Paris Hilton: 'I invented this Barbie doll persona... It was like wearing a shield'

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Paris shot exclusively for Stella. She wears dress, Moschino (not yet for sale); studs, £65, Loren Hope; gloves, Paris’s own - Bradley Meinz
Paris shot exclusively for Stella. She wears dress, Moschino (not yet for sale); studs, £65, Loren Hope; gloves, Paris’s own - Bradley Meinz

Mirrored disco balls, chandeliers you could swing from and a large neon Ernest Hemingway quote that reads, ‘I drink to make other people more interesting.’ I’m in ‘Club Paris’, the exclusive yet infamous party room that’s played host to hundreds of revellers over the past 15 years, at Paris Hilton’s multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills mansion, in a private gated community off Hollywood’s iconic Mulholland Drive.

I wish I could say I’m on the dance floor, tequila in hand. Instead, it’s 11.30am on a weekday morning and I’m waiting for the heiress (to the Hilton hotel chain) turned entrepreneur on a plush grey sofa, surrounded by black-and-white sequinned cushions of her face. Yes, Paris Hilton’s home furnishings are as extra as you might expect.

The 40-year-old former It girl shuffles into the room quietly 15 minutes later. In the early 2000s, she was as famous for partying as she was for carrying miniature dogs around in designer handbags and appearing on the hit US reality show The Simple Life. Over 13 million viewers tuned in to watch Paris and fellow socialite Nicole Richie leave behind their mobile phones, celebrity status and LA lifestyles to live with a family in Arkansas and fail to hold down manual, low-paying jobs like farming and working for a fast-food chain.

With her parents Kathy and Richard in 1996 - Getty Images
With her parents Kathy and Richard in 1996 - Getty Images

Yet today there is no grand entrance. She isn’t flanked by publicists or bodyguards. Neither is she top-to-toe in labels, monograms or Swarovski crystals (all of which she made popular back in the day). She’s wearing black sweatpants and a neon-striped Aviator Nation windbreaker jacket when she joins me on the sofa, and her once long, blonde Barbie-doll hair has been chopped into a chic bob.

But the biggest surprise is that ‘Club Paris’ is, in fact, no more. Her home, which she bought in 2008 (and was famously burgled by the Hollywood ‘Bling Ring’, about which Sofia Coppola made a film in 2013), recently underwent a two-year renovation. And what I’m seeing today are merely the remnants of the decadence and debauchery that once went on here.

‘I’m grown-up now, so now this room is a movie theatre,’ she says, reaching for a cashmere blanket to wrap herself up in. ‘I’m so over going to parties. I never thought I would say that. I used to live for the nightlife. Now I couldn’t care less. I love being at home watching Netflix and cooking with my love [her fiancé Carter Milliken Reum – more on him later] and our puppies [there are currently six, named Diamond Baby, Harajuku, Crypto, Ether, Slivington and Cutesie, and their breeds range from Pomeranian to Chihuahua]. It’s nice to be with someone where you don’t even want to go out because it’s more fun being at home together. I have lived 10 million lifetimes. I’m ready for the real simple life.’

Paris is so domesticated these days that she has a new TV show to prove it. Cooking With Paris, which launches on Netflix next month, follows her as she tries out new recipes in her kitchen – opulent (marble counters, gold taps) with a sprinkling of Paris (a pink food processor, coffee mugs branded with her catchphrase ‘Loves It’) – joined in each episode by a different celebrity friend from Kim Kardashian to Demi Lovato. Before taking part in the show, the only thing she could cook was the lasagne recipe her mother, Kathy Hilton, taught her as a child. ‘She’s part Italian so she makes the best lasagne,’ Paris explains. ‘Growing up, I was always in the kitchen with her cutting things up like a little sous chef.’ I don’t think she’ll mind me saying she was approached by Netflix after she made the lasagne for her YouTube channel and got 5.1 million views, rather than as a result of her culinary talents.

The show is very Paris: boldly tongue-in-cheek with a ‘fun and playful’ vibe that will appeal to The Simple Life fans. Think Paris dressed in a hot-pink ballgown riffling through the fruit and veg section of a supermarket. ‘What do chives look like?’ she asks the grocer. ‘What do I do with them?’

