Dismissed as a brainless bimbo, and the star of a sex tape that titillated around the world, Paris Hilton was more an international joke than an It girl.
But now the professional party girl is enjoying the last laugh, emerging as one of the most powerful players in America`s celebrity landscape. Hilton has created a huge, lucrative business empire which includes nightclubs, her own clothing brands, an energy drink and, of course, herself - last week she admitted charging up to $200,000 for a 20-minute appearance at parties. `If it`s in Japan
, I get more,` she said.
The rise and rise of a woman seemingly famous for being famous has stunned celebrity-watchers. `Paris Hilton is A-list. She`s a genuinely really big star,` said Professor Robert Thompson, a popular culture expert at Syracuse University. She`s also a canny money-making machine. Her business interests stretch far beyond posing for paparazzi. She has her own perfume line and is planning brands of make-up and a men`s cologne. She sells her own jewellery, clothing and handbag lines. As befitting an heiress with the Hilton name, she will soon launch a chain of hotels.
She co-owns the Club Paris nightclub in Orlando, and is expected to roll out a chain of similarly branded nightspots in other cities, including Las Vegas and Miami. Hilton also has a record deal in the works, stars in the horror film House of Wax now showing in the US and is to shoot the fourth series of her reality-TV show The Simple Life .
`She has become this amazing American story. She is a complete 21st-century celebrity, using all these new outlets,` said Thompson. Some are even comparing Hilton`s burgeoning success with that of another master of self-promotion, Donald Trump.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that Hilton has already written her autobiography - she is 24. Confessions of an Heiress is full of self-parodying advice to future wannabe stars. One section on how to be rich unhelpfully suggests: `Be born into the right family. Choose your chromosomes wisely.` Another contains the instructions: `Never, ever wake up before 10: never go to bed before three. Normal hours are for normal people. You never want to be normal.` Despite, or because of, such inane prose, the book has been a bestseller, at more than 100,000 copies. It is now on its 12th print run.
This is all a long way from the release of the infamous sex tape last year which first catapulted Hilton into public consciousness. The homemade tape of her having sex with her then boyfriend, Rick Solomon, rapidly spread via the internet, then became one of the bestselling pornographic videos ever, inspiring acres of newsprint across the globe. Far from destroying Hilton, the film made her. She publicly condemned it and claimed to be a victim of a cruel ex-lover, but it also made her a lot of money with a cut of the royalties.
`Bizarrely, that was her equivalent of a breakthrough role for a movie star. Everything else she has done was built on that sex tape,` said Thompson.
Although derided as brainless, Hilton has shown a genius for creating celebrity. She has signed with top Hollywood agency Endeavor after being pursued by dozens of rival companies. Her publicist is famed Los Angeles PR man Rob Shuter, who handles celebrity entrepreneurs including Sean Combs, better known as P Diddy.
To cap it all, the New York Times published a gushing profile and interview last week. The article was a long way from the tabloid fodder and gossip columns from where Hilton emerged. She told the paper: `Now I`m trying to build an empire. I don`t want to be known as this Hilton hotel girl my whole life. I want to make my own name.`
Against all the odds, and many people`s idea of good taste, it seems Paris Hilton is doing exactly that.