'Failure is a part of life - I've failed so many f***ing times and I'm still here', says England WAG Rebekah Vardy
Like most things nowadays, nothing is as it initially seems with Becky Vardy.
On paper she is the Queen of the 2018 crop of WAGS, the one who appeared in the I’m A Celebrity jungle last year, and who, as the tabloids gleefully reported, spent £140,000 watching her husband Jamie playing in the World Cup.
There she was pouting for selfies behind her diamante St George’s cross phone cover, or standing by a private jet in a tight England t-shirt teamed with teeny weeny denim shorts, preparing to cheer on our boys as they battled all the way to the semi-finals.
That giddy, hot summer seems like it happened during another lifetime, though in actual fact it was only three months ago, and I am looking forward to hearing about all the glamour and gossip of it as Vardy and I plonk ourselves down for breakfast in a private members club on a particularly beige, Brexit-ey autumn morning.
Was it great fun, I ask? Vardy raises her beautifully-shaped eyebrows at me. “Well it was certainly an experience”, she smiles. “But I wouldn’t put it in my fun bucket.”
I say that from all the pictures plastered over the newspapers, she certainly looked like she was having fun. “I bet you got fed up with seeing me,” she quips, “because I got fed up of seeing me.”
Anyway, while we were all enjoying a record-breaking heatwave, “having barbecues in your back garden,” says Becky, enviously, “fun parties, beautiful weather, that sort of thing, I was sat there in a hotel room, making my kids do their homework, washing my knickers in the sink while it’s pissing down with rain outside.”
The weather was terrible out there, apparently. “And do you know what else?” she continues, sipping on a flat white.
“All the other World Cups that I have experienced have been back home on the television, and when you’re actually there where it’s taking place… well, there is no atmosphere. You lose the whole buzz, the excitement, the sense of the whole country getting behind the team. I was being sent videos from mates in England and I was like ‘God, I wish I was back home’. The stadiums were alright but obviously the English fans had been put off travelling to Russia because of the anticipation of friction and trouble. But I didn’t see any of that. There was nothing. Everyone was really well behaved.”
Did the girls not secretly let their hair down together, a more discreet version of the WAGs of Baden Baden 12 years ago? Apparently not. “Everyone kept themselves to themselves really. We were all just there for our husbands and boyfriends. Most of us are older and have kids, and they were over there as well. There wasn’t any going out, dancing on tables, getting pissed out of our heads and being sick in a popcorn bucket the next day.” She laughs infectiously, and orders a bowl of granola and acai.
Becky Vardy is a survivor. She was sexually abused by a family friend at 13 and thrown out of home at 16 for being a troublemaker. There was a suicide attempt dealt quietly with at home so as not to alert social services. “I just wanted it all to end,” she says now, flatly. “I didn’t want to deal with the s--- any more.”
She gravitated towards men she thought would look after her; more often than not, they didn’t, and she experienced domestic violence. She had her first child, Megan, at the age of 22, after the breakdown of her first marriage; a later relationship produced Taylor, with whom she had postnatal depression.
“I hit rock bottom with him. I had the worst visions of dropping him out of windows, to a point that it was a real struggle and I didn’t know what was happening to me. Going through pregnancy opens so many different emotions and I wasn’t in a good relationship at the time. It was hideous. I went to the doctor and broke down. I wanted to be dead, but I knew I had something to live for.”
Depression is a familiar foe for Vardy; as a child, she watched her father experience it. “It’s hard. And unless you’ve been through it or know someone that’s close who has been through it, it can be hard to get it. People think it’s something you can just snap out of.” When she looks back on her life now, “I just think ‘how the hell did I survive? How?”
She met Jamie Vardy four years ago, while she worked as a party planner. She had been tasked with organising his birthday; he kept asking her out and eventually she agreed. They now have two children together, and Jamie has adopted Megan. The Vardys have been attacked online for going on lots of flash holidays, eight this year so far, but I know that they are most happy at Center Parcs, having bumped into them at one earlier this year, where we were all supervising our children in the kids disco.
“I am in a fortunate position to be able to create memories for my children,” she says happily. But in reality, Vardy is not flash and would rather be heard than seen; she is always on Twitter, most recently debating the rights and wrongs of homework. “There is too much pressure on kids these days,” she says.
“Failure is part of life. I’ve failed so many f---ng times and look, I’m still here. It did me no harm to fail. And I say to my kids ‘look, if you get that wrong but you’ve given it 100 per cent then I don’t have a problem with that. You fail as many times as you need to in order to succeed.’ I do not think ‘if you don’t do this maths homework then you’re going to fail your entrance exam in five years time’. Bulls---!”
Still, she is adamant that her children will get the opportunities and education that she didn’t. They go to private school (“we are very lucky”) and will get qualifications.
“Taylor wants to be a footballer and I told him ‘mate, you’re not going to make it as a footballer. It’s not in a million years going to happen’. And do you know why I tell him that? Because there’s such a small chance he will actually make it. OK, Jamie did, but if he hadn’t, there was nothing for him to fall back on.” She picks up a spoonful of granola and allows a look of steel to flash into her eyes. “I refuse to let my son grow up without something to fall back on.”
“Do you know what?” she continues. “There is so much depression in football. So much. Because they’re men, because they’re in a changing room full of testosterone, it stays hidden. Men are so proud, they don’t like to talk, they don’t like to admit that they can’t cope. But every single player at every single club has a story and it doesn’t matter whether they’ve come through an academy or whether they’ve started at the bottom and worked their way up, they’ve all got a story to tell.”
And what of Vardy’s own story? How is she handling the spotlight, and the relentless tide of social media? “Well I still have hard times when I find things difficult. I have this little voice in my head, and it has conversations with me and honestly it’s one of those things I just want to punch in the face.” What does it say? “It’s random. So, I could be doing my hair in the mirror, and the voice will say ‘you’re stupid’. And unless I shut that down, I can quite easily go on a massive downer that escalates.”
Becky Vardy is a smart cookie. “I may not be able to do algebra, but that doesn’t mean I’m thick.” Next month she will appear at the Oxford Union with her husband to speak about life in the public eye. Is she nervous? “No! I just think, I’ve got so much to say on so many different topics, why shouldn’t I talk? Why shouldn’t I voice my experiences? Because if my experiences can help one person, well then I didn’t go through stuff in vain.” If only other Wags could be more Becky.