Paris Hilton’s people are “really protective”, which is why, several days in advance, they insist on knowing the “exact questions” I’m hoping to ask her during our allotted 10-minute interview at the Hotel Café Royal in London. This meeting eventually lasts less than eight minutes before it ends with the terrified screech of a publicist.
Hilton is the celebutante, hotel heiress, DJ and pop singer who owed her first flourish of notoriety to a sex tape featuring her and a vindictive ex-boyfriend. She promoted herself with a trailblazing enthusiasm, part-inventing a new kind of reality fame on a television show called The Simple Life.
The 34-year-old has been gossip-column mulch since she was 18: caught drink driving, filmed taking drugs and briefly imprisoned. In recent years, to use her idiosyncratic terminology, her fragrances have “done insane”; she may be the most successful perfumer in the world and claims to have sold more than $2bn (£1.3bn) worth of pong.
But her celebrity, I suspect, is fading. To use one measure, Kim Kardashian, Hilton’s former “closet arranger”, now has more than seven times her mentor’s followers on Instagram. If you want to see how briefly flickers the candle of fame, type “Paris Hilton” into Google Trends and observe the brutal arithmetic of the world losing interest.
The day before we meet, Hilton was at a Superdrug in a Liverpool “leisure complex” promoting her 18th fragrance, the Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition eau de parfum. (Two squirts in the office and choking workers abandoned their chairs.) One woman connected to it admitted to me that she would “never” use the stuff because it’s “far too sweet . . . like candy”.
Before I can enter the ballroom in which Hilton has been installed, I’m told to wait first upstairs, then downstairs, then upstairs again, for a total of an hour or so, until finally an angry-looking woman in a green dress marches out to snap that there “won’t be time” for me to ask my question about how celebrity has changed over the years, or whether Hilton is concerned about becoming less famous as time goes on, or about the response to her latest single, a synthy, squawky number called High Off My Love. (One week after appearing on her YouTube channel, this had 18,000 views.)
“Legal issues” also mean Hilton won’t discuss her younger brother Conrad’s epic transatlantic tantrum last year, during which the likeable 20-year-old spent 10 hours allegedly threatening to murder members of a British Airways cabin crew, smoking joints and screaming that he would “f****** own anyone on this flight. They are f****** peasants.”
Deep breath, then. The Pompadour ballroom is a cavern of rococo fakery, fussing with people. There are laptops and TV lights and clipboards, and I eventually spot Hilton at a table surrounded by publicists, media managers and who-knows-who-else, apparently rehearsing her answers to my questions.
Finally she catwalks over, stilettoed legs scissoring in front of each other. She is wearing a white jacket, hair-bleach, lots of make-up and blue contact lenses over her naturally brown eyes. She looks like a bizarre Barbie cyborg. Everyone in the room stops what they’re doing to watch.
Hello, I’m Oliver, I say. She pinches two of my fingertips: “Hi Oliver.”
What briefly ensues could not be termed a conversation. I ask scripted questions; Hilton recites ready-made answers.
These typically resemble the gushiest Instagram captions and include authentic phrases such as “you only live once” and “living life to the fullest”. Everything is “amazing” and Hilton is “proud”. Her English dialect might be Valley Platitude.
Four minutes in I ask an unvetoed pleasantry about her pets and she says: “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have them. Just laying with them in bed, they just make me so happy.”
You sleep with them? “Um, I sleep with like three or four of them sometimes.”
Dogs and monkeys? “Just dogs. My monkeys are at my ranch.”
At this, one of the tables barks: “Oliver — stick to the questions, please.”
How do you feel towards Kim Kardashian today, I ask. “Kim and I have been friends since we were little girls. I’m so happy for her. She has a beautiful family. She’s doing incredibly well, I’m so incredibly proud of her.”
Do you think she might have eclipsed you? “We’re both killing it.”
So you’re on level pegging? “Yeah.”
Time is running out so I think, sod it, and say: your brother Conrad has had a difficult time recently. What did you say to him after his outburst on that plane?
The room visibly trembles and a publicist shrieks: “She can’t comment on legal issues!” Hilton, still coolly monotonous, says: “I can’t comment on legal issues but my brother and I are very close. I love him so much and he’s a good kid.”
Has he been misunderstood? “Thank you very much for the interview!” yells the publicist.
“He’s a good boy,” concludes Hilton.
And that’s it. Near Piccadilly, rubbing his hands under the glare of the Circus lights, is a lone paparazzo. I ask him if he’s waiting for Paris. “Paris?” he says. “What are you talking about?”