A column dedicated to explaining Britain’s manufactured celebrities to an American audience.
Heartening news for those unjaded souls who, in the face of relentless evidence to the contrary, hold dear the notion of Great Britain as a bastion of civility: a new research study has debunked “the common perception of a Rude Britannia.” Apparently, in between drunken fisticuffs, sticking pins into crudely formed likenesses of Kate Winslet and casting votes on reality shows, the denizens of Her Majesty’s Kingdom are quite polite to one another.
Through my shock, I ponder the possible impetus behind this investigation, and thus call to mind a display of decency and breeding such as one might assume exists only in the burnished imagination of Julian Fellowes. To express it in terms suitable for the Dowager Countess’s ears: last year, two courtesans selflessly took to the pages of Sunday newspapers to air their regret at having engaged in co-congress (a “three-way,” if you must or, to use the term anciently enshrined in English law as mandatory for tabloid kiss-and-tells, a “romp”) with stratospherically compensated footballer Wayne Rooney. Via the News of the World and the Sunday Mirror respectively, these spray-tanned Mary Magdalenes issued earnest apologies to the august subject of today’s column, Mrs. Coleen Rooney. Coleen—a spokesmodel, writer, fashion icon, TV presenter and, in the eyes of her supplicant public, a modern-day Eve—was with child when the relevant events occurred, intensifying the young women’s regrets. It was a seismic cultural moment, recalling both the redemptive power of Sonia in Crime and Punishment and Ashley Dupré’s apology to Mrs. Spitzer on “20/20 With Diane Sawyer.”
And so it was that the nation was united in commiserating with Coleen, a sweet-natured girl from Liverpool who began dating Wayne when she was still in school uniform, married him when she was just 22, and is now not only Queen of the WAGs, but beloved as a personality in her own right. (She is also known, less charitably, as Queen of the Chavs, thanks to a youthful penchant for brightly colored Juicy Couture sweats and Burberry checks, but your columnist dismisses such snobbery as mean-spirited jealousy and implores her dear readers to follow suit.) Our sympathy was all the more heartfelt given that several years earlier, Wayne had lamely mea culpa’d his publicized patronage of a backstreet brothel as “the sort of mistake you make when you are young and stupid.” Well, while one scandale de prostitution may be regarded as a misfortune, two looks like the embodiment of more money than sense, conscience or understanding of microbial transmission.
All of which sordidness brings us vis-à-vis with a question of such pressing national import, one hopes that a special parliamentary committee is as we speak convening to address it: why oh why does adorable, salt of the earth Coleen, now 25 and the mother of baby Kai, stay married to the faithless Wayne, said to possess all the charm of a root canal and by popular consent no oil painting? It’s not even as though he seems capable of reform, since the very concept of remorse is clearly foreign to him: after the most recent scandal broke, a family friend of Coleen’s reported that “he just mumbled an apology as if he’d just spilled a glass of milk.” And another source, presumably a relation of Wayne’s, helpfully relayed that he wasn’t willing “to take any shit off the wife and her family, not least because they’re all living a very nice life off the back of his talent.” A Rooney cousin did heroically break ranks, however, to send words of support to Coleen and condemn Wayne’s behavior. “Other footballers have girls begging to have sex with them,” wrote Natalie Rooney, a topless model, on her Facebook page. “He pays for it. Lost all my respect for him now!” You and me both, Natalie.
Before anyone cynically suggests that Wayne’s estimated daily earnings of £26,000 (about $40,000) might indeed be easing the way for Coleen, a notoriously enthusiastic spender and collector of designer accessories, to overlook his peccadilloes, her own not inconsiderable income should be acknowledged. If you were of a mind to purchase an entire Coleen-branded lifestyle—and really, a girl could do worse—you’d have at your disposal her cosmetics line, her three top selling perfumes, her jewelry, her clothing range and her exercise DVD. Mind and spirit needn’t be neglected, either: Coleen’s literary endeavors include a bestselling autobiography, a style guide and a series of children’s books about a little girl who solves fashion challenges. (Unfortunately, this series does send a problematic message to its legions of tween girl readers, who obviously should be taught that in our post-feminist era, fashion makeovers are the preserve of judgmental gay men with inane catchphrases.)
