Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at Marcus, the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel, London, just as the lunch service is getting started. Perfectly blonde, tanned and freckled, the Oscar-winning actress and founder of the online wellness empire Goop radiates the sort of golden aura possessed only by the really, truly famous. But even she can’t take the edge off the froideur in the private dining room, which, with its tasteful greys and air of whispered deference, feels a little frigid.
We politely study the menu, a delectation of seasonal recipes whose highlights include a lamb’s neck, cooked for 36 hours, served with miso and girolles, and roast bream with Dorset snails. It all sounds deliciously inedible.
“Oh my God,” says Paltrow in that familiar flat-vowelled American drawl. “What the hell are we going to eat?”
She looks at the menu once more before announcing: “I can’t eat this shit. Let’s just go up to my suite and order room service ... ” Turns out the author of five cookbooks, including the about-to-be-released The Clean Plate, a collection of meal plans, detoxes and cleanses, quite fancies a club sandwich instead.
Minutes later, we step into an apartment-style penthouse overlooking Mayfair. It encapsulates the greige luxury one might find in a romantic comedy by Nancy Meyers. Better still, it’s toasty warm. “I mean, it seems kind of a shame not to make the most of it while I’m here, right?” she says. She kicks off her sneakers and starts sorting prototypes of clothes being developed for Goop’s range, G Plan. I wander into the living area to have a closer look at planet Goop. The dining table is spread with hair and make-up products, all waiting to get Paltrow photo-ready for the opening of a pop-up Goop store. Beside that sits a bouquet of white flowers. Its card reads: “Missing you. Your husband. x”.
The husband is Brad Falchuk, the scriptwriter and television producer Paltrow married 10 days earlier in Amagansett, New York. Paltrow has been enjoying something “vaguely” resembling a honeymoon ever since. Tomorrow she will travel back to the US and her children, Moses and Apple, from her previous marriage to the British pop star Chris Martin. The details of the ceremony are only made available a few days later via a post called The Wedding Party, on Goop.
From its launch in 2008, Goop was designed to be Paltrow’s own breaking news service. It is where, in 2014, she announced she and Martin were “consciously uncoupling” following 12 and a half years of marriage. And where she decided to go public with her engagement to Falchuk. But from being a “place to solve my own problems”, as she describes its early years, the business has since become a sprawling multi-category business with a staff of 220. It was given a valuation of $250m during its last round of funding last February.
Goopers still go to the site for advice on everything from “how to teach kids financial literacy” to the “merits of having a smart shoe wardrobe”. Some of the advice is fairly benign; other titbits, such as its advocation of coffee enemas or consulting a “shamanic energy medicine practitioner”, have invited widespread criticism and anger. But true Goopers aren’t deterred. They buy Goop-endorsed books, accessories, vitamin tablets, clothes, skincare products and sex aids. And increasingly, they meet other Goopers at Goop summits (the next will be in London this spring), where they pay up to $2,000 to take part in wellness workshops, yoga sessions and meditation classes. Not bad for an actress with little or no experience in internet publishing who conceived her business plan at her kitchen table in Belsize Park.
OK, so she wasn’t exactly an unknown when she decided to launch. Her brand was already global, she had more than a decade of magazine covers behind her, and when she talks about “seeing a marketing guy in New York who gave me the name [Goop], and hooked me up with a guy to get it going”, one must appreciate that hers is a circle that includes people like Steven Spielberg (who is her godfather) and Brian Chesky, the internet billionaire and co-founder of Airbnb, whom Paltrow still “calls up for advice”.
“It’s bizarre to think back on. I had such a different life then,” says Paltrow of the “life crisis” that precipitated Goop. “I was completely burned out. I had done 40 films in a decade, and even though there were aspects of it that were incredible, it was also pretty lonely. I was on the road alone a lot. And I had had my daughter and I thought, I don’t want to do that any more. And then I started to realise I was very interested in the digital space. I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she adds. “I was trying to figure out WordPress alone in my kitchen. It was ridiculous.”
We are waiting for the room service. Paltrow has ordered a club sandwich, fresh tomato soup and french fries; I have chosen a Niçoise salad and tomato soup, with tea. Is she on any diet right now? “It sort of goes in phases,” she says. “Right now I don’t know what I’m going for. I eat whatever I want and then I clean up my act for 10 days.” She sighs. “French fries are my favourite food. And I love alcohol. So it’s a balance. I’m a real person who wants to eat delicious stuff.”
