Life

The Story of “Wagatha Christie”

How a one-woman Instagram sting operation sparked an English tabloid scandal for the ages.

Coleen Rooney sipping from a glass with smoldering intensity in her eyes.
Coleen Rooney watches the racing as she attends day three ‘Grand National Day’ of The Randox Health Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse on April 14, 2018 in Liverpool, England.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

England’s got a new national hero in its midst. There seems to be a few ways to earn this designation: One, I gather from the movie Love Actually, is to give a rousing speech against a smarmy American president played by Billy-Bob Thornton, prompting a triumphant dance to the song “Jump (For My Love).” Another involves victory on the soccer field at the World Cup. And this week we’ve discovered a third way (which is also soccer-, or rather, football-adjacent): Come out ahead in an epic dispute between soccer wives that involves the tabloid press, a fictional mansion flooding, and Instagram trickery of the highest order.

Brava, Coleen Rooney, for taking the third path to becoming England’s newest sweetheart! So who is this new hero, and how did she do it? All the answers—including some helpful Posh Spice context—right this way.

Who is Coleen Rooney?

In England, Coleen Rooney has been famous for years as the wife of soccer legend Wayne Rooney and the mother of their four children, a status she was able to parlay into her own lucrative hustle as a media personality and influencer, with television appearances, merchandise, and endorsements to show for it. Wayne played for Manchester United as well as England’s national soccer team, making him—and apologies for spelling this out for the across-the-pond literate—the equivalent of an NFL or NBA star here in America, i.e., very rich and famous.

Who is Rebekah Vardy?

Rebekah Vardy is Coleen Rooney’s rival WAG in this current drama and the wife of Jamie Vardy, who plays in the Premier League and was Wayne Rooney’s teammate on England’s national soccer team.

And what’s a WAG?

WAG is British parlance for the wives and girlfriends of athletes, so both Rooney and Vardy technically qualify. There was once an entire culture of WAGdom that spawned the television show Footballers’ Wive$ and much talk in the press in the first decade of the 2000s when Posh Spice, aka Victoria Beckham, was the ultimate WAG. But, as the New York Times put it, there’s since been “greater recognition of the sexism of the WAG label, both in defining women near exclusively on their appearance and also their partners and husbands.”

Nevertheless, the scandal has earned Rooney a new nickname: “Wagatha Christie.”

So what did Rooney do that has everyone so gaga?

Simply put, Rooney is currently being celebrated for an act of cunning wherein she used Instagram Stories to expose Vardy as the source of rumors about her published in one of the U.K.’s most notorious tabloids (one of the same ones that Prince Harry is currently suing). Here is the note she posted online about the ruse she perpetrated to catch Vardy:

In short, Rooney apparently blocked everyone but Vardy from seeing her Instagram Stories and then planted a bunch of fake stories in her feed—stories Vardy wouldn’t have known were being fed to her alone. When several of these stories wound up in the Sun, Rooney knew that Vardy must have been the one leaking them.

OK, that is incredible. But why do people seem so … obsessed with this?

Because most people are, at heart, messy bitches who live for drama. Also, it’s a nice distraction from Brexit and, in the country where Shakespeare was born, almost Shakespearian in scope, according to at least one professor.

Is that long ellipses between “It’s” and “Rebekah Vardy’s account” the most dramatic 10 dots in the history of England?

Yes, yes it is. The Magna Carta could never.

Before all this, were Rooney and Vardy friends?

The New York Times says the two were “close enough friends to sit next to each other at the occasional soccer game and be on one another’s private Instagram follower lists.”

What stories were planted, and how has the Sun responded?

The allegedly fake stories that made their way into the Sun included one that alleged Rooney and her husband spent $10,000 on a “gender selection treatment” that would ensure their fifth child would be a girl, another that asserted that Rooney was planning her own TV show, and one that suggested that the Rooneys’ $25 million home had flooded.

The Sun has not commented on the saga, but on Wednesday, the tabloid added a note to each of the articles about Rooney’s claim that she made up the stories. According to the Guardian, “Outlets including MailOnline, the Mirror, and Metro.co.uk, which had rewritten the Sun’s original stories for their own websites, have removed or heavily rewritten their articles.”

What does it mean that Rooney had a “personal” Instagram account?

Many famous people have accounts for their hundreds of thousands or millions of fans to follow, and then accounts just for people they know in real life, and it sounds like this is what Rooney had going on. Tavi Gevinson, the actress and writer, copped to having both public and personal Instagrams in this manner in a recent story she wrote for New York magazine (as well as, actually, a third one just for herself).

Can you really block all but one person from seeing your Instagram Stories?

Indeed you can block any of your followers from seeing your stories, giving them access only to your feed of pictures but not the more casual, intimate content that you may post as stories, which expire and can no longer be viewed by anyone after 24 hours. If Rooney’s personal Instagram had a lot of followers, this could have been a pain in the neck to set up, but totally doable.

Is there a name for this kind of mystery-solving/entrapment via Instagram?

Let’s try to come up with one. Disentanglstagramming. Unscramblestagramming. Instacracking. Encryptstagramming. Instanglement. Reverse-catfishing. Eh?

How has Vardy respond to Rooney’s accusation?

Vardy posted a note of her own denying that she was the Sun’s source and claiming that other people must have been logged into her account and leaked the stories. The note also mentioned, for some reason, that Vardy is currently “heavily pregnant.” A BBC show called Victoria Live posted on Wednesday that Vardy is sticking to this story: She instructed her lawyers to investigate who had access to her Instagram account and when.

Will Coleen Rooney’s fame last? Will she become famous in America?

It’s too soon to say. Anything soccer-related is a tough sell in the United States, but you never know: What we lack in appreciation for soccer we tend to make up for in appreciation for drama.