Hard to know who to root for in the ‘skigate’ affair, an unseemly infotainment show trial of the kind that could only occur in America. The plaintiff, 76-year-old retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, claims he suffered life-changing injuries after Paltrow crashed into him on a beginner’s run at the Deer Valley ski resort in Utah in 2016.
n earlier attempt to sue the celebrity for $3m over an alleged brain injury was thrown out of court, but Sanderson has persisted and is now looking for $300,000 in compensation: he broke some ribs, and says his life has been altered by the accident. We beg to differ, say Paltrow and her lawyers, who attest that Sanderson skied into her: she says she felt “violated” by the incident and is countersuing for a symbolic $1 (her wellness brand, Goop, is valued at about $250m).
Paltrow’s court appearances have been suitably ethereal: dressed on occasion in black and looking slightly washed out by the bright lighting, she has asked not to be constantly photographed and at one point tried to lighten the mood by offering to bring in healthy treats for the courtroom security guards. The judge, with thanks, declined.
In the dock, she has seemed regal, forbearing, ever so slightly amused: celebrities, after all, are America’s answers to royalty, and Paltrow has been very famous for a very long time. But court appearances rarely do celebs any favours, and this unseemly charade is not the only potentially brand-damaging incident Gwyneth has endured recently.
She has long been the target of online fury, and last week earned herself yet another backlash when she revealed her typical daily diet to Dr Will Cole on his podcast, The Art of Being Well. No bingeing for Gwynnie, who eats nothing before noon, then drinks something that won’t raise her blood pressure. Bone broth for lunch, “movement” and sauna in the afternoon, and at dinner “lots of vegetables,” she explained. “It’s really important for me to support my detox”.
More worrying was the fact that she was hooked up to an intravenous drip during the podcast. “So on-brand for both of us,” Cole mused, “we pod and IV at the same time!” The drip, we are told, contained “good old-fashioned vitamins”.
While it should be pointed out that most of this is perfectly normal behaviour for any wealthy person in California, where health fads have attained an almost religious status, it does show how phenomenally out of touch with the common person Paltrow has become. Her Goop brand, and its obsession with coffee enemas and vaginal saunas, seems aimed primarily at the self-obsessed rich, and has become symbolic of the hollow echo chamber represented by large swathes of the ‘wellness industry’.
And yet there is another way of looking at Paltrow’s life story, a version in which, instead of being cast aside in middle age by sexist, ageist Hollywood, she drew back from acting, first to care for her children, then to start a business that tapped into new trends in preventive healthcare and made her a cult figure to many. A lot of her remedies and treatments are amusing, even fun, and some may have actual health benefits. In many ways, Paltrow is a self-made person: so why do so many people not like her?
It probably started with her name: ‘Gwyneth’ is not exactly of the hood, and suggests a rarified and privileged background, absolutely correctly, as it turns out. A nepo baby avant la lettre, Paltrow was the first child of actress Blythe Danner and producer and director Bruce Paltrow. Steven Spielberg is her godfather, and in 1991 gave the young actress a leg up by casting her as Wendy in Hook.
In fairness, Gwynnie had talent, and after surviving an appearance opposite John Travolta in the dreadful musical comedy Shout, she impressed the critics with a gritty turn in the 1993 noir drama Flesh and Bone. She played James Caan’s much younger girlfriend, and prompted the New York Times to describe her as “Blythe Danner’s daughter,” with “her mother’s way of making a camera fall in love with her”.
Her big breakthrough happened two years later, in David Fincher’s brutal thriller, Se7en, where she played the drippy and ill-fated wife of Brad Pitt’s obsessive police detective. The fact that the pair had started dating during the shoot did not hurt Paltrow’s profile one bit: he was then considered the sexiest male on the planet, and they quickly became a Hollywood golden couple.
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Not everything was plain sailing. While Paltrow was filming Emma, in 1996, the movie’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, made unwanted sexual advances to her: and when she told Pitt, he confronted Weinstein, and threatened him. The usual threats to eternal silence were made, but in 2017 Gywneth was a major source for the New York Times investigation that would ultimately sink Weinstein, and spoke up bravely.
