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She has Paris Hilton's number

A UCLA student with the heiress' old phone number gets calls for the celebutante. She doesn't mind.

July 06, 2007|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Shira Barlow had her new cellphone number for only two days when the flood of calls began.

Birthday wishes, inquiries about locations for "in" parties, requests to get on guest lists at the hottest Los Angeles nightclubs.

Most of the calls were placed between 2 and 4 a.m. on weekends. Some were annoying. Many involved slurred words.

When the callers were told they had reached a UCLA college student, they refused to believe it.

"Baby girl, how are you?" a man purred in a foreign accent.

"Why are you doing this?" one woman asked. "This is so rude."

Little did Barlow -- or her callers -- know that she had inherited the phone number of one of the nation's most ubiquitous and sought-after young celebrities: Paris Hilton.

At first, the junior communications major thought the random references to "Paris" were some kind of nickname.

"I didn't make the connection," Barlow said of the initial calls.

But by the time Hilton was sentenced to jail in June for violating her probation, there was no avoiding it.

It all began on St. Valentine's Day during a night out in West Hollywood out with friends, Barlow said.

She was carrying her black Motorola Razr in a back pocket when it fell into a toilet.

The next day she went to replace her submerged cell. When she got the new phone, her wireless carrier insisted that Barlow be assigned a new number with a 310 area code rather than her 415 prefix.

"I was bummed," the San Francisco native said. "It's part of your identity."

As it turned out, Barlow had inherited a recycled phone number that still was very much part of Hilton's identity.

The practice stems from efforts by regulators earlier in the decade to conserve phone numbers to minimize the splitting of area codes.

Service carriers say it is common for them to hold numbers for users an average of six months before reassigning them.

In theory, the wait allows people to inform family, friends and business associates about the change.

But Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers' Action Network, says the turnaround time for recycled numbers is closer to three months -- or as little as one.

That means many people don't get the message of a switched number.

But what if the old number belongs to a VIP or celebrity?

Lansing, Mich., high school student Katie Kamar found that out this year when she randomly inherited the phone number formerly belonging to Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.

Calls for the governor came in during the wee hours. At their peak, there were about half dozen a day from everyone from business owners to the Fraternal Order of Police.

New York City resident Laura Maxwell still gets calls for entertainer Chris Rock on the cell number she got three years ago from Verizon.

Maxwell, who included the story on her personal website and in a forthcoming book, says she fielded calls from movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, directors Spike Lee and Peter Farrelly, and Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Damon Wayans. Jack Nicholson's office called several times.

After reading her story, half a dozen people contacted her with similar experiences, though they said none was "as exciting as getting Chris Rock's number."

Rather than an annoyance, Maxwell said Rock's former number has been a boon.

"How could you not be entertained by getting the phone number of an A-list Hollywood celebrity?" Maxwell said.

Barlow agreed that it was amusing to inherit the phone number of a celebrity.

The Times came across Barlow when a reporter dialed a number that several sources had said was Hilton's mobile line.

The first flurry of calls and text messages came within days of the heiress' Feb. 17 birthday, just after Barlow got her new phone.

"Oh my God," a caller said, indicative of most. "Where's the party?"

One weekend, Barlow answered a call and was lectured by an unidentified woman who took umbrage when asked if she was calling from Florida.

"I'm so insulted. You must be on drugs," the woman said before calling back five times to lecture Barlow on how "tacky" people were from the Sunshine State.

Another time, she had a half-hour conversation with an aspiring rap artist who, after learning he was not talking with Hilton, still invited Barlow to a party.

More often than not, however, the conversations were brief and polite. Then came the day that Hilton went to court for violating probation after pleading no contest to an alcohol-related reckless driving charge.

Barlow was at her internship at a Westside production company May 4 when Hilton was sentenced to jail.

In short order, calls and texts that previously inquired about parties and nightclubs were replaced by dozens expressing their condolences.

"People were scared for her," Barlow said.

The phone traffic trailed off when Hilton entered jail, even during her brief release to home detention.

But with Hilton now free again, a new crop of communiques is flooding Barlow's telephone.

There was Hilton's former bodyguard who sent his love.

A girlfriend called to commiserate and lend support. Barlow told the caller she had received good wishes from dozens of people.

Text messages also expressed love. "It's disgusting how they treated you in there, but once again you have showed the world that you can do anything," one wrote. Said another: "I'm so proud of you."

"I hope you're enjoying Maui," one of the messages read Wednesday.

Barlow resisted the temptation to pose as the heiress to get herself and friends on the guest list of exclusive parties.

But she did message supporters "thanks so much," believing Hilton would appreciate it.

Barlow plans to keep the number because she says it has been a greater source of amusement than a hassle.

Plus, she said, "It was really out of convenience. I didn't want to switch again."

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

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