Honestly, it is like a Goop miracle. It is a mirage in glorious Goop-a-vision, right before our very own eyes. Marking her 50th birthday in the way only she knows how, Gwyneth Paltrow comes on board the good ship Goop at Civitavecchia port near Rome.
After being delayed by storms, she is joining us Goopies on day six of the inaugural, nine-day Goop at Sea cruise in the Mediterranean and her fans couldn’t be more delighted.
Goop devotees on this cruise are understandably thrilled that their heroine has chosen to spend part of her 50th birthday celebrations here on board with them, saluting the Goop brand she started as a kitchen table blog and built into a £220 million business.
‘I’m happy to see you all, this is very thrilling,’ she says hoarsely, taking her seat on a stage alongside anxiety expert Dr Ellen Vora.
Gwyneth apologises for losing her voice and wonders aloud if she should maybe ‘stick an acupuncture needle in my throat.’
Instead she takes unladylike swigs straight from a big bottle of ferocious-looking black liquid and jokes about having a martini and a Xanax the night before. At least I think she is joking.
Goop devotees on the cruise are understandably thrilled that their heroine has chosen to spend part of her 50th birthday celebrations on board with them
What you have to know about the Goop Cruise is that it isn’t really a Goop Cruise at all. Here we are merely a thin blue vein in the rich cheese of cruisers
Tanned and wearing a grey trouser suit with white trainers, she has just turned 50 but still has that dazzling California-girl smile, along with her trademark blonde hair — and that famously honed and toned body that looks good in nothing but gold paint.
She introduces her best friend sitting in the audience who is crying, God knows why, perhaps just with simple Goop joy.
‘She knew me before I started my periods,’ Gwyneth croaks into the microphone, sounding exactly like Marge Simpson.
Amused, quirky, with that familiar edge of insouciant vulgarity? Gwyneth couldn’t have been more on brand if she had lit one of her vagina candles and started handing out some of the jade eggs she once insisted women should wear internally to improve their orgasms and hormone levels — until the American federal health authorities stopped her.
Today’s Goopy topic, which she is discussing with Dr Vora, is perhaps equally contentious; practising psychiatry in a ‘holistic, functional way where the whole person is taken into account’.
Dr Vora often feels that blood sugar levels and disrupted circadian rhythms can be at the root of anxiety problems affecting our mental health – but is feeling anxious really a mental health issue? Isn’t it just a facet of human existence? Dr Vora and Gwyneth think not.
They are the kind of first-world women who are terrified of negativity and cashmere shortages. The doctor advocates blue light spectacles and a spoon of almond butter to reset the balance — please remember that next time you or one of your friends is having a psychotic breakdown.
Gwyneth admits that both she and her daughter Apple suffer from anxiety, which she believes is just ‘trauma that hasn’t been properly processed or expressed’.
Each cruise member has paid upwards of £1,500 to plunge ourselves into the cult of Goop
Everybody claps at this nugget of wisdom. Not for the first time on this wellness cruise, I find myself feeling far from well indeed. And it is not just the churning sea that is to blame.
What you have to know about the Goop Cruise is that it isn’t really a Goop Cruise at all. I hate to speak of dairy products — because any Goopie worth her low sodium salt is proudly lacto-intolerant — but here we are merely a thin blue vein in the rich cheese of cruisers.
We are a fragmented band of four dozen or so Goopies — mostly Americans — scattered on board the Celebrity Beyond; a brand new 140,000 tonne, 17-deck mega cruise ship containing 2,100 other passengers on this trip, but with a capacity to carry 3,000.
Nine Goop staffers have been flown in from Los Angeles and New York to look after us and facilitate this Goop At Sea endeavour. They are mostly young blonde women who all wear Goop branded caps with matching Goop sweatshirts and they are friendly, but not that friendly.
There is something glassy about their manner, and the Goop vibe I get is that they are rather more thrilled to be with each other than they are to be with us.
‘I can already tell this is a super-special group. We are really, really, really looking forward to spending this time with you,’ says Goop Kiki on day one, with all the sincerity of a speaking clock. I barely glimpse her again for the rest of the cruise.