In episode one, Kim Kardashian (who was Paris' stylist and friend long before she became famous for Keeping Up With The Kardashians in 2007) joins Paris for breakfast in her kitchen, which ‘looks like if Barbie or a Disney Princess had a kitchen. It’s very fun and girly and cute,’ she says. They reminisce about their days of partying in Ibiza, while attempting to make French toast, frittata and blue marshmallows (inspired by Paris’s favourite American breakfast cereal – the marshmallow-laden Lucky Charms). The producer has to show Paris where her blender is.

Paris wears: dress, £1,075, MacGraw; studs, £27, Loren Hope; gloves, Paris’s own - Bradley Meinz
Paris wears: dress, £1,075, MacGraw; studs, £27, Loren Hope; gloves, Paris’s own - Bradley Meinz

I’m particularly fascinated by Paris’s newfound domesticity because when I first met her, just two years ago, she was still very much a party girl, albeit a business-savvy one who was travelling 250 days of the year to DJ all over the world (Paris has made a name for herself in the industry and started a coveted annual residency at Ibiza super club Amnesia in 2013). ‘I invented getting paid to party,’ she told me proudly, back then, along with how she felt ‘forever 21’.

But that was before her extraordinary feature-length YouTube documentary, This Is Paris, was released in September 2020. Whether you have long dismissed her as a poor little rich party girl, or recognise her as a business mogul with a multibillion-dollar empire (consisting of 45 branded stores, 19 product lines and 27 fragrances), the documentary, which has had over 22 million views to date, will make you question everything you thought you knew about Paris Hilton.

Paris initially signed up to make the documentary because she felt underestimated and misunderstood (‘People didn’t see the businesswoman I am and all that I have created,’ she says, ‘they kept looking at me as the Simple Life character and I just felt there’s so much more to me’), but ended up opening up about a childhood trauma she had long suppressed.

When Paris was 17, her parents Kathy and Richard Hilton (the grandson of Hilton hotel founder Conrad Hilton) sent her to a psychiatric residential treatment centre in Utah. They believed an 11-month stay at Provo Canyon School for ‘troubled teens’ would curb her partying, as she was regularly sneaking out of the family’s home to go to nightclubs. What unfolds in the documentary is that Paris, along with many other students at the school, was emotionally and physically abused and left with insomnia, anxiety and trust issues.

Her parents only found out about the abuse when they watched the documentary with their daughter last year. ‘I made a promise to myself when I left there that I would never think about it or talk about it with my friends or family so nobody ever knew,’ Paris explains.

That must have come as a terrible shock? ‘They were heartbroken and crying,’ reveals Paris. ‘My mom was shaking. She was like, “I am so sorry. I had no idea. I thought it was a normal boarding school.” But they couldn’t have known; these schools manipulate the parents as much as the kids. They would tell the parents, “Your kid’s gonna say, ‘I want to come home, they’re doing this and that to me,’ but they’re just lying, don’t believe them.”’

Paris has since worked with Breaking Code Silence (an organisation created to eradicate the mistreatment of children in systemically abusive institutions) to successfully pass a bill putting certain regulations in place (for example, a ban on chemical sedation and unauthorised mechanical restraints) in Utah’s ‘troubled teen’ centres. She hopes to go to Washington, DC to get the same bill passed in every state.

At the time, Paris felt very resentful and angry towards her parents ‘because I was a teenager,’ she points out. ‘Who wouldn’t be?’ Now, as an adult looking back on it, she says, ‘I understand so much more. If I have a daughter one day and she’s 16 and sneaking out to nightclubs, I’ll freak out.’ The film, she says, has brought her closer to her parents, ‘because they understand me more’. The same could be said for the rest of the world. After all, the real takeaway from This Is Paris is that the Paris Hilton playing out her life in the public eye – complete with high-pitched baby voice and phrases like ‘That’s hot’ (which she trademarked) – is merely a character she created.

In an episode of The Simple Life with Nicole Richie - Television Stills_The Simple Life
In an episode of The Simple Life with Nicole Richie - Television Stills_The Simple Life

‘When I got out of the school, at 18, I didn’t want to think about [the abuse] so I invented this whole new persona – a Barbie doll with a perfect life,’ she explains. She adopted the voice for The Simple Life and found herself having to do it again and again when the show kept being recommissioned. ‘Then the world just saw me like that, so I was like, “OK,”’ she shrugs.

