Cole Bennetts/Getty Images for Paris Hilton
Before the word “influencer” was a household name, before Instagram and TikTok allowed users to capture 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 successful reality show. A mainstay of tabloid gossip, thanks to an ever-present mob of paparazzi and a leaked sex tape. A consummate party girl who used her star power to launch a career in modeling and music. A symbol of femininity and excess, whose hoarse baby voice still brings back memories of the catchphrase ‘That’s hot’.
Now the 42-year-old Hilton is ready to use her voice in a new way after years of living as what she describes as a fabricated caricature – in part to protect herself.
“I just feel like I’ve been misunderstood and underestimated for so long,” 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 ready to get real and tell my truth.”
Much of that truth includes unpacking the trauma of some of her teenage experiences in her new book, Paris: the memoirs, which has just been published. In it, Hilton describes an inappropriate relationship with a teacher when she was a minor; assault; and the abuse she experienced during the years she spent in boarding schools reportedly for “troubled teens.”
Hilton said her exasperated parents, Rick and Kathy Hilton, decided to send her to these intensive residential schools after years of sneaking out of her house in New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel to go to clubs, and she was evicted from several elite schools kicked. schools.
Hilton also shares more fond memories of her adolescence and stories that propelled her down a path that the culture would later deride as “famous for being famous.” There are stories of teenage antics with her sister Nicky, including attempting to sneak a young Khloe Kardashian into a bar by donning her a long wig and a floppy black hat. There are musings about how an adult ADHD diagnosis has changed her life for the better. Hilton also gives her a take on the modern day influencer, a title for which she feels she deserves her fair share of credit.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, even before there was a name for it,” Hilton told NPR. “And it’s just amazing to see something that I started doing so long ago has now turned into a full-fledged career and started this whole new genre of celebrity.”
But Hilton also writes about that pop culture ubiquity serving as a way to deal with her experience in the so-called troubled teen industry. In the book, Hilton describes being dragged from her bed in the middle of the night by two men and 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 writes. Initially, she was not allowed to wear shoes – and was told she was a privilege she had to earn. Students were forced to engage in what Hilton called “raps,” a late-night ritual of insulting and belittling each other for hours.
“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 always listened to every call and if I tried to say something, [the school] would immediately hang up the phone… and take away my phone privileges, then just tell 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 from Provo Canyon School, where she writes about spending hours in solitary confinement, often without clothing, and supplied with pills that make them feeling “my head was disconnected from my body.”
Hilton first disclosed her experiences to film director Alexandra Dean in the 2020 documentary, This is Paris. It was a conversation she said she never intended to have.
“When I got out of there, I promised myself I would never tell anyone about it. And this wasn’t part of my story,” Hilton told NPR. “And that’s actually why I created this character, Paris Hilton, to not have to think about the trauma I went through and experienced.”
In a statement on the school’s website, Provo Canyon School noted that it changed ownership in August 2000, after Hilton became a student there, and that the school “does not condone or promote any form of abuse.”
“We are committed to providing quality care to young people with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs,” the statement said.
Hilton said that while it was “really scary and very difficult” to publicly reveal that trauma, writing her memoir has also lifted a weight.
“I just know that there are so many girls, boys, women, men who have gone through the same thing as me. And they continue to be ashamed. And that shame shouldn’t be on us. It should be on 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 current husband Carter Reum, a venture capitalist, in 2019 at a Thanksgiving family dinner in the Hamptons. In the book, Hilton describes how he told Reum about the shocking revelations in This is Paris. She says it was the first time she “started a relationship of full disclosure.”
“I feel so lucky to have found him,” Hilton told NPR van Reum, who she married in 2021. “That was the first time I really let those walls that I had around my heart come down. I just feel like timing is everything, and Carter is just my twin soul.”
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 motherhood has changed some of her priorities.
“Now that I’m a mom, it’s much easier to say no. Before I didn’t have anything like this, you know, so this is the most important thing in my life, and I want to be there for all the special moments.”
Still, as Hilton pointed out to NPR, her spirit remains one of risk-taking — but these days it’s about more honesty.
“I think it’s so important for people to come out and be vulnerable and tell their story, because life isn’t perfect,” Hilton said. “And it’s important for others to know that they’re not alone and that we’re all going through the same thing.”
Ashley Brown and Kat Lonsdorf contributed to this report.