The post on Coleen Rooney’s Instagram account was a warning. “Don’t play games,” she wrote. “With a girl who can play better.” At times during this week’s “Wagatha Christie” libel trial, Rebekah Vardy must have wished she had heeded it.
ardy brought this action, intent on clearing her name after Rooney accused her of being the “grass” who leaked stories from her private social media account to a tabloid newspaper. Yet during three gruelling days of cross-examination, the wife of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy has resembled a defendant — and one who occasionally appeared to be struggling to get her story straight.
At the half-time whistle on Thursday, it looked to be game over.
But, as any football fan knows, you can never rule out an upset. After Rooney’s first day on the witness stand on Friday, the outcome appears a little less certain.
The Royal Courts of Justice has seen nothing quite like this. When Mrs Justice Steyn dreamt of becoming a High Court judge, is this what she pictured?
Presiding over a slanging match between two Wags (an acronym which, in case you don’t know, stands for “wives and girlfriends”), with evidence presented in the medium of WhatsApp messages, Instagram posts, expletives and emojis, in which one of the topics of legal debate concerned Peter Andre’s manhood and its alleged resemblance to a chipolata.
Plenty of people, though, can’t get enough of this case – just ask those who have queued up hoping for a spot in the public gallery, including a mother with a newborn baby strapped to her chest, and a middle-aged man in a Liverpool FC tracksuit, eager to snap a selfie with Wayne. Celebrity, football, money and class are a potent combination – throw in a whodunit, and it’s Footballers’ Wives meets Poirot (a Netflix documentary is already rumoured to be in the works).
Each day’s battle begins not when proceedings get under way in Court 13, but when the rival Wags step out of their cars just after 10am. Vardy is head-to-toe in designer clothes, accompanied by a minder the size of an American fridge.
Her expression is stony. Rooney cuts a more approachable figure, often in High Street fashion save for a single Gucci mule (for reasons unexplained, her left leg is encased in a surgical boot).
Walking dutifully behind her is Wayne, who is tasked with carrying her handbag and, one suspects, would rather be anywhere else. But his wife has stood by him through… well, quite a lot. It’s payback time.
Their respective barristers are also cut from very different cloth. Rooney has hired David Sherborne, a champion showboater with a Wag-tastic tan of the finest teak, who represented Johnny Depp in his 2020 libel suit against The Sun. Vardy’s lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson QC, who has previously represented the Beckhams, is more restrained, although he too gets carried away with the celebrity silliness of it all.
To illustrate the difference between believing something to be true and having evidence to prove it so, he couldn’t resist a dig at Wayne’s managerial career: “You might believe that Derby County will win the Premiership in two years’ time, but it’s not evidence they’re going to.” Ouch.
This all began, in case you missed it, with Rooney’s bombshell social media post in 2019. She revealed that she had conducted an elaborate sting operation to discover which of the 300 followers on her private Instagram account was leaking information to The Sun, posting a series of fake stories to smoke out the culprit. She changed the settings so that only one follower could see these posts before making the big reveal: “It’s… Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
As a result, Vardy has sued for libel. She denies being the leaker, or giving the green light to her agent, Caroline Watt, who had access to her account and thus could view Rooney’s private posts.
Ms Watt is too unwell to appear, and vital evidence stored on her mobile phone has been lost. The court heard that she was filming the Scottish coastline from the deck of a boat when the phone fell into the North Sea, shortly after Rooney’s lawyers had asked for it to be handed over. What rotten luck.
Rooney’s fury that someone in her private circle was tipping off the papers is understandable. But the leaked stories were hardly state secrets: a dent in the side of her Honda when she lived in Washington DC; being tipsy in charge of a bicycle during a celebration at Soho Farmhouse. Their triviality makes it seem all the more mind-bending that this case has ended up in the High Court.
Vardy’s claim is based on her assertion that the leaks were nothing to do with her account. Awkwardly, however, the court was read some of the surviving WhatsApp messages between her and Ms Watt. Discussing Rooney’s fears that she had been betrayed by someone she trusted, Mas Watt said: “It wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me,” followed by a laughter emoji.
