Paris Hilton in "The World According to Paris." (Sheryl Nields )
When you're sitting in Paris Hilton's living room, plenty of things catch your attention. The half-dozen dogs, three Munchkin cats (bred to have absurdly miniature legs), and one 150-pound pot-bellied pig sashaying around the backyard pool. The Pepto-Bismol-pink Maserati in the driveway, next to the powder-blue Maserati. The throw pillows emblazoned with pictures of her famous face. The two gigantic nudes of herself on opposing walls, displayed above gold-trimmed couches.
But it's the voice — that's the thing that stands out most when you sit down for a talk with Paris Hilton. It's mature. Deep, even. "Yeah, I have a normal voice," Hilton said. "That's the one thing people say when they meet me. That I don't speak like I do on TV. I don't speak like a baby."
Poised and perfectly coiffed, with long, white-blond extensions tumbling below thin shoulders, the hotel heiress is promoting her latest reality series (her third, for those keeping track). "The World According to Paris" airs Wednesday on Oxygen, a basic-cable channel that targets women and is owned by NBC. It's pitched as being different from anything else she's done because this is, as Hilton puts it, "the real" her.
"I wanted to get at this whole spoiled-heiress perception," said the great-granddaughter of hotelier Conrad Hilton. "There are a lot of heirs out there that don't work because they don't have to. That's not me. I've had success on my own. I bought this house myself, I've bought every car I own. It's all me and my hard work."
She speaks with such self-assurance, the fluffy eccentricities of her home seem almost out of place. But that's Hilton today — a woman in between, intent on recasting, repackaging and reinventing herself again. Less than a decade ago, she was the Kim Kardashian of her day — a wealthy, attractive young woman, largely famous for being famous, who starred as a cover girl for gossip magazines and websites. And despite landing in a water-cooler-popular reality TV program, her light in the celebrity-industrial complex faded after a film career never materialized and she experienced several high-profile legal problems.
Determined to forge ahead, she's eager to blow up that bubble-headed party girl image in favor of that of a savvy businesswoman, in the vein of Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart.
"That's who I look up to," Hilton said. "But the media doesn't want to talk about me like that. They don't talk about my charity work or the fact that I've developed 17 product lines, or that I just launched my 12th fragrance line and the fragrances earn millions every year. They just want to say, 'Oh, she went to this party.'"
Paris Hilton watches, handbags, pet apparel, hair-care products, eyelashes, false nails, shoes and scrapbooking materials are sold in 35 countries, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and the Philippines. (Indeed, her fragrance line alone has earned more than $1.3 billion since launching in 2004, according to her perfume partner and distributor Parlux Fragrances Inc.) By year's end, she'll add sunglasses, apparel, and — watch out, Martha Stewart — bed linens.
Yes, this is the Hilton pictured clubbing coast to coast, who served 23 days in jail for driving on a suspended license after a DUI, the one arrested in Las Vegas last August for suspicion of cocaine possession. Hilton has behaved in ways that could have relegated her to nothing more than a frivolous, pop culture footnote.
"Everybody makes mistakes," she said. "It's just, not everybody has to do it in front of the world.... I can't change the past. I can just learn from my mistakes."
She also hit an important milestone in February, when she, the world's best-known party girl, turned 30. Suddenly, the simple-minded rich girl rep she helped create through personal foibles and vacuous reality shows like "The Simple Life" and "My New BFF" felt all wrong.
"When I did the 'Simple Life,'" Hilton said, "the producers told me it was supposed to be 'Green Acres' meets 'Clueless.' So that's what I gave them. It was fun. But it gave the world this perception of me. People assume that's who I am."
Most recently, Hilton had to face down another label — racist — after journalist Neil Strauss claimed in a new book that in 1999 the heiress told him she "can't stand black guys" and would never date one.
"I have never said anything like that in my life," Hilton said, adding she's never even met Strauss. "But that's the hardest thing. People want to make a name for themselves, so they will make up stories and use me in a negative way."
Perhaps the deepest scar from the past stems from that sex tape, involving ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon, who sold the footage in 2004 to adult film company Red Light District Video for sale and distribution. Rumors flew that rather than endure an ugly court battle to shut it down, Hilton accepted a settlement offer and a cut of the profit.