Twelve years have passed since the legendary 2006 WAGs’ World Cup, when the players of the England football team and their partners descended en masse on the sleepy German spa town of Baden-Baden. Back then, the WAGs, who included Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole and Coleen Rooney, made front-page news throughout the tournament, in part thanks to their veritable mass of exotic plumage– hair extensions, fake tan, silicone- enhanced breasts, skin-tight bandage dresses and sky-high heels.
Times have changed. As the cameras panned to the family section of the stadium at England’s opening World Cup game last week, we saw a lower-key bunch, with babies being bounced on knees. But our obsession with them continues.
For Rebekah Vardy, 36-year-old wife of England striker Jamie Vardy, this World Cup is a chance to change the conversation. ‘WAG is a dated term because we’re not defined by what our husbands do. We’re individuals,’ she told Grazia last week from St Petersburg.
And it’s true that Rebekah (Becky to her friends) is very much her own woman: she was a party planner and nightclub promoter when she met Jamie (her third husband after two failed marriages – ‘Oh god, don’t!’ she says when I raise this). When Rebekah appeared on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! last year, one of the challenges required her to eat a bull’s penis, fermented duck egg soup and a lamb’s anus – all of which she tackled with a no-nonsense approach and risqué joke.
Now she’s applied that same get-on- with-it attitude to the World Cup and has taken the couple’s two young children, three-year-old Sofia and Finley, 17 months, as well as her two children from her previous relationships, Megan, 13, and Taylor, eight, to Russia to support Jamie (he also has daughter, Ella, seven, from a previous relationship). They’re all staying in a St Petersburg hotel, a two-and-a- half-hour flight from the England base camp in Volgograd, southwest Russia. For Rebekah, the trip is less about her status as a WAG and more about being there for her husband as a family unit.
‘It’s really important for Jamie. He knows we’re there to support him,’ she explains. ‘He spotted us in the crowd when the players came out on the pitch before the game so we all smiled and waved.’
England beat Tunisia 2-1 with a last- minute goal from captain Harry Kane. But unlike Baden-Baden, when the WAGs were routinely pictured partying into the early hours, Rebekah had no plans to be dancing on tables at 3am. Instead, she went back to the hotel with her kids.
It’s not that she doesn’t like football. She does. It’s simply that she realises other things are equally important. A normal family life, for instance. Such as getting her husband to change as many nappies as she does. ‘Jamie’s brilliant at changing nappies,’ says Rebekah. ‘He probably does it more than me at the minute.’
We first speak the day she arrives in Russia. She didn’t get to bed until 1.30am after packing ‘about 30 suitcases with all the kids’ clothes because I didn’t know what we’d need or what the weather would be like’. Then she was up again at 9am to go to the airport, single-handedly juggling four kids. ‘They were as good as gold on the trip,’ Rebekah says. ‘Except for Finley, who was running up and down the plane. He’s got a new name: Mr Carnage.’
She has spent an estimated £150,000 on chartering a private jet, hiring two security guards and taking her full-time nanny, Vicky, with them to Russia. She has also faced criticism for taking her older children out of school but – as she put it – ‘it’s not like I’m taking them to lie on a beach’.
For the 2006 World Cup, a ‘sex ban’ was enforced on the players. This time, there’s no such thing. ‘I’ve read that it’s good for players to have sex – whether by themselves or with their partners – because it releases stress and gets the endorphins going,’ Rebekah says, before pausing. ‘I think we’ll struggle to do it anyway with four kids in tow. It’s a logistical nightmare.’
She says that when a match goes badly, she and Jamie like to joke about it so that he doesn’t take it too much to heart. They share a dry sense of humour.
‘If I didn’t take the mick out of him, he’d wonder what was wrong with me... I’ll say something like, “You could have played a bit better,” and he’ll call me an idiot. Making light of situations helps lift the mood.’
Becky has set up a WhatsApp group for the wives and girlfriends of the England team (the icon is a collage of Russian and English flags) and they swap tips on what to do with the kids in their spare time. ‘We talk about normal things, not about Louboutins and Chanel bags.’
Is it true that the England players have been watching Love Island to relax? ‘Some of them,’ she says, ‘but not Jamie. He hates it, as do I. It’s not the sort of thing I’d want my daughter to do.’
What if her daughter were to marry a footballer, though – would she mind? ‘No,’ says Rebekah, ‘because I don’t think that football defines a person.’
Spoken like the true non-WAG she is.
Click through to relive the 2006 World Cup WAGS...
As a former Spice Girl - not to mention the wife of England's captain - Victoria Beckham was the group's undisputed Queen Bee...
... with Cheryl Tweedy just below her in the unofficial hierarchy.
The two even started to dress alike.
Meanwhile, the rest of the WAGs preferred to hang out en masses, sticking together for shopping trips, nights out and _Reservoir Dogs-_esque photo opportunities like this one...