Paris Hilton: I'm with the brand

Craig Maclean spends an exhausting few days on the road with Paris Hilton: singer, jewellery designer, socialite, entrepreneur, heiress, handbag maker, actress, nightclub owner, perfumer...
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The Independent Online

In the backstage artists' compound at the Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park, one half of chart-topping duo Gnarls Barkley is salivating over Paris Hilton. The record-breaking "Crazy" guys have just come offstage. Tubby rapper Cee-Lo, mopping up sweat with acres of fluffy white towels, is positively agog at the sight of the American heiress.

He's not the only one. Paris moves through the small area bounded by portable dressing-room cabins like a mother duck, trailing a procession of panting ducklings behind her. Toting microphones big and small, cameras dinky and professional, notebooks and autograph pads, we must keep up with Paris. Her "disguise" - a brunette wig and sunglasses that reach to her chin - has not worked. Or, to judge by the scrolls of tabloid column inches the following morning, it has worked. Everyone noticed the arrival of the most famous young blonde in the world at the rock festival; all felt compelled to comment on her new hair.

The camera crew covering the backstage gossip for MTV manage to corral Paris. They sit her down for a quick interview. What does she like about London?

"Shawping," she drawls. "The accents... It's my favourite city in the world."

Luckily for Paris Whitney Hilton, London is not her parents' favourite city in the world. That honour goes to the French capital. That's why she's named Paris. London Hilton has a rather different ring to it.

Why were you given the middle name Whitney?

"I don't know. I think my parents just thought it was a pretty name."

What kind of kid were you? Geeky?

[Giggling] "No! I was a tomboy. I loved just playing with my animals and going to the pet store and buying snakes and going in the backyard and digging tunnels and doing all this stuff. I didn't really care about shopping or anything till I was older."

When did you start to become interested in fashion?

"When we moved from LA to New York. I was 15, 16 years old." (omega)

Do you remember the first time you saw a picture of yourself in the press?

"Yah. I was 16. In the fashion section of the New York Post. Me and my sister. Best dressed..."

On the sixth floor of the Park Hyatt in Milan, 42 Italian journalists have gathered to speak to Paris Hilton. She has already done Paris and Hamburg. Tomorrow, six days after her appearance at the Wireless Festival, she will do London again. The CEO of Paris Hilton Entertainment and her lieutenants, advisors luggage-handlers and BlackBerry wranglers have rolled into - and over - Europe this summer to press home the 25-year-old's latest venture: an album. Of course, like everything else she "makes", it is titled simply Paris.

Her music career follows her modelling career (she was signed to Donald Trump's T Management agency at the age of 16), her TV career (she and Nicole Richie's dumb-rich-girls-get-proper-jobs "reality show" The Simple Life), and her nascent film career (she has horror film House Of Wax under her belt-cum-skirt, a National Lampoon's in the pipeline, and a lead role about to begin shooting). It opens up a whole new front after Paris Hilton perfume, lingerie, sunglasses, books, handbags, nightclubs... the celebrity-galaxy works.

Coming soon to a block of prime real estate near you (if you live in Las Vegas or Florida): Paris Hilton hotels and Paris Hilton casinos. Sister Nicky, who runs two fashion lines, is also planning a hotel chain. Is there room for a second and third Hilton hotel chains? "Yes!" she declares emphatically. Hers will be "boutique and fun" and "just totally different" from Nicky's.

Paris Hilton is a brand on the run. And despite all the sex scandals, car crashes, aborted weddings (she was briefly engaged to a Greek shipping heir, who was, of course, called - wait for it - Paris), dancefloor catfights and dresses that accidentally reveal her ladybits, the brand shows no sign of running out of puff.

And there we have the answer to that most pressing of modern pop-culture questions: other than getting photographed at nightclubs, what does Paris Hilton do? Answer: she sticks her name on stuff, then sits back and watches it fly off the shelves. I spend so long lolling about in her company that I'm worried she might stick her name on me. But that would be silly.

Almost as silly as the thought of a cartoon based on her life. Oh, that's happening too. Paris is currently choosing an animated likeness of herself ("I don't know if I wanna go very realistic or more cartoony"). It will be "basically my life but exaggerated 10 times." Her life, exaggerated? How? "Like, funny stories. It's a cartoon so we can get away with anything."

