It began as a joke with my friend Jane at our work Zoom Christmas party. We had a quiz and one question was: “What’s the name of Gwyneth Paltrow’s £68 scented candle, which she launched on her Goop website in 2020?” I knew the answer: This Smells Like My Vagina. Jane started laughing, explaining she had bought one to see what the fuss was about. I won the quiz, and the candle was my prize; Jane sent it to me the next day. The candle, made of soy wax and essential oils, is apparently so named because Paltrow was joking with Goop’s perfumer, Douglas Little. According to the marketing blurb: “The two were working on a fragrance, and she blurted out, ‘Uhhh… this smells like a vagina.’”
A few weeks later, I decided to light it. I live in a tiny one-bed flat in London with my partner, David, and our two cats. I love scented candles and throughout the latest lockdown, their warming flame and fragrance have given me a little joy in the evenings.
I trimmed the wick as instructed and put it on a candle coaster in our front room. It smelled really nice – of bergamot, cedarwood and rose.
The next night, however, all hell was unleashed. A few minutes after I lit the candle, it exploded. Flames roared half a metre out of the jar and bits of molten wax flew out as it fizzed and spat. We couldn’t get near it to blow it out as the flames were so ferocious, and we didn’t want to throw water on it for fear of splashing molten wax everywhere. Luckily, I had placed it on concrete, at the base of what was once a fireplace.
David and I panicked, trying to figure out what to do. We were relieved the cats were safe, asleep in our bedroom. Thankfully, after what seemed like an age, but was probably no more than five minutes, the flames subsided and I could blow the candle out. The charred jar and melted label were testament to how hot it had become.
Once my heart rate slowed, I posted pictures of the aftermath on Instagram, with the tongue-in-cheek caption: “Yeah, thanks Gwynnie, stuff your flaming vagina #narrowlyavoideddisaster #scentedcandlenightmares #gwynethpaltrowalmostkilledme”.
My friends thought it was hilarious, so when a reporter from the Sun got in touch a couple of days later, asking if it could run the story, I figured it was all good fun. I took a selfie with the cremated remains, aiming for a comic “angry person in local papers face”. It was immediately picked up by the Mail Online, Mirror, Metro – and that evening by the New York Post.
Twitter lit up with memes and gifs using my pictures. Lots of people witheringly tweeted along the lines of, “If you spend £68 on a Goop candle, you get what you deserve.” Others speculated I’d somehow made it explode deliberately. Mostly, people just found it funny
By the end of the day, the story had appeared on news sites in New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, the Philippines. It was a top trending story on Twitter in the UK. Even the London fire brigade tweeted, saying: “It might be popular but do not leave #GwynethPaltrow scented candle unattended & always on a flame retardant surface. Failure to do so could lead to firefighters coming quickly to your home & squirting water.” Although some cheaper candles have been known to explode through overheating, there have been no other reports of a Goop one going off.
A concerned Goop HQ got in touch, offering to send goodies by way of an apology. But sadly, I didn’t hear from Gwyneth herself.
Perhaps there’s a degree of schadenfreude behind my story’s popularity. Some people dislike Paltrow because of the wellness fads she endorses, but I think it also provided a much-needed mid-pandemic distraction.
My Goop package of body and skincare products recently arrived; thankfully, it contained nothing combustible. The acrid smell of Gwyneth’s exploding vagina candle isn’t something I’m keen to relive – but I am still laughing about it.