Cole Bennetts/Getty Images for Paris Hilton
Before “influencer” was a household term, before Instagram and TikTok allowed users to document every moment of their lives in real time, Paris Hilton was the woman at the center of it all.
A platinum blonde heiress with a mega hit reality show. A mainstay of tabloid gossip, thanks to an ubiquitous mob of paparazzi and a leaked sex tape. An accomplished party girl who used her star power to launch a career in modeling and music. An early emblem of femininity and excess, whose breathy baby voice still conjures up memories of the catchphrase “It’s hot.”
Now Hilton, 42, is ready to harness her voice in new ways after spending years living as what she describes as a manufactured caricature – in part, to protect herself.
“I feel like for so long I’ve been misunderstood and underappreciated,” Hilton told NPR. “And I feel like for the past two decades in this industry, my story has been told by other people. And I was just willing to get real and speak my truth.”
Much of that truth involves unpacking the trauma of some of her teenage experiences in her new book, Paris: The Memoir, which has just been published. In it, Hilton details an inappropriate relationship with a teacher when she was underage; sexual assault; and the abuse she suffered during years spent in boarding schools allegedly for “troubled teenagers.”
Hilton said her exasperated parents, Rick and Kathy Hilton, decided to send her to these intensive boarding schools after spending years sneaking out of her home at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York to go to clubs, and she was expelled from several elite clubs. schools.
Hilton also shares fonder memories of her teenage years and stories that set her on a path the culture would later deride as “famous for being famous.” There are tales of teenage antics with her sister, Nicky, including an attempt to sneak a young Khloe Kardashian into a bar by dressing her in a long wig and floppy black hat. There are thoughts on how an adult ADHD diagnosis changed his life for the better. Hilton also gives her her take on the modern-day influencer, a title she thinks she deserves a fair share of credit for.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, before there was even a name for it,” Hilton told NPR. “And it’s just amazing to see that something that I started so long ago has now grown into a career in its own right and launched this whole new kind of stardom.”
But Hilton also writes about this pop culture pervasiveness that serves as a way for her to cope with her experience in the so-called troubled teen industry. In the book, Hilton describes being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night by two men and being flown across the country to attend a “therapeutic” school run by the now defunct CEDU Educational Services. There she was subjected to an invasive cavity search, she wrote. Initially, she wasn’t allowed to wear shoes – and was told it was a privilege she had to earn. The students were forced to participate in what Hilton called “raps”, a nightly ritual where they were forced to insult and belittle each other for hours on end.
“I know it wasn’t my family’s fault. They were lied to and manipulated,” Hilton told NPR. “My parents had no idea. When I was there, they were always monitoring every phone call and if I tried to say anything, [the school] immediately hung up the phone… and took away my phone privileges, then just said to my parents, “Oh, she’s lying.” She just wants to leave. She’s manipulative.'”
At times, passages from the memoir read like a thriller as Hilton describes several attempts to escape from CEDU facilities, and later Provo Canyon School, where she writes about spending hours in solitary confinement cell phone, often without clothes, and receiving pills that made her feel like “my head was disconnected from my body”.
Hilton first divulged her experiences to director Alexandra Dean in the 2020 documentary, It’s Paris. It was a conversation she says she never planned to have.
“When I came out of there, I promised myself never to tell anyone. And it wasn’t part of my story,” Hilton told NPR. “And that’s why I basically created this character, Paris Hilton, so that I didn’t have to think or feel the trauma that I went through and went through.”
In a statement posted on the school’s website, the Provo Canyon School noted that it changed ownership in August 2000, after Hilton was a student there, and that the school does not “tolerate or promote any form of abuse”.
“We are committed to providing high quality care for young people with special and often complex emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs,” the statement read.
Hilton said that while it was “very scary and really difficult” to publicly reveal this trauma, writing her memoir also lifted a weight.
“I just know there are so many girls, boys, women, men who have been through the same thing as me. And they’re clinging to a shame. And that shame shouldn’t be on us. It should be about the people who hurt us,” she told NPR.
The process of trying to let go of that pain and shame changed everything in her world, she says, including her romantic relationships.
She met her husband Carter Reum, a venture capitalist, in 2019 at a family Thanksgiving dinner in the Hamptons. In the book, Hilton describes telling Reum about the heartbreaking revelations of It’s Paris. She says it was the first time she had “started a full disclosure relationship.”
“I feel so lucky to have found him,” Hilton told NPR of Reum, whom she married in 2021. had around my heart. I just feel like timing is everything, and Carter is just my twin flame.”
This year, Hilton and Reum announced the birth of their first child, Phoenix Barron Hilton Reum, via surrogate after more than two years of IVF treatments. Hilton says that with motherhood, some of her priorities have changed.
“Now that I’m a mum, it’s a lot easier to say no. Before, I didn’t have something like that. So it’s the most important thing in my life, and I want to be there for everyone. special times.”
Still, as Hilton told NPR, her risk-taking spirit remains — but these days that means more honesty.
“I think it’s so important for people to come out and be vulnerable and tell their stories, because life isn’t perfect,” Hilton said. “And it’s important for others to know that they are not alone and that we are all going through the same thing.”
Ashley Brown and Kat Lonsdorf contributed to this report.