Right now in Milan, Paris is getting away with the thing she most often gets away with: being late. The Italian press conference was due to begin at 3.30pm. Her album has already been playing on a continuous loop for some time. At 3.47pm the music is dimmed by one of the bustling army of flunkies, but it's a false alarm. In the baking Milanese heat, the excitement of 42 Italian journalists puddles on the floor.

The songs are becoming very familiar: well-crafted pop R&B with demographic-pleasing splashes of reggae and hip hop, of which the current single "Stars Are Blind" is the sunny best. It's as shiny and ridiculous (omega) as those Paris casinos will no doubt be. But compared to the sugary records put out by her fellow low-cal multi-tasking It Girls - Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson - it won't hurt your teeth so much.

Finally, at 4.20pm, after a quickfire photo session for the paparazzi on the balcony behind us, Paris is stepping through the patio doors and clip-clopping like a thoroughbred show-pony past the sweaty writers.

They clap and cheer. Paris apologises for being late - her luggage has been lost en route from Germany. That, no doubt, is a lot of luggage. Then, via translator, they ask her 20 questions along the lines of: "Is it difficult to be so beautiful?", "That's a lovely dress", and "How is it being a style icon?" When someone asks about Nicole Richie - Lionel's daughter, with whom Paris spectacularly fell out before they filmed the current season of The Simple Life - his peers boo and hiss and the translator refuses to ask it. Paris, nonplussed behind her desk, cocks her head and does that half-smiley, heavy-lidded "look" of hers. Blonde Steel, as fans of Zoolander might call it. At 4.47pm it is all over.

Are you and Nicole Richie gonna be friends again?

"You know, I've known Nicole over 20 years. There will always be a place in my heart for her. So. Hopefully we'll be..."

Do you have enough friends?

"I have so many great friends I love. You don't need a million friends. I have, like, five really close friends."

Your song "Fighting Over Me" is hilarious: "Every time I step out the house they wanna fight over me/ maybe 'cause I'm hot to death and I'm so so so sexy." Are you taking the mickey out of your own image?

"Well, the album's about that. Even my book [a none-more-pink autobiography-cum-manual called Confessions of an Heiress] - I like tongue in cheek. When I'm performing, I'm doing the character [the ditzy blonde in The Simple Life] and that's what they wanna hear. You know, "Turn You On". [I sing about] dancing on the table top - just like everything that you think I do, I'm singing about."

You're very good at playing that character. Is there a risk that people will take you less seriously because you're playing this character quite a lot?

"Uuum. Yeah, but I don't rally care. I know my friends and my family and they know the real me and how I am. The media thinks they know me. So why give them the only private part of my life I have, which is how I really am? So I'd rather just do this character. But now with the music, I'm so serious. And this is just, like, my dream come true. [Croaky-voiced little girl] I'm so excited."

By the gates of an open-air nightclub in Milan, dozens of photographers and camera crews and clipboard-wielding fashionistas are aiming their trigger-fingers at Paris Hilton's limo. It's Men's Fashion Week and wrinkled, short pensioner designer Roberto Cavalli has thrown a party in honour of Paris. When she glides out of her car, the paparazzi and TV folk go bananas. After she passes them, they sprint off down a path to an alfresco lounge bar area. They wait for Paris to reach them again. Then the orgy of flashing begins once more.

She tries to sit down. She and Cavalli pose for more pictures amid the crush. Then her entourage shuffle her off towards the packed bar. A security crew clear a path through the throng and edge her into a raised seating area and then on into a section behind a velvet rope. At last, some privacy. Except that a TV crew still have a massive spotlight trained on her. And various paparazzi are clinging to the outside of the rail of the raised area. And about, oh, 1,000 party guests on the adjacent dancefloor are all gawping at Paris and sticking their camera phones in her direction.

Paris Hilton, she don't care. She stands up and does that dance beloved of American girls - the one where they stick their arms in the air and make like they're sniffing their armpits. Then the DJ swaps the hammering Euro-house for Paris's own "Stars Are Blind". Paris ups the performance ante by whooping and standing on a banquette, to facilitate the mass media and mass public's taking photos of her.

It's about 1am by now. It's still very hot. It's been a hard day at the office, but Paris Hilton shows no sign of slowing down. I leave her as fresh supplies of cut fruit and champagne are freighted into the open-air, private-not-private booth.

How do you cope with the ever-present photographers?

