Evening Standard - May 2005

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Evening Standard - May 2005

Post  Admin on Sun Aug 10, 2008 1:15 pm

When Gwyneth Paltrow's be loved father, the late film producer Bruce Paltrow, was told he had terminal throat cancer five years ago, the loneliness of the diagnosis was almost unendurable. "He used to say to my mother, not in a critical way, 'You will never be able to understand the pain and the fear.' It was something she had never experienced, that's what he meant.

"He struggled so much with the disease," says the Oscar-winning actress quietly. "He wasn't a complainer at all. In his weaker moments he would just say, 'This is really unbearable.' He was terribly afraid." Her father, she says, was "the centre of my world"; her love of family life is what underpins her anti-diva inclinations. It defines her very being. She may call husband Chris Martin, Coldplay's front man and tee-total rock pin-up, "Angel" and "my rock" in the privacy of their Knightsbridge home, but her mother, the award-winning actress Blythe Danner, and late father have always been at the epicentre of her life.

It's not rare for daughters to love their dads, of course, but Paltrow idolised her father, who moved Gwyneth and her brother, Jake, three years her junior, from California's chichi Santa Monica to New York when she was 11 years old. It was a "great" childhood, gilded with privilege but grounded.

While other stars are supine on the psychiatrist's couch, angst-ing over their damaging parents ( her WASPish-turned-hippy mother had a soft spot for recycling and agitprop, while Paltrow Sr wouldn't let his daughter quit school to act; she could, in fairness, have rebelled), Gwyneth describes her parents as "fantastic" and as "the greatest influences in my life".

For her 30th birthday in October 2002, she didn't have a rocking party or hire some swanky villa on a private island. She went to Tuscany with her dad for the weekend (her mother was filming in New Zealand). His supposed recovery from cancer was a cause for double celebration.

Less than 48 hours later Gwyneth watched her 58-year-old father drop down dead from a heart attack. It was precipitated by complications from pneumonia and the recurrence of the cancer. Neither even knew it had crept back.

"He got pneumonia and died," explains Gwyneth, who fought clinical-depression after his death. "The cancer had come into his bronchial tubes. He never knew that, thank God. His biggest fear was that it would come back. I am so relieved that he never knew the cancer returned. Not knowing was a real blessing. He had a deer-in-the-headlights look when he talked about the possibility of it coming back."

When Bruce Paltrow was first diagnosed, at the age of 53, he was left reeling. "It was so traumatic and so incredibly isolating and earth-shakingly scary," she says, before pausing. Her daughter is nearby and she's trying to get her mother's attention. "Apple's giving her account," says Gwyneth, in her light, easy manner, then she picks up her train of thought.

The value of Maggie's Centres, which Gwyneth first heard about through her friend the artist Sam Taylor-Wood, she says, is simple: they give you people to talk to who know what you're going through. Her father badly needed that. "What was amazingly helpful for him was getting in touch with a man named Richard Buckley. He edits male Vogue in France and he had the same kind of cancer as my father, but he survived.

"When my father was put in touch with him his whole demeanour changed. He spent hours on the phone asking questions, from what kind of toothpaste to use, because the treatments affect your tastebuds, to what to expect about pain and cramping. I saw those conversations take the fear out of his eyes. What was so important was that he was talking to someone who had lived," she says. "The cancer became less of a shapeless monster. It's such an emotional disease. With my father, a lot of it came from stress and his inability to express things."

Gwyneth, who won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love and who will star in John Madden's Proof, with Anthony Hopkins, later this year, grew up with stars including Steven Spielberg, Christopher Reeve and Michael Douglas pitching up for Christmas parties, much to the envy of her schoolfriends. The downside of the glitz was the divorces. "My father and mother were married for 33 years," she says proudly. "For my mother, it still feels like his death happened yesterday. She is still in the throes of grief. She talks about it all the time."

Apple, she says, has worked miracles. "She's been very healing for all of us - for myself, my brother, my mother. For me, the great joy before I gave birth to her was the idea that she would be one quarter my father.

"I was continuing his life, bringing him back to life in a small way. It fills a bit of that enormous chasm, but it's so sad to think she won't know that incredibly amazing, enormous person."

