Paris Hilton sits regally on a sofa; her back perfectly straight, hands crossed in her lap. She is wearing a flowing gown and oriental jewellery hangs from elaborately curled locks of hair. Her appearance reminds me of Liz Taylor playing Cleopatra. As a result, I don’t know whether to shake hands and say hello, or drop to one knee and pledge allegiance.
Instead I hand her some hastily procured gifts from the office: an ‘I Love Bahrain T-shirt’ (we didn’t have any Dubai ones left), and a Time Out mug. ‘Be careful with that,’ I warn. ‘The logo smudges when it’s hot.’ ‘Why thank you,’ she says. ‘I’ll use this for my coffee tomorrow.’ I hand her a magazine and she readily agrees to pose with it. ‘I read Time Out all the time when I was a student in London and I wanted to know which clubs to visit,’ she laughs.
Having been warned off asking anything personal by her PR team, I take a deep breath and decide to go for the one question I can think of asking: ‘My girlfriend says you are far smarter than people give you credit for,’ I say. ‘She reckons the cutesy blonde thing is just an act. Is this true?’ I cringe waiting for Paris to take umbrage at the assertion that lots of people assume she is stupid. Instead she beams brightly. ‘Aww, say thank you to your girlfriend,’ she purrs. ‘She’s so right.
You know, there are a lot of misconceptions about me. A lot of people get this dumb blonde thing from seeing Simple Life [her reality TV show with Nicole Ritchie]. But that was just a character that I made up. When people meet me in real life they can see beyond that. I’m a businesswoman and someone who knows exactly what they are doing – I planned this my whole life.’
So she certainly thinks of herself as smart. But is that just an act too? I ask her about the YouTube video she made after US presidential candidate John McCain compared Barack Obama to celebrities like her and Britney Spears. The response was pure genius: an address to the nation delivered from a poolside sun-lounger. ‘Hey America; I’m Paris Hilton and I’m a celebrity too, only I’m not from the olden days and I’m not promising change like that other guy. I’m just hot.’
She smiles again. ‘It was something that we came up with this website, Funny or Die, and we wrote it together. I just thought that playing with my image – doing the dumb blonde thing while showing that I know what I am talking about – would be really funny.’
So is she a secret Economist reader? ‘I actually do read the Economist,’ she replies, laughing. ‘I always buy it at the airport. I read Forbes, the Economist, The Post, LA Times… and Time Out!’ But down to the business in hand: Paris is here to film her reality TV show, Paris Hilton’s Dubai BFF. Why, I ask, are people obsessed with this genre? ‘I think seeing real life is something people can relate to – it’s more interesting than anything that’s scripted. Crazy stuff could happen at any minute and people are addicted to that.’
And is she addicted, too? ‘I work and travel so much that I don’t watch anything,’ she replies. But she’s a Twitter addict. Isn’t that based on the same voyeuristic principle? ‘It’s great to show your friends and fans what you are doing,’ she says. ‘And if I want to clear up a rumour, I can do it right away.’ I ask her which celebrities she is Twitter buddies with and almost fall off my chair at the response. ‘Sarah Brown,’ she says
immediately, referring to the wife of British prime minister Gordon Brown. ‘I’m friends with her and I think she’s amazing. She’s an inspirational woman.’
And it’s true. They met at the summit of African First Ladies and Sarah Brown subsequently wrote on her Facebook page: ‘Loved Paris Hilton who I met last week… Nothing about her public image prepares you for the first meeting. She’s a smart, caring, considerate person. Who knew?’ Well indeed.
I ask her if there is anyone famous she hasn’t met yet. ‘I’ve met everyone in the world, basically,’ she tells us, managing not to sound like she is showing off. ‘The one person I’d never met was Madonna. Then she came up to me at the Brit Awards in London and tapped me on the shoulder. I was like, “Oh my god” – I was so excited because ever since I’ve been a little girl she’s been my idol.’
The conversation is going better than I could have dared hope. The unpredictable diva I had imagined is really a friendly chatterbox. Alas, the same can’t be said for her PR team.
‘Perhaps you’d like to ask Paris more about the show and her new store in Dubai,’ one of them interjects. I don’t particularly want to do that, but I also don’t want them to manhandle me out of the room either. So I turn back to Paris and ask her how the idea to film here in Dubai arose. ‘We had all these other territories that wanted the show, but I thought it would be interesting for me to experience something new,’ she says.
Apparently, the plan is to build the My New BFF programme into a global franchise, with Hilton searching for pals across the world. If she was an army, you would describe her as having global reach.
We’ve at least doubled the allotted time for the interview and I’m told it’s time to wind up the conversation. I finish by asking what she considers to be the main focus of her career – model, socialite, actress, singer,
SEE TIME OUT'S EXCLUSIVE PARIS HILTON FASHION GALLERIES TO SEE HER HOTTEST NEW LOOK
‘You know I love doing everything,’ she replies. ‘I’m releasing a new album soon and I’ll continue with my fashion brand. But eventually I would love to open my own hotels, casinos nightclubs and restaurants. I think I’ve done pretty much everything I want except real estate.’
And with that she rises from her chair, bids me farewell and glides out of the room followed by her assistants. I head in the opposite direction to catch a taxi and think about her final answer. It would be easy to dismiss Paris as a party girl; a rich young woman who has courted fame without talent. But, while other It Girls come and go, her star shows no sign of waning. Brand Paris Hilton is growing via the TV shows, YouTube spoofs, shops, fashion label and one day, perhaps, her own chain of hotels and nightclubs. Maybe she does know exactly what she is doing after all.