Annoyingly, she has few of the physical flaws one might expect of a real 46-year-old. Yes, she has the faintest of crinkles around the eyes, and years of intense exercise have sculpted her physique from waifish fragility to svelte athleticism, but she looks pretty much the same as the woman who leapt to global fame in the 1995 thriller Se7en.
Not everyone was convinced by her early homilies to the benefits of skin cupping and juice fasts. But Paltrow, who first became interested in clean living while investigating alternative treatments following her father’s diagnosis with oral cancer in 1999, forged ahead. As a spokesperson for wellness, she was a pioneer, and considering that the market is now estimated by the Global Wellness Institute to be worth some $4.2tn, one imagines she feels quite smug.
“I started writing about this kind of stuff when it was ahead of the curve, and we are still ahead of the curve. Even when I started to do yoga, pre-internet, I remember there being very cynical articles about how yoga was culty and weird and for freaks. It’s been great watching the sea-change. I had this funny experience the other day where I went to a yoga studio in LA and the beautiful 22-year-old girl behind the counter was like, ‘Have you ever done yoga before?’ And I was like: ‘Bitch, you have this job because I’ve done yoga before.’ ”
It’s an anecdote I’ve read before. But I like it because it sums up precisely the kind of sororal candour that has won her both fans — and a good few detractors. No matter how real, hands-on and “Hey, let’s just order french fries” she may be, people take issue with her life of vitamin blasts and blithe entitlement.
“But this is bullshit,” she says of accusations that Goop represents privilege. “This idea that wellness is aspirational, and for rich people, it’s absolutely not true at all. At the crux of it, the true tenets of wellness — meditation, eating whole foods, drinking a lot of water, sleeping well, thinking good thoughts, trying to be optimistic — are all free.”
Paltrow doesn’t pretend that her lithe figure and glowy complexion are genetic gifts. But in sharing the extent of her exercises and skin-brushing techniques, she can seem quite extreme. “I think the reason why people get pissed off with me is because I’m like, ‘No, I actually work my ass off in all areas of my life,’ ” she says. “Some people are really inspired by that and some people are annoyed by it.”
Lunch is served, arranged prettily by two waiters who are quite giddy to be around her. The tomato soup is fresh and flavoursome. The club sandwich is a towering classic of the five-star-hotel school. Paltrow gets stuck in.
I went to a yoga studio in LA and the beautiful 22-year-old girl behind the counter was like, ‘Have you ever done yoga before?’ And I was like: ‘Bitch, you have this job because I’ve done yoga before.’
Was she always so driven? “I think I’m very competitive with myself,” she says, flicking a bit of bacon from the sandwich. “Part of that is really healthy and I think part of it is really unhealthy. Part of me has a real perfectionist streak and it’s punishing and it’s not great, but the upside is I always want to be squeezing the marrow out of life.”
Goop is a tidy little business. It was incorporated in 2013. Paltrow raised $10m in 2015 and a further $15m in a second round. Her investors include the venture capitalist firms Felix Capital and New Enterprise Associates (NEA); she was made chief executive of Goop in 2017. What is it like, I wonder, to “be Gwyneth Paltrow” while pitching for investment?
“Oh, it’s hilarious. And so brutal,” she replies. “Firstly, every investor will take the meeting. And then, for about the first 90 seconds, I am Gwyneth Paltrow and maybe they want a selfie for their wife and maybe they tell me about how much they loved The Royal Tenenbaums. And then you sit down to do the presentation it’s like: ‘Oh shit, this is what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.’ It’s such a great lesson, because when you’re a famous person ... people are always treating you with kid gloves and removing obstacles for you. Investor meetings were a huge wake-up call, in the best way. It was when I realised I’d been treated like a fake person for 20 years.”
Paltrow has now been running the show for three years, but she is unequivocal about the chief executive job. “No question,” she says. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
One lesson she has had to learn is greater rigour. In a much-publicised lawsuit last September, Goop was forced to pay $145,000 in fines for unsubstantiated marketing claims regarding the sale of her stone “eggs” — one jade, and another quartz. Goop literature said that, when inserted into the vagina, the eggs could fix hormone levels and aid bladder control. The consumer protection lawsuit filed by Santa Clara County district attorney Jeff Rosen and nine other state prosecutors found those claims to be bunkum.