We know she painted herself gold to celebrate her 50th birthday on Tuesday and we would expect nothing less
Each of us have paid upwards of £1,500 to plunge ourselves into the cult of Goop and soon we are creaking with vitamins and Goop vibes. Each day we drink our Goop Glow juice and eat our Goop-approved meatless burgers.
At lunch we choke down our daily Goop smoothie; a vivid green brew made with kale, mango, parsley, celery and something called spirulina, a type of algae with antioxidant properties.
We attend our Goop classes, like good Goop girls and boys. In one of these, Goop astrological psychiatrist Dr Jennifer Freed asks if we are ready to make an emotional breakthrough and we nod eagerly, as ready as cosmic kamikaze pilots riding the divine wind of Goop.
In one workshop she hands out Tarot cards and asks us to describe the image on the card. ‘I got Death,’ says Casey from New Jersey. ‘And what do you see in that?’ asks Dr Freed. ‘That the old me should die?’ she suggests, tentatively. ‘Bravo!’ cries the doctor.
Michael, a retired consultant from San Diego gets the Sun card. ‘I see a young woman riding a ram,’ he says. Well, I think to myself, I bet you do. Dr Freed advises him to take a ‘horse vacation’ — or was it ‘a horse on vacation’?
To be honest, there are many moments when I struggle to understand what the Goop is going on, such as our lesson in the art of single nostril breathing given when we are docked in Marseille. Goopies are instructed to place a finger over their left nostril like so, and breathe through the right one only. For what purpose? It is never explained, but I dutifully honk away, like a mono anteater.
The Goop At Sea itinerary is not what you would call packed. There are two talks, two exercise classes, a free spa visit and one free massage.
‘A mini-massage,’ a Goop called Elizabeth keeps insisting, terrified that we might all get too excited.
In addition we each get a Goop baseball cap, a pair of Goop plastic pool slides and a Goop At Sea beach bag. Is that it? Our truffle hunting onshore trip to Tuscany has been cancelled due to the bad weather — another blow, but we are compensated with a $250 voucher to spend onboard.
In the meantime, all we can do is try to console ourselves with our distressingly small haul of Goop beauty freebies; sample sizes of Goop Glow Lotion and Goop Glow Exfoliator, along with a Goop Genes lip balm.
‘What is the gift in this for me?’ is one of the questions Dr Freed says we must constantly ask ourselves. Which is a funny coincidence, because this is exactly what I think when I get my Goop goodie bag.
On the night of the storm, when the Celebrity Beyond bounces around queasily in the roiling sea, a fellow Goopie called Arena from St Petersburg in Russia feels extra-super-terrible because she just had acupuncture.
‘I was like whoo-whoo, you know,’ she says, and I do know. My kale smoothie nearly comes back up the way it went down, which would have been a disaster on the tastefully greige furnishings in my Kelly Hoppen-designed cabin. To distract myself, I Goop exfoliate my skin, then apply the Goop lotion and do you know what? The next morning my complexion looks and feels fantastic.
That’s the thing. You can be as cynical as you like, but sometimes it is impossible to fault the sheer quality of the Goop offering.
Perhaps we should expect nothing less from a premium brand cultivated by a multi-mansioned Hollywood princess who has lived a life of untrammelled luxury and five-ply, 500-thread count comfort since the day she was born. There is so much that is good about Gwyneth, but sometimes she cannot see past the gilded barriers of her own vast privilege.
On stage she tells the story of how she was so proud of her daughter Apple, who learned to deal with her anxiety and set boundaries when she was only ten years old.
‘This woman came over to the house who does our acupuncture and massage. And Apple said to her: “I really don’t like my collarbones to be touched and I don’t want cream on my feet.”
‘And I was so proud of her! She was comfortable enough to say what she wanted. I could never have done that at her age.’ Yet this is just one reason why so many are fascinated by Gwyneth’s Goop recommendations and choices — because she is a high-maintenance elite who is used to nothing but the best.
I long to tell this to Gwyneth myself and let her see the fresh new Jan Glow up close because, by God, she deserves a treat. And it would be my special birthday present.