"I have so many things going on in my mind all the time, like business and everything, I'm usually thinking about them. You have to ignore them and pretend they're not there. Maybe that's helped. And if I was to pay attention to that, I think I would have a nervous breakdown, 'cause it's too much. Every single day, no matter where I am, that happens."

You're followed by paparazzi every day?

"Mmm-mm. Every day. From the moment I wake up till I go to bed."

Even when you're going to the shop to get milk or you're walking your dogs?

"No matter what. It's so annoying. Everywhere in LA, even if I do sometimes get away from them, everywhere I go they have contacts who'll call them: 'Paris is here.' Then another guy comes. Then there's 30 of them. You can't even get your mail or put the trash out or do anything - they're gonna take a picture of you."

Was there time when, to an extent, you needed them?

"No. And I can understand, going to a press event, say a movie premiere for something I'm in. Then it's OK, you're on the press line, that's where they're supposed to be. But not outside your house every single day, like a stalker."

And it's dangerous - they chase you in cars...

"I don't want them following me to my friends' houses who are celebrities - I don't want them knowing where they live. So I always have to get away and when I'm doing that then I drive really fast..."

In the foyer of London's Sanderson Hotel I am waiting for Paris Hilton. It is Saturday afternoon, three days after Milan. Eventually, an hour-ish behind schedule, I am summoned up to meet her.

She is slouched on the balcony of her room, concealed in more huge sunglasses and sheathed in an expensive-looking pale-green frock. She looks tired and sounds croaky. Her speaking style, normally a drawled jumble of words and clauses, is even more laconic and topsy-turvy, as if she's stoned. But it's only lunchtime. That'll be why she's "starving", she gasps.

It's been amazing - and exhausting - to watch her "at work", as it were. I'm curious as to how she keeps on top of it all. Like, doesn't she have a nightclub to open today in Florida?

"I have nothing to do with that."

Really? The club's website looks very official.

"I don't know. People always use my name for things. Unlicensed... I don't know what's going on. But I'm gonna find out. It's really hard - there's so many people out there trying to make money [out of me]."

She says that because she travels so much she gets a lot of her work done on planes, because "I can't really make any phonecalls! So I'll sit there and... People send me weekly reports, and I do the designs and send those in. So every day there's a schedule where I'm told what to do."

She clearly works at a ferocious pace, this shrewd entrepreneur of image. "Even my grandpa said to me, 'You work harder than of my CEO friends or anyone I know.' He's like, 'People are calling me Paris Hilton's grandpa, they don't call me Barron Hilton!'"

Forbes magazine said she made $7m last year, and $2m the year before.

"That's not the right numbers." Higher? "Much," she drawls. "I don't know where they get those numbers. They just guess, I think." Is the trajectory accurate - up and up? " Yeah. Every year it just gets bigger and bigger as I add on more projects and more companies."

Paris Hilton: heiress, socialite, party chick. Unwitting participant in possibly the most infamous sex film ever. The blonde who, on television certainly, is dumb. All true. But she's also a woman who, rather than sit back and wait for the enormous inheritance due her from the hotel chain founded by her great-grandfather, went out and worked. She used her assets: her notoriety, her looks, her name, her image. It might be a sad indictment of modern consumer society and celebrity-obsessed culture - but who cares? She's a self-made millionairess.

"Like my great-grandpa, I've made my own empire. It's pretty incredible to be a woman and be so young... And everything I do is successful."

Why is that?

"Because I make the right choices, and I'm a brand like no one else. And I have good taste. And people look at me as a trendsetter I guess. And... I know what's hot!"

Paris Hilton™ is now a registered trademark, and so is It's Hot!™ It's a slogan for herself, a one-woman, single-minded conglomerate.

How strange to see yourself as a brand. And how utterly, brilliantly mental. Maybe that's why she's happily single just now - given her previous disastrous "mergers", perhaps its better to keep the brand pure for a while. I'd say it was terribly post-modern, or the ultimate feminist victory. But I'm not smart enough to know what that might mean. Let's just ask Paris Hilton what her all-conquering brand stands for.

"Um." She pauses and then wrinkles her lovely nose, as if straining to think, or just shifting the weight of those enormo-glasses. "Just, like, fashionable. And hot. And in. And luxurious. Fantasy... Barbie," she says with a final, sly smile.

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