Let’s face it, Gwyneth Paltrow has got it pretty good. She’s a tall, blonde, naturally-thin goddess, with more pairs of Seven Jeans and Jimmy Choos than most of us could ever dream of owning.
SHE WON HER first Oscar before the age of 30 (although some of us still feel Cate Blanchett was robbed), and despite the recent passing of her beloved father, has a close-knit supportive family who can always be found cheering her on from the sidelines. And, in addition to all of this, she also has what’s become this year’s must-have accessory.
No, I’m not talking about the infamous I’m-on-a-six-year-waiting-list Birkin bag, or Gucci’s new red over-the-knee boots, but her very own British boyfriend. The American actress who once said her only complaint about British men was that they weren’t asking her out fast enough can be seen all over London these days smooching Coldplay frontman and rumored fiance Chris Martin.
And she’s not alone either. Everywhere you turn someone, somewhere is falling head over heels for a British boy. Madonna snapped up British director Guy Ritchie, Gillian Anderson is living in Notting Hill with fiance British journalist Julian Ozanne, Sandra Bullock was hotly rumored to have had an off-the-set “friendship” with Hugh Grant, Jennifer Love Hewitt recently took up with British actor Paul Nichols, Angelina Jolie still occasionally flirts with British ex-husband actor Johnny Lee Miller, and Britney Spears can safely be relied upon to continue moaning about her ongoing crush on Grant.
English men are foppish, easily flustered, pasty white in winter, and most haven’t seen the inside of a gym in decades — but why do we love them so?
As is so often the case, we look to the mother of all trendsetters — Madonna — to see where this phenomenon first started. It began in the kitchen of another sexy Brit, Sting, who introduced Madge, as she is not-so-affectionately called by the London press, to the up and coming director Ritchie. He was impressed but didn’t show it; she was and did.
Soon they were London’s hottest twosome, and after a top secret wedding at a castle in Scotland, America’s best loved Material Girl had made her way across the Atlantic and set up house. And Guy wasn’t Madge’s first Brit either. He followed closely on the heels of a long-term and little-remembered disastrous relationship she had with aspiring actor Andy Byrd.
Byrd was a no-name bartender when he met the world’s biggest celebrity — a story that could have been the basis for the movie “Notting Hill” — although as is often the case in real life, this tale has a far from happy ending. In the real-life version, Byrd ended up selling his story to the British tabs along with lurid sexual details, accusations of multiple abortions and allegations of desperate manipulation on the part of his very famous girlfriend.
JUMPING RIGHT BACK IN
But what stands out the most about this nasty chapter in the long and messy love life of an American icon is what she did next. Did the Michigan native pack up her cone-shaped bra and yoga mat and high-tail it back to the land of the free and the ever-so-slightly-less-intrusive tabloids? Absolutely not. She grabbed her microbiotic thermos and threw herself right back into the Britboy dating pool and grabbed herself another one.
You see, Madge was hooked. From now on, it was going to be Brits all the way. But what exactly was it she was hooked on?
Perhaps what British men represent to American women can most easily be summed up in two words: “sophisticated alternative.” It begins the moment they open their mouths. To the average American girl, the accent itself plays into the idea of the charming, refined stranger who suddenly shows up on a dark and stormy night, white horse in tow.
Let’s face it, few of us ever get over images of the discerning woman’s movie star, Cary Grant — an English actor who leaves an allure in his wake that attaches itself to undeserving British men like an expensive cologne that is sprayed on them in a department store. But it is more than the accent, it’s in their actual words — words like “quite” and “lovely” and “hilarious” and “quite hilarious.”
And they have traveled, to more than Cancun or Maui, to more than the capitals of Western Europe. They’ve been to Vietnam, India or Russia during their “gap years” (a year off between high school and college — Prince William went to Kenya during his).
They know a little about wines — most have grown up drinking in a country where liquor laws are not enforced and wine flows freely at the dinner table. They are familiar with them, certainly enough to impress an American girl whose basketball-playing boyfriend drinks only beer and Coke. And, they just seem brainy. Even knowing nothing about the English school system, isn’t it true that boys who’ve read Goethe and Zola and “adored Middlemarch back at Cambridge” seem a whole lot smarter than those whose favorite book is “Huck Finn?”
But there’s more. British men, for the most part much shyer than their American counterparts, seem far more polite to us. This is partly an illusion most likely due to a fear of embarrassing themselves. And as one quickly learns from Brits, getting through life without looking too foolish seems to be the national preoccupation. Whatever the reason, men over there are more careful about imposing and generally making a bother of themselves — which is a very attractive quality.
As for me, I am persuaded. If it’s good enough for Madonna and Gwyneth then it’s good enough for me. I’ve got my ticket and am headed to London — because after all, there’s certainly a lot more of them over there than here. And, while I may never get that Birkin bag, this is one accessory I may be able to keep around for more than a single season.