Let the battle for public's heart and sympathy begin
There's always a villain in a celeb divorce.
Published 02/04/2014 | 02:30
Amid the shock and schadenfreude over Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin's just-announced separation, one question has loomed large: who is going to turn out to be the villain of the piece?
While Gwyneth and Chris are at pains to present their parting in the most positive possible light – hence the much lampooned talk of "conscious uncoupling" – with celebrity divorces we are quick to make up our minds as to which party is at 'fault'. For Paltrow and Martin, the PR battle has yet to commence but, fingers crossed, it will get underway any day now.
Even if the (ex) couple hasn't yet arrived at this realisation, the gossip industry has a clear sense of what lies ahead. Harvey Levin, managing editor of the TMZ celebrity gossip website told reporters this week: "It used to be that couples would put up the wall of silence, but now the stuff gets out there anyway, so the teams are jumping into the fray early on and spinning it. If the client doesn't look good at the end of the divorce, regardless of how good the financial settlement is, they've failed."
Consider the collateral damage suffered by celebs who have not managed a clean getaway from a failed relationship. The start of Alec Baldwin's decline from heartthrob to guy famous for losing his temper in public may be traced to his 2002 divorce from Kim Basinger, in the course of which his "unmanageable anger issues" became a topic of debate.
The unraveling of Mel Gibson's stardom, meanwhile, can be seen to have flowed from coverage of his divorce from wife of 31 years, Robyn.
As a rock star, Martin could probably afford to be sanguine about all of this. We tolerate far worse from our musicians than other famous types. Granted, as frontman of Coldplay his image is somewhere to the right of squeaky clean. Still, even if it were to take a public beating, it's hard to imagine Coldplay fans turning on him.
For Paltrow, the outlook is different: as with all movie A-listers, it is important to Paltrow's career that her persona not be blemished by a break-up. She certainly appears to have put considerable thought into the optics of the split, which has the potential to be sticky given that the couple have two children and are a worth an estimated $100m a piece.
There was that notoriously gushy notice posted to her Goop website in which 'conscious uncoupling' first entered the discourse. And she and Martin have been at pains to stress that, while their marriage may be at an end, they remain close friends. Hence shots of the pair holidaying in the Bahamas last week.
That Paltrow is the last word in love-to-loathe celebs is beyond question. Gwyneth-hating is practically an international pastime. We hug ourselves with outrage upon hearing her latest OTT lifestyle tip, as dispensed via the lampooned Goop (following her macrobiotic diet of gluten-free flour, duck eggs and manuka honey could set you back upwards of €200 day).
This is the woman who straightfacedly declared "When I pass a flowering zucchini plant in a garden, my heart skips a beat" and is reported to only permit her kids watch television in French and Spanish.
But now that she is revealed to be vaguely mortal by confirming the end of her relationship, are we minded to revise our opinion?
Scorning a celeb's too-perfect-to be-true lifestyle is one thing – but when the cracks start to show, should we feel a little guilty about piling on the negativity? In short – will our Gwyneth-hating fall apart along with her marriage?
The other way of looking at things , of course, is that Paltrow can't even have a proper divorce and has to, instead, sprinkle her separation in affirmative treacle, so that it looks like a classy lifestyle choice rather than a medium-scale tragedy.
Like one of those irritating acquaintances who can't make you a cup of tea without asking whether you've prefer Earl Grey or chai, as an outsider looking in, it can seem as if Paltrow's entire world is programmed to be fabulous. Even her bad news smells of lilac and roses.
For those in the anti-Gwynnie camp further ire will have been piled on as footage of Paltrow performing Pharrell's 'Happy' on Glee was released, in the very week that the break-up was announced. It wasn't simply the sentiments: Paltrow's performance, a riot of too-pleased-by-half hair shaking and bottom waggling, travelled way past smug and entered a whole other realm of self-satisfaction.
The chief beef against Paltrow has always been that she seems to be oblivious to her privileged circumstances. She is certainly a classic insider: mother Blythe Danner is a successful actress; her late father, Bruce Paltrow, a big-league producer and friend of Steven Spielberg (one of Paltrow's earliest major roles was in Spielberg's Hook).
It is no crime to be born into a well connected family – but Paltrow, runs the consensus, might show a little more self-awareness as to how hers is in many ways a charmed existence.
On the other hand, Paltrow may have calculated that it doesn't matter what the world thinks. Her Hollywood career, it can be argued, has not suffered in the least from all the negativity.
Perhaps it is better to provoke a strong response rather than the absolute indifference that, say, Angelina Jolie elicits.
It is impossible to imagine Paltrow actively welcomes the vitriol. But maybe she is minded to see it as ultimately positive – if she can get under the skin of so, so many people, at the very least she can tell herself she is making a difference.
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