She'd never really gone away but, this summer, it feels as though we're enjoying a Paris Hilton revival. Her debut single "Stars are Blind" – the one Olly from Years & Years says is a better song than he'll ever write – is getting a 2017 remix. She's just launched her 23rd perfume, the name of which, Rosé Rush, sounds like an excuse for every bad decision you'll make between now and September. And more of her tweets are lighting up our feeds because her social media game is on fire. With typical chutzpah, Paris Hilton has been sharing memes of herself, and they're everything.
Some people have tried to say Paris Hilton became famous because of a sex tape, 1 Night in Paris, which was released by a scuzzy ex-boyfriend without her permission. But I'm not sure that many of her fans ever saw the tape or really remember it happened. Frankly, the only aspect of Paris Hilton's bedroom life I care about is whether she has pillowcases with her own face on them, which I really hope she does. The actual source of her enduring appeal is her hilarious, self-deprecating performance on The Simple Life, the pioneering reality show that ran from 2003-2007. "What is Walmart, do they sell like wall stuff?" she tweeted the other day, referencing one of her classic one-liners from the show.
The Simple Life's premise was low-key genius: take two super-rich LA socialites, Paris and then-BFF Nicole Richie, and make them do low-paid jobs in locations where no one ever orders sushi to go. The show really flew because of Paris and Nicole's infectious chemistry. In early seasons, before their friendship began to crack, they were clearly having a blast and knew intuitively how to squeeze the fun from any situation. Who can forget the time they were sent to work at a fast food joint and changed its roadside sign to read "1/2 price anal salty weiner burgers?"
A decade after the show ended, Paris says her Simple Life persona can still precede her. "People think because of the character I played — people assume before they meet me that I'm a really ditzy dumb blonde. That's the one thing that kind of annoys me sometimes," she told Refinery29 recently. "With everything that's happening, though, with my business, I think people can understand that you couldn't possibly get this far being a dumb blonde."
Paris has every right to vent a little. For one thing, she wasn't really playing a "dumb blonde" on The Simple Life. Her persona was actually more nuanced than this: she acted oblivious because she was so entitled – not because she was stupid – and she displayed the carefree charisma of someone young, fun and privileged. Sometimes we rolled our eyes at her; more often, we wished we could be more like her.
A couple of years after The Simple Life ended, I witnessed the Paris Hilton savvy first-hand. She was over in London to promote Paris Hilton's British Best Friend, her reasonably entertaining follow-up show, and I was one of around 30 journalists offered a three-minute video interview with her. Now, it's tough to have any kind of meaningful conversation with someone in three minutes, but my editor at the time figured this was Actual Paris Hilton FFS, so we did it. Throughout our brief encounter, Paris barely seemed to look up from her BlackBerry and said nothing that sounded like good copy. I came away wishing I'd come up with some better questions, thinking the whole thing had been a waste of time. But the next day, our videographer showed me an edit of the interview and I was pleasantly surprised. You couldn't see Paris playing on her BlackBerry because she'd worked out her angles before we began filming, and on camera, her answers were actually pretty engaging. She'd just conducted an interview while simultaneously emailing a business associate or texting one of her mates. And she totally got away with it. I'll bet she did the same thing 30 other times that day.
On a micro level, my encounter with Paris shows the smarts she's used to build a supremely impressive business empire. As well as those 23 perfumes, she's put her name to books, shoes, jewellery, sunglasses, handbags and more – in the Middle East, there are dozens of Paris Hilton stores in high-end shopping malls. She's also carved out a lucrative career as a celebrity DJ with a long-term Las Vegas residency. In a way, Paris set the template for the Kardashian-Jenner clan: as we all know, Kim K's early claim to fame was her friendship with the Simple Life star. But somehow, Paris never seems to make the same tone-deaf errors of judgment as she builds her personal brand.
And perhaps because she's stepped away from reality TV in recent years, Paris Hilton almost feels like a reminder of more innocent times. Sure, The Simple Life was contrived, but it wasn't half as contrived as the shows that came after it. Unlike many of today's reality stars, Paris never seems to complain about a loss of privacy or the exhausting business of being famous. When her home was burgled repeatedly by a group of teenagers known as "The Bling Ring", Paris gamely appeared in Sofia Coppola's film about the incident – and even opened her home to the director for filming.
So if Paris Hilton feels like a slight throwback in 2017, she's a very welcome one. This is a woman who can make a trip to Superdrug in Liverpool aboard a Virgin Train seem aspirational and glamorous. Yes, she won big in the genetic lottery, but Paris Hilton has always eaten up the opportunities she's been given. "The way I see it, you should live every day like it’s your birthday," Paris once said, and most of the time she seems to do just that. She's a mimosa and a mani-pedi on a rainy day, a spritz of perfume after a stuffy Tube ride, a Selfridges gift token in your work birthday card. To paraphrase her most famous saying: That's still hot.