There’s been a lot of talk lately about what’s been termed “eat the rich” entertainment: the trend for TV and films in which ultra-high net-worth people are shown being monstrous, or infuriating, or as thick as their Loro Piana puffas, before getting their comeuppance in gloriously messy ways.
Succession, The White Lotus, The Menu, Triangle of Sadness, the life and times of Prince Andrew 1960-present day… It’s a heaving genre, and made only busier by that reliable factory of disgustingly moneyed people exhibiting their hubris, the justice system. Specifically, celebrity trials.
The ideal celebrity trial ticks at least one of five boxes: 1) A matter so basically inconsequential that we can all ignore it, avoiding any moral doubt about making fun of what is being alleged, and allowing us to focus solely on everything other than the reason they’re there. 2) Outfits. Out. Fits. Especially ones that cost the same as the courthouse’s annual utilities bill. 3) Absolutely wild characters, ideally on both sides, including – no, especially – the legal teams. 4) A judge who’s essentially just a sigh made flesh. 5) TV cameras or courtroom artists, but ideally both.
Many trials hit some of these beats, a few hit most of them, but until now, only really Wagatha Christie, that great melodrama of 2022, achieved a clean sweep. Well, in the words of onlookers who perhaps should have been a little more vocal on a mountainside in Utah in 2016, here comes Gwyneth!
Unlike the optometrist Dr Terry Sanderson whom she allegedly hit, you simply cannot have missed the movements of the Oscar winner and Abbess of Wellness, Gwyneth Paltrow, over the last week. In a small courtroom in Park City, she took on Dr Terry in a trial concerning… Wait, I actually have no idea. I’ll look it up, hold on. Huh. Something to do with a skiing crash? Is that a thing? OK, if you say so. So I guess she killed the guy, or…? Oh, no he’s fine, just unable to do wine tastings now? But can Gwyneth still taste bone broth? She can. So they’re both all right. And this was over $300,000? And Gwyneth won? And was awarded $1? What?
Anyway, it’s not important, because the trial was essentially just a gift to anyone who likes to see ridiculous people be ridiculous. It has been months since Prince Harry’s book tour ended. Days since Rupert Murdoch trolled his new fiancée, a former prison chaplain called Ann, by suggesting he was only halfway through his life. And now, swaddled in neutral cashmere, Paltrow was there to save us.
It’s straight-to-Showtime in the same way that Wagatha Christie was straight-to-Hunsnet, and I’m already workshopping adaptation titles. “The GP vs The Doctor,” “The Trial of Greedy Augustus Goop,” “The Unconscious Coupling,” “Paltrow and the Paltry Row,” “The Abominable Snow Ma’am” …
Here are the key points:
Unless she was ingeniously baiting Paltrow into an ego trap only to eventually spin it back on her, it seems safe to say that Terry Sanderson’s lawyer, Kristin Vanorman, is a GP fan. In fact, she might as well be cosplaying as Margot Tenenbaum and hiding a dozen jade eggs about her person. As it is, she looks like Allison Janney playing Dame Edna Everage playing David Bowie in the Serious Moonlight tour. Which, if it was what she was going for, is an incredibly niche reference.
The trial was essentially just a gift to anyone who likes to see ridiculous people be ridiculous.
Vanorman was possibly the highlight of the whole trial, especially given she frequently seemed to forget what her job is. “You were wearing goggles, a helmet? Kinda looked like everybody else on the slope?” she asked Paltrow at one point, before adding, with a jabbing finger, “Probably had a better ski outfit though, I bet!” Kill them with kindness, Kristin.
The Rejected Snacks
“If being a feeder is a crime, well lock me up and throw away the key!” is not a quote from the trial, but it could have been. Ahead of the third day, Gwyneth’s attorney, Steve Owens, asked Judge Kent Holmberg: “Private security for my client wanted to bring in treats for the bailiffs for how helpful they’ve been. So, I wanted to do that transparently and see if there are any objections.” Dr Sanderson’s lawyers objected all right, meaning it was “Thank you, but no thank you.”
It’s difficult to not see this as an error on their part. If they’d agreed, the bailiffs would likely have been given goat cheese enemas, chia seed lube, a broth baptism and free tickets to a Coldplay gig of their choice. Terry would have walked it.
Fangirl Esq., Continued
Later, like a superfan at a Q&A who wastes their question by asking something extremely basic like, “What’s your favorite food?” purely so they can go, “Oh my God, same!” and have something in common with their idol, Vanorman conducts this exchange:
“Can I ask how tall you are?”
“I’m just under 5’10,” Paltrow replies.
“I am so jealous!” Vanorman responds.
“I think I’m shrinking…” Paltrow continues.
“You and me both! I have to wear four inch heels just to make it to 5’5, so…”
“Well, they’re very nice.”
“Oh, thank you!”
Later, she asked her new best friend if she was trained “in accident reconstruction”. Paltrow is not. “Neither am I!” Vanorman beams. Um, twinsies much?!
