Interview: Gwyneth Paltrow vs Science – Rock & Roll Biologist Professor Lars Chittka of Killer Bee Queens Takes on Celebrity Beauty Trend in New Single & Video

Gwyneth Paltrow has spoken in interviews endorsing the use of bee venom for health and beauty purposes. Lars Chittka, bee expert at Queen Mary University and member of the band Killer Bee Queens, is calling her out on it via the penning of ‘I Stung Gwyneth Paltrow’. With Jessie Jetski in the lead role in the music video and biblical lyrics to hand, Lars and the rest of his queens are ready to do battle.  Video director John Clay caught up with Lars to talk about the track.

Hello Lars! Lovely to chat to you again after the shoot. Can you, in your own words, tell us your problem with Gywneth Paltrow?

As a scientist who knows how much hard work goes into establishing scientific facts, I have a major issue with the sort of pseudo-scientific treatments peddled by Paltrow’s company Goop.

And for good reason. Her products don’t stand up to the science, do they? 

They not only demonstrably don’t work and might in some cases be downright harmful. It is also more than obvious that Paltrow is well aware of this, but uses her celebrity status to exploit people’s gullibility, with widely publicized benefits to her bank account.

Makes re-watching Iron Man problematic! Is there any merit to what she endorses? I suspect not.

Specifically as a bee scientist, I am keenly aware of the global plight of these important pollinators. Sacrificing these (or other) animals for questionable treatments of minor skin conditions is wholly unacceptable.

Can we be sure that she’s aware of the preposterous claims of the aforementioned treatments? Arguably she wholeheartedly believes in their application?

I’d like to ask her that question, using some sort of truth serum…. Seriously though, she strikes me as a reasonably educated and intelligent person, and so I suspect the answer to your question is no.

Fair point. 

Even if she initially believed in the health benefits of e.g. coffee enemas, large numbers of experts have debunked these myths in a manner that has certainly not remained hidden from Paltrow. By all probabilities, she knows. And equally she knows that she can surf on a fashionable wave of anti-expert sentiments to continue selling her products.

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There are an unwholesome number of questionable faith healers/L.A gurus that lead celebrities down dubious paths. Shaman Durek is one such personality who counts Paltrow as one of his clients. In the bubble that is Hollywood anything goes I guess. Even if the people who buy her products are arguably other well off citizens, it’s the bees that have my sympathy. The lyrics to ‘I Stung Gwyneth Paltrow’ have biblical overtones. Care to discuss them?

Haha, yes, there are plenty of phrases about sin, sacrifice and divine retribution! I am probably the only atheist who counts the bible as one of his favourite books. It has everything: any amount of debauchery & gratuitous violence, spies and their amours, plot holes galore, and an undefeated villain with superpowers who will destroy whole cities and peoples on a whim, and on one occasion almost annihilates the entire terrestrial animal population (including humans) of the planet.

I think it’s time for a re-read. Well sold.

And the whole package is somehow held high as the bedrock of our cultural and moral values. This does appeal to my sense of humour!

Sounds like coming up with the lyrics was not a big deal for you. Care to share your experience on the development of the video?

That was a completely new experience for me – I had never been involved with narrating a story on film, however short, so many of my initial ideas were clumsy and misguided! But you as a director were extremely patient about setting me right, and very professional and creative at turning my half-baked ideas into a viable picture story! We quickly realised that with doing a no-budget movie, we had no choice but to turn the B-movie style into an asset, and flaunt it.

Oh, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your ideas were good, they just needed a bigger production to pull them off. What was the name of the movie with the giant bee in the door again?

It’s called The Swarm – a 1970s disaster movie in which mutant bees invade Texas, and humanity is only saved in the end by the complete destruction of Houston, where all the bees have converged. I highly recommend it.

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The Swarm! That was the one.

It might very well be the worst film of all time, a veritable orgy of plot holes and bad acting. It’s probably the film that prompted lead actor Michael Caine to state that: “You get paid the same for a bad movie as you do for a good one”

Another Caine quote is his reference to Jaws The Revenge:
‘I’ve not seen it, but I’ve seen the house that it built.’ What a guy.
So, the video! What was it like working with the famed Jessie Jetski of Martha Makes Mistakes?

Jessie is amazing, thank you so much for bringing her on board! Since she is a skilled musician herself, she brought a unique professionalism to the music video shoot. It’s one thing to create a B-movie “by accident” – but to recreate the flair deliberately actually requires considerable acting virtuosity! Jessie not only coped magnificently with this task, but rose to the challenge with gusto. I think her impersonation of a debilitated and obsessive Paltrow fan is hilarious!

We must do a sequel and develop her character more, ha! Am I right in understanding that the money raised from the single is going to a charity?

Yes, that’s correct – this single, as well as  the entire album Strange Flowers by the Killer Bee Queens is available on Bandcamp. All proceeds go to insect conservation charity Buglife, for projects that help ailing bee populations and inform the public about the value of bees to the environment and agriculture.

That’s great. Hopefully people will respond to the underlying message of the single and support these creatures. How long have you been studying them for?

For over 30 years! And I have to agree that studying them is like a magic well, as Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch used to say: the more you learn about their behaviour and intelligence, the more they allow you even more wonderful discoveries and insights in the strange world of their minds.

Given your long experience with them I sincerely hope that any advocates of the use of bee venom for health purposes take note of the science. Sad how narcissism seemingly justifies the degradation of a species. Any future plans for releases from the album?

Playing some live shows would be great. So far we’ve only played one – at the Royal Society of all places, the world’s oldest scientific academy. Next time we’ll play a bigger venue, with Pink Floyd opening for us. — And after that we’ll get seriously ambitious 😉

Like the sound of all that! Thanks for your time Lars!

Interview by John Clay

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