Padding out Coleen’s income further is her print and TV journalism, although since becoming a mother she’s stepped down from her two main roles. There was her TV show, “Coleen’s Real Women,” in reaction to which the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan gave new meaning to the phrase “mixed review.” Condemning the show as “meretricious piles of unblushingly mindless, pointless, opportunistic, intellectually and stylistically bankrupt crap,” she praised its presenter as having “a manner so sweet, charming and self-effacing that you could no more fail to warm to her than you could to a kitten playing with a marshmallow on an orphan’s lap.” Coleen also wrote a weekly column for OK, for which she was paid £41,000 (about $65,000) a month. Now, to avert any frustrated rumblings from fusty old media types who might object to this salary, which admittedly could probably buy a Thomas L. Friedman, an Andrew Sullivan and an Anne Applebaum, I’ll just point out that as capitalism imploded and unemployment soared, Coleen resolutely boosted the morale of the nation by sharing details of her latest sojourn to Barbados and the new Rolex she got for Christmas.
All in, Coleen’s personal wealth stands at around £10M (about $16M) which if she divorced Wayne would still finance a standard of living light years away from her childhood in the crime-infested Liverpool suburb of Croxteth, once poetically evoked by her biographer Sue Evison as “a bleak, unprepossessing place, plonked on the edge of Liverpool’s Eastern boundaries and left to lumber towards an inevitable decay.” In these inauspicious surroundings Coleen Mary McLoughlin, as was, lived in a council house with her two younger brothers, her younger adopted sister and her parents: Tony, a bricklayer, and Colette, a former nursery nurse. Wayne and his family lived on the same estate, as did numerous other members of the Catholic, tight-knit Rooney and McLoughlin clans. “I can remember seeing Wayne playing football in the street with my brothers,” Coleen has recalled. “I was only twelve when we first met and we were all just mates at first.”
Puppy love soon blossomed, and by the time they were sixteen, Wayleen were an item (although until they were famous, and Bennifer had inaugurated the custom, they somehow managed without a demeaning uniname), stealing their first kiss behind a local church and enjoying dates to the cinema and chip shop. Even when Wayne, who had played for Everton Youth since he was nine, turned professional and began earning £13,000 a week, the young couple remained endearingly guileless and unworldly. The first time Coleen flew out to join Wayne at a football training camp in Spain, when they were both still teenagers, she was full of nerves: “I rang Wayne and asked him to find out what kind of clothes the women were wearing… I was really worried I would take the wrong clothes or not know what to do.”
Yet within a few short years, women across the country would be taking their style cues from Coleen. Her exceptional influence became apparent early on: as a “world famous” designer label boss told British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, when the then-19-year-old Coleen was photographed carrying a slow-selling handbag, the store received a deluge of requests for the bag, even though the newspaper had mistakenly credited it as costing £3500—ten times the actual price.
It was Vogue’s decision, in 2005, to feature Coleen in a photo spread and interview that at once signaled her final transition from working-class heroine to glossy fashion muse and provoked a vicious backlash. “McLoughlin is to style what a bicycle repair kit is to a Formula One car,” sniffed a Sunday Times editorial whose author may want to look up “analogy” in the dictionary. “She is a shopaholic whose undiscerning accumulation of expensive clothes—paid for with Rooney’s gold credit card—has earned her the term ‘looting chic.'” Actually, it hadn’t, but heaven forbid the facts should interfere with an opportunity for chav-baiting.
Understandably, Coleen found such attacks hurtful. “I’m not the person the newspapers think I am,” she told Vogue in a tear-jerking cri de coeur. “I don’t understand that chav label. I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean… Yes, I go shopping, and I buy what I want. But sometimes I’m photographed and there’s a story that says I’ve been on another spending spree, when all I was doing was popping round to my mum’s or buying a friend a birthday card.”
