Party girl, paparazzi queen and pop-culture icon – what’s life like now for Paris Hilton? Martha Hayes steps into her LA home to find out...
Paris Hilton is perched on the banisters of her Beverly Hills mansion in a sparkly silver mini dress and matching stilettos, clutching a glass of champagne.
She’s just come up with a new catchphrase, she announces, flicking her blonde hair to one side. “Sliving,” she says. “Which is basically like ‘slaying’ and ‘living’. So instead of ‘killing it’, I’m ‘sliving it’.”
So far, so Paris. This is, after all, the woman who trademarked the phrase ‘That’s hot’ at the height of her fame in the addictive (and arguably groundbreaking) ’00s reality show The Simple Life. In fact, when I arrive at the sprawling, gated home of the ‘It’-girl-turned-entrepreneur, I feel like I’m stumbling into one of her house parties. The year could easily be 2004.
Dance music blasts out of speakers into the luxurious open-plan lounge, and iconic portraits by David LaChapelle – the first photographer to shoot the great-granddaughter of the founder of Hilton Hotels – line the walls in opulent frames. And that’s not all that’s perfectly kitsch. There are large neon signs (“life is beautiful” reads one), a giant light-up Hello Kitty and five very distinctive prize pooches – Harajuku, Diamond Baby, Princess Paris Jr, Prince Hilton and Prince Baby Bear – all working the room.
“It’s the best party house,” smiles Hilton knowingly. She’s not wrong. It’s easy to forget this is just for the benefit of our photoshoot. From climbing the banisters to dangling her legs in the swimming pool after dark, Hilton’s energy is almost superhuman. What’s even more impressive is that, at 39 years old, she doesn’t appear to have changed. The catchphrases, the miniature dogs, the silver dresses (who could forget the glitzy chain-mail number she wore to her 21st birthday bash that’s been replicated ever since?) and the partying (which I can vouch for – I saw her at a Hollywood event the week before we meet) are all still going strong.
This may not make her a conventional “influencer” by today’s standards, but there’s no doubt Hilton was building her own brand – and capitalising on her enviable lifestyle – before we even had a word for it. “I was the first one to invent getting paid to party,” she says proudly, joining me in her home cinema after the shoot. “If I’m travelling, I love to optimise my time. Around 12 years ago I started making DJ-ing part of my career. Because if I’m gonna fly all the way to Dubai, I’d rather make the most of my trip by working in the day and then entertaining my fans at night.”
If Hilton sounds savvier than you’d expect, it’s because there is a lot more to her than going out-out for a living. She might have become globally famous after appearing in a leaked sex tape (more on that later), but she now has a billion-dollar business empire with 19 product lines (from skincare to shoes) and 45 stores worldwide. She owns two beach clubs, completed her fifth stint DJ-ing at Ibiza super-club Amnesia last summer, and recently launched Cooking With Paris on YouTube and her 25th fragrance, Electrify. Hilton’s perfume collection alone has sold over $2.5 (£1.9) billion in 63 countries.
These are impressive figures for someone born into such privilege – she could probably have got away with not doing a day’s work in her life. I wonder if Paris is still trying to prove herself to those who assume she’s been handed everything. “I feel I have definitely proven myself,” she sighs, wrapping herself in a fleecy blanket after her dip in the pool. “For anyone who would say otherwise, they have no idea. I’ve worked so hard. My grandfather [Barron Hilton, who passed away last September] was someone I wanted to make proud and he was so proud of me carrying on the legacy but doing it my way.”
The first rule of business, she’s learned, is making sure you have “the right team of people” around you. “Especially in Los Angeles, because it’s very hard to trust people. I’m very lucky to have my parents watching out for me and not letting any weirdos get near me.”
The Hiltons are a very close family. Paris is one of four siblings (including sister Nicky) and her parents have been together since her mum was 15. “My family always wanted me to want to do something with my life and to want to make them proud,” she explains. “I see a lot of people today who have never done anything and they’re not happy with their lives because everything was just handed to them.”
It’s easy to assume Hilton wouldn’t be very sympathetic towards today’s influencers. But far from it. “I love that I was so ahead of my time and created this entire new genre and way of living life and making a living,” she explains. “Anyone with a phone can make their own brand. Whatever talents they have, they can use that platform to build a business.
I feel very proud. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”
Does that apply when people mimic her look? Kendall Jenner wore a custom-made LaBourjoisie dress to her 21st birthday party in 2016, which was practically a replica of the Julien Macdonald design Hilton wore to mark the same milestone. “I love seeing that look. I think every girl should wear that on their birthday. I think it’s the birthday dress now. I love seeing it come to life again on different people. My sister once wore it for Halloween.” What else does she think we wouldn’t be wearing if it hadn’t been for her? “Juicy Couture, Dior and LV monograms, camouflage print, Swarovski crystals,” she reels off. “Von Dutch hats are now back in style again, which is hilarious.”
Kim Kardashian arguably wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for her association with Hilton. Yes, before Keeping Up With The Kardashians launched in 2007 and made megastars out of the family, Kim appeared in The Simple Life as Hilton’s stylist and friend. Although the pair’s friendship has reportedly had its ups and downs, Hilton says they have always been close. Still, it must have been satisfying when Kim went on record recently to credit Hilton as the secret to her success.
