Paris Hilton: Naked ambition

Newspapers write that I'm spoiled, and that all I do is dance on tabletops and party with friends BY ANDREW BUNCOMBE
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And with one crucial exception, she also appears to be supremely talentless. Her acting has been laughed at, her performance on television has drawn scorn, her (successful) attempt to trademark the catchphrase "That's hot" has been widely mocked. Even her raunchy video performance with a then boyfriend received decidedly mixed reviews.

And yet she and her silly pet chihuahua, Tinkerbell, are here and there and everywhere. She is on the cover of magazines, she is opening new nightclubs in Florida, she has her own brand of perfume, she designs purses and bags, she is in music videos and television commercials for mobile phones and hamburgers. She wrote a fast-selling autobiography that topped the best-seller lists. And she has just released her first album,1 Crazy Party, on her own record label. Among the songs is a sprightly sing-along number called "Screwed".

In the same way that "it-girl" Tara Palmer-Tomkinson celebrated our obsession with vacuousness 15 or so years ago, so Paris underlines our ongoing interest with celebrity-for-the-sake-of-celebrity today. And of course, our apparent interest in her and her ephemeral emptiness says far more about us than it does about Paris.

In a world where endless column inches get devoted about the utter mindlessness of reality television shows, Paris is royalty. And should you doubt this, consider that we now have another "celebrity" - Big Brother's Chantelle - who is seemingly famous solely for her resemblance to Paris Hilton.

And yet there is a clear difference between Paris and her early Nineties predecessor. Back when Ms Palmer-Tomkinson newly entered the public consciousness, the entire conceit of her famous-for-being-famous label seemed so fresh and innocent that it was almost radical. My word, people used to say. That's Tara Palmer-Thingymajig. She's famous just for being famous. By contrast, everything about Paris comes over as suspiciously forced and contrived, her every utterance planned and measured. What else could really account for someone declaring: "Wal-Mart, what's that? Do they, like, make walls there?" One suspects the hand of a genius. Is this the real talent of Paris?

The celebrity of Paris Whitney Hilton, heiress of the Hilton Hotel fortune, was really cemented in late 2003 when a sex video of her and former boyfriend Rick Salomon was "leaked" on to the internet. The blushing ingenue expressed shock and blamed the dastardly Salomon for the release of the footage, which uncannily emerged at almost precisely the moment that she was making her television debut in a series called The Simple Life. Six months later the grainy footage was released as a DVD, 1 Night in Paris. She sued Salomon, the estranged husband of actress Shannen Doherty, and the matter was settled out of court when she received $400,000 and a percentage of the film's royalties, which were then donated to charity. More importantly, Paris's fame was sealed and after the conclusion of her television series - in which a film crew captured the exploits of her and a friend, Nicole Richie, as they lived with a farming family on their homestead in rural Arkansas - she was signed up for two sequels.

Since then Paris has not looked back - exhibiting an extraordinary talent for making headlines out of nothing. After being "linked" to numerous handsome young men and an engagement to a Tommy Hilfiger model, she announced her intention to marry a Greek shipping heir called Paris Latsis. The entirely coincidental fact that their names were the same was too much for the media to ignore as the couple announced their plans and prepared their nuptials and planned their wedding, as it was again last October when Paris and Paris announced their five-month engagement was over. The poor heart-broken girl issued a statement in which she declared she would always love Paris and that they remained friends. Without a trace of irony she added: "I hope people will respect my privacy during this emotional time."

Since then she has been busy filling in the time as well as finding a new man in her life, another Greek shipping heir, Stavros Niarchos, who this week reportedly sent her an 8ft high bouquet of flowers for Valentine's Day. "It was insane. It has butterflies all over," she said.

And of course, this week also saw her in London for Fashion Week where she opened and closed for Macdonald wearing $3.6m worth of jewellery. She also got caught up in a protest by anti-fur campaigners who pelted her, Macdonald and Camilla al-Fayed, with flour as they made their way to an after-show party. The affair resulted in more publicity for the activists Peta, for Julien Macdonald and his extensive use of fur and, naturally, for Paris.

Paris was born in 1981 in New York City, the eldest of the four children of Richard Hilton and Kathy Richards. She has a sister, Nicky, and two brothers, Barron and Conrad. She is the niece of two child stars of the Seventies, Kim and Kyle Richards, who appeared in the film Escape to Witch Mountain as well as the television series Little House on the Prairie. Her great uncle Conrad Nicholson Hilton was once married to Elizabeth Taylor. Her wealth comes from her great-grandfather, Conrad Hilton, founder of the hotel chain and whose second wife was the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. Last year Forbes estimated the value of her grandfather, Barron Hilton, at $1bn, of which Paris is expected to inherit $50m.