When the cancer took hold, Gwyneth couldn't deal with it; now she is haunted by the fact that, in her view at least, she could have done more to help him.

"I was in so much denial for so much of his illness. The thought of life without my father was totally unfathomable to me.

"He went for four years when he was cancer-free, or so we thought. We felt, he's going to be fine now, let's move on. I wasn't adamant enough in cleaning up his diet and getting rid of the cancer and the radiation.

"Now I really feel I could have extended his quality of life. But I wasn't as strong as I should have been."

A nutritionist urged him to adopt new, healthier eating habits, ditching everything from coffee to dairy products. "But he didn't want to stand out.

He just wanted normalcy. The throat surgery had already left him feeling deformed." She let him do his own thing, but it pulls at her heartstrings. "I really believe what you eat has a huge effect on your health. My father smoked for a long time. He had a big vodka every day when he got home from work.

"He was the product of a Fifties diet: everything he ate was refined and processed. That's why the incidence of cancer is so high in that generation. We all have these grandparents who are 95 years old, but no parents."

Gwyneth, who counts Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt as exboyfriends, and Stella McCartney and Valentino as mates, has been known to hand her rock-god hubbie Tupperware filled with macrobiotic food before he heads off to the studio. She's careful about what she feeds her daughter, too - careful but not crazed.

"Right now, Apple is young and I control what she eats. It's all very healthy. But she's her own person and I will respect who she is. If she doesn't want to be vegetarian or she wants to eat hydrogenated oils and fairy cakes at birthday parties, that's fine. I'm not going to be a controlling, over-protective hippy. We live in the world we do. I don't want her to be a freak."

And she's not a weirdo ecohealth warrior herself, either. "I'm not as stringent as I was in the past. I used to do a very strict macrobiotic diet, but then, during my pregnancy, I couldn't eat brown rice. It made me feel so sick. At first, all I wanted was biscuits. Now I'll have cheese once in a while or white flour, but I still believe in whole grains and no sugar."

Bereavement can bring a kind of renewal in its wake. "If there's any one lesson it has imparted," reflects Gwyneth, "it is that life is finite, it is very short, so you might as well make it as interesting and as challenging as you can.

"I embrace risk now," says Gwyneth, who admits grappling with a "baby brain" that has made learning lines a new challenge. "I used to be excellent," she said recently, "and then I had a baby and I can't remember anything. My father's death changed my outlook on my life a lot. That's when my rigidity about things fell away and my openness happened. It's strange. I really feel there's a God but our brains can't understand what or who he is. We don't have the capacity... That is what faith is in a way: understanding you can't understand, that you must find pleasure and beauty in the most simple things in life and in living in the moment."

Having sold up her 4 million New York property earlier this year, she loves the London that, on her first work visit aged 25, she found cold and unfriendly. "I'm not a nightclub person, but I do enjoy a good meal out and a good bottle of wine. I love Zuma, it's my favourite restaurant in London. It's just heaven. I do yoga and Pilates. We take long walks, which is great for relieving stress. I get reflexology once in a while and have taken Apple for baby massage." At the mention of which there's a chortle and Gwyneth says: "What's so funny?" before giving her daughter a kiss.

Her new openness hasn't extended to talking about her famous husband or what kind of dad he is, though a pre-natal rap he wrote before Apple was born, promising to "help clean up the poo and the sick", put him in the New Dad category.

Gwyneth vowed, aged five, she'd be a TV actress; she always wanted to be a parent, too, like her own role model of a mother. "It was really important to me that the first year I would be with Apple and not on a film set."

Now filming Running With Scissors, produced by ex-beau Brad Pitt, in which she plays the daughter of a lunatic psychiatrist, she says she has been "a domestic manager" for the past 12 months. Being with Apple, she says, "is very, very special for me. I've always worked, so it's nice to have slowed all the way down."

Domesticity aside, intellectually, motherhood has set her free. "I am much better at living in the moment since having Apple. She lives right in the present and she pulls me into the present. I found myself worrying so much less about what I haven't done. Life is here, in this moment, now."


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