Sunday, 28 August 2011
Royal Yacht Britannia visit (The Scotsman)
Royal Yacht Britannia visit (The Scotsman)

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  • Royal Yacht Britannia visit

By Alice Whyllie

EARLIER this year, the acronym 'WAG' officially entered the Oxford English Dictionary. The rather patronising term refers to the 'wives and girlfriends' of sportsmen, specifically of footballers, and has come to be associated with kind of women who could shop for their countries.

Stick the word 'WAG' into Google Images and you're bombarded with shots of fake-tanned women in their pants, peeking sultrily from behind their hair extensions. Indeed, the quintessential WAG pap shot is of Posh, Coleen and the gang pounding the pavements of Baden Baden in five-inch heels during the 2006 World Cup.

In the five years since, many of the female partners of sports stars have become famous in their own right. Coleen Rooney rakes in millions every year, independently from her husband Wayne, from things such as a magazine column and fitness DVDs. And tennis star Andy Murray's girlfriend Kim Sears gets almost as much lens time as he does when she's cheering him on on centre court.

WAG is an ugly word, one increasingly applied to the partners of all kinds of sportsmen, and one which implies they're mere adjuncts to their husbands. There is, of course, no equivalent term for the male partners of sportswomen. When I ask a gang of golfers' wives (also referred to as 'GWAGs' or even 'birdies') what they think of the term, they collectively burst out laughing at its absurdity.

I'm having lunch with ten women, eight of whom are wives of golfers competing in the Johnnie Walker Championship, currently being held at Gleneagles, plus two mothers (so should that be MAWAGs?). The group includes women from Italy, France, Sweden and the US as well as the UK.
The life of a pro golfer means constant travel, and as these women attest, if they didn't come along for the ride, they'd barely see their husbands at all. As such, their lives are a whirlwind of flights, hotel rooms and golf courses. They formed the European Tour Wives Association to bring together all the women who go on tour with their pro golfer husbands and need a little time away from the green, since they all agree that during most tours "all you see is the airport, the golf course and the hotel."

Today, the ETWA are on a day out organised by EventScotland, a funding partner for the Johnnie Walker Championship. They've spent the morning visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia and they are now tucking into lunch at the Vaults in Leith, where the haggis on the menu is proving to be a major talking point.

They are, of course, a group of very normal women. There are no spray tans, high heels or hair extensions, and the only concessions to bling are the stonking engagement rings sported by some of the younger wives. They find the term 'WAG' a little silly, though a few admit that their husbands use it to tease them.

"Among all of us, there's no 'WAG' stereotype, but for people on the outside looking in, perhaps there is a little," says Laura Warren, 26, who is married to Scottish golfer Marc Warren. "If you say you're going to Gleneagles for the week, people think you'll be swanning about in the spa but we're not here to do that. I'm here to make sure my husband has everything he needs. It is perceived as a luxurious lifestyle but people don't see the grotty hotels and six-hour train journeys. "

"We're not here for a jolly," adds Hannah Elson, 24, wife of English player Jamie Elson. "I remember walking around at last year's championship and chatting to a lovely old man on the course. When I told him I was married to Jamie, he said, 'so you're a golfing WAG then?' He didn't mean anything bad by it, and it was quite sweet really, but I certainly don't feel like a 'WAG', whatever that means."

Elson, like most of the wives, couldn't be further from the stereotype. She runs her own promotions business and takes her laptop with her on tour so she can keep working and spend time with her husband. She's lucky that her job allows her to do so. She also organises all of Jamie's travel, accommodation and admin work.

Some of the wives don't work because it would involve spending too much time away from their husbands. Some have jobs which force them to stay at home most of the time and travel during holiday periods. Others have children so they either travel with them or stay at home while their partners travel. "The fact is that if we didn't travel we wouldn't see our husbands," says Elson. "You don't always want to go but if you didn't you just wouldn't see each other."

Camilla Lane, 34, who is married to English golfer Barry Lane, manages to combine her job with spending time with her significant other by caddying for her husband.

"I find it's much easier to caddy than to watch from the side because you're busy, you're occupied," she says. "You're cleaning the clubs or discussing the wind or how the ball is lying. It's so stressful to just walk around watching. I don't like that. When you're caddying you're involved, you can understand why things might not be going great. But when you're standing there and you see the shot and just think 'oh why did he do that?' I find that very tough."

Not all wives are so hands on, but they do, of course, provide key emotional support for their partners. At the Ryder Cup in 2008, Nick Faldo, the Europe captain, announced that he would appoint Valerie Bercher as his "lady captain", even though they had divorced two years previously. It was clear that the support the spouses provide is essential.

"You always have to support and comfort them and even push them," says Lane. "Every player is different," adds Lauren Wilson, 28, who is married to English player Oliver Wilson. "I think the wives all know how to read their husbands and how to handle them, whether they've had a good day or a bad day."

One would imagine it's pretty nail-biting to watch your spouse taking a crucial shot? How do they cope with the tension?

"You have no control over it, and for me it helps to know that it's out of your hands. Plus it wouldn't do for me to be on the course crying over a double bogey. But it can be really exciting too. When I watched Oliver at the Ryder Cup in 2008, I'd never experienced anything like it. When I was standing on that first tee with those huge crowds, when they announced his name I had chills."

"Do you ever find yourself overhearing people in the crowd talking about your husband?" asks Elson of the group. Her question is met with a resounding "Yes!".

"I find it really funny," she says. "Once I was standing next to some teenage girls and Jamie walked past and they all went 'ooh he's fit'. But the funniest is when people say, 'oh I could have easily made that shot'."

Do they talk about golf much between them, or indeed with their husbands when they're off-duty? They bond quickly, they say, because they share an almost nomadic lifestyle.

"We have so much in common with each other automatically because we all live the same life," says Elson. "So it's very easy for all the wives to get along."

"But there are more important things to talk about than golf," says Wilson with a laugh. "Yeah, like shoes, handbags and shopping," jokes Elson. "Of course we do all like clothes, but no more than the average woman. There's absolutely no, 'oh that bag is sooo last season' with us."

"Plus we're all in waterproofs and woollies most of the time," adds Wilson. "A golf course definitely isn't the place for heels."


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