Coleen and Wayne Rooney leave court after giving evidence in the "Wagatha Christie" libel trial. Picture Credit: Phil Lewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Three act tragedy

The Wagatha Christie case reveals the addictive fun of gossip — but also its corrosive power

Artillery Row

The Wagatha libel trial has been a tremendous amount of fun. There are the fashion faux pas to giggle at. Rooney’s weight gain to gawp at. The Fendi bags of court documents. The comments about the size of Peter Andre’s manhood (snigger). The crucial evidence lost in the sea. Rebekah Vardy’s courtroom histrionics. 

I always wondered how they respected themselves

On the face of it, this is all very silly. Two ridiculously rich women — raised above their humble upbringings due to the footballing talents of their men, fighting over who did what to who. With their designer court costumes costing thousands of pounds, stylised hair and make-up, and a legal battle estimated to be more than £1million it is hard to feel sorry for either of them. Don’t they know there is a war on? A cost-of-living crisis?

And yet I do feel sorry for them, even though few people love a bit of gossip more than me – a former tabloid gossip writer. 

Because take away the ostentatious regalia, strip it bare and this appears to be an almost Shakespearian tale about deep-seated envy leading to deceit. For Coleen Rooney, whoever is responsible for leaking stories about her, this is a story about betrayal and the green-eyed monster. Earlier this week in court her husband described how “traumatic” it had been for his wife. 

Resentment will breed in your breast

While the case continues and no judgement has yet been made on whether Rebekah Vardy and/or her agent really did sell stories about Coleen Rooney to my former paper, The Sun, it has made me think about all those people who secretly sold stories for money on their colleagues, their friends and their families. While they made my job easier, and they gave me some incredible stories, I rarely respected them for it. I always wondered how they respected themselves. 

People who sell showbusiness stories for money aren’t doing it to change the world. They are practically never whistle-blowers (the closest I got was the revelation that a manufactured band were earning a pittance compared to their manager). Their reasons are much more basic. 

First there are the people who sell stories simply for money. In that category you will often find the employees; the security guards, the chauffeurs, the nannies. They rarely know the subject of their deception that well, they may sometimes have been badly treated, and they are people who had low salaries and saw pound signs in their eyes. 

Then there are those who are telling themselves they are doing it to help the celebrity. It might be an agent, a manager, a press officer who wants to get their client in the press; and sometimes they aren’t too proud to ask for a backhander while they do it. 

They have looked after their families and friends well

Then there are the friends. Often money is a big element too — if your mate lives in a £5million house while you can’t even afford the rent on a tiny apartment, resentment will breed in your breast. And if you find that friend a bit silly, a bit spoilt, perhaps it is easy to phone The Sun to share a particularly juicy bit of gossip. The excitement of seeing your story in print, of a relationship with a journalist, can be something they begin to rather enjoy, as well as the extra cash. 

There is a surreptitious nature to the exchange of information — the secret names in the phone, the clandestine meetings — that can be thrilling enough to outweigh the risk of getting caught. 

Occasionally it may be because they are genuinely outraged about their friend’s behaviour. One dancer friend of a famous singer was angry that she was having an affair with a famous married man whose wife was pregnant and so she told me about it so I could tell our millions of readers (sadly being able to prove the story was a bit more difficult so it never ran). 

Other times there is a genuine competition element; reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing often have celebrities telling tales about each other, normally through their agents. One celebrity who was having an affair with her dancer deliberately spread tales about a separate affair to get people off her scent.  

But just sometimes friends sell stories about their friends because it is like a secret weapon. The power they had over their friend in an unequal relationship. It’s a form of revenge. 

The most interesting and surprising betrayals of all come from family members. You’d be shocked at how many stories come from family members. For journalists they are the most prized of all as they are unlikely to be wrong; this is a source who the celebrity implicitly trusts. 

Sometimes – particularly if the celebrity was a two-bit reality star – a relation might think they were doing the right thing to call in a story about their son or sister to keep them in the public eye with some flim flam. They’d always want paying though. 

More often, the reason was much more complex. There was the sister of a singer, married to a famous actor, who made a fortune selling stories. 

She worked for her sister, sometimes as a personal assistant, and she hated every minute of it. She hated the way her sister treated her like she was staff who could be shouted at. She frothed with resentment at the easy gilded life her sister had; and she made a fortune out of selling stories she overheard from her sister. 

While Meghan Markle’s chatty, oh-so-chatty, family are an example of what happens if you don’t put your relations on the payroll, it is clear to me that if you do have them working for you, that can lead to all sorts of other trouble. 

Perhaps even darker than the siblings telling their stories are the parents. I noticed a pattern; it would often be that the child had succeeded in a career the parent had failed in. It could be modelling, acting, sport. 

The child might have bought their parent a house — not always — or a car. But that only served to highlight the different power dynamic of the child being more powerful, and much richer, than their mum or dad. I can’t imagine being so jealous of your child that you would betray them; but plenty did. 

In some ways it is a credit to the Rooneys that fewer people sell stories on the minutiae of their lives considering how famous they are. They have looked after their families and friends well, shared their good fortune, often with grace.

But the two have been famous since they were teenagers; they know all too well that as long as you have something interesting happening in your life, there will be someone willing to gossip it to the papers.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover