Paris Hilton was a fixture of tabloids and television in the early 2000s, when she was known as much for her hyperactive nightlife as for her five seasons on the hit reality show “The Simple Life.” Since then, Ms. Hilton, 42, has parlayed her fame into a multifaceted career that has included working as a model, musician, D.J., actor, entrepreneur and an unusually zealous purveyor of NFTs. And in January, she welcomed a baby named Phoenix, whom she is raising with her husband, the venture capitalist Carter Reum.
As part of a New York Times event on Twitter, we talked to the party-girl-turned-mogul on Tuesday about her new book, “Paris: The Memoir,” which dives into the glamour of her public persona as well as the abuse she experienced for almost two years at several live-in “troubled teen” facilities.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How have you prepared yourself for a media tour where you’re going to be asked about traumatic things?
Most of my career I was playing a character, and people had no idea what I had really went through. And now that I’ve written this book, people are just realizing that I’ve lived through some very traumatic experiences, and it was really difficult to put them on paper. But it’s also been such an amazing time for me to really discover myself in ways I didn’t even know before.
You’ve become quite an advocate for investigating and regulating the “troubled teen” industry.
I’ve been going to D.C. and meeting with senators and legislators and explaining to them what’s happening behind closed doors. I am proud to use my voice and my platform to shine a huge spotlight on such an important issue. I know that I’m so proud of the woman I’ve become. And I just know that the little girl in me would be so proud of who I am today.
Speaking of which, you’ve been really open about how you deploy your literal voice — like, you speak in a baby voice when you want things.
I really see the character that I invented as a trauma response to what I went through, where I just kind of wanted to invent this kind of perfect-life Barbie doll character just to not have to think of the trauma that I had went through. And then when I got “The Simple Life,” then I had to continue playing that character season after season. And then going into interviews and doing it. And I feel that it was almost — or, it is and it was — a mask where I just felt like I could be someone else. And, you know, I feel like a lot of people have misunderstood me for a long time and underestimated me. And I’m proud now to show who I really am.
In your book, you talk about pretending to be your own assistant by doing a raspy, husky voice. Is there any way we could hear what that sounds like?
Yeah. [in what could be described as a New York accent] I would talk like this, and “I’m from Brooklyn” and “Paris is going to be available. I just have to check her schedule.” It worked.
You said in your book that you have five phones. One is for prank calls. Can you tell me why you need an entire phone for prank calls?
Because it’s something that we just love doing. My mom and my sister and I just have been prank calling people for so many years. When people press star 67 and it’s a blocked number, a lot of people don’t want to answer. So it’s just better to have another phone for that. My mom is the one who’s really good at it. She’s the O.G.
What is the difference between being famous now versus when you were first starting to be famous?
Now I’ve parlayed it into a huge business and a brand. It was so much fun, but it was also really hard because the media was just so cruel to us back then.
Are there are things about that era that you miss?
There was nothing like the 2000s before social media. People used to just be so free and just actually have fun and talk and dance. And now I just feel that everyone just has their phone with them. So it’s just a completely different experience.
A quote from your book that really jumped out at me: “I was struggling to understand my sexuality; there’s no way I could have explained it to anyone else. I had no language for it. I’d never heard the word asexual.” Why did you include that passage?
I think just because I had been through such traumatic experiences that it made me scared of the idea of letting someone in like that. And yeah, I think just what I went through, it made it really difficult for me to feel comfortable about that. So I just — I just — I don’t know, I just thought of myself that way because it wasn’t something that I enjoyed.
Do you feel as if that identity still applies to you?
I had such huge walls around my heart for so long. And it wasn’t until Carter that those walls came crashing down. I feel that maybe God put me through this so one day I could use it and help others. And I’m doing that now, and I feel like I have like a true mission in life now, in turning my pain into a purpose.