A British Person Explains the WAG Wars

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On Wednesday, Oct. 9, Americans awoke to the disheartening yet thrilling news that the celebrities had done it again — and this time it was war. The fields of battle were Twitter and Instagram, where Coleen Rooney accused Rebekah Vardy of leaking stories about her to the tabloids, and revealed that she had orchestrated a monthslong social media sting to catch Ms. Vardy in the act.

The news was incomprehensible, yet shocking. Who were these women, and how dare Rebekah Vardy? Context aside, the story had all the trappings of a juicy celebrity scandal. Screenshots of accusatory statements were shared on both parties’ verified social media accounts. (Ms. Rooney’s appeared to have been composed in the Stickies desktop app of a Mac computer, with the default yellow background swapped out for a dignified gray; Ms. Vardy’s arrived in the standard milieu of frantic public rebuttals: iPhone Notes.)

“This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it……” Ms. Rooney posted on Instagram and Twitter with a screenshot of a statement in which she said that after years of seeing details from her private life reported in the British tabloid The Sun, she hatched a plan to post “a series of false stories” about her life to her “personal” Instagram account, and altered her settings so that only one other account — that of her suspected leaker, Ms. Vardy — could view them. (Among the stories Ms. Rooney identified as “false” that subsequently appeared in The Sun: an account of a fictitious basement leak in Ms. Rooney’s new home, published one day before she went public with her accusation.)

Ms. Vardy, in a response posted to Twitter and Instagram, denied selling stories about Ms. Rooney. She deflected responsibility by saying that “various people” have had access to her Instagram account password for years. She also described herself as “upset,” “disgusted” and “heavily pregnant.”

Yet a series of unknowns threatened to compromise American scandalmongers’ ability to enjoy this public fight. Clearly these women were wealthy and famous, but why? How? And to whom?

To our former foes, the people of England, it turns out. These women had found fame and fortune by marrying English soccer players.

For a more complete understanding of Britain’s ongoing sociopolitical crisis, I turned to Elizabeth Paton, a reporter in our London bureau.

Caity Weaver: Who are these women?

Elizabeth Paton: WAGs is an acronym commonly used to refer to wives and girlfriends of high-profile athletes, particularly soccer players and particularly in Britain. The phrase first hit the headlines in 2006 during the soccer World Cup in Germany, where a group of British WAGs — all frosted hair extensions, vaguely orange limbs and barely there outfits — put on a sideshow of champagne-fueled shopping trips and partying exploits in the historic town of Baden-Baden. Their leader was Victoria Beckham (or Posh Spice, as she was still known), with a loyal clique of lieutenants made up of pop stars, beauticians, fitness instructors and a fresh faced young 20-year-old called Coleen McLoughlin, the teenage sweetheart of the star player Wayne Rooney.

CW: Where do Coleen and Rebekah fall in WAG hierarchy?

EP: Coleen Rooney has grown in celebrity status over the years to reach peak WAG royalty. Between putting up with her husband Wayne’s repeated indiscretions (which have been widely reported in the media) and being a hands-on mum to four boys, Ms. Rooney has also released a fitness DVD, been a style adviser for Littlewoods and even had a magazine column. At times, she was an idol for many a young woman who dreamed of marrying a footballer and living a life of perma-tanned luxury. More recently, however, she has been living a lower-key existence in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., after her husband signed a contract to play for D.C. United.

Ms. Vardy is a more recent addition to the fold. Married to Leicester City player Jamie Vardy, whom she met in 2014 while working as a nightclub promoter and who she married two years later, she came to fame at a time when there was greater recognition of the sexism of the WAG label, both in defining women near exclusively on their appearance and also their partners and husbands. “WAG is a dated term because we’re not defined by what our husbands do. We’re individuals,” Ms. Vardy declared ahead of the soccer World Cup last year. A mother of five, she has appeared on cult British TV shows like “Celebrity Gogglebox” and “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” And every front page and home screen in Britain, since Ms. Rooney’s allegations surfaced Wednesday.

CW: Were they known friends or enemies before this incident?

EP: Certainly not known enemies. Close enough friends to sit next to each other at the occasional soccer game and be on one another’s private Instagram follower lists.

CW: What has been the initial public reaction to this story in England?

EP: At a time when Britain is teetering on the brink of a Brexit-induced crisis and with Boris Johnson supposedly leading from the helm, this war of the WAGs is the story everyone needs. The internet has been breaking here since news of the spat first surfaced; it appears people can’t — or won’t — think of anything else. Ms. Rooney is being heralded as a new national heroine.

CW: Who is Victoria Beckham more likely to side with?

EP: Hard to tell. There’s a lot of shared history with Ms. Rooney, obviously. But Ms. Beckham has been desperate to wriggle out of her WAG chrysalis for some time now and take flight as a businesswoman and fashion mogul. My guess is she’ll stay firmly out of it.

CW: What time was it and what British thing were you doing when you first learned the news?

EP: Obviously drinking a cup of tea (my third of the morning) just after 10:30 a.m. I — like millions in this country — can only keep hitting the refresh button and wait with bated breath for what might come next. Perhaps a full-length feature?

Ms. Vardy is currently pregnant, on holiday, and has said she is seeking legal advice. “I am disgusted I even have to deny this,” she wrote in her Notes app rebuttal, posted on Instagram minutes after Ms. Rooney dropped the bomb of many months of detective work online for all the world to see.

As for Ms. Rooney, she hasn’t said a word (publicly) since. Revenge, after all, is a dish best served cold. And that’s the tea.

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