“Wagatha Christie”, “Wags at war”, the “Wag World Cup”. Call it what you like, the libel case between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy had plenty to keep observers gripped: lost evidence, tears and Wayne Rooney coming off the bench and into the witness box.
The pair rose to tabloid fame as Wags – wives and girlfriends of England footballers – but fell out spectacularly after Mrs Rooney, the wife of former England captain Wayne, said she had conducted a sting operation to find out who had leaked stories about her to The Sun.
“It’s………. Rebekah Vardy’s account,” she claimed. Mrs Vardy, who is married to ex-England striker Jamie, denied personally leaking stories and sued Mrs Rooney for defamation.
Here are some nuggets we discovered during the ensuing two-week High Court trial.
1. Mrs Rooney wrote her famous ………. post out by hand
The social media reveal that rocked the pop culture world in 2019 started off as a humble handwritten note, the court heard last week.
Mrs Rooney said she initially wrote the post longhand (she was seen scribbling in a leopard print notebook throughout the trial too) before typing it out and sending it to her brother, who helped publish it on her social media accounts.
The original note has sadly been lost.
2. It’s not necessary to say ‘If I’m honest’ when testifying
Such an innocent stock phrase, yet one that can seemingly get you into trouble.
When Mrs Vardy began one of her answers in such fashion under cross examination from Mrs Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne, he retorted: “I would hope you’re honest, because you’re sitting in a witness box.”
Mrs Rooney fell foul of the same thing herself on multiple occasions, saying sorry for having started her answers, under oath, with the phrase “To be honest”.
3. Crucial evidence is in Davy Jones’ locker
Due to “a series of unfortunate events”, as Mrs Rooney’s barrister sarcastically put it, WhatsApp messages between Mrs Vardy’s agent Caroline Watt and journalists, which could have helped Mrs Rooney’s case, were not available. Ms Watt accidentally dropped her phone in the North Sea while on a boat trip in Scotland, the court heard.
The theatrical Mr Sherborne noted it was “a shame” that the phone was “lying at the bottom of the sea in Davy Jones’ locker”. To which Mrs Vardy, sitting in the witness box, replied: “Who is Davy Jones?”
The judge, Mrs Justice Steyn, explained: “It just means the bottom of the sea.”
Perhaps the barrister learned the nautical phrase from one of his previous libel claimant clients, Johnny Depp – aka Captain Jack Sparrow.
Mr Sherborne himself didn’t know who SAS TV personality Ant Middleton was when his name cropped up elsewhere in proceedings, while the judge and Mr Tomlinson appeared to struggle to grasp how Instagram works.
4. Mrs Vardy compared Mrs Rooney to a bird
Excerpts from an interview Mrs Vardy gave to the Daily Mail, published the day after Mrs Rooney’s online allegation, were read to the court.
In the interview, she said: “Arguing with Coleen Rooney would be like arguing with a pigeon. You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to [poop] in your hair.”
However, she told the court she “wasn’t thinking straight” when giving the interview.
Mrs Rooney, for her part, called her ex-associate “fame hungry”.
5. Bridgerton had the original Secret Wag
The Secret Wag, an anonymously-written column in The Sun gossiping about footballers, came up a lot, with Mrs Rooney saying she believed Mrs Vardy had been a source, which she denied.
While casting doubt on the validity of the column, Mrs Vardy’s barrister appeared to let slip how he likes to unwind after work.
“Mrs Rooney thinks the Secret Wag column is a real-life version of Lady Whistledown in [Netflix series] Bridgerton, rather than a journalistic invention,” Mr Tomlinson said.
6. Gemma Collins’ faceplant got an unlikely mention
Mrs Vardy appeared to concede that, in a WhatsApp message that was read to the court, her agent had admitted leaking a story from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram account about an alleged car crash.
After Mrs Rooney posted that someone she trusted was betraying her, Ms Watt wrote to Mrs Vardy: “It wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me.”
Asked why she didn’t challenge her agent about that, Mrs Vardy said she had been too distracted because she was bathing her children while watching fellow TV personality Gemma Collins’ infamous “faceplant” on Dancing On Ice.
Mrs Vardy had to leave the witness box in tears several times during what she called an “intimidating” almost three-day cross examination.
Ms Watt did not give evidence after a consultant forensic psychiatrist decided she was not fit to do so.
7. The libel case became a fashion show
Cameras are not allowed in courtrooms in England (hence the use of court sketches), so all the paparazzi could do was to wait outside early each morning to get shots of the key players arriving.
Mrs Vardy hid her eyes behind big sunglasses most days and dressed in glamourous outfits by top designers, while Mrs Rooney wore high street garments, donning the same pantsuit twice.
She also wore a surgical boot, just as husband Wayne did when he broke his metatarsal before the 2006 World Cup – the tournament when the “Wags” first burst onto the scene.
Mr Tomlinson said Mrs Rooney had “no evidence” to link his client to alleged leaks.
Mrs Rooney told the court: “I believe that Mrs Vardy knew that this was happening, whether it was Mrs Vardy herself or it was someone she’s given permission to.”
Mrs Vardy’s barrister replied that having belief was not the same as having proof. “You might believe that Derby County will win the Premiership in two years’ time. It’s not evidence that they are going to.”
Mr Tomlinson presumably did not know it is impossible for Derby to win the Premier League in two years given the club’s recent relegation to the third tier.
Sitting a few feet to his right, their manager – Mrs Rooney’s husband Wayne – looked into the middle distance.
9. The Habs (husbands and boyfriends) finally got involved
The footballer-turned-manager was with his wife throughout the trial, holding her bag and opening doors, but he looked away as she told the court they had split up for a period.
His ex-England team-mate Jamie Vardy – who scored four goals while the case was going on – made his High Court debut on day six, arriving hand-in-hand with his wife. The football stars seemed to acknowledge one another at first, unlike their other halves.
Mr Vardy’s first trip to court came on the day Mr Rooney testified that then-England manager Roy Hodgson had asked him to have a word with Mr Vardy about his wife being an unwanted distraction around Euro 2016.
Mr Rooney recalled the chat in detail, saying he had a coffee while Mr Vardy drank an energy drink. However, Mr Vardy said outside the hearing that no such conversation took place.
10. Peter Andre’s anatomy was discussed at great length
Or not great length, if you believe what you read in Mrs Vardy’s unflattering kiss-and-tell story about the singer.
The News of the World article from 2004 was dredged up again in court. Mrs Vardy said the article was “shameful” and the now-defunct tabloid had “misrepresented” a lot of things she had said. She said she had messaged Mr Andre and his partner privately.
After coverage of the case brought the article back under the microscope, Mr Andre responded online, saying he was glad she had acknowledged making up the story and “she did that because her ex-husband forced her to do it”.
He said he had been the “butt of all jokes for years”, pointing out there would be “absolute outrage” if he had written something unflattering about her body.
The trial has now ended, and Mrs Justice Steyn is expected to deliver her judgement in the coming weeks.