WHAT'S WITH THE RING?
For a celeb, does a band on the hand mean she has plans with a man?

GWYNETH PALTROW
Paltrow has frequently denied she is engaged, calling this simple, metal band on her finger a "friendship ring."

NICOLE KIDMAN
She's dating Lenny Kravitz, but engaged? "I think it's a ring she [already] had," says Kidman's rep.

KELLY OSBOURNE
Another woman proudly decorating her left ring finger—without any hint of an upcoming engagement.

Marriage Minded?
So is he the One? A relaxed Gwyneth Paltrow plays it cool and coy when asked if she'll wed her beau, Coldplay's Chris Martin

She isn't calling Vera Wang just yet, but Gwyneth Paltrow appears ready and willing to tie the knot with Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin—as soon as he says the word. When asked during a BBC interview Nov. 22 whether she planned to marry, Paltrow replied "I hope so." Pressed on whether those hopes include Martin, her boyfriend of more than a year, Paltrow, 31, said, "I'm the wrong person to ask—ask him."

The coy answer was in keeping with their relationship. Martin, 26, often refuses to mention Paltrow's name when interviewed, and the pair arrived separately at the London premiere of Paltrow's most recent film, Sylvia, to avoid being photographed together. But the couple have taken a decidedly domestic turn. In mid-November they began house hunting in the leafy, upscale Belsize Park area of north London, home to Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Kate Moss and Helena Bonham Carter. It's also the neighborhood where Martin maintains his bachelor pad, a loft-like flat. But observers say he now spends most of his time with Paltrow in her $3.3 million townhouse in Belgravia in southwest London.

Joe Millionaire: Czech, Please!
Whatever happened to Joe Millionaire? Last season an astounding 46 million people couldn't wait to tune in to the reality show juggernaut's climactic finale. But the second season, with a new Joe on a different continent, limped along right up to the final show on Nov. 24, which managed to attract only 9.4 million viewers. "Our instincts told us from the beginning that Joe was a one-time stunt," says Sandy Grushow, FOX television entertainment chairman. "I think we got greedy."

Hold on there, cowboy, some of the blame may also belong to the casting department. Rodeo rider David Smith, 24, while a southern gentleman, lacked the train-wreck charisma of the original Joe, Evan Marriott, 29. And, yes, the Europeans were beautiful but with accents so heavy that producers ran subtitles-while the women were speaking English.

Not that it matters to Smith, who was rewarded with a $500,000 Texas ranch upon his return from Italy, where the show taped. His final choice, Czech model Linda Kazdova, 25, got a check for $250,000 and accepted a promise ring from Smith. Will it last? "She's from Prague, and I'm from Texas," says Smith. "But if it's as strong as I feel, then for sure."

NEAR-NAKED VICTORY
Topless photos, bottomless wrath? On Nov. 20, after an 18-month legal push, Jennifer Aniston settled out of court for $550,000 with a man who had circulated pix of the Friends star lounging in her Malibu backyard wearing only panties. (The photos appeared in Celebrity Skin and other magazines four years ago.) And on Nov. 25 photographer John Rutter was issued a permanent injunction barring him from selling or possessing photos of Cameron Diaz (left), nude from the waist up. The pix were shot in 1992.

A Billy Bob Christmas
In the new comedy Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton, 48, plays a decrepit department store Kris Kringle. Offscreen, Thornton enjoys the holiday spirit. Scoop asked about his yuletides past and present. Best Gift baseball glove signed by Brooks Robinson. Worst Gift: "The ugliest shirt I've ever seen in my life. It was polyester and had sailboats all over it." Keeping St. Nick alive for his kids: "I'll eat the cookies. But I'm allergic to dairy, so we have to make up reasons why Santa can't have milk."

