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Gwyneth Paltrow is loved, loathed, but never ignored

entertainment Updated: May 07, 2013 23:01 IST

Paltrow, the 40-year-old, peachy-skinned actress who, in recent years, has attracted more column inches for munching quinoa than for actually appearing in films, is gracing the big screen again in Iron Man 3, reprising her role as the hero's love interest, Pepper Potts. Reviews suggest her performance - in what is admittedly a limited part - is extremely good.

Last week, entertainment website Vulture posted a handy six-step guide on how not to hate Gwyneth Paltrow.

"It is normal to dislike Gwyneth Paltrow these days, it's a consensus viewpoint, basically," the writers state. "In the interest of a positive Iron Man 3 experience, Vulture has devised a six-point plan to help you put aside your Gwyneth Paltrow distaste for the length [130 minutes] of the film."

Step one is to unsubscribe from Goop, the lifestyle website founded by Paltrow in 2008. Goop, with its baffling mixture of inspiring recipes, travel tips, feelgood workout sessions and wholesome, new age aphorisms, has generated much bile since its inception. It has been slammed for its "Marie Antoinette-esque detachment from reality" and according to one columnist, even the name - cutely derived from Paltrow's initials - "makes you want to rip your face off with your bare hands".

It's easy to make fun of her airy online pro nouncements from Planet Wealth: recently, Paltrow recommended a French chateau as "a nice family getaway" (price: $15,300 for seven days).

Then there are the cookbooks. Her most recent, It's All Good, has provoked a furore because it includes recipes for gluten-free sweet potato muffins and chia-seed pudding. Paltrow's recipe for apple sauce comes complete with the admission that she has her own orchard.

Yet if you speak to people who know Paltrow, a different side emerges. Friends says she is sel f-deprecating, with a wry sense of humour and a ready willingness to poke fun at herself.

"She's a woman's woman," says one acquaintance. "She's actually very likeable but for some reason it doesn't translate."

Last month, she appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show and gamely threw herself into doing impressions of Jay-Z, Kanye West and her husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin (displaying an impressive aptitude for remembering rap lyrics as she did so). When she wore a revealing Antonio Beradi dress with sheer panelling to attend the premiere of Iron Man 3 and was roundly condemned for putting too much flesh on show, she was quick to admit: "I kind of had a disaster … let's just say everyone went scrambling for a razor."

In an interview for Glamour magazine, she expressed her love for her adopted home city of London, said she took her children to parks and museums on the tube and confessed that her husband had to explain the concept of Blue Peter to her.

Why is there such a disconnect between these two facets of Paltrow's character? Her friends say Paltrow is simply being honest and refuses to pretend to be something she's not. So if she makes a lot of money and has a comfortable life with her rock star husband and their two photogenic children, Apple and Moses, then she's not going to blog about an all-inclusive deal at Butlins or how to maximise points on your Nectar card.

By contrast, her critics claim that she simply doesn't know when to stop: it's not enough for Paltrow to be an actress earning millions, she also has to be a cookbook writer, a lifestyle guru and a health freak who claims to possess "the butt of a 22-year-old stripper".

"I think Gwyneth probably could've kept this resentment at bay if she hadn't tried to connect with the fans," Eleanor Barkhorn, a senior associate editor at the Atlantic magazine, said recently. "She's trying to maintain the trappings of the A-list lifestyle while at the same time seeming relatable and it's not working."

It was Robert Downey Jr who persuaded Paltrow to sign up for the Iron Man franchise. Paltrow recalled: "He said to me, 'Don't you want to be in a movie that people see?' And I was like, 'Whoa! What would that feel like?'"

She is a curiously polarising figure: an American in London who appears to have taken over from her friend Madonna as Most Irritating Yankee Emigre in the popular perception. But whereas Madonna's attempts to blend in consisted of wearing Dick Van Dyke flat caps and drinking pints of beer in much-ridiculed paparazzi photographs, Paltrow's unapologetic determination simply to carry on being herself has provoked a barely concealed fury.

So perhaps it was inevitable that in the week Paltrow was voted Star magazine's "Most Hated Celebrity" (above even self-confessed woman-beater Chris Brown), she was also crowned People magazine's "Most Beautiful Woman in the World". We can't make up our minds.