Nadine O’Regan: Experts say gossip is good for us, but they haven’t reckoned with Wagatha Christie

Gossip might be fun, but it’s unlikely to do anyone any good in the long run, as Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy are finding out

Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy’s showdown in court: classic Mean Girls territory

Did you know gossip is good for us? It might not feel like that, at least when you're the person who's the target of it, but experts say that the exchange of gossip serves to draw us closer together. Whether it’s done at the office watercooler or at 2am in the toilets of a nightclub, gossip acts as bonding material between you and your mates.

According to researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, if two people share negative feelings about a third person, they are likely to feel closer to one another than they would if they exchanged positive details about that person. I know, we’re dreadful, us human beings.

I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a delicious thrill in either delivering a juicy bit of gossip or being on the receiving end of one. It’s not just the gossip itself – although that can be excellent. There's also the warm feeling that comes from being the chosen one: the person your friend decided to deliver this tasty morsel to.

That exchange of confidence is part of the prize, reinforcing a friendship while reconfirming boundaries against others – if you want to see an example of it in real life, just watch Selling Sunset on Netflix, in which a bunch of women tell us they trade in real estate while actually dealing in A-grade gossip.

But then there’s the inevitable growing up that has to be done. As you progress through life, gossiping tends to die away a little even among close friends. Why? Probably because you've had the experience of being burnt by gossip yourself. Possibly because you've learned over time that it's not actually a very nice thing to do. When in doubt? Just say nothing. Gossip might be fun, but it’s unlikely to do anyone any good in the long run.

It was a thought that came to mind this week when – like many others rubbernecking at the sight of a car crash – I took in the spectacle of Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy in court. For those not in the know, or who haven't caught up on the ‘Wagatha Christie’ special – which in a fair world would be playing out on television screens – the drama kicked off when Rooney unleashed havoc a few years ago with a tweet.

She revealed that someone was leaking information about her to the Sun newspaper and that she – having embarked upon a detective route which involved her concocting made-up stories made visible only to Rebekah Vardy's Instagram account, which were subsequently leaked – had deduced that she had therefore located the culprit.

Vardy denied Rooney's claims, arguing that several people had access to her account. When no public apology was forthcoming from Rooney, Vardy took the decision in June 2020 to sue her for libel.

And so this is where we find ourselves this week, watching on as a courtroom drama unfolds before the blur of paparazzi bulbs, designer ensembles and a Twitterati open-mouthed at the whole affair.

Wigs on the green? Handbags in the swimming-pool, more like. So far, under cross-examination, the revelations from Vardy’s life reveal a champion gossip, particularly in her furious back-and-forth texts to her agent.

Poor Peter Andre had his manhood discussed by Vardy in an interview unearthed by lawyers; over WhatsApp, Vardy has called Rooney a “d**k”, a “nasty bitch” and a “c**t”, the latter appellation arriving when she discovered Rooney had unfollowed her on Instagram.

In another text to her agent, Vardy said that arguing with Rooney would “be like arguing with a pigeon. You can tell it it’s right and you’re wrong, but it’s still going to sh** in your hair”.

What did this remind me of? I kept thinking. Oh yes. School. Some of the comments make for scandalous courtroom fodder, but would have you run a mile from the person in real life. It’s schoolgirl stuff, albeit with grown-up consequences. By the time their seven days in court have played out, according to one estimate, costs for each side will be greater than £1 million and the winner will only get back about 70 per cent of their legal bill. Who would face a civil court action being resolute about the prospect of paying at best €300,000? WAGs, that’s who.

It’s a drop in the ocean to them – Wayne Rooney is England and Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer with estimates putting his personal wealth at over £100 million. Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, meanwhile, might be in the ha-penny place by comparison, but he’s not short of a bob or two. Given that both women have considerable social media followings, there is an argument that the money they stand to lose in future social media partnerships because of reputational damage is what’s really at stake here – for Vardy at least.

But now that Vardy has taken the stand, there’s no turning back. Maybe she wasn’t the leak, but what effect will the courtroom exchanges have on how she is perceived?

Gossip might be good for us – but that probably doesn’t extend to when it plays out publicly in a courtroom.