Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow in January 2014. Photo: Getty
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If you’re going to gossip about the failure of a celebrity marriage, at least make it original

Now that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have split up, brace yourself for weeks of repetitive jibes at her “craziness” and his “reticence”.

Ladies and gents, it’s happened again: another celebrity marriage has gone down the shitter. Yes, the break-up – sorry, “conscious uncoupling” – of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin has been making headlines in the last 48 hours, after an announcement on Paltrow’s infamously irritating blog Goop.com caused the server to crash within minutes. “It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate,” the admittedly poignant post ran. “We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children, and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time.”

Predictably, it didn’t take long for someone to get their claws out. Anne Perkins, for instance, branded Paltrow’s whole psychological take on the break-up “deluded tosh”, reminding the couple “you have messed up other lives. It is quite likely that the only person feeling good about all this may be you. Hope that thought doesn’t mess up the inner cathedral.” Clearly, Perkins prefers the tough love approach, rather than the cosy psycho-babble offered up by two doctors quoted on Goop who suggest dealing with a break-up by changing your belief structure and embracing divorce as a spiritual progression. Including advice on how to navigate a divorce in the same breath as announcing your own is very Gwyneth Paltrow.

And yes, it’s true that including an excerpt from two alternative-thinking doctors on how divorce has “much to do with the lack of intercourse between our internal masculine and feminine energies” comes across as – for lack of a better term – wanky. But then again, who hasn’t been a colossal wanker when some seriously upsetting, life-changing event has knocked them for six? People whose lives feel like they are unravelling tend to be notoriously difficult to stomach – it’s a rare person who hasn’t had a Kristen-Wiig-in-Bridesmaids moment at some point, producing the behavioural equivalent of throwing oneself through a gigantic cookie in rage and then attempting to upset a concrete fountain while screaming, “Is this what you want? You and your delicious cookie?!” We’ve all been there. And if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin - a kale evangelist and a prominent member of one of the most boring bands in the world – it seems fitting that you would freak out via the medium of “conscious uncoupling”.

As entertaining as this may be for the rest of us, there’s no denying that the Paltrow-Martin family are most likely experiencing an expected amount of emotional fallout. “Internal masculine and feminine energies” and “divine endoskeletons” aside, all evidence points to the fact that they both remain human, and experience human feelings. So what’s about to follow, despite their pleas for privacy, is as depressing as it is predictable: paparazzi photographers hidden in bushes outside their houses, faux-sympathetic Daily Mail pieces that speculate on the damage done to their children (with accompanying creepy kiddie photos), front page covers of gossip magazines proclaiming the “woes of tragic Gwyneth”. Because, let’s face it, we know that it won’t be “tragic Chris” who adorns the pages of everything from the Mirror to Grazia. It’s Gwyneth all the way.

Perhaps it won’t even be Gwyneth, in fact, but “Gwynnie” or “Gwyn”. That’s the tack a lot of celebrity commentators take with women in the throes of a break-up: diminutive nicknames, hyperbolic sighing about how “devastated” the woman in question must be, snide remarks about how her male counterpart is probably “out partying” or “seen eyeing up” a Miley Cyrus lookalike. A month or so later, photos which might otherwise be no purported cause for alarm are suddenly sold as evidence that “Gwyn loses scary amounts of weight as divorce takes its toll,” or – if she happens to be smiling – “GP proves that you can get through a break-up and still look fabulous, as she shows off her newly toned body so Chris can see exactly what he’s missing”. The worst, however, will be if an unfortunate angle catches a small roll of stomach fat or an unflattering double chin: immediate evidence of “Gwynnie losing grip and piling on the pounds as rumours grow of Chris flirting with size six party girls at an unconfirmed sex party”. Mark our words: in the eyes of the media, Gwyneth will be “tragic”, “heartbroken”, “sad”, “losing grip”, or at the very best “brave”; Chris will be a party boy celebrating the loss of his old ball and chain, at the very worst “cold”.

The fact that female celebrities will be consistently portrayed in this way after a break-up or divorce is implicitly accepted by everyone, journalists and readers alike. We rarely stop to wonder why the woman is supposedly an emotional wreck or a binge-eating mess while her ex escapes scot-free, with the space to lose or gain weight as he pleases without fear of the long lens or the “circle of shame”. Nowhere does the stereotype about women being crazed hormonal harpies and men being restrained, logical decision-makers play out more obviously in the twenty-first century than in the gossip media. Sadly, Paltrow no doubt knows this, and is probably already concocting a strategy with her agent for when the shit hits the fan. Expect all of those claims of her “turmoil” to be followed up by interviews a few months down the line, hoping to “set the record straight” about those “turbulent few weeks without Chris by her side”. Time and time again, we see this kind of damage control come into action; without it, the gossip mill just keeps on churning in a negative direction, a crazed whirlwind fervour surrounding the woman and the woman only.

We can’t change the entire structure of gossip magazines, but we can keep loudly questioning why they operate in this way. Because you don’t have to be a regular reader of Heat to be affected by what’s written on the front of it; like Page Three, it’s a sexist institution that needs to be called to account, whether or not you consider the Sun a bastion of quality journalism or not. So we make a plea here to all the writers poised to pick over Gwyneth’s thigh muscle and armpit hair: please, don’t do another “crazy lady and reticent bloke” job on G and C’s relationship. Even if you have to be bitchy (well, you are gossip columnists), we enjoy our bitchiness with a healthy dollop of diversity. Make it seething, if you must, or make it sympathetic. But over and above both of those things, please, for the love of God, make it original.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.