More and more these days, it seems as if Paltrow, 30, is content having her life revolve around Martin, 26, fulfilling her A-list celebrity duties only when she has to. Since the couple began dating last summer, Paltrow has been behaving less like an Oscar-winning actress and more like Martin's most devoted groupie, following Coldplay on a six-month world tour that has taken the band across North America, Europe and Australia. Why would Paltrow trade in the spotlight (she recently dropped out of two film projects) to stand in the wings? Because, says a close Paltrow pal, "when Chris performs onstage, she is no longer the movie star. She is just his girlfriend."
That arrangement suits Martin just fine. "As soon as he is offstage, he wants to get away from the showbiz lifestyle," says a friend from Martin's University College London days. "He loves having Gwyneth to spend time with." Fortunately the other members of Coldplay don't seem to mind—except for one thing: "What [the band] doesn't like about Gwyneth is being asked about her," says another Martin pal, adding, "She is no Yoko Ono."
And she's not yet Mrs. Martin, despite persistent rumors that the two are engaged. After Paltrow turned up at the July 9 fashion show of her good friend Valentino, gossips had the designer sketching Paltrow's wedding dress. (When asked, Valentino's spokesperson laughed and said, "No comment.") But there's no doubt the couple's relationship is working. "She is so happy," her friend says, "and it gives her that genuine, huge smile." Adds a journalist who was backstage at the Valentino show: "I saw her at a [fashion] show last year at this time, and she looked very tired. [This year] she looked great, very rested."
Rest was exactly what Paltrow said she needed after filming two movies (including the upcoming Sylvia) back-to-back following the October death of her father, producer Bruce Paltrow. "She has gone through a huge emotional deal this year," Paltrow's friend says, "and basically whatever she feels is good for her is the healthiest choice." Paltrow is in negotiations to star in a movie version of the play Proof. Until then she'll continue popping up at Coldplay gigs, where Martin has made an onstage habit of dedicating songs (like the band's "Moses," which goes, "You're a refuge, somewhere I can go") to his ladylove. But Martin is about more than sentimental lyrics. "Gwyneth has been hurt [by men] so many times in the past, and since her dad died she needs even more security," Martin's college friend says. "Chris provides that."
Sophia Hemphill, Courtney Rubin and Lindsey Whistler in London, Peter Mikelbank in Paris, Walter Gibbs in Oslo, Lee Wohlfert and Diane Herbst in New York City and Rachel Biermann in Los Angeles