Paltrow’s gilded upbringing has perhaps been one of the reasons that people snipe about her – although her beauty, talent, youth and rock-star husband haven’t exactly helped. Somehow, though, it is her happy childhood and Hollywood blue blood that grates the most with some people. It’s as if we expect our Oscar-calibre actors to come to us staggering from the weight of their shattered family histories and rootless, latchkey upbringings, Gnet, seeking out our love because they missed out when they were growing up. But Paltrow – raised by her mother, actress Blythe Danner, and her TV producer father, happily married for 32 years – has always had the aura of a steady, much-loved child. It can easily come across as cool, or hauteur, but she does not need public appreciation in the way some actresses do. We do not complete her. Acting is not an escape, for her, it simply means home. “When I go into a theatre, there’s a certain smell that all theatres have – backstage and on stage – and, when I smell that smell it’s like home to me, it really is,” she says. “It has a lot to do with watching my mother being so alive when she was doing it. She seemed so happy. It seemed like such a wonderful life, so full of animation, and stories and laughter. It seemed like all these grown-ups were in this club and I wanted to be in it; to know what it was like. I was very determined. I was never put off by rejection. But now, I could never put myself in that position. I would be devastated. I’ve gone backwards. I had a kind of bravery and chutzpah that I don’t have any more, now that I’ve been beaten down by life’s various tragedies… I don’t know that I believe in myself now as much as I did then,” she continues, “I probably thought I was a better actor then than I do now”.
It’s certainly been a tumultuous few years. Her father’s death, in particular, was a cruel blow. He had just had his cancer check-ups and been given the all-clear, and Paltrow was celebrating her thirtieth birthday with a party at Valentino’s house outside Rome. “We had the best weekend ever,” recalls Paltrow. “Then my father and I went on this road trip, and he had a cough but I thought it was the flu. He wasn’t letting on how bad it was, and then in the night we discovered that he had been coughing up blood. He’d been hiding it from me.” They rushed him to a hospital in Rome, where they were joined by Paltrow’s mother, who had been in Los Angeles filming a TV series. By dawn he was dead.
“It was just awful,” she remembers. “When it all happened I had a period of time when it was totally traumatised – just wracked with grief. I didn’t know which way was up. But eventually I found this place of clarity. I realised on so many levels what I wanted from my life, what I wanted from work. It really did shake up the way I went about my life.”
It was soon after her father’s death that Paltrow met – backstage at a Coldplay concert at Wembley Arena in the summer of 2003 – and subsequently fell in love with Chris Martin. Paltrow was in the UK for the stage production of Proof, and had just bought herself a flat in London. All I do is work in England, she thought to herself ”So that’s when my foot went down. I thought I’m really happy here, I love my friends here, I’m just going to buy a flat. God, I can’t believe I did that. It seems so brave to me now. And I ended up meeting my husband.” Martin, a virgin until the age of 22 who once described himself as “a failure in all things romantic”, invited Paltrow backstage; they chatted, and he left with her number. “This is very weird because she’s a big star and I’m just the bloke from Coldplay,” he told reporters, but by August – when he dedicated his song “In My Place” to her at a New York gig – the romance was in full swing.
“When we met I was so steeped in grief, he spent the first year of our relationship trying to pull me out of it. He was my life raft, basically,” says Paltrow. When Coldplay’s long-awaited album X&Y hit the stores earlier this year it was widely assumed that many of the songs were about helping her get over her father’s death (“Tears stream down your face/When you lose something you cannot replace… /Lights will guide you home… /And I will try to fix you”). “I would never say, ‘Oh, that’s about me,’” says Paltrow, “but I think there are elements of certain songs that have to do with being with somebody in heavy grief. I can’t believe he stuck with it. He has a really, really big heart.”