At 11:16 a.m. on Wednesday, October 9, 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 this was a slightly different beast; the two-word pun was shared around the world, with a speed and positivity unheard of by any regular Twitter user. People liked it. A lot.
Some reactions were, in my opinion, over-enthusiastic. Someone said I should be knighted. Another said they would “legitimately marry” whoever proposed Wagatha Christie. One of them recommended that I be made Prime Minister, but I think recent events have shown that electing a Prime Minister solely on the basis of finding him amusing can be unwise.
A newspaper reported that a stylist made £50,000 in 24 hours selling merchandise: a black T-shirt with the words of my tweet written in the middle. The speed with which these monetization companies operate is frightening. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there might be a profitable angle. I was pretty happy that I achieved something that impressed my kids for almost 45 whole minutes….
The phrase entered the mainstream. It has become downright ubiquitous; if you google the words, you get around 60 million impressions. Credible newsreaders pronounce the word “Wagatha” as if it were a normal part of everyday English rather than some nonsense I dumped on Twitter while waiting for a coffee to come. prepared.
After about a week, the world and the internet shifted to new, equally insignificant sources of entertainment and my moment was over. I went back to my normal daily routine of unsuccessfully trying to impress my kids.
Then this month, without warning, the trial went ahead and the Wagatha Christie machine kicked into gear. (Actually, there were warnings – court times are available for free but I hadn’t paid attention.)
I thought there had been outrageous coverage at the time of Coleen Rooney’s Instagram post. I was completely unprepared for the absolute Wagalanche of articles and titles that were produced; I haven’t been able to open a website or a newspaper without having my nonsensical 32-point sentence imposed on me.
Getting something you wrote on this scale taken away is definitely surreal, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy. So imagine my shock when my attention was caught by a BBC article attributing my joke to someone in Belgium! How? Why? Surely a quick timeline search would prove my claim? I double-checked to be sure and that was it. Just as I remembered. I had tweeted it for a full 20 minutes (in Twitter time, that’s decades) before everyone. Dedicated archaeologists on Twitter had even cross-checked and verified my time zone.
But then…I saw it.
The original tweet had something I and the thousands of people who shared it around the world had missed and why I had missed the BBC’s fact check. A spelling mistake. I had accidentally included a misplaced “g”, when writing “Wagagtha”. My contribution to English literature forever published with an error in 50% of the content. I felt like Shakespeare could have had him write “to be or not to be a bee”.
In my defense, I was possibly the first person to write the word Wagatha and misspellings are a linguistic pioneer’s occupational hazard. If others have tweeted it more accurately after me, I can only hope they recognize that it’s partly thanks to my bravery.
This misplaced ‘g’ will however haunt me until I am underground, a headstone above me with the inscription: ‘Here lies the man who briefly went viral but gunned it down – ‘ RIGP’.”
Despite my mistake, I still maintain that I was the first in a significant sense and am happy to go all the way to the High Court to prove my claim. I think that would be just appropriate, actually. I have nothing to hide; I’m prepared to have all of my messages about Danny Drinkwater and the chipolatas repeated from the courtroom floor. We could run the Wagatha trials in parallel, maybe even negotiate some sort of two-for-one deal with the royal courts?
I think anyone can explain how it went viral is lying. It’s something that happens to you, not something you can plan for. I think timing and stupid luck have a lot to do with it. There is something joyful and pure in such a stupid word as Wagatha. It’s so silly. And it’s nice to say – it’s even silly in the mouth. Right now, when world events are generally worrying and serious, nonsense matters more than ever.
Funny to think that was probably my peak. Of course, I would have preferred to be known for my unplayable left arm bowling or my delicious dressing, but we have no choice. Wagatha it is then.
Dan Atkinson is a writer and comedian
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