Whatever happened to Paris Hilton?
LONG BEFORE ANYBODY HAD HEARD OF THE KARDASHIANS, PARIS HILTON WAS THE BIGGEST STAR ON THE PLANET. BUT NOW, AGED 35, SHE TELLS STELLAR HOW SHE CARVED OUT A MORE PRIVATE EXISTENCE
Paris Hilton – the pioneer of being famous for being famous – is an aunt. Her niece, Lily Rothschild, is almost four months old and, according to doting Hilton, the most beautiful baby that ever lived. She is probably also one of the best dressed, given her aunt’s passion for shopping. But we can’t be certain on either count, because the world has never seen a photo of her.
That’s right. Paris and Nicky Hilton, once two of the most photographed women in the world, whose images built their brands and topped up their fortunes, who were paid a rumoured $1 million to first come to Australia just over a decade ago to be photographed, have not released a picture of Lily. What’s more, when Lily is old enough, Paris Hilton will actively discourage her from following in her own footsteps.
“I wouldn’t recommend [reality TV],” she says. “[Lily] is going to do much bigger things in life than that. I think it’s better to be a businesswoman.”
Hilton is now 35 and has, she would have us believe, evolved. She describes herself as an entrepreneur by day and DJ by night. She boasts a perfume empire (she is releasing Gold Rush, her 20th fragrance, making her the second-most prolific scent mogul since Elizabeth Taylor), 28 Paris Hilton handbag and accessory boutiques, a global property portfolio, and a recent DJ set at Burning Man festival to back up her claim.
“I enjoy being a businesswoman,” says Hilton. “It’s what I care about; building my brand and businesses around the world. I feel proud of the empire I have built. I like for people to focus more on my work as a businesswoman, rather than being a celebrity. I think it’s more important to be a respected businesswoman.”
In 2006 Hilton was brought out to Australia by ad guru John Singleton at a rumoured cost of half a million dollars to promote the now-defunct beer Bondi Blonde. She arrived with her manager and a friend – an unknown woman called Kim Kardashian.
Media reports about her visit seem quaint now. Amid the Hilton mania, Kardashian barely rated a mention. A photo of the pair swimming at Bondi Beach was captioned “Paris Hilton and a friend”. In another photo, Kardashian is showering post-swim in a revealing string bikini. Today that picture would break the internet, but back then it showed all eyes were averted from Kardashian towards Hilton.
The only story about Kardashian in Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph was headlined “Who’s the walking handbag?”
“For this trip,” the story read, “her constant companion is Kim Kardashian. The 26-year-old, daughter of former OJ Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian, is the subject of some ugly rumours centring on homemade pornography. Her links with US rappers have also prompted some nasty comments.”
How things change. Under that modern metric of popularity – Instagram – Hilton now has 6.2 million followers to Kardashian’s 85.4 million. As Hilton’s fame declined, Kardashian’s rose to unprecedented levels. Celebrity bloggers have pondered why, and come up with convincing reasons. Hilton, they argue, was famous before social media became a Thing, while Kardashian came onto the scene at the same time as Facebook and Twitter, and rode their rise like a pro surfer. Kardashian has a large, famous family, ensuring there is at least one Kardashian-jenner promoting the brand at any time; Hilton’s once slipstreamriding sister Nicky now lives life low-key.
Kardashian augmented her fame by marrying more, well, legitimate celebrities – first, basketball player Kris Humphries, then rapper Kanye West – while Hilton’s boyfriends have been little-known.
“You have one Paris and several Kardashians, and the Kardashians were a soap opera. Paris couldn’t compete with that,” says Grant Hodgson, news editor at La-based celebrity media agency Coleman-rayner. “The Kardashians had the right mix of glamour, youth, looks and the association with Paris to get their foot in the door.
“Kim has done the right things – she has been married twice, had kids, and all the drama around it. Paris hasn’t. She’ll always be of interest, but everyone is waiting for her to make the next big step; to get married, to have kids.”
Moreover, Kardashian is constantly evolving her image, while Hilton remains stuck in the noughties. “Paris is the same woman we met circa 2001. Nothing has changed,” says entertainment reporter Jonathon Moran, who’s covered the Hilton phenomenon for The Daily Telegraph, and who attended Hilton’s 30th birthday party in New York. “She still has the same hair, spray tan and Chihuahua in her handbag. She hasn’t changed with the times to keep people interested.”
All this, however, assumes that Hilton wanted to remain famous, but couldn’t. That’s not how she tells it.
“I like to be more private than I used to be,” she tells Stellar. “It’s nice to be able to enjoy my life. Everyone is always watching – that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of my life – but it’s nice to just focus on my business. People are calling every day, offering different reality shows. I like focusing on my business rather than having cameras in my face every few seconds.
“I have learnt a lot through the years. I have really grown up. You learn who your real friends are. You learn to not trust everybody and become careful. I was very naive in the beginning. I have really learnt a lot about who people are, what people’s intentions are in wanting to be your friend.”
