Paris Hilton has released a new documentary, This Is Paris, to show the world the woman behind the “character”. But in the film, she also reveals deeply personal details of alleged abuse at a residential behavioural school she was sent to as a teenager.
Sky News meets the star to talk about the “real Paris”, her goal to make $1bn, and why a “weight has been lifted” now she is finally ready to speak out.
“Paris Hilton has entered the waiting room for this meeting.”
She arrives to the Zoom room on time, just after 10am in Los Angeles, a couple of glam squad members briefly touching up her famous platinum-blonde hair to the side of the camera for just a few seconds before we begin.
Businesswoman, model, DJ, heiress and perhaps the original influencer, Hilton is here, speaking to me on screen in my kitchen (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), to discuss her new documentary, This Is Paris, for her only interview with a UK broadcaster.
What started as a film to clear up the many misconceptions she feels are attached to her world-famous name, a film to show the world she’s a lot smarter than her The Simple Life baby voice and catchphrase – “That’s hot” – might have you believe, turned into a form of therapy that has enabled the star to discuss publicly something she has blocked out for a long time.
“I’m very proud of all my accomplishments and I feel that there’s just been so many misconceptions about me,” Hilton says. “I wanted to show people who I really was.”
The documentary starts with Hilton mimicking that baby voice; her real timbre, it turns out, is deeper. It shows her treatment in the media and modern pop culture as “an irresistible punchline”, and she talks about the cartoon caricature of Paris Hilton that she is “stuck” with. “Her brand is a lot more glamorous than she is,” says her sister, Nicky Hilton Rothschild.
Later, the film shows the star trying to reconcile feelings of intense loneliness and despondency – “I don’t even know who I am sometimes” – with the attention she admits she loves, and her goal to become a billionaire; her sister calls her “greedy” and says she “won’t turn down a cheque” after telling her to take a holiday without her phone. “Yeah, right,” is the reply.
Hilton has 19 product lines; while making the documentary, she was travelling for work for around two-thirds of the year. A world-famous multimillionaire, there will be many who have little sympathy, but it often doesn’t look like that much fun. As the cameras followed her during a press tour in Korea, exhausted and sad, she says she found herself opening up about the most shocking aspect of her life.
As a teenager who would sneak out to go clubbing in New York, Hilton’s mother, Kathy, says she locked her in her room. Eventually, her parents sent her to an “outdoor wilderness programme” and later a residential behavioural school, Provo Canyon, in Utah.
In the documentary, Hilton reveals alleged abuse. She says she feels staff “got off” on “torturing children and seeing them naked” and humiliated. It was at Provo Canyon, she claims, that she was physically and mentally abused; beaten, forced to spend time in solitary confinement, and given prescription drugs. So were many others, she claims.
“I definitely feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders,” she tells me, now that she has told her story publicly. “At first I was very nervous and when I was even in the editing room [for the documentary], I was like, we need to cut this out, I don’t want anyone hearing about this.”
Now, she feels differently.
“I’m getting just an outpouring of emails and people contacting me, survivors who have been at the same school, parents who, because they saw the trailer, have pulled their children out of there,” she says.
“People saying thank you so much for being so brave. I haven’t ever told anyone this either because I was just so traumatised and didn’t want to talk about it. Just the fact that it’s helping make change makes it all worth it to me that I said my story and that I even went through this.”
What would she say to those staff at the school now, should she get the chance?
“I would say, how can you treat children like this? What’s wrong with you? How do you live with yourself?” She pauses for a second. “You are a terrible person and you deserve to be in jail.”
In the second part of This Is Paris, Hilton meets other students who were there at the same time.
“Just talking with them about how I was before I went there and hearing their stories, and then also just not feeling alone… I just felt that no one ever understood me [before] because no one knew the story. So to be able to speak to people and be free and… it was just a very special experience for me.”
In the documentary, Hilton, who turns 40 next year, discusses suffering anxiety after her experience at the school, and says she struggles with trust issues.
She describes the infamous sex tape that was leaked without her consent back in the early noughties, just as The Simple Life, her reality show with Nicole Richie, was taking off, as like being “electronically raped”.
At the time it was made, Hilton was 19; her then boyfriend, Rick Salomon, who released it, was in his early 30s. She says she agreed to be filmed, but never thought anyone else would see it.
