Long Reads

Goop 2019: “I went to Gwyneth Paltrow’s London wellness summit – and it was one hell of a ride”

Last weekend, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire Goop landed in London for a two-day summit. But at £1,000 a ticket, would cynical Brits give her a warm welcome? Hannah Keegan spent the day as a Goopie to find out.

It is 9.30am on a balmy Saturday morning and 250 women are sat in a room in west London, eyes closed, visualising their mothers. Not their actual mothers. But the archetypal mother. A liquid light radiating warmth and goodness. 

“Look into her eyes,” says Californian psychotherapist Barry Michels, “she believes in you so unequivocally”. I am at In Goop Health, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness summit, where tickets are a flat £1000 for access to panels, workshops and Gwyneth herself. A weekend pass - which includes a stay at five-star hotel The Krimpton, a workout with “GP” and a cocktail party - is £4,500. This is Goop’s seventh summit in total and the first in the UK.

The setting is Re:centre in Hammersmith, a riverside wellness centre which has been Goopified for the weekend. There are flowers everywhere; big, lilac roses and deep green foliage. Everything feels clean, pristine, dazzling. Breakfast in the building’s courtyard is an abundance of mini buckwheat pancakes covered in acai, smoked salmon and flakes of coconut. 

Breakfast at In Goop Health

Women are in mix of floaty dresses and the grey t-shirts and leggings from G-label, Goop’s in-house clothing brand, we were given on arrival. One woman is telling a group that she’s had her beaded necklace dipped in titanium to enhance its power. They all stand cooling themselves with white, Goop embossed hand fans. Goyard tote bags, costing nearly £1000 each, and stacked Cartier LOVE bracelets are plentiful.

People are feeling giddy. Gwyneth is here. They have a workshop booked for tomorrow that’s going to teach them to be less anxious. They want try the crystal light bed, the infrared mask, Gwyneth’s infamous Tracy Anderson workout, promising “true body happiness”, taught by the actual Tracy Anderson. They’re excited to have their faces massaged by Face Gym. There are more beaming staff than attendees; one will bring you a chilled glass of GOOP GLOW (a fluorescent orange antioxidant concoction) while you get your make up re-applied. They’ll walk you to your next session. Everyone’s happy to help! So pleased you’re here! This is a good day for Goopies! 

A woman watches Paltrow on stage

Depending on who you talk to (on the outside world), Gwyneth Paltrow is a razor-sharp entrepreneur who singlehandedly made yoga A Thing, or a wicked proclaimer of false truths and bad medicine. She is divine. She is dangerous. Media coverage varies wildly. One article promises to reveal her “unbearable wrongness” (Outline), another to show “how Goop’s haters made [her] company worth 250 million” (NY Times).

When most people think of Goop, they think of its recommendation that women steam their vaginas and then put jade eggs inside them. They think of the nutritional advice that’s been shot down by doctors. They recently paid out $145,000 to the state of California after claiming, without sufficient medical data, that said jade eggs would “prevent uterine prolapse”. 

Devotees are largely unbothered; controversy is all part of the potion. Paltrow first launched Goop as a newsletter while she was living in London in 2008. Back then, it just told subscribers where to get the best tapas; the workout she was obsessed with; a recipe for crab cakes. Friends asked her for recommendations constantly and she wanted to share what she knew. Over 11 years later there is a Goop website, a Goop podcast, a Goop magazine, Goop stores stocking Goop products and G-label clothes and the In Goop Health summits. 

Goop cards placed throughout the summit

If you can’t quite believe Gwyneth Paltrow actually exists; that she’s actually out there being a human just like you. Then, let me tell you: she does. In person, she is long, luminous and self-contained. Her brow furrows into a serious expression when she’s concentrating, but her eyes sparkle like she’s telling a joke. When she laughs they crinkle up until they disappear completely. 

I know this because they are looking directly into my own - she’s big on eye contact - and telling me about her Goopiest moment of the day so far. This morning, she was getting her coffee when she overheard two women agonising over which alternative milk to have. There were so many! Almond. Pea. Soy. Oat. She smiled to herself as they did this. She is well aware that this is the mad world she’s created. 

She’s not particularly worried about British cynicism, either. “There’s a sense that people are trying to hold onto that in a way,” she says, “but right below cynicism there is always a vulnerability that someone’s trying to protect. So if you can just get just get a little bit deeper into that vulnerability, there’s a wealth of interesting stuff. What I observe from my friends that live here is that British women are curious.” 

Tracy Anderson teaches a workout class

Today, she’s wearing a bright red two piece top and trousers, which seems appropriate since she’s tasked herself with guiding these women through life - her Goopies, as she calls them - and this means they can see her a mile off. Red, like a buoy promising safety in the middle of the vast ocean. Spend five minutes observing her in a room and you will notice the effect she has on people. They gaze at her with awe; talk about her like she’s a demigod. Barry Michels called her a “luminary being”. Penelope Cruz said there should be monuments dedicated to her around the world. There is an awful lot of projection.

Just ask the New York Times profiler Taffy Brodesser-Akner. In a recent interview she said she’d never been happier to finish a story than she was with her profile of Gwyneth Paltrow last year. “The thing I determined was that it was not about how I felt about her,” she said, “it was about how I felt about myself in her reflection that was the issue. And it was unbearable to me.” When we met, I wanted to remain right next to The Gwyneth Light hoping, deep down, some of it would soak into me, too. 