Thankfully, Coleen has developed a thicker skin in recent years, but to the media she remains either a saintly symbol of victimhood—“poor Coleen”—or a punchline about profligacy. The Mirror, while efficiently summing up the shenanigans of the newly disgraced government Defence Secretary, quipped “Turns out Liam Fox had a more intimate knowledge of five-star resort hotels than Coleen Rooney.” Ah, yes—it’s true that Coleen’s fondness for vacations is fairly legendary. So far in 2011, she’s enjoyed no-expense-spared trips to Barbados (twice—she has a house there), Ibiza, St. Tropez and Dubai (also twice), prompting the Daily Mail’s tireless in-house mathematicians to calculate that since the summer of 2010, she’s spent £216,000 on travel.
Then there are the other extravagances that, there’s no denying, would have to be slightly curtailed were Coleen to strike out as an independent woman. As much as she likes buying expensive new cars, she could theoretically struggle along for a while with only her old Bentley, Porsche and Range Rover to get around in. But she may find it difficult to rein in her generosity to the loyal retinue of friends, family and staff she surrounds herself with, who often accompany her on lavish beach vacations like the Ibizan yacht tour she took in August with her brother and six friends. And whereas typically, celebrity minions fly coach, or business if they’re lucky, when Coleen needed some jewelry from New York, her assistant flew first class to get it.
Most wrenching for Coleen to relinquish would likely be the country mansion of which she is chatelaine. Built from scratch to the Rooneys’ exacting specifications, the six-bedroom pile in Cheshire boasts all the basic necessities: a vast indoor pool and Jacuzzi, three garages, a cinema, Grecian statues, neo-Georgian columns and, judging by the frenzied level of international reportage devoted to it, Coleen’s most controversial acquisition to date: a white leather sofa customized with Swarovski crystals. Supposedly, the sofa matches her Marchesa wedding dress, which was adorned with £100,000’s worth of crystals—a drop in the ocean expense, mind you, given the spectacular scale of the Rooney-McLoughlin nuptials.
I don’t know—maybe if you spent millions on your wedding, you’d be reluctant to throw in the towel, sex-purchasing husband or not. As was exhaustively, gleefully and sneeringly documented at the time, Coleen’s 2008 trip down the aisle made Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier look like a cash bar at a suburban rec center. The four-day event in the Italian resort of Portofino involved a fleet of private jets, a super-yacht, a hilltop palace with Louis XVI chandeliers and 17th-century paintings, a medieval abbey with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, butterflies, fireworks… you get the idea. Suffice to say that somewhere, Donald Trump was tutting primly at the ostentation.
Now three years into a marriage that bookmaker’s William Hill offered 5/1 odds on lasting five, and that was before the vows had been broken, Coleen must wonder what the future holds. Her once avowed dream of becoming an actress seems to have been shelved, although as recently as 2007 she talked wistfully of moving to Los Angeles and fielding Hollywood offers, the snag being “Wayne’s career at Manchester United.” Of course, if he were ever sold to a US team as David Beckham was, Coleen would find herself ideally situated to charm America with her down-to-earth, girl-next-door appeal, albeit while having to associate with the woefully inferior American WAGs (some of the basketball players’ wives—Vanessa Bryant, for example—she might have more in common with). Alternatively, she could listen to the experts who promise that by rolling up her sleeves and accepting a few lucrative media offers, she could easily remain a rich celebrity as a single woman—and there’s no doubt she’d have a groundswell of public support behind her.
There may, however, be one immovable barrier to Coleen getting a divorce: her devout Catholicism and her belief in the sanctity of marriage. She planned to meet the Pope during his last visit to the UK; tantalizingly, the media failed to report on whether the rendezvous took place, but this column takes great pleasure in imagining our Col debating diamond settings and comparing Prada pumps with Benedict XVI. She’s also twice traveled to Lourdes to pray for her 13-year-old sister, Rosie, on whom she dotes and who suffers from a devastating, incurable and disabling illness. Perhaps it is this relationship, ultimately, that enables Coleen to stoically rise above hurts and indignities such as others would find intolerable. “I look at her,” she has said, “and think how lucky I am just to have my health. All the other things—they really don’t matter.”