Sun, Sea, Shame: The art of the guilty getaway

As Wayne Rooney returns from a much-criticised break in Dubai, Andy McSmith reflects on 'inappropriate' holidays

You might ask why shouldn't Wayne and Coleen Rooney enjoy a break in the sun?

Their marriage has been through a difficult patch, he has been through the strain of renegotiating his contract and he is nursing an ankle injury that has kept him off work. Yet the four nights the couple spent at a luxury hotel in Dubai turned into the tabloid scandal of the week.

The rest of the country is just out of recession and facing four years of austerity as George Osborne's £83bn public spending cuts take effect – but there is the 25-year-old striker with his huge weekly pay cheque.

Rooney's form has never been so poor as this season and he seems ready to blame anyone but himself. When fans booed England after a goalless draw with Algeria in the World Cup, he was heard to mutter: "That's loyalty for you."

While he cannot score on the pitch the striker does not suffer any such impotence in his private life, to judge by the numerous stories linking him to prostitutes. And that is what makes the sight of him and Coleen lazing by the hotel pool so galling. We all deserve a mini-break like that but cannot afford it; he doesn't and he can.

What Rooney has demonstrated is that there are moments when it is a very bad idea to let yourself be seen taking an ill-earned break. Disappear from sight by all means, but do not fly in the face of public disapproval with an ostentatious display of a lifestyle beyond the reach of others.

He is not the first star footballer to put in a thoroughly irritating appearance in Dubai. John Terry, who would have captained England in the World Cup if he had not been caught in the arms of a team-mate's former sweetheart, was ahead of Rooney in thinking of the desert kingdom as the place to repair a faltering marriage.

But picking the wrong time to take a luxury holiday is not a preserve of footballers. Sir Fred Goodwin, former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, needed to keep out of sight when details of his £693,000-a-year pension for life were made public in March 2009. But he could have found a more sensitive way of staying out of harm's way than by basking in a luxury villa in Majorca.

People like that can get away with it because they do not need public opinion on their side. Others whose jobs make them vulnerable to public disapproval have to be very careful.

Gordon Brown was so sensitive on this score that he ended his first summer holiday as Prime Minister literally on the day it began to rush back and deal with a foot-and-mouth outbreak. In later years, he made a point of holidaying in Britain so that voters would not think he was enjoying himself amid an economic crisis.

It is not even necessary for a politician to be in some faraway beauty spot to be badly caught out. John Prescott's career floundered in ridicule after he was photographed in May 2008 playing croquet on the lawn at his grace-and-favour home Dorneywood, in Buckinghamshire, when he was supposedly running the country while Tony Blair was in America.

But it should not be thought that all public figures are shameless. A tragic tale is told in Brief Lives, by the 17th-century writer, John Aubrey: "The Earl of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to travel seven years. On his return the Queen welcomed him and said, 'My Lord, I had forgot the Fart.'"

Politicians do not feel shame the way they once did.

Getting away from it all

Wayne Rooney

The striker first refused to renew his contract with Manchester United, and then performed a U-turn after being awarded a salary reputed to be £200,000 a week. With a deal such as that, shelling out £3,500 each for first-class air tickets to Dubai will not have dented his purse. What may have made his break less relaxed is last month's revelation that he was seeking solace from a £1,200-a-time hooker.

John Terry

He would have captained the England side in the World Cup, but for revelation he had been enjoying the embraces of model Vanessa Perroncel. After a failed attempt to obtain a superinjunction to suppress the story, he got permission from Chelsea FC to miss a fixture while he took his wife, Toni, and their children to Dubai. There the couple were spotted kissing and canoodling like newlyweds, which did not prevent fans from booing Terry every time he touched the ball at the next Chelsea match.

Paul Channon

At the age of 23, he inherited the safe seat previously held first by his father then by his mother, and years later joined Thatcher's cabinet. He owned a villa in Mustique, where he went to spend Christmas in 1988, when he was Transport Secretary. His Labour shadow, John Prescott, accused him of a lack of feeling towards relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing. Channon was sacked in the next reshuffle.

Bob Crow

On New Year's Eve, 2005, Tube workers walked out because of a dispute over rosters. Some staff were not happy about striking, but solidarity with the RMT required them to. Then it emerged that the RMT's general secretary, Bob Crow, was on holiday in Egypt. "Red Bob is swimming in the Red Sea on the day we are being asked to strike – it stinks," a RMT member told the Daily Mirror.

Sir Fred Goodwin

Fred the Shred, as they called him, was a hardball negotiator who knew what he wanted. He demonstrated that as he presided over the rapid expansion of RBS, and again after the bank had turned in the biggest loss in British corporate history and had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. As he was negotiating his departure from the bank he led into the abyss, his pension pot was doubled from £8m to £16m. While politicians were demanding that he voluntarily surrender some of this haul, he was holidaying in a friend's villa in Majorca.

Lord Byron

A succession of affairs with married women would not have destroyed Lord Byron's position in society. His mistake, oddly, was to marry Anna Isabella Milbanke in 1815, who decided she was hitched to a madman and left him. He had also offended the Tories by writing a satire on the Prince Regent, the future George IV. London was soon buzzing with rumours Byron had had an incestuous relationship with his half sister. Byron decided he did not care, and went off on a European tour in April 1816.

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