories to her close personal contacts, Colleen discovered what she believed to be the source of the leak. In October 2019, she publicly announced ‘It’s……. Rebekah Vardy’s account.’

Where did it all go wrong for the English WAG? Their demise can partly be blamed on the fact that peak WAG occurred when there were only a handful of television channels. Most of us would have been lucky to have had one family computer and a dial-up internet connection. The iPhone hadn’t even been invented during that fateful 2006 World Cup. Footballers were national heroes because there wasn’t much else in terms of entertainment, so, by extension, we lapped up the spouses’ lives too.

They have now been usurped by a kind of superWAG. A breed of WAG unhitched from the responsibility of being a wife or girlfriend of someone more established. Just look across the Atlantic to the Kardashians – famous, too, for not very much – but who are more glamorous, more entertaining, and more rich than people like Rebekah Vardy could ever dream of being. They launched real, lasting careers from thin air, one-upping their English counterparts who faded from relevance as soon as the divorce settlements were finalised. ‘Influencer culture’ cut out the papers, allowing would-be celebs to polish their own scripted, brand-conscious lives without being subject to the capricious judgements of newspaper editors. And most Instagram influencers now wouldn’t be seen dead in a boozy slagging match in a rowdy pub. So much the pity.

The era of Heat magazine front covers is an anathema to the TikTok generation. And yet they, too, are enjoying the heady whiff of DKNY perfume and Smirnoff Ice – a cultural vodka shot of WAG nostalgia. As the lives of these once-famous women unfold in court, I can’t help but feel that we have committed a grave disservice to WAGs; abandoning them when they needed us most. Maybe, if we didn’t discard them like a spent lottery ticket, they wouldn’t be at each other’s throats in the High Court.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments