TV TV TV: Norn Iron WAGS

From ‘Derry Journal’ Published on Wednesday 28 May 2008 12:21

It was with a grim fascination that I sat glued to my television set on Tuesday evening when ‘NI WAGs’ appeared on BBC 1.

There I was, minding my own business after Spotlight’s mini-documentary on Alex Success’ sham-marriage fiasco, when an even more shocking and disturbing slice of Norn Iron-life invaded the living room. Like the poor suckers caught in the gaze of Medusa, I was transfixed and couldn’t look away – despite knowing I was about to enter a world of pain and regret.

From the very beginning, it was amazing. When my housemate read out the title of the programme from the newspaper I assumed there had been some horrible mistake. NI WAGs? Surely not. Since when was it ok to stick two random nouns together and make a six-part TV series out of it?

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term ‘WAG’, it evolved from the ‘Wives and Girlfriends’ who accompanied theEnglandfootball team to the World Cup in 2006. They were a glamorous and beautiful bunch to whom money was no object. They bought designer handbags, they drank, they partied and they watched their men representing their country on the pitch.

The ‘NI WAGs’ website claims the term has now become something of a global phenomenon, applied to the wife or girlfriend of any man involved in sport. Erm, no. It isn’t and it doesn’t.

It applies to the wives and girlfriends of superstar footballers, not county Gaelic players.

Armagh GAA player Ronan Clarke – whose girlfriend Leeane Druse features on the show – has an official, annual salary of zero pounds thanks to the nature of his chosen sport. It isn’t uncommon for England’s international players to earn between 60,000 and 120,000 every single week. There’s quite a gulf in earnings there to be sure.

Apparently, producer/director of the show, Veronica Cunningham, knows WAG territory extremely well. She is married to Ulster rugby fullback Bryn Cunningham.

Hands up who has ever heard of Veronica Cunningham? Or Bryn Cunningham for that matter? Now, hands up if you have ever heard of Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole or Coleen McLoughlin and their HABs (Husbands and Boyfriends) David Beckham, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney? Exactly.

Veronica says: “The past ten months of my life have been spent caught up in a whirl of wall-to-wall glamour. Filming the hectic lifestyles of these seven girls has provided the camera crew and myself with jam-packed social diaries of our own.”

Fair play to her for seeing an opportunity to live the highlife on the back of TV licence-payers’ money, but ‘shape of’ the BBC for broadcasting the resulting rubbish. The website supposes: “Viewers’ stereotypes may be shattered when they discover the smart, independent, fun girls behind the spray tans and stilettos.”

Unlikely. Not when we’re faced with the alarming Zara Shaw practically salivating at the prospect of meeting Manchester United heart-throb ‘Christy Ronaldo’ (as she referred to him on a number of occasions). She was visibly upset when ‘Christy’ failed to appear at a charity event and had to settle with the company of her own boyfriend instead. He looked suitably embarrassed.

Zara confessed to not knowing what the letters VIP stand for and mistook film and TV actor James Nesbitt for Victims’ Commissioner – and former UTV anchorman – Mike Nesbitt. After that performance, I’m afraid most viewers’ stereotypes will remain on the ‘completely and flawlessly intact’-side of shattered.

Another aspiring WAG – Paula – regaled horrified viewers with tales of her celebrity friends whose names she ‘could not reveal for legal reasons’. Yes, that and the fact that her ‘friends’ fall into the loosest definition of the word celebrity imaginable. She finally let slip: “Victoria Beckham is one of my friends who I’ve met.”

I’m sorry, met? MET!? I once MET Roy Keane when he came to play against Derry City for Nottingham Forest but I wouldn’t consider him a friend. We don’t go for pints every weekend. He won’t be in the running to be my Best Man if I ever get married.

I had to feel for cricketer Andrew White who wandered around the whole episode looking utterly bemused and bewildered at how he had managed to get himself involved in such a farce. Most of the men looked that way, as if they got involved because their wife/girlfriend asked them to.

It’s unfair on the poor NI HABs who have been dragged into this spectacle. As the WAGs compare themselves and their lifestyles to their English counterparts it falls on the viewer to do the same with the men’s achievements. Gerry Armstrong deserves better. He will always hold hero status inNorthern Irelandfor the goal he scored againstSpainin the 1982 World Cup, but that was nearly 30 years ago. To compare him to the likes of Beckham and co. is insulting.

It’s little surprise that a few months after this brash, vacuous shambles was filmed he moved to Spain to live. Now, if only we could get the wannabe WAGs to follow him. I have an idea for a second series in which that dream becomes a reality – ‘NI WAGs: Viva Espana’. C’mon BBC, make it happen.

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