Stylist’s Hannah Keegan at the summit

And to be clear: she doesn’t just have this effect on women. This isn’t an I-wish-I-was-the-prom-queen scenario. There was a moment on the Iron Man 3 press tour. The conference was for French media so Paltrow, naturally, answered in French. This eventually became too much for Robert Downey Jr. He was fed up. He grabbed the mic. “First of all,” he said, “I feel like an asshole. I would’ve spoken French, but I was raised by wolves. She went to nice schools and they spent all this goddamn money and now she’s all fancy. She comes out here and you just love her. I’m an animal!” 

If she makes you, too, feel like an animal - an undernourished, overworked, unintelligent animal, to be precise - she promises she can help you. She can teach you how to be like her! She’s willing to! She’s brought her trainer here for you; her facialist; her damn psychiatrist! And this, in a nutshell, is the foundation on which Goop is built. The women here today are hoping to take some piece of her home with them. And, financially speaking, they can afford to. 

After breakfast, I go to a workshop with Dr. Barbara Sturm, a dermatologist with a celebrity following. Sturm is petite, toned, charged with confidence. “I don’t know why,” she says casually as we apply her cream, “but I am the only person in the world who can make products that absorb into the skin”. In that moment I honest-to-God believed her. We all look at ourselves in the mirrors set up in front of us, ooo-ing and ahh-ing as our faces begin to emit a dewy glow. I suddenly feel I need her face cream. Not want, but need. She’s suggested I slaver it on my whole body. I rationalise that £132 for 50ml is a small price to pay for self-esteem.

Dr. Barbara Sturm teaches a workshop

Then, I have a Conscious Breathworks class with Stuart Sandeman, the founder of Breathpod, who is a bearded yogi type. I’d walked past the room earlier that day and heard women screaming (positively howling, actually) so I was feeling wary. He had us lie on our backs and breathe into each of our seven chakras (“the body’s energy centres”). He wanted us to scream, banging our hands and feet while we did it. “AAAA!” we yelped like toddlers having a tantrum. It felt good; it felt silly.

Later, as I watched a huddle of women laughing together, sharing what they’d learnt so far, I decided it was too easy to be cynical about Goop. I mean, I was looking at them through the red glow of the infrared mask on my face (it was supposed to boost my collagen), so who was I to judge? It’s easy to laugh at women who find purpose in crystals and organising their diets and concentrating on the deepness of their breaths. When we see people having experiences we don’t understand, it is a reflex to dismiss them. But it won’t get you any closer to the truth.

Women try out the infrared masks

The women I’d spoken to said they’d come to “reset” or as part of a larger “spiritual journey”. Many of them had travelled (from America, Brazil, the Netherlands, France). They’d been feeling tired, stressed out, depleted. They wanted to feel good again. Despite their wealth, they were looking for the very basics of happiness: comfort, health and community.

“Some women come to us saying ‘I’m feeling crappy or bloated, I’m having a dysfunctional relationship with my mother,’” says Goop’s Chief Content Officer Elise Loehnen. “They want to know why. Against our better instincts we’ve been told that all these things that we experience aren’t real and Goop represents that they are. Your intuition is real. We’re a point validation for women who are tired of being dismissed.” And if you can’t afford to go and see the doctor that Gwyneth does, then you can still read Goop’s interview with them. The content is free; the podcast is free; you don’t have to buy anything! They can’t believe how generous they are. 

The final panel of the day was with Penelope Cruz who’d come to talk about hormones. Doctors hadn’t taken her health concerns seriously, even her, Penelope Cruz. She fought to be heard by them. You could hear the anger rising in her voice as she spoke. Gwyneth nodded knowingly. “I remember, when I had my kids…I wasn’t sleeping. I went to a doctor and she said, ‘OK, I’m going to prescribe you benzodiazepine for six months,’” Cruz said as the room gasped. “I said, what do you expect to do with me when I get addicted?” She got into herbs, nutrition, wellness instead - cured her Hashimoto’s disease with food, she says - and feels it’s her obligation to share. Many doctors say this cure is impossible.

Penelope Cruz and Gwyneth Paltrow at In Goop Health

At the very beginning of the summit, there was a woman perusing the Goop vitamins quietly. She was blonde, willowy and carrying a small black Hermes Kelly bag. She’d come alone, but wasn’t bothering to mingle. She was doing her own thing. Smiling. When Paltrow asked, from the stage, who’d travelled to come here, her hand went up, and then again when she asked who’d been before. I wondered what kept her coming back. What exactly did she want more of? I didn’t find out. She’d vanished into a reiki class before I could ask.

I thought about something Loehnen had told me a few days earlier. “Gwyneth thinks really big,” she’d said when I’d asked her about Goop’s future, “her only real role model is Walt Disney”. For these women, Paltrow has conjured a similar magic kingdom. The only way you will replicate this kind of high; a high that has little to do with the outside world; a delirious, disorientating high that will make you buy a cream you can’t afford, look at a clear quartz with childlike wonder, crave to scream at the top of your lungs, is to keep coming back for more. 

And that is how you make a Goopie. 

Images: Darren Gerrish.

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