Opinion

Yes, I’m the jester who coined ‘Wagatha Christie’ – my gift to headline writers everywhere

At 11.16am on Wednesday 9 October 2019, I tweeted four words: “Coleen Rooney: Wagatha Christie.”

Within five minutes, it became clear that people liked the pun. Within 20 minutes, it became clear that it was a slightly different beast; the two-word pun was shared worldwide, at speed, and with a positivity that is unfamiliar to any regular user of Twitter. People liked it. A lot.

Some reactions were, in my opinion, over-enthusiastic. Someone said I should be knighted. Another said they would “legit marry” whoever came up with Wagatha Christie. One recommended I should be made prime minister, but I think recent events have demonstrated that electing a PM purely on the basis of finding them amusing can be unwise.

One newspaper reported that a stylist made £50,000 in 24 hours selling merchandise: a black T-shirt with the words of my tweet written across the middle. The speed with which these monetising companies operate is frightening. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there might be a profitable angle. I was content enough that I’d achieved something that had impressed my kids for nearly 45 whole minutes….

The phrase entered the mainstream. It became downright ubiquitous; if you Google the words you get around 60m impressions. Credible newsreaders say the word “Wagatha” as if it’s a normal part of day-to-day English rather than a piece of nonsense I dumped on Twitter while waiting for a coffee to brew.

After a week or so, the world and the internet moved on to new and equally insubstantial sources of entertainment and my moment had passed. I returned to my normal daily routine of unsuccessfully trying to impress my children.

Then, this month, without warning, the trial rolled around and the Wagatha Christie machine lurched into motion again. (Actually, there were warnings – court schedules are freely available but I hadn’t been paying attention.)

I thought that there had been an inordinate amount of coverage at the time of Coleen Rooney’s Instagram post. I was entirely unprepared for the absolute Wagalanche of articles and headlines that were produced; I haven’t been able to open a website or newspaper without having my preposterous phrase thrust upon me in 32-point.

To have something you wrote taken out of your hands on this scale is definitely surreal, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased. So imagine my shock when my attention was drawn to a BBC article crediting my joke to someone in Belgium! How? Why? Surely a quick search through the timeline would prove my claim? I checked back to be sure and there it was. Everything just as I remembered. I had tweeted it a full 20 minutes (in Twitter time that’s decades) before anyone else. Dedicated Twitter archaeologists had even crosschecked and verified my time zone.

But then… I saw it.

The original tweet had something that I, and the thousands of people who spread it across the globe had missed and the reason that the BBC’s fact-checking had missed me. A spelling mistake. I had accidentally included a stray “g”, writing “Wagagtha”. My contribution to English literature forever published with an error in 50% of the content. I felt as Shakespeare might have had he written “to be or not to bee”.

In my defence, I was possibly the first person to ever write the word Wagatha and spelling mistakes are an occupational hazard of the linguistic pioneer. If others tweeted it with more accuracy after me, I can only hope they acknowledge it is in part thanks to my courage.

That stray “g”, however, will haunt me until I am under the ground, a gravestone above me with the inscription: “Here lies the man who briefly went viral but cocked it up – ‘RIGP’.”

Despite my error, I still maintain that I was first in any meaningful sense and I am happy to go all the way to the high court to prove my claim. I think it would be only fitting, actually. I’ve got nothing to hide; I am willing to have all my messages about Danny Drinkwater and chipolatas repeated from the courtroom floor. We could run the Wagatha trials in parallel, perhaps even negotiate some kind of two-for-one deal with the royal courts of justice?

I think anyone who can explain how they go viral is being untruthful. It is something that happens to you, not something for which you can plan. I think timing and dumb luck have a lot to do with it. There is something joyful and pure about a word as stupid as Wagatha. It’s just so silly. And it’s pleasing to say – it even feels silly in your mouth. Right now, when world events are generally worrying and serious, silly things are more valuable than ever.

It’s funny to think that this was probably my peak. Of course I’d rather have been known for my unplayable slow left-arm bowling or my delicious vinaigrette dressing, but we don’t get to choose. Wagatha it is then.

Dan Atkinson is a writer and comedian

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