“As you grow, you realise you have a lot of responsibility and accountability,” says Paltrow. “We’re getting very buttoned-up about all that stuff now,” she adds. “I think the scariest thing for me is not knowing what I don’t know. I have made huge mistakes because I didn’t know those particular mistakes were even conceivably possible to make.”
She segues briefly to another mis-step, migrating to a new email server — not the sexiest of subjects, considering I’m talking to a woman who actually knows what it’s like to date Brad Pitt. But Paltrow seems to care far more about her MailChimp woes than she regrets acting opportunities she might have lost. Does she feel more fulfilled by her work today? “No. It’s apples and oranges,” she replies. “Acting is so myopic and emotional. When you’re acting, you’re in your little silo, and you’re learning your lines and you’re doing your part, and you’re an important part but you are still only an important cog in the wheel. Creating and executing a business strategy is far more stimulating.”
That said, Paltrow did recently revisit her role as Pepper Potts for the upcoming Avengers outing of the current Marvel franchise. Was being on set a holiday — or did she sit in her trailer with a tonne of Excel spreadsheets? Obviously, the latter. “And thank God I have my spreadsheets because I would go crazy now in a trailer,” she says. “I was on set with my lovely chief of staff and she was like, ‘I can’t believe how much we’re sitting around.’ And I was like, ‘I can’t believe I used to do this with no internet and no business to run on the side.’ ”
Film sets have changed in other ways as well. As the princess of Miramax productions, Paltrow was once the prized asset of Harvey Weinstein. When allegations of sexual misconduct first arose about the producer, Paltrow went public with her own story about how Weinstein had tried to make a pass at her in 1995 when they were alone in a hotel room. At the time, Brad Pitt threatened to kill Weinstein if he did anything like it again. And he didn’t. But, until last year, Paltrow was silent. Has the culture of Hollywood changed?
“For sure,” she says. “You can see it, smell it, taste it; it’s different. We used to roll our eyes or grit our teeth and be like, ‘Oh, that’s gross’, and shake it off. But now, if you were to do those things to a 24-year-old in the workplace, there would absolutely be repercussions. I think it’s very healthy and long overdue. And I’m proud I played a little part in it.”
As for Goop, can it grow beyond its founder’s image? “Ultimately, I want to get out of people’s faces,” she says. But there are clearly huge gains to be had from a Paltrow endorsement. “You have to be very judicious about when you pull that lever,” she says.
I’m very competitive with myself, but the upside is I always want to be squeezing the marrow out of life
She is confident, however, that the brand will outgrow her. “I think you could say that for any founder business, even if they’re not a consumer-facing CEO,” argues Paltrow. “But you can always point to somebody like Coco Chanel or Walt Disney, brands that have always been associated with people. I mean, I didn’t name Goop ‘GwynethPaltrowLifestyleBlog.com’. I always knew that I wanted it to be much bigger than I am and to be more of a legacy.” She talks of Stella McCartney, an old friend, whose label is “so much bigger” than McCartney herself because it stands for some “amazing values”.
I ask what Goop’s amazing values might be. “I think people see we’re trying to solve problems for the modern woman,” she says. That might be getting better sleep, feeling more energetic or eating more healthily. Often, it means improving their sexual health as well.
“Absolutely,” she says. “When we write about female sexual health, people always get completely up in arms. I always think to myself, why is this so threatening? I think women really appreciate our content because we’re trying to create a space where there’s no shame and you can ask questions. I think it’s also refreshing, as a woman who considers herself a respectable professional woman, that I have an article about anal sex on the website. It gives people permission to ask a question, or to be curious about it. That’s a great thing.” She smiles. “It’s a very small aspect of what we write about, but it gets a lot of coverage, as you can imagine.”
Lunch is over. A team of stylists has arrived to prepare Paltrow for her next appointment. Things are on the move. “Oh, God. Why did I eat so much?” Paltrow moans as she poses for a mandatory selfie. “My stomach feels enormous.” It looks tiny. Of course.
Her eyes fall on the flowers. “Do you want them? I’m leaving tomorrow, and they’ll only go in the trash.”
I take the flowers. Flowers from Goop. I’m cock-a-hoop.
- Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019.