To repeat: she is Dr Terry Sanderson’s lawyer.
Court dressing is not easy. Too colorful and you look like a clown, meaning you’re not perceived to be taking it seriously. Too black and you look morbid, like somebody dressed for a funeral, which is not necessarily a great look for the star of A Perfect Murder (1998) trying to defend herself against avalanching a retired optometrist into the afterlife.
So she went with neutrals. Rich, high-end neutrals. So, so many rich, high-end neutrals. The Switzerland of clothes. On one day, Paltrow’s platform Prada Monolith boots were $1,450, and would have made her an actual foot taller than Vanorman. On another, she is estimated to have worn $65,000 worth of jewelry in and around her 50 shades of beige. The message? “If this was about the $300,000, I’d simply take off my clothes and hand them to you, Terry. But it isn’t, it’s about something far more precious to me: it’s about four hours of lost skiing and giving the Internet a new trove of memes.”
“I’m just telling you the truth of what actually happened – that’s all I can do.”
Devastatingly delivered. And Gwyneth has been in enough abysmally-written Ryan Murphy melodramas to have us question whether he had a hand in it. Also, given she’s speaking under oath, it’s really excellently obvious.
Taylor Swift’s Cameo
Sorry, we’re back to Vanorman, who – while she has her, and when might she be able to talk to the Gwyneth Paltrow from the Ironman series again? – just really needs to know what Taylor Swift is like.
Swift, you see, was also involved in a trial in which she sued for $1, mainly to make a point. Paltrow denied she got the idea from there, but Vanorman is mainly interested in whether they’re friends. “I would not say we are good friends, we are friendly; I’ve taken my kids to one of her concerts before but we don’t talk very often,” Paltrow said, possibly gearing up to be handed a copy of Folklore to sign for Vanorman’s kids, just in case she sees Taylor anytime soon. But no, she might not have guessed where it was going.
“You’ve never given Ms Swift personal, intimate gifts for Christmas…?” Vanorman asked. It appeared she was referring to a 2021 advert for Goop, which saw Paltrow put a vibrator in a bag addressed to Swift. Before Paltrow could answer, her lawyer asked why the matter was relevant, which the judge sustained. I guess we will never know if Taylor Swift was sent a sex toy by Gwyneth Paltrow.
What was this trial about, again?
The Elk-Farm Trip
A key witness, who was on the mountain that day (Oh yes skiing! It’s about skiing! We’re back on track) and said Paltrow was bang to rights, was fiercely questioned by her lawyers about how good a friend he is of Dr Sanderson’s. James Ramon claims not very. Paltrow’s lawyer, apropos of something, though it’s not entirely clear what, then asked him if it’s true he and Sanderson visited an elk farm together. He strongly denied it.
Shades of Uncle Bryn and Jason’s fishing trip in Gavin & Stacey. What happened at the elk farm, James? Show us on the doll.
Terrific stuff from Gwyneth’s legal team, who perhaps contacted her old friends from Minions to have a vivid and richly-drawn animation created that shows… absolutely nothing useful. There they all are, skiing about on a mountain, labeled up, and then there’s Paltrow and Sanderson in a heap. How did they end up there? Oh, that’s what the whole trial is about? Well now we’re getting somewhere.
“Well I Lost Half a Day of Skiing … Yes.”
Gwyneth’s instantly iconic response when being asked if her trip had been ruined by this incident. It reminds us that in the autumn of 2009, at the tenth attempt, an elderly musical instrument maker named Chen Lianzhi in Guangzhou, China, completed a project making a violin that is just 1cm long, setting a new Guinness World Record. Perhaps Lianzhi could play it in the memory of Paltrow’s lost afternoon on the pow-pow.
Gwyneth’s Serial-Killer Glasses
A cunning legal tactic: if you’re accusing an older man of violently knocking you over, which you initially feared was a perverted attack, you could adopt the standard issue eyewear of any late-20th century serial sex attacker, as if to suggest the idea without doing so overtly. Galactic thinking. And that’s why she’s worth $250 million. Watch out for her dressing as a yeti tomorrow day.
Let’s Get Physical
We were all wondering when the work of Sir Isaac Newton would figure in this trial, and that moment finally came on Tuesday, when an ‘expert’ witness – a biomechanical engineer named Dr Irving Scher – used a whiteboard to explain that, having analyzed Newton’s law of gravity, Paltrow in fact skied with perfect grace and élan, behaving as any astonishingly lithe 50-year-old who claims to have popularized yoga might, rather than with berserk and distracted recklessness.
“Ms Paltrow’s version of events is consistent with the laws of physics in how people turn and rotate,” Dr Scher said, having already drawn stick people to represent Paltrow and Dr Sanderson. Like Stephen Hawking commentating Ski Sunday, he stood before a wall of equations, which may or may not have made any sense, but they looked totally legitimate to the layman.
Guy Kelly is a London-based feature writer for the Daily Telegraph, Telegraph magazine, and Luxury supplements