‘When the media would talk negatively about me, I would just be like, “That’s not even who I am. I’m the smart one because I made up this character and I’m laughing all the way to the bank.” Nothing could hurt me. It was like wearing a shield.’

Even when the coverage was particularly nasty? After all, she’s had tabloids following her since her late teens; their interest peaking when a sex tape she appeared in was leaked and released as 1 Night in Paris by her ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon in 2004. (In This Is Paris, Paris reveals she was pressured into making the film, aged 19, and likens it to being ‘electronically raped’.)

‘I was so vilified all the time, people were so mean about me, making up stories every second,’ she recalls. ‘In the beginning, I would cry and call my mom, but then I got used to it over the years. My mom would say, “That’s just how it is in this business. Your family, friends and everyone who loves you know that that’s not who you are, so don’t pay attention.”’

Paris wears: silk dress, £1,810, Christian Siriano; earrings, POA, 8 Other Reasons; gloves, Paris’s own - Bradley Meinz
Paris wears: silk dress, £1,810, Christian Siriano; earrings, POA, 8 Other Reasons; gloves, Paris’s own - Bradley Meinz

There are striking parallels between Paris’s experience in Utah – the fear that she wouldn’t be believed and subsequent pretence that life was ‘perfect’ in order to cope –and what Britney Spears’s recent testimony revealed about the conservatorship that has controlled her life for the past 13 years.

Paris says it was heartbreaking to hear her friend take the stand but hopes it leads to her freedom. ‘I knew she was being controlled but I had no idea it was on that level,’ she admits. ‘She has never spoken up like that before, so it made me proud to hear her using her voice. We were last in touch a few months ago and I’m sending her so much love.’

Paris, who is the oldest of four siblings (her sister Nicky was born in 1983; her brothers, Barron and Conrad, in 1989 and 1994 respectively), was born in New York. Hers was a wealthy and privileged upbringing (her father is said to be worth $350 million), split between homes in Los Angeles and New York, and her grandfather Barron Hilton’s Nevada ranch on a 7,139-acre estate. Paris is reluctant to talk about growing up as a Hilton, although she does recall being a tomboy. ‘I loved playing outside, fishing and playing sport,’ she recalls.

Paris and her sister Nicky in Vanity Fair in 2000 - Vanity Fair
Paris and her sister Nicky in Vanity Fair in 2000 - Vanity Fair

In This Is Paris, Nicky – who, alongside Paris, had her very first taste of fame when the sisters (then aged 16 and 19) had their pictures taken by cult photographer David LaChapelle for a story called ‘Hip-Hop Debs’ in the September 2000 issue of Vanity Fair – recalls with glee what a tomboy Paris was, and still is, and notes that ‘her brand is more glamorous than she is’.

‘I’m definitely an undercover nerd,’ laughs Paris when I bring it up. ‘I’ve always been like that. I’m really into video games, crypto, tech and gadgets. I like going to arcades to play race-car games or fighting games like Mortal Kombat. A lot of people don’t believe it but I’m very shy.’

Secretly shy, but admittedly an ‘open book’ after the documentary, the next chapter for Paris should be an interesting one. She’s just signed a lucrative two-year deal with Warner Brothers to develop, executive produce and star in original unscripted TV, and first up is Paris in Love, where she’ll document the run-up to her forthcoming wedding to 40-year-old Carter, a tech start-up entrepreneur and investor.

Details are top-secret, but she mentions ‘wedding gowns’ so we can safely assume there’ll be a few costume changes on the big day. Her dream dress ‘used to be very princessy’, she admits, ‘now, I’m thinking more elegant, but still like, Paris-ised.’ And anyone hoping for diva moments will be disappointed: ‘I’m the opposite of a Bridezilla,’ she promises.

Paris had to convince camera-shy Carter. ‘I explained to him, “This is not a reality show. It’s an elevated docu-series,”’ she says proudly. ‘He loves me so much he agreed!’

