Britain’s “Wagatha Christie” Trial Is More Than a Tabloid Frenzy

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Never has a celebrity trial felt both so petty and irrelevant, and yet had such a chokehold on my interest. The courtroom spat is both side-splittingly hilarious and cartoonishly unimportant. These women are mega-rich, their lives to date are essentially gossip fodder, and the stakes feel so low. I’m in borderline hysterics at all the grimy, gossipy details. A phone containing crucial messages was allegedly dropped in the North Sea, while the password for a laptop is just… gone? The British press can’t legally call bullshit on all the bullshit, but every sentence of the reporting is laced with a kind of amused incredulity. It’s also humiliating for legal professionals to recount all the tawdry details—such as British one-hit-wonder and latter-day reality TV star Peter Andre allegedly being “hung like a small chipolata” in court—but, my god, it’s excruciatingly brilliant to watch.

In order to file the suit, Vardy has had to publically submit embarrassingly blundering text conversations with her agent, where she explicitly says she wants paying for stories about other people. It feels like an open and shut case. But despite a bible-thick stack of circumstantial evidence against her, there seems to be no actual proof that Vardy sold the actual stories, more that she is the type of person who sells stories. It cannot be proven incontrovertibly that Vardy sowed the stories Rooney seeded, and there’s no smoking gun linking her to the actual “crime.” The jury’s still out, in every sense.

The wives and girlfriends (hence the WAG acronym) of British footballers have been at the epicenter of the U.K. gossip industrial complex since bursting onto the scene at the 2006 World Cup, where their boozy antics and lavish spending sprees in the German resort town of Baden-Baden were blamed for the England team’s poor performance that year. Stories about their bodies and clothes and haircuts and houses have peppered the tabloid press for decades. (Of course, the most famous WAG, Victoria Beckham, eventually shed her blonde extensions and implants to transcend the stereotype.)

The WAGs have also fuelled a particularly murky new chapter in the U.K. tabloid press, where the miserable practice of phone hacking gave way to everybody sharing everything all the time on social media, and the papers just reporting that. These women are the opposite of private. Publicity is their life-blood, and they deal in column inches. But the thought that they’re not all on the same side—that they’re doing the dirty on each other—changes the dynamic.

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