At 10.29 a.m. on a bright but otherwise unremarkable Wednesday morning, Britain changed forever.
The catalyst was not another development in the country’s unending Brexit saga, which had dominated newsstands for three years but instantly fell into irrelevance on that autumnal day.
Instead, the landmark moment arose from a single tweet from the wife of a star footballer.
“This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it,” wrote Coleen Rooney, a TV personality married to England’s record goal-scorer Wayne.
Attached to the post was a lengthy and gripping tale, in which Rooney describes months of amateur detective work she conducted on Instagram – to find out who was leaking stories about her to a British tabloid.
“Over the past five months, I have posted a series of false stories to see if they made their way into the Sun newspaper,” Rooney explained. “And you know what, they did! The story about gender selection in Mexico, the story about returning to TV and then the latest story about the basement flooding in my new house.”
“I have saved and screenshotted the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them,” she went on.
And then, in a final, jaw-dropping twist unrivaled in British literature, delivered after extended ellipses that heightened the drama further still, Rooney wrote: “It’s ……….Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
Why do people care?
Rooney’s staggering implication of a fellow footballer’s wife – that of England and Leicester striker Jamie Vardy – ensured the tweet served as the 21st-century equivalent of the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, setting off the First WAG War and immediately captivating the divided nation.
The length and breadth of the country, jaws fell shuddering to the floor, and many Brits are still struggling to reinstate them. Here is one of the nation’s most famous footballing wives – a staple of tabloid front pages for more than a decade – accusing a similarly established celebrity (or, at least, someone using her account) of a years-long program of deception.
Twitter erupted. The faces of the two women were splashed on the front pages of multiple national newspapers. Netflix admitted it would need to make a documentary about the drama – and Keira Knightley threw her hat into the ring to play Coleen in a film adaptation. It may never be known how many billions in lost productivity the spat has cost Britain.
Vardy subsequently denied the allegations and suggested someone else may have used her account.
But the fight turned brutal as celebrities and members of the public alike started taking sides. Vardy was asked in an interview by the Daily Mail whether the two women have argued about the incident. “That would be like arguing with a pigeon,” she replied. “You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to s**t in your hair.”
Still, to international observers, WAGgate – or Wagatha Christie, as it also became known – threw up more questions than answers.
Why is Britain spending the middle of a political crisis obsessing over an Insta-spat? Where did this saga come from? Who are these people? And – most importantly of all…
…What is a WAG?
In short, WAG stands for the “wives and girlfriends” of British footballers.
Spawned by a perfect storm of public fascination with celebrity, romance and the country’s national sport, WAGs own a unique space in Britain’s public sphere.
Victoria Beckham, fashion designer and former Posh Spice, is undoubtedly the original WAG. The ur-WAG, if you will. Every up and down of her romance with former England and Manchester United captain David Beckham played out in the papers, and their combined celebrity power made them a truly top-tier couple.
Ever since, footballers’ partners have battled for ascendance in the WAG hierarchy – and, whether they want it or not, have been followed by the glare of tabloid attention.
The public fascination came to a head during the 2006 World Cup, when an army of WAGs accompanied the England football team to Germany. Photographs of their shopping and drinking trips were consumed like tea and scones back home, creating a distraction that was partially blamed for England’s quarter-final exit.
WAGs were banned from the next World Cup but their legend has lived on. Notable WAGs past and present include girl-band star Cheryl Tweedy, who was married to left-back Ashley Cole; model Abbey Clancy, who remains with lanky England legend Peter Crouch; and, depending on how far one cares to stretch the definition, Nancy Dell’Olio – a girlfriend of former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson.
Do WAGs usually row?
Not like this.
Sure, there have been spats before, but the WAG is usually seen in the media as a relatively homogeneous demographic, with individual disputes rarely coming to the surface. This row is unprecedented in WAG history.
To fully understand its significance, American sports fans would best imagine a high-stakes public fallout between their own most tabloid-worthy athletes’ wives – for instance, Tom Brady’s supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen and Tony Romo’s former girlfriend Jessica Simpson squaring up the night before a Super Bowl.
But such a scenario is almost unthinkable, and not just because it involves Romo’s Dallas Cowboys playing in a championship game. WAGs tend to focus on their own ventures, and calling out colleagues only invites more attention from the press.
What’s more, the magnitude of this row is elevated by the status of those involved. Coleen Rooney is WAG royalty, arguably the most likely heir to Beckham’s crown should the fashion designer decide to abdicate her throne. And Rebekah, thanks mostly to her cockroach-consuming stint on jungle-based reality show “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!,” is a household name in her own right.
That’s why this latest conflict has erupted into a Suez-sized scandal – and why everyone from Rebekah’s fellow jungle contestants to Coleen’s cab drivers has been approached for comment from a delirious British media.
Have Wayne and Jamie reacted?
Remarkably, not yet – but you can be sure they’ll be asked for comment the moment they’re near a microphone.
Wayne, unlike more than 300,000 fascinated observers, hasn’t even liked Coleen’s tweet, despite being active on the platform. Jamie, who has shown solidarity with his wife through the “Like” button, has a fortuitously timed international break in the football calendar in which to lie low.
But neither can hide forever.
The pair have played together for England on several occasions, though both players are now retired from international football. But should they come to blows over the row, it could get bitter.
Vardy, after all, is known among football fans for the punctuation-free slogan “chat s**t get banged,” which he once reportedly posted on social media.
And Rooney, for his part, once wrote: “I’ll put u asleep within 10 seconds u little girl. Don’t say stuff and not follow up on it. I’ll be waiting,” in a tweet he inexplicably sent to himself.
It’s safe to say, therefore, that the all-consuming saga currently playing out in Britain is a long way from a conclusion.
In fact, to use the portentous punctuation first showcased by its main protagonist: “It’s …………on.”