“We have conversations about it. She travelled the world with me and we have so many amazing memories,” says Hilton, citing sharing their first Ibiza experience in 2006. “What she’s said is, ‘I really appreciate everything I’ve learned from you,’ and we just always talk [about] how proud of each other we are because we’ve known each other since we were little girls. She’s sweet and kind and brilliant. I’m so proud of her and impressed with her becoming a lawyer; it’s incredible that she’s using her voice and her platform to help others.”
Although not as regularly in touch, Hilton insists she’s also on good terms with Nicole Richie, her childhood friend and partner-in-crime on The Simple Life, which ran from 2003 to 2007 and saw the two socialites struggle to do low-paid jobs like working on a dairy farm or in a fast-food restaurant. In a recent interview with US news site Deadline, Hilton revealed, “Everything I’ve done before was me playing a character,” adding, “Sometimes it is annoying, people assuming I am the blonde airhead that I played on [The Simple Life].”
“We laugh about it,” she tells me. “All the costumes last Halloween were people dressing up as us, so we were sending each other photos of different outfits people were wearing. The show is streaming in all these different places right now so everyone is rewatching it, which is awesome.” Rumours may be rife of a reboot, but there’s no money in the world that would persuade Hilton to get back into a pair of dirty overalls. “My schedule is just so insane,” she reasons.
“I can’t imagine leaving my life and going to the middle of nowhere and doing that again. Plus the show is so timeless and iconic, you can’t remake that.” But isn’t there a plan to redo it with new people, I probe. “They asked me who I would recommend if I didn’t want to do it myself.” Who did she suggest? “I can’t tell! I’ve signed a confidentiality agreement.” So they are bringing it back? “I don’t know. I don’t think it’ll ever be what it was, but it will be fun to watch other people do it.”
Hilton’s love life has been a source of speculation and fascination since a sex tape in which she appears with her ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon was leaked in 2003 and later released as a DVD. Having weathered the storm of one of the earliest viral sex tapes, does Hilton have any advice, in our age of nude-photo scandals and social-media leaks, for protecting privacy? “I would say that none of these things are 100% secure so I wouldn’t have anything on there that’s private and that you wouldn’t want the world to see.”
Trust is, unsurprisingly, a big issue for Hilton. She’s had “a little bit” of therapy in the past, but implies she’s not able to properly take it up because “I don’t really trust anyone”. She’s been single for over a year now since ending her engagement to actor/model Chris Zylka and says this is the first time in her life she’s enjoyed being on her own. “It feels good to not have someone controlling me,” she explains. “With dating certain people, [there’s the risk of] not trusting them and the fear [that] if I go out of town they might do something to embarrass me. I feel lucky now to not have that fear because I’m independent.”
Was it a difficult decision to end the engagement? “No. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I just don’t think [he] was the right person and I feel like I’m an incredible woman and I deserve someone so amazing. It just didn’t feel right. I’ve worked way too hard to just give my life to someone. They have to be perfect.”
Whether it’s because of her protective family or her privileged life, there is something inherently youthful and curiously childlike about Paris Hilton. A real-life Peter Pan (but make it fashion); as if the rest of the world has grown up and moved on, but Hilton is still that 21-year-old in the chain-mail dress, frozen in time. I ask her if she feels old or young: “21 forever,” she murmurs. “And I’m all natural. I feel so lucky that my mum always told me to stay out of the sun. I feel lucky I haven’t had to resort to what most people do in this town.”
Does she worry about getting older? “I don’t think about it.” In 2018 Netflix documentary The American Meme, which followed four reality stars including Hilton, she said her biggest fear was dying. “Death scares me because I don’t know what happens. I just don’t want it to be nothing because that would be so boring,” she says. “I’m trying to figure out a way – freezing myself or inventing the fountain-of-youth pill – so people could live forever, like that movie Death Becomes Her.”
She regularly visits “world-renowned psychics”. Has she ever been freaked out by what they’ve told her? “No, they always say the best things.” Such as? “When I was a baby, a psychic told my grandmother that I was going to be one of the most famous and photographed women in the world one day.” Fair enough. “Other psychics have said I’m related to Marilyn Monroe and things like that. My mom just did one of those 23andMe DNA kits and I am related to Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth. That’s what it said!”
Growing up in a dynasty like the Hiltons, she must have met some amazing people. Hilton looks nonplussed. Wasn’t her mum friends with Andy Warhol? “Yeah, my mum was friends with him and they would go out. I was one or two and I used to sit on his lap and draw. My nanny used to call me Star and he loved that. He’d always go, ‘This girl is a star.’
“I’ve met everyone, so no one has made me star-struck,” she muses. “Except Madonna. I was in London at an awards show and she tapped on my shoulder and said, ‘I’m with the same record label and I love Stars Are Blind; I love your music’. I almost fainted. She’s been my idol since I was little. That was the only time I’ve ever been nervous over anyone.”
I’d almost forgotten about her stint as a pop star. Sadly we’ve run out of time because, true to form, Hilton has a party to go to – a dinner for Diddy’s 50th birthday, with the rest of the Hilton clan. If that’s not “sliving it”, I don’t know what is.
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