Oscar Wilde, Barbra Streisand, and now – Rebekah Vardy. When news broke that Vardy had lost her libel case against Coleen Rooney, she joined this heady roster of celebrities who have launched brain-bogglingly misguided and self-wounding legal cases. Like Wilde – who sued the Marquess of Queensberry for revealing his homosexuality – Vardy went to court to deny something that a rock could see was true: she’d passed on private stories about Rooney to the press. And like Streisand – who sued a website for featuring an image of her house, thereby drawing the world’s attention to it – she believed going to court was the best way to control her image. She was wrong.
Vardy traded private details of her husband’s colleagues and their wives in the hope of currying positive coverage in the media. And because of that, Mrs Justice Steyn delivered a verdict that was even more of a character assassination than Vardy’s own memorable description of Rooney to a Daily Mail journalist: “Arguing with Coleen Rooney would be as pointless as arguing with a pigeon: you can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to shit in your hair.” Well, Rebekah, you’re covered in shit now.
I sat just a few yards from Vardy every day of the trial, and it was obvious that she deserved to lose this case. But it was not always obvious she would do so. Rooney took a big risk in publicly accusing Vardy – or, to be precise “It’s………Rebekah Vardy’s account” – of leaking stories about her to the tabloids, because in English law the burden of proof falls on the person who made the defamatory claim. She took an even bigger risk in refusing to back down even after Mr Justice Warby decreed in November 2020 that Rooney would have to prove Vardy herself was the source of the leaks, not just someone with access to Vardy’s account.
Yet from the first day of the trial, Rooney, who sat every day alongside her husband, Wayne, radiated certainty and sanity, like a holy figure in a painting by Vermeer, waiting for their blessing. Vardy, by contrast, was more like a character on Dynasty, hysterically crying and collapsing in the witness box as Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne, repeatedly read out her own words, from WhatsApp messages and tabloid interviews, that disproved Vardy’s claims.
Did she leak stories? No she did not. So why had she sent a WhatsApp telling her agent, Caroline Watt: “Leak the story about her shagging G behind H’s back?” Did she endorse revealing personal details about other people? No she did not. So why did she do a kiss and tell about Peter Andre in 2004 in which she described him as “hung like a chipolata”?
And this was the evidence we did see. So much we did not. Watt’s phone, which somehow ended up at the bottom of the North Sea, and endless WhatsApp messages on Vardy and her husband Jamie’s phones that mysteriously vanished – these should be discussed alongside the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes as mythical objets d’art that were tragically lost to mankind.
Justice Steyn concluded that their disappearance was “not accidental” and it was “likely that Ms Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt, and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone into the sea”. Vardy probably isn’t buzzing – to use one of her favourite terms – at that ruling, but she can console herself that at least the judge didn’t accept Vardy’s own barrister’s argument that she would have to have been “very clever or very cynical” to delete her WhatsApps. In other words, that she was too thick to bin her own messages. Better too cynical than too thick, Becky.
And Justice Steyn clearly thinks Vardy was very cynical indeed. At the trial, Vardy tried to chuck Watt into the North Sea (although probably not to retrieve her phone) by insisting that, if Watt did leak stories to the Sun, she did so without Vardy’s knowledge, consent or approval. Justice Steyn writes simply: “I reject that contention.” I wonder what made her think that? Oh maybe, the various messages from Vardy to Watt saying “leak it” and “I want paying for this”.
The index to Justice Steyn’s ruling is endearingly revealing in its own way: “The Flooded Basement Post”; “The Soho House Posts”; “Ms Rooney’s Decision to Remove Ms Vardy as a Follower”. This is what that £3m trial was ultimately about: whether someone blabbed that Rooney’s basement flooded and other similarly newsworthy stories, and Vardy being annoyed at her removal from Rooney’s Instagram. The argument between the two women, Justice Steyn concluded, “can fairly be described as trivial, but it does not need to be important to meet the sting of libel … The essential sting of libel has been shown to be true”.
Vardy has been well and truly stung. Perhaps, to paraphrase and homage her own immortal words about pigeons, that rare but apparently possible phenomenon of shitting in your own hair can now be known as The Vardy effect.
And what of Rooney? Not since her husband scored a hat-trick in his Old Trafford debut has a Rooney scored so magnificently. Her Wagatha sleuthing might have showed heretofore hidden canniness, but it was her strength during the trial that really left an impression. She didn’t even blink at references to her husband’s repeated infidelities, didn’t stumble under questioning, but conducted herself like someone who truly has the courage of her convictions, and her convictions are that you don’t cross Coleen or her family. Vardy, by contrast, couldn’t even look at Rooney, and the only conviction she seems to have is an appetite for the shallowest kind of fame. Well, she’s got it now.