The Year in Review: Scandal

Who could possibly compete with the grosso formaggio?
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Technically, the performance of the England team in the World Cup was a scandal, and the outcome of the Fifa rulings was a bloody scandal, but if we use the word in its more accepted sense – meaning shocking news about misbehaviour by famous people we don't like very much – 2010 was a bumper year. Loose women were everywhere. Shiftily unfaithful men were centre stage. Celebrity marriages collapsed like Irish property companies. Flamboyantly crooked politicians ruled the roost. And the humble mobile phone became a star player in the vast majority of incidents.

Top scandalmonger was the world's richest sportsman, Tiger Woods. The story of his multiple affairs originally broke in November 2009, but it kept on giving. Forget the 13 more-or-less identical blonde cocktail waitresses and party "hostesses". By April he'd confessed to his wife about 120 affairs, including a one-night stand with his neighbours' 21-year-old daughter. He and his wife Elin divorced in August.

British sportsmen strove to keep up. Ashley Cole, husband of the nation's trembling-lipped new favourite sweetheart Cheryl, revealed that he'd sent pictures of himself, sans culottes, by mobile phone to three women and had had affairs with them all. A fourth woman, Ann Corbitt, told the papers she'd had sex with Cole on numerous occasions. The last straw was one Alexandra Taylor, who claimed to have been with Cole on the night his romance with Cheryl was released to the press. What a guy.

Earlier, there were claims that England football captain John Terry had been dancing the blanket hornpipe with Vanessa Perroncel, the former partner of his England and Chelsea team-mate, Wayne Bridge, something she denies. It was alleged that he'd had affairs with other women and had tried to buy their silence. Also, that he'd applied for a super-injunction – one of the year's disturbing trends – forbidding newspapers from making allegations that there was a scandal out there. He was stripped of the captaincy but stayed with his wife. Bridge, meanwhile, retired from international football.

We had to wait until September for Wayne Rooney, a connoisseur of purchasable human flesh, to join in. Like Terry, he tried to secure a court gagging order. This one was to stop the Sunday Mirror revealing that he'd been conducting a very public affair in the summer with a 21-year-old, £1,200-a-session prostitute called Jennifer Thompson while his wife Coleen was pregnant with their first child. No wonder he was so rubbish against Algeria.

One feature of the extracurricular affairs of Woods, Cole, Terry and Rooney was their reliance on mobile phones to reel in lady friends. Two television presenters who tried their luck with electronic flirting beat a speedy retreat. Family Fortunes presenter, the Lancashire lummox Vernon Kay, admitted he'd sent saucy texts to five girls behind the back of his glamorous wife, Tess Daly. "I've been an idiot and I've let my family down," he told The Sun. "I've only done this with four or five girls and I've known them all well – they've been friends or work colleagues." One friend was the bosomy Page 3 girl, Rhian Sugden. Kay denied actually having actual sex with any of the girls, but everyone treated it like adultery. His behaviour may have been prompted by disappointment at having his ITV salary slashed to only £900,000.

The telephone was also the downfall of actor Mel Gibson, generally held to be the year's Most Tarnished Celebrity. He was locked for months in a bitter battle with Oksana Grigorieva, his ex-girlfriend and mother of their daughter, Lucia. Days after appearing in front of a judge on 20 July to discuss custody, Ms Grigorieva tape-recorded one of their badger-and-vixen phone calls, on which Mr Gibson said to her, inter alia, "You look like a fucking pig in heat and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault." The Russian model also claimed Gibson knocked her teeth out during a domestic, and that she had to get a restraining order against him.

In celebrity marriage-land, it was like musical chairs. Kelly Brook split up with Danny Cipriani, the rugby player, in June, seemingly because he was about to move to Oz to play for Melbourne Rebels. They didn't grieve for long, though. Brook started going out with Glee actor Matthew Morrison, while Danny took up with Jessica Lowndes off Beverley Hills 90210, followed by Lindsay Lohan.

Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, apparently the perfect couple, split up, their marriage apparently strained by making Revolutionary Road, a film about a couple whose marriage is under strain. Nobody saw it coming. Elsewhere, British dreamboat Rachel Weisz split from her husband the US director Darren (Requiem for a Dream) Aronofsky and was reported to have become infatuated by James Bond actor Daniel Craig.

Political scandals, as always, concerned sex and money. In a distant echo of the MPs' expenses scandal of 2009, David Laws, the coalition's Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had to resign from his ministry on 29 May, after it was discovered that he'd claimed expenses of £40,000 for a house secretly owned by his boyfriend for five years. He referred his own case to the Parliamentary Committee for Standards and had to go, thus becoming the shortest-serving British cabinet minister in modern history. In Northern Ireland, there was joy unbounded when the Democratic Unionist MP Iris Robinson was found to have advanced business loans of £50,000 to 21-year-old Kirk McCambley with whom she'd been having an affair for 18 months. Mrs Robinson was a long-standing scourge of other people's sex lives – she said in 2008 that homosexual behaviour was "an abomination" and "viler than child abuse". Her husband, Peter Robinson, the province's First Minister, stepped aside for six weeks in January to let the scandal blow over.

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy spent much of the year mired in scandal. He stood accused of receiving illegal cash donations in 2007 from the richest woman in France, the L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, something he denies. Piquantly, the affair first came to light because of tape recordings made by Mme Bettencourt's butler of his mistress discussing wealth management with Eric Woerth, the French budget minister, from whom she received a €30m tax rebate.

But the grosso formaggio of scandalous politicians remained Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who continued, at 74, his blithe career as satyr, ladies' man, disher-out of expensive trinkets, and casual racist (he has twice referred to "the suntanned" Barack Obama).

Amid the flood of stories about his amours with young women, one stood out. She was a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub belly dancer known as Ruby Rubacuori ("Ruby Heartstealer") who told the press in October that she'd visited the Berlusconi home three times, that on Valentine's Day he had given her €7,000 and some jewellery (but hadn't tried to have sex with her) and that one of the evenings had ended in a game of multiple guest bunk-ups called "bunga bunga".

A police investigation began into whether associates of the Prime Minister were involved in procuring Ms Heartstealer (real name Karima El-Mahroug) and thus aiding and abetting prostitution. Berlusconi responded to questions by explaining that he was no angel – and had no intention of changing his lifestyle.