Hilton and Kardashian are not BFFS anymore. In various interviews, they have said it’s less to do with the fact Hilton once said Kardashian’s backside reminded her of “cottage cheese inside a big trash bag” (apparently Hilton later apologised), but rather because their lives have diverged. “We don’t really talk,” Kardashian told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011. “There comes a point where you just grow apart and you realise you’re not as similar as you thought.”
Hilton is generous about her former friend. “I am so happy for her,” she now says. “She has always wanted to have children, and her babies are so beautiful. I can see how happy that makes her. I know how much [West] loves her. It’s nice to see people live their dreams, and have a family and be happy.”
Still, when a meme was circulated on Instagram in late June about how Hilton made Kardashian famous, Hilton clicked “like”.
NOTHING ABOUT THE lead-up to Stellar’s interview with Hilton suggested she was any less flaky than you’d expect. Ahead of her visit to Australia next month to launch Gold Rush for Chemist Warehouse, I was granted 20 minutes on the phone, but for more than a week the
“I LIKE TO BE MORE PRIVATE THAN I USED TO BE. IT’S NICE TO BE ABLE TO ENJOY MY LIFE AND NOT HAVE CAMERAS IN MY FACE”
timing of that interview was anyone’s guess. On Friday, word came from her people that she’d be available at a still unknown time on Saturday morning.
My phone rang at 5.55am the next day, warning me of a 6.30am interview – but could I call her please, as they were not sure if she’d remember. The phone number didn’t work. “Actually,” the publicist said when I reported the problem, “she now wants to move it to 7am.” I had begun wondering whether Kardashian’s ascendancy over Hilton had something to do with an inability to maintain appointments – and then the call finally came through.
“Hi, it’s Paris,” drawls the oncefamiliar voice, a combination of sex-line husky and sugar-sweet innocence.
It is the voice that launched endless reality TV shows. The Simple Life featured Hilton and fellow rich-kid Nicole Richie trying to do menial jobs, such as farm work, and ran from 2003 to 2007. While Hilton’s claim that “The Simple Life was the very first reality show,” is debatable, she’s right when she says, “it definitely started a whole new genre”, as it spawned shows such as Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
“It’s great that it has paved the way for all these people,” she says. But she wouldn’t do it again. “I feel like it’s different to back in the day, with all this social media and these things… It was a lot of fun, but also, I don’t know, just really overwhelming.”
Hilton is friendly and chatty. She loves Australia, and will stay for a week after her commitments – promoting her fragrance and Djing at clubs in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – are finished. “I want to go to Bondi Beach and chill, get tanned, go to Icebergs; go to the zoo,” she says. “I love Australian people, they are so fun and full of life.”
Afterwards, she’ll relax in Bali. Few businesswomen get to enjoy the sights of the world like Hilton does. She spends summers in Ibiza, has lived in the Swiss Alps with ex-boyfriend Thomas Gross, and has built two Paris Hilton-branded resorts in the Philippines, the first of what she hopes will be a global empire of resorts, hotels, restaurants and bars.
“I looked up to my grandfather so much as a businessman, so now to be opening my very own properties makes me feel so proud,” she says. “The next ones will be in Ibiza, Dubai, Paris, New York. I am in London now, we are going to look at something tomorrow.”
She’s also hands-on when it comes to her fragrances. “I am involved in the whole process, from coming up with the scent, coming up with the name, and what the campaign will be like,” she says. “I go to the factory, I tell them the notes that I like, they give me tons of different samples. I like to mix things together and come up with my own scents that way.
“[Gold Rush] is very different from all my other fragrances. This one is romantic and more mature; a very beautiful, sexy scent.”
The third arm of her business is music. “During the day I am a businesswoman, at night I am a DJ,” she says. Her go-to for filling up the dance floor? Anything by Calvin Harris: “Everything he does is a hit.”
The arrival of her niece has made Hilton clucky, but the pace of her life doesn’t accommodate babies. “I would like to have one, but I am so busy with work and travelling, I wouldn’t have time. Plus, I’m single,” she says. “It’s not a priority for me right now, but one day I would love to find that special person to build a family life. I think the meaning of life is to have a family and go that way.”
Hilton may soon be able to include the White House on her travel itinerary. She has known US presidential hopeful Donald Trump since she was a child, and he gave her a start in modelling through his agency, T Management. “He has always been so kind to me, I really like him a lot,” she says.
When asked whether he would make a good president, Hilton replies “no”, then pulls herself up. “I think he is a great businessman… he knows what he is doing.”
At 35, Hilton says she is happier than ever. “I love being an independent woman. I love focusing on my work and my business. Everything is going incredibly well; I feel so lucky and proud. I feel like I finally know myself, I feel very in tune with myself, and very grateful. You grow from everything you go through. I guess I have no regrets because I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Our time is up, but Hilton keeps chatting: about how much she loves Australia, about catching up with her Aussie friends, how she’s looking forward to Djing at Marquee nightclub when in Sydney. “You should come, I’ll text you,” she says.
But she never does.
“IT [FAME] IS DIFFERENT TO BACK IN THE DAY, WITH ALL THIS SOCIAL MEDIA… IT WAS FUN, BUT ALSO REALLY OVERWHELMING”