Ben Plays His Hand
The wedding didn't go off as planned, and there was that visit to the strip club a few months ago. But if Ben Affleck's gambling habits tick off Jennifer Lopez, she wasn't letting on recently when the two visited Atlantic City. Affleck paid $10,000 to enter a poker tournament at the Sands, where he played Texas Hold 'Em for sec hours, then moved on to the Borgata for dinner and more cards in the casino's high roller room, where he tipped $100 for complimentary servings of Diet Coke. Lopez watched nearby for two hours at the Sands before heading off for a spa treatment. She later emerged at the Borgata as a good luck charm to Ben, who kissed her pinky. Then Lopez went to play the slots with her mother, Guadalupe. While Affleck's penchant for poker is becoming the stuff of Hollywood legend, other celebs are enjoying a hand or two. Leo DiCaprio, Matthew Perry and Steve Martin all play; Sharon Stone, Alec Baldwin and Woody Harrelson have partaken in a weekly game; and Whoopi Goldberg sponsors $2-ante games at her Manhattan apartment. On Dec. 2 Bravo will air a Celebrity Poker Showdown featuring David Schwimmer, Don Cheadle, several West Wing cast members—and Lopez's fiancé.

JAY-Z: RAP RETIREE
Rapper Jay-Z, who just released his ninth studio CD, The Black Album, is retiring—at age 33. "I'm still a young guy," he tells Scoop. "I just feel it's time for me to move away [from making CDs]." Hoping to ease what for many is a difficult transition, Scoop asked residents of Florida's Sun City Center for advice on those sunset years.

THE EXPERTS SPEAK

"Early Bird specials are overrated. If I ate all that food I'd be fat—or dead"
—Delmar SchuIz, 79

"There's always a concert to see. But if it's a big name, like Wayne Newton, you have to sign up early. [Otherwise] you might not get a seat on the bus"
—Marjorie Booney, 74

"You can't move too close to Disney World. Your entire family will visit, and they'll never leave"
—Walt Cawein, 66

POP QUIZ

Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey
Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey appear on the VH1 Big in '03 special this Nov. 30, which is fitting, since the singers were a big hit this year on their MTV series Newlyweds. Scoop asked Simpson, 23, and Lachey, 30, a few big questions.

Question of the moment: Have you seen the Paris Hilton tape?

JS: No. Have you, Nick?

NL: No, I haven't.

Have you ever made a sex tape of your own?

JS: We might make one and erase it after we watched it, but we would never keep it on a tape.

NL: I'm game, but the Internet's not ready for me.

JS: Oh yeah, watch out!

What advice can you give other young couples?

JS: I think that fighting is the best thing a relationship can have, because it means you're communicating. It means you're putting it all out there, and that it's okay to disagree.

What's the downside of airing your lives on MTV?

JS: I haven't found one yet.

NL: You give up some of your privacy. But it's a sacrifice you make being in this business in general.

What don't people know about you?

JS: That I'm a good cook. I make a good Texas chili, I make Thanksgiving dinners.

Do you have pet peeves about each other?

NL: Jessica is kind of a slobby person.

JS: Sports. A sports game would come before a date with me. Or he'd want to make it a date.

What have you learned watching yourselves on TV?

JS: The show has taught us that honesty works.

NL: I haven't learned anything, I don't think.

We have to ask: What's your favorite tuna recipe?

JS: I only really like sandwiches, or tuna with some Wheat Thins.

NL: Tuna casserole.

JS: Ewww! My mom and dad made me eat tuna casserole, or else I couldn't go to the New Kids on the Block concert, and I ended up throwing up.

So, er, what do you guys sleep in?

NL: Lycra.

JS: No, he sleeps in his boxers. I sleep mostly in Nick's T-shirts.

ON THE BLOCK

MICHAEL'S MANOR
PRICE: $2.9 million
PLACE: Beverly Hills

SPECS: George Michael is selling the secluded villa he bought in 1996. The three-bedroom house, built in 1967, features glass doors that open to gardens and a pool. The 40-year-old British pop star recently signed a new contract with Sony, the same recording company he sued in 1992.



  • Contributors:
  • Greg Adkins,
  • Jennifer Wren,
  • Sharon Cotliar,
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Sean Daly,
  • Liza Hamm,
  • Sara Hammel,
  • Steve Helling,
  • William Keck,
  • Gail Nussbaum,
  • Brenda Rodriguez,
  • Natasha Stoynoff,
  • Ulrica Wihlborg.