Since we sailed from Barcelona last Saturday, much Gwyn-info has filtered through the on-board Goop vine. We know she painted herself gold to celebrate her 50th birthday on Tuesday and we would expect nothing less. We know she also published a 1,200-word essay to mark her half century, in which she laments and celebrates the passage of time in equal measure. ‘I have more days in the basket under my arm than I do in the field before me,’ she writes, but notes that ‘the essence of the essence of life is getting sweeter.’ Her new mantra? ‘I accept my humanity.’
Those of us who also subscribe to her This & That newsletter get a further update. Gwyneth has succumbed to another of the illnesses that only Gwyneth seems to get. ‘I went on a little bit of an investigative journey with my doctors and uncovered some underlying health issues, like mould. I needed to get serious about my gut health,’ she burbles. Accordingly she has replaced her evening glass of wine with a cup of bone broth. Who the hell gets mould, apart from cheeses and shower curtains? Only very, very special people like Gwyneth, is the answer.
If only I could accept my humanity as profoundly as she does, perhaps I would get mould, too? I think about this at one of the Goop cocktail parties, where cosmopolitans and apple martinis are served.
And we eat tiny snacks with tiny wooden forks, both quite possibly supplied by the company who do the catering for all the Sylvanian Families house parties. Goop Kiki introduces us to the celebrity fitness instructer Isaac Boots, a former Broadway dancer whose Torch’d routines on Instagram did for America what Joe Wicks did for Britain during the lockdown.
Isaac has been flown out here first class from New York with his 6ft 4in ballet-dancer husband Jeffrey (known as Jeffrita) and his miniature poodle Davis (named after Bette). Davis is an ex-service dog with special exemptions to travel internationally and carries his doggy passport and papers in a little Prada knapsack on his back.
‘If he is not coming, I am not coming,’ Isaac tells me. His class is a scream, the highlight of my cruise. Jeffrita demonstrates the moves at the front of the class, his giant dancer legs looking as if they were sculpted by Bernini. When we do the downward dog so does Davis, as Isaac keeps up a stream of encouraging patter.
‘Squeeze that ass, do it for Britney,’ he cries. ‘After this, your ass will look a little higher. A little tighter. A little more, shall we say, Goopified. Let’s hear it for Goop.’
We all cheer. Yet when I think about Isaac, I think the economics of this cruise don’t make any sense. On board the ship, the Goop girls have been offering passengers spare places on the Goop At Sea programme for £690. If that is what it costs, more or less, our collective contributions wouldn’t cover the air fares of the doctors, the dogs, the Goops and the specialists they have flown in to take part.
Instead of a nourishing Goop experience it feels like we are caught in some Goop corporate positioning exercise, or providing content for their Goop channels or merely being used as fodder in a campaign to help encourage younger cruisers to come on board the Celebrity Cruise brand.
It is certainly not about us. Many of the Goopies I speak to are disenchanted with the lack of organisation — it should be called Goop All At Sea said one — and even disappointed with the celebrated appearance of St Gwyneth the high priestess of Goop herself.
Not just because the Celebrity Cruises Wellbeing Adviser, as she is known in these parts, is under par, croaky and beset by heaven knows how much fashionable mould.
It is more that we Goopies have already had a session with Dr Vora, where exactly these same topics were discussed.
Then, we had an unforgettable contribution from Melita, a stunning Goopie who now lives in Toronto, but grew up in former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian war, and who managed to escape the siege of Sarajevo. ‘You think this is anxiety?’ she told the Goop group, who were lightly muttering about being worthy and the parenting issues that were making them anxious. ‘How do you think it feels when someone is trying to shoot you?’
I wish Gwyneth had heard this, something real to think about instead of mould and foot cream and the new £6,000 Tiffany bangle she loves too much. But after less than an hour she was gone, escaping up a staircase to avoid having any real contact with her Goopy disciples, back on shore before we knew it.
‘That was pretty horrible,’ said Daisy from Chicago and I had to agree — but at least Goop got it all on film for their website.
That night our Goop ship sailed onwards, beating against the waves in the endless voyage for excellence and a perfect complexion.
Ahoy there hip mates, I’m halfway there already.