She and Pitt parted amicably in 1997, and she started dating Ben Affleck. Her profile was rising ever higher, and in 1998 came her biggest acting triumph to date. Shakespeare in Love starred Joseph Fiennes as the bard and Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps, the merchant’s daughter who yearns to act but must disguise herself as a man to do so. The part had been written for Julia Roberts, but Gywneth made it her own. After a typically unscrupulous Oscar campaign by the Weinstein brothers, the film swept the board at the 71st Academy Awards.
It’s one of the silliest films ever to win Best Picture, and Paltrow was fortunate to have beaten Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, but she seized her moment with enthusiasm. Indeed the whole anti-Gwyneth phenomenon may have exploded in response to her acceptance speech, during which she broke down in tears and referred to people as her “earthly guardian angels”.
It should be pointed out, however, that she was 26, had just won an Oscar and her father had recently been diagnosed with throat cancer. He died in 2002. More fine performances followed, in The Talented Mr Ripley, The Royal Tenenbaums and Shallow Hal, but the anti-Gwyn wave intensified when she met Chris Martin of Coldplay.
The non-drinking, non-smoking, yoga-practising vegetarian was no Rolling Stone, and his marriage to Paltrow created a sort of new-age supernova. They named their first child Apple.
Paltrow, though, is not given credit for having withdrawn from excessive film-making schedules in order to raise their two children. She restricted herself to recurring roles in the Marvel franchise and little else in the decade after Apple’s birth.
Paltrow founded Goop in 2008, initially sharing recipes on her website and dolling out lifestyle advice under categories like ‘Do’, ‘Get’ and ‘Be’. A strange and sometimes compelling admixture of eastern spirituality, feminism and eccentric dietary and hygiene tips, Goop rapidly expanded into an empire of wellness that included magazines, podcasts, pop-up shops, a Netflix documentary series and a series of health summits.
Some of Goop’s products have attracted scepticism and hostility, not least the jade eggs women are encouraged to insert into their person to strengthen vaginal health. Some of Goop’s most persistent mantras almost seem tailor-made to infuriate: “police your thoughts”, adherents are advised, and “nourish your inner aspect”. This creed stems from the belief that almost all human ailings are in some sense psychosomatic, the result of negative thoughts; be positive and love yourself, and long life will follow.
At Goop festivals in California and elsewhere, attendees pay up to $1,500 for the privilege of enjoying ‘sound baths’, ‘collagen gardens’, oxygen bars, IV drip stations and audiences with the ‘resident Goop shaman’, who will tell them exactly which crystal they need to possess. You can have your aura photographed, and if you pay top dollar, you may even get to share a miserably virtuous lunch with the snow queen herself. The rose quartz egg is a must for those who’ve “seen results with the jade egg and want to take the practice further”.
It’s easy to sneer at all this, and in fact American chat show host Stephen Colbert has come to specialise in it, but overall, it’s hard to portray Goop as some kind of sinister organisation. The cult of personality may be slightly alarming, but if Gwynnie can be characterised as a dictator, it’s very much the Walt Disney variety.
More worrying are the pseudoscientific claims that Goop sometimes makes about its products. As the Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi pointed out recently, “studies have shown that 100pc of people die”, and no amount of positive thinking is going to change that. And the business has attracted a bad element: the vaccine sceptic Kelly Brogan was a panellist at a recent Goop summit.
All of which may explain the ire that Gywneth so persistently inspires. But Goop is not compulsory, one could argue, and only separates the rich and gullible from their money. It’s more a question of a certain smugness, real or imagined, which continues to afflict the Paltrow brand. When she described her separation from Chris Martin as “conscious uncoupling”, it seemed to suggest that her divorce was somehow special, on a higher plane than everyone else’s.
I have a feeling that a lot of this is accidental: after all, the woman who said “I would rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin” has to have a sense of humour. It’s just that she forgets it sometimes, and does not pause to reflect on how what she says might sound.
At her current trial, when asked how the accident on the slopes had affected her, Paltrow thought for a moment, then said: “Well, I lost half a day of skiing.”
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