Paris wears lace dress, £435, Needle & Thread; gloves, POA, Gaspar Gloves; flower earrings, £110, Lara - Bradley Meinz
Paris wears lace dress, £435, Needle & Thread; gloves, POA, Gaspar Gloves; flower earrings, £110, Lara - Bradley Meinz

It must be refreshing to be with someone who doesn’t court publicity. When we last spoke, Paris said she found it hard to trust her romantic partners – and who can blame her? ‘Carter is the opposite of every guy I’ve ever met before,’ she confirms with a smile. ‘He’s very business-focused and not into the Hollywood scene. I’ve never experienced that before, so it’s amazing to know that someone loves me for me and doesn’t want the spotlight.’

The couple got together on Thanksgiving 2019, but Paris has known Carter and his family (of considerable wealth: Carter’s father Robert Reum was chairman of Amsted Industries, ranked one of America’s largest private companies by Forbes) for 15 years. They haven’t spent a night apart since. Of course, quarantine enforced that recently, but it helps that they’re both workaholics. ‘We push each other to be the best versions of ourselves,’ she says.

With her fiancé Carter Reum at the premiere of This Is Paris in June - Getty Images
With her fiancé Carter Reum at the premiere of This Is Paris in June - Getty Images

Proud to be thought of as the original influencer before there was even a name for it (‘Other influencers are like, “You are the OG! You created this! I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for you”’), Paris’s constantly evolving personal brand has recently pivoted into the arena of podcasts (interviewing friends and family for iHeartRadio’s This Is Paris) and the digital-art world of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). She also has plans for a second memoir (set to be a very different read to her fluffy first effort, Confessions of an Heiress, in 2004).

‘Success has driven me my whole life, especially after what I went through as a teenager,’ she says. ‘I never wanted to be known as a Hilton-hotel granddaughter, I wanted to be known as Paris.’ And that means it’s hard to delegate, even with a big team around her. ‘I just feel like if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.’

But, despite her once claiming she wouldn’t stop working until she had made a billion dollars, it seems her and Carter’s plans to start a family are what she’s really focused on next. The couple are currently undergoing fertility treatment.

While her reasons for embarking on IVF are not public, her recent comments that she was motivated by a desire to ‘pick’ twins weren’t well received by the IVF community. ‘I don’t know anything about how this all works,’ she says vaguely, ‘but it’s my dream to have a boy and a girl.’ The production team behind Paris in Love are keen to document the journey, so perhaps it will become clearer then.

On the red carpet in 2006 with long-time friend Kim Kardashian - Getty Images
On the red carpet in 2006 with long-time friend Kim Kardashian - Getty Images

Paris may not act like a 21-year-old any more, but she still looks like one. Her anti-ageing secret? Tech, naturally. She’s just ordered her own hyperbaric oxygen chamber and regularly uses a microcurrent device called NeurotriS, said to be the most advanced personal face and body toner, which Madonna also swears by. ‘I’ve never done an injection – no Botox, no fillers,’ she says. ‘Most of my friends have been doing that for years, since they were in their 20s, but I’m so happy that I’ve not done anything.’

In a scene from her new show, Paris is perfectly dressed for perusing the cheese cabinet - Kit Karzen/Netflix © 2021
In a scene from her new show, Paris is perfectly dressed for perusing the cheese cabinet - Kit Karzen/Netflix © 2021

Her style, on the other hand, has definitely matured for the better. Case in point, the chic spring/summer 2021 Lanvin campaign she was recently the face of. ‘I used to have more of a Barbie-raver, club-kid vibe and now I’m more elegant and wearing Lanvin, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta,’ she reflects.

It must be strange seeing all the things she popularised in the 2000s – Juicy Couture velour tracksuits and Von Dutch hats – on Gen Z. ‘Everything I wore back in the day when people thought I was nuts,’ she laughs. ‘It was like, “What is she wearing?” Now everyone is wearing it.’

Before I leave, I ask Paris if her dogs still reside in their two-storey Spanish-style villa because, frankly, along with Club Paris, it’s the stuff of legend. She takes me downstairs to the pool area where the 300-square-foot doggy mansion stands before us, in all its glory, and miniature dogs clamour around our feet. I ask if I can take a picture and, before I know it, Paris – dogs in hand – is posing up a storm.

A lot might have changed, I think, but there’s plenty that hasn’t. And somehow, something tells me we’ll always have Paris.

‘Cooking With Paris’ premieres globally on Netflix on 4 August

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