As a child Paris moved between a slew of luxury homes, including a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York and mansions in Beverly Hills and the Hamptons. She attended the Dwight School in New York, which counts Truman Capote, the actor Vin Diesel and 1930s New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, among its alumni. Paris does not appear to have excelled academically and she did not attend university. Instead she went to work as a fashion model for French designer Catherine Malandrino, whose fans include Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Demi Moore. She modelled, too, for Marc Bouwer and picked up cameo roles in the movies Zoolander, The Cat in the Hat and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. For her 21st birthday, she threw five parties for herself - in New York, Las Vegas, London, Hollywood and Tokyo.

By this point Paris was already a celebrity, a regular in the gossip columns and the diary pages. The long-running saga surrounding the sex video, which was filmed when she was 19 and Salomon was almost 30, merely added to her profile. At the time the family issued a statement expressing their purported disappointment at having failed to stop the footage becoming public. "The Hilton family is greatly saddened at how low human beings will stoop to exploit their daughter, Paris, who is sweet-natured, for their own self-promotion as well as profit motives," it said.

Whatever the truth behind the release of the film, the publicity did nothing but good for Paris. She was subsequently able to secure roles in the film National Lampoon's Pledge This and a remake of the 1950s classic horror film House of Wax. She was also able to complete her "tongue-in-cheek" autobiography Confessions of an Heiress, which while criticised for its lightness, quickly became a surprise hit on The New York Times bestsellers list.

She received a $100,000 advance for the book, and no wonder. It's first chapter opens thus: "A lot of people seem to have the wrong idea about me. In fact, pretty much everything I read about myself is totally ridiculous. Newspapers and magazines write that I'm spoiled and privileged, and that all I do is dance on tabletops and party with my friends. They think I instantly became famous because I was born into a rich, well-known family, and everything has come so easily to me."

Meanwhile, she is still fighting to recover a range of items she claims were stolen from a storage facility and sold off at auction. Among the items she says were taken were computers, tapes, photographs and journals apparently containing her jottings about her love life and relationships. Though she only learned of their loss after being contacted by a reporter for National Enquirer who said he had been offered them for sale, Paris's publicist, Elliot Mintz, claimed she was "incredibly upset and angry".

Given the skill of Paris and her advisers for self-promotion and given our appetite for everything she does, the future of this young woman seems bright. More films, more books, more albums, more night clubs, more photographs of her and her dog. We will hear more about her love of yoga and tennis, and learn more about her alleged interest in Kabbalah and how she often wears a red string necklace beloved by followers of Jewish mysticism. She even managed to win headlines after it emerged she had told her minders at this week's Brit Awards to allow only male fans to approach her. Women were reportedly brushed aside with the words "Paris doesn't do girls."

Indeed there is no sign of the Paris phenomenon letting up any time soon. Just this week it was also reported that Paris had been named by the Indian film maker T Rajeevnath as the woman he wants to play Mother Teresa in a forthcoming movie about the Macedonian-born nun. The director said he was persuaded that Paris was the ideal actress to play the "most widely respected and loved person" after he was told she had refused to take her clothes off during a shoot for Playboy magazine.

A Life in Brief

BORN 17 February 1981, New York City, to Conrad Hilton, real estate broker, and actress Kathy Richards.

EDUCATION Canterbury School in Connecticut, followed by Dwight School in New York City, before dropping out.

CAREER 2000: started working as a model, has appeared many magazines including GQ and Vanity Fair; 2001: played herself in Ben Stiller film Zoolander; 2003: starred in The Simple Life in which she spent a month on a farm in Arkansas, spawning two sequels in 2004 and 2005; October, 2003: a home-made video of her having sex with her then boyfriend, Rick Saloman, appears on the internet; the film is released on DVD in 2004; 2004: publishes a book, Confessions of an Heiress, and launches a perfume; March 2005: appears on the cover of Playboy magazine; 2005, appears in House of Wax, a remake of the 1950's horror film.

SHE SAYS "It's traditional for an heiress to be raised in a sheltered way. No one thinks that's true of me but it actually was."

THEY SAY "She's a fabulous character to write about." Jackie Collins