“It would be a completely different story” if something like that were to happen to a young woman today, says Hilton, “Back then, they made me like I was the villain.” People thinking she “did it on purpose”, that it was released to increase her fame, hurt just as much.
She says she is grateful that, thanks to movements like #MeToo, the balance has shifted.
“Now women are getting the respect they deserve, because I wasn’t… you know, obviously, lucky in that situation,” she says. “But today, at least, there’s change. So… I’m happy for the future of women that they wouldn’t have to go through something like that, because it’s one of my biggest regrets of my life and something that will traumatise me for the rest of my life.”
Now in a relationship with entrepreneur Carter Reum, Hilton says she has never been happier. Watching the documentary back and seeing how troubled she was at times feels like a world away from where she is now, she says.
“Even when I watch the film, I’m like, oh my God, I don’t recognise that person at all. I was so lost and just sad and lonely. Having to travel 250 days out of the year by myself, in foreign countries, with strangers everywhere… it was obviously a very lonely life so to now be just with the most perfect man and feel so safe and finally have opened my heart for the first time, that is just the best feeling in the world.”
Does that mean she’s ready to let go of her $1bn goal?
Being a businesswoman, she replies, is “super important to me”. But the documentary shows the negative sides to her life. She loves her fans and at the time said she saw their adoration as love, but we also see her surrounded by fans screaming and crying in her face, and, in another clip, fighting paparazzi. Those situations can’t be easy to deal with.
“It can get very frightening at times, just when [photographers] are getting so aggressive and trying to fight for a shot or chasing me in a car,” she says. “I’ve been in a lot of situations where it’s been really scary, especially when there’s just so many of them jumping on top of each other. It just gets crazy. It’s very weird, but I’m used to it.”
This Is Paris also shows the star turning up to event after event, preparing for DJ sets, spending hours on social media, building her brand. “I’ve never been photographed in the same thing twice,” she says.
But in another scene, surrounded by shoes in a walk-in wardrobe: “I don’t even give a fabout any of these things.”
As a woman written off as “famous for being famous” and an influencer before we had influencers, she talks about feeling like she has “created a monster”.
There are positives and negatives to take from it, she tells me.
“The positive is anyone with a phone could build a business or a brand just by showing their talents or what they love to do, their passion. And I think that’s an amazing thing with technology.
“But see, the bad side is just… I can’t imagine being a teenage girl and having to deal with the pressures of society and perfection and caring about followers and likes and, you know, people coming on your page, writing mean comments. I can’t even imagine how hard that is and just… I don’t think it’s good for a young girl to have to go through that.”
Hilton, with 12.6 million Instagram followers and 16.8 million on Twitter, has suffered her fair share of trolling herself.
“It used to really bother me and I would cry and just be so hurt,” she says. “But over the years I’ve just built a really tough skin after going through so many things. And also, I know that anyone who’s going to sit and waste their time being rude and negative obviously has no life and is miserable with themselves. So that’s how I think about it now. I don’t let it bother me.”
Hilton hasn’t watched the documentary with her family yet. “It’s going to be very emotional,” she says, because even though her mother, Kathy, and sister, Nicky, feature in the film, “they don’t even know a lot of the things that I talk about in there”.
The real Paris Hilton is clearly a different person to the Paris Hilton people think they know, and it seems the star has a love-hate relationship with the character she has built an empire on. While she hasn’t made $1bn yet, she could still easily afford to give it all up should she want to. So is she addicted to Paris Hilton, the character? The brand?
“I think because I had been through such traumatic experiences in life, I feel that all I wanted to do was focus on my business and my success,” she says. “And it was probably in a way which I didn’t even realise till watching my film. I think I was doing it as a distraction to not think about what I went through. And that [making $1bn] was my goal because all I cared about was business, but now I’m putting my personal life first.
“So, of course, I’m going to continue working but… money doesn’t buy happiness. And that’s not my goal anymore, my goal is just to have an amazing future and family and just focus on what matters most.”
Hilton says she is proud of herself.
“I’m excited for people to see that there is so much more to me than I’ve ever shown,” she says. “To see that I’m a human being, just like everyone else, with feelings.
“I’ve been through things, I don’t have the perfect life. And I told my story, open book. So this is like reading my diary.”
This Is Paris, a YouTube Originals documentary, is out now
- Sky News has contacted Provo Canyon School for comment. A statement on its website says: “We are aware of a new documentary referencing Provo Canyon School (PCS). Please note that PCS was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs.”