In defence of ballsy WAGs

Money has always been a prime reason for marriage, so why are working-class women who wed wealthy footballers seen as vulgar?

Emily Hill

Topics Culture

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In 2006, the acronym WAG was dreamt up to denote the table-dancing, pool-cavorting, hair extension-swishing, bikini-clad, acrylic-nailed, perma-tanned squad of Wives And Girlfriends who accompanied their men to the World Cup. The WAGs (who are all also Working-class And Gorgeous) provided Baden Baden with the sort of bravura the English completely lacked on the pitch. As usual.

Since then the WAGs have penned autobiographies, launched perfumes, released singles, had babies, sold countless spreads in OK! magazine and stood by their menfolk even when said menfolk have allegedly cheated/lied/been caught up in orgies/sent pictures of themselves in teeny tiny underwear to glamour models.

For these combined crimes the WAGs are now under attack from all quarters. Jan Moir thinks that Chelsea player Ashley Cole’s wife Cheryl ought to get her neck tattoo outlined ‘with a dotted line and the words Cut Here’. (Later, Cole could perhaps tie herself to a chair and throw herself in the river to see whether she floats.)

Another Daily Mail writer raised her eyebrows to wonder why Cheryl did not pull out of performing at last week’s Brit Awards in order to resolve her marital crisis: ‘But then Cheryl and Ashley have long been driven by a vulgar pursuit of money and fame. And in their narcissistic, cynical world, promoting their image seems to be all that matters.’

Even more cat-scratching has been meted out to poor Toni Terry, wife of cheating Chelsea captain John Terry, who has been criticised for smiling at her husband in Dubai and then arriving back in England looking quite happy as opposed to drenched in blood after having cut his balls off and practised her dribbling with them.

‘They all look very similar. Orange tan. Very, very pretty. Very, very thin. And all wearing similar clothes’, sports writer Alison Kervin explained in a Guardian piece, outlining the ‘plight’ of the WAG – the central crux of which seemed to be that it is very sad that manicurists earning £15,000 a year may marry for money. Kervin is seemingly oblivious to the fact that money has been pretty crucial to marriage – as an institution – since it was invented.

But whereas well-born ladies, like Lady Annabel Goldsmith, are the focus of gushing pity for spending years wed to the likes of Sir Jimmy Goldsmith – who was perhaps even more famous for declaring ‘When you marry your mistress, you create a vacancy’ than for repeatedly suing Private Eye for taking the mick out of him – Toni, Cheryl and Co. are the objects of ire.

Yet the well-heeled areas of the UK are brimming with beauties who, to the untrained eye, might look almost identical – although the model of chic to which they are aspiring is more likely to be a Carla Bruni than a Carly Cole. It is quite common for women in their late twenties and early thirties to be looking for a barrister or a stockbroker to keep them in the manner to which they’d like to become accustomed.

This goes for ladies across the pond, too. In 2008, an American wealth research firm asked a sample group of thirtysomething women if they would marry for money – 75 per cent said yes. Sex and the City, the television series so beloved of ladies who lunch and like Laboutins, was all about being a Wife or Girlfriend. It’s about how to get a man and how to keep a man. In the series, the demented Park Avenue Princess, Charlotte, inadvertently marries an impotent doctor, so blinded is she by the prospect of her dream house, and lawyer Miranda puts off marrying ‘the One’ for as long as possible because he’s a bartender (and she only marries him when he becomes co-owner of a bar). For the life of me I can’t see what made the tycoon Big attractive to Carrie besides his Big wallet.

So what is so wrong with working-class girls happening upon a lot of money and deciding to spend it on clothes, holidays and nice things for their kids? And if their husbands cheat, so what? Lots of husbands cheat, and the WAGs appear to be coping much better with it than the sort of middle-class women who waft about Hanif Kureishi novels. People seem to come down hard on the WAGs because they are symbols of wealth and desire at a time when we’re supposed to be meek and thrifty. Jerry Hall was ‘poor’ Jerry Hall for putting up with Mick for all those years in the lap of luxury. But the minute Toni Terry puts her Cheryl Cole record on to ‘Fight for This Love’, the commentariat gets its (tastefully) manicured claws out.

If anything, WAGs are merely following the well-worn marriage policy of Pride and Prejudice‘s Charlotte Lucas, who married the ridiculous vicar, Mr Collins, for an entailed estate and poultry and then put up with his total awfulness with ‘tolerable cheerfulness’ – but in a world of alcopops and boobtubes. As WH Auden famously explained, if anyone knows about marriage being a market, it’s Jane Austen: ‘It makes me uncomfortable to see / An English spinster of the middle class / Describe the amorous effects of “brass” / Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety / The economic basis of society.’

Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.

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