There is also some cognitive dissonance between the Rebekah Vardy presenting in the witness box — a dignified figure who insists she has no “beef” with anyone — and the Rebekah Vardy of private WhatsApp messaging.
A woman she dislikes (possibly fellow Wag Danielle Lloyd, she can’t quite remember) is referred to as “a nasty bitch. Rooney is a “c***”. And then there was the quote from an old interview, brought up in court, in which Vardy was asked if she had protested her innocence in a phone call with Rooney.
“Arguing with Coleen is like arguing with a pigeon,” she said. “You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to shit in your hair.”
One undeniable fact about Vardy: she’s tough. Lesser mortals would have crumbled under Sherborne’s onslaught, but his insults bounced off her until the last day of cross-examination, when she slumped over the table.
And she is sharp. Under questioning, she admitted to hiring a paparazzo to lurk outside Leicester Maternity Hospital and catch her seemingly unawares as she emerged with her new baby. Wouldn’t it have been more honest, Sherborne asked, to sit down with a photographer for a proper, above-board shoot? “I’m not too sure I was in any position to sit down,” Vardy shot back.
Colluding with the paparazzi is one example of Vardy’s eagerness for publicity. She allegedly parked herself in someone else’s seat at the Euros in 2016 to secure a place in the row behind Rooney, thus ensuring they would be photographed together.
“Becky certainly stuck out to me as being someone who actively wanted to be famous,” Rooney said, painting herself as someone who actively wanted the opposite. Some achieve Wag-dom, and some have Wag-dom thrust upon them: while Vardy grafted her way into the Premier League of footballers’ wives through photo-opportunities and tell-all interviews, bagging a spot on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, Rooney never had to try.
She found herself in the spotlight as a 16-year-old schoolgirl who happened to be going out with a talented young player. Nearly 20 years on, the media interest is strong as ever.
Giving evidence, she exuded calm and confidence: smiling, where Vardy was severe, and speaking clearly where Vardy was barely audible. She appeared glossy but down-to-earth, even tidying away the box files into neat piles before leaving the witness box. When Tomlinson apologised for using the term “Wags”, in case it seemed disrespectful, she replied evenly: “It’s not disrespectful, it’s just a word that I don’t use.”
Her styling sent a message that she has nothing to prove. Except, in legal terms, she does: she has to show she was correct in her Instagram assertion.
When asked what evidence she had that Vardy was the leaker, Rooney had no answer, except to say that “it all added up” — Vardy’s desire to be famous, her close relationship with The Sun, her habit of “fishing” for personal information. Nor has Rooney offered a possible motive, save for the suggestion that Vardy wanted to gain favourable coverage for herself in Britain’s biggest tabloid, and one way of keeping it on side would be to pass on juicy nuggets about other people. Vardy denies the claim.
If looks could kill, it’s safe to say Rooney would not be returning to give another day of evidence tomorrow. Vardy glared at her from the front row of the court.
The parties sit only a few feet apart, but enter and leave the room via separate entrances and never look one another in the eye. According to Rooney, the two women were never good friends, and she always thought Vardy was “trying a bit too hard” to inveigle herself into her world.
Jamie Vardy has been notable by his absence, probably delighted to be stuck in training. And what of Wayne?
Not once has he glanced up at the witness box, either during Vardy’s evidence or his wife’s. Instead, hands clasped on the desk in front of him, he stares fixedly into space. Perhaps he is silently totting up how much this farrago is costing.
Or maybe he was practising his poker face in anticipation of the moment, on Day Four, when his wife revealed that she had once moved back in with her parents on account of “some wrongdoing” on his part (an awkward incident in which he was arrested for drink-driving, with another woman in his car). Wayne maintained his inscrutable expression, but slowly turned puce.
If Vardy does lose, she’ll be landed with a multi-million pound bill. But there will also be a deluge of interview offers, after a week of blanket media coverage.
Her team includes a “reputation management” consultant who once worked at the News of the World. He has his work cut out. But if there’s one thing Vardy won’t countenance, it’s being relegated to the lower leagues.
© Telegraph Media Group 2022
Telegraph Media Group Limited