Making a killing: it turns out there’s an upside to the pandemic for some…

Eva Wiseman
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Is… is Gwyneth Paltrow saying we can cure long Covid with an $8,600 snake necklace? In her latest Goop post, “Healing My Body With a Longer Term Detox”, she consults with a doctor about her brain fog and long-tail fatigue after contracting Covid-19. I say doctor – this is one of her favourite experts Will Cole, a vaccine-sceptic who received his chiropractic doctorate from (in the words of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? author Professor Tim Caulfield’s words) a “woo factory”. She follows his method of “intuitive fasting” (book available to buy now) cooking only in the afternoon, “using lots of coconut aminos”, avoiding alcohol by drinking Seedlip (available to buy) from a glass ($112), taking a lot of supplements (subscribe for discounts), using a sauna blanket ($500) and hiking to “sweat out the toxins” in an outfit that includes 1 x $8,600 snake oil, sorry, snake necklace.

Gwyneth Gwyneth Gwyneth, what are we to do with you? Her cheeky monkeying knows no bounds, and yet, despite its rose-scented shamelessness, I do not have it in me right now to be angry with her. Will I tut? Sure. Will I shake my head with a wry smile, as I stumble through the carpeted corridors of her website, opening a door to find a screaming woman being suffocated with a cashmere scarf ($410) before apologising and closing it again quietly? Yes. Will I pause The Talented Mr Ripley on a still of her face and ask it repeatedly why she gave up a life of art to shill crystals by telling sad women lies about whether death exists? Possibly. But will I get angry? I will not.

I mean, not yet. Gwyneth must get in line, behind Jacob Rees-Mogg and Malaysian rubber magnates who hiked up the price of protective gloves and Jared Kushner and all their mates who have also been exploiting the pandemic for profit. Last March the UK competition watchdog had 21,000 complaints about retailers increasing prices of new essentials – in the case of hand sanitisers, they’d increased by an average of 367%. A month later, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s investment firm was accused of exploiting worldwide market volatility by investing in businesses hit by falling stocks. Executives said: “Investors have a ‘once in a generation’ chance of ‘super normal returns’,” reported the Sunday Mirror. The company responded with a shrug emoji but in more syllables.

It continues – for every thousand deaths, another millionaire makes a killing. The lunches supplied to children by Chartwells, a private contractor appointed by the government to provide school meals, will remain one of the lasting images of these locked-down years. The photos shared on Twitter of the lunch-shaped scraps emptied out on to a kitchen counter look like still life paintings, each sorry object symbolic, the scene an allegorical representation of something rotten.

Even when there is no image attached, the numbers stick in your mind and throat. Dido Harding, the Conservative peer married to the prime minister’s “anti-corruption champion”, has hired consultants earning £6,000 a day and spent more than £22bn of taxpayer money on Test and Trace. That’s almost double the amount the UK has spent on Covid vaccines, and more than the combined budgets for the fire, police, and counter-terrorism services in England and Wales this year.

And still, it… doesn’t work. More than half of the £18bn spent by the UK on pandemic-related contracts in the first half of 2020 was awarded without competitive tender. Contracts worth £186m, the second-largest amount spent with any PPE supplier, went to UK logistics firm Uniserve, whose multimillionaire owner was listed as a speaker for pro-Brexit lobby group Prosperity UK alongside Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove. There are dissertations no doubt being written right now about problems with PPE procurement, but perhaps the most galling example was the taskforce launched by Jared Kushner to bring PPE quickly to the US. Rather than distribute as required, he gave it to six private medical supply companies to sell to the highest bidder. For this, Kushner has been awarded a “Shkreli Award” for profiteering and dysfunction in healthcare.

It’s hard to know whether Gwyneth should have been nominated. How do we quantify the damage done by her long-tail misinformation? How do we measure the impact made by her continued assault on science, or her remarketing of the wellness industry as a Covid solution? Who has overstepped the moral boundaries of profit more dramatically, the grabby millionaire croaking about the free market or the one who seems to genuinely believe fasting until 11am will cure all pain?

Comparing Gwyneth Paltrow to Jacob Rees-Mogg is a job that leaves your hands dirty – one’s an evil fairy, the other a sitcom butler – but give either a sniff of cash and they’d burn down your coat to get at your credit card. Gwyneth, at least, is profiteering from Covid with panache. I, too, enjoy a hiking necklace.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman