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    • Jen: Oh wow ! Paris now has 17 million twitter followers and climbing. Each year she is getting more and more...
    • Dawn: Just noticed that Paris now has SEVENTEEN MILLION followers on twitter. Congratulations to Paris.
    • Jen: Hilarious. Didn’t PINK just announce that her marriage is shaky & she hardly has sex with her husband?...
    • Jen: sounds good !
    • Dawn: LOVE her fragrances. All of them are very good and last for many hours.
    • Benji: Iggy is my favorite female rapper! Love that she & Paris are friends! #AustraliaRepresent
    • admin: I saw that Howard Stern clip, Trump didn’t say anything offense. All he said was that he found her...

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    Checking in with Paris Hilton

    On a gray, gusty autumn afternoon in a city preparing for an incoming storm, Paris Hilton manages to steal even Mother Nature’s thunder.

    Months before snippets of her private sex video became public, the now-infamous Hilton hotels heiress arrives for lunch nearly three hours late. She’s here to promote her Fox reality series The Simple Life, premiering tonight (8:30 p.m. ET/PT). The show, shot in five weeks in rural Arkansas, has her and pal Nicole Richie roughing it on a farm to prove that they’re not idle, spoiled rich girls who don’t know what Wal-Marts or water wells are.

    “I was playing a character,” drawls Hilton, 22. “I’m totally normal. I think it’s obnoxious when people demand limos or bodyguards. I eat at McDonald’s or Taco Bell. My parents always taught us to be humble. We’re not spoiled.”

    The we refers to her sidekick Nicky, 20. Together, they’re the Hilton sisters, two platinum-blond party hoppers who’ve never met a red carpet or camera they didn’t love. Until, that is, a three-minute highlight reel of the 27-minute sex tape Paris made with then-boyfriend Rick Salomon three years ago somehow surfaced on the Internet in November.

    The brouhaha can only boost ratings for The Simple Life, but Fox execs refused to comment on what impact, if any, it might have. As for Hilton, she’s gone into seclusion. Aside from a teary lunch at the Ivy and an L.A. shopping expedition with an unknown male companion, the once spotlight-loving socialite has been out of sight.

    “She’s very upset about this tragedy that’s occurred,” says her father, Rick Hilton, who spent Thanksgiving weekend in the Hamptons with his family, Paris included. “She seems to be recuperating from it, but she’s quite devastated from it all.”

    Paris has been paying the price for her indiscretion.

    “I can’t walk the streets,” she told Us Weekly as she flew to Los Angeles from Australia. “It’s too embarrassing. I don’t want to go out anymore. I don’t want to party. This has really made me think about changes I want to make.”

    Even during this interview, in a secluded corner of Oscar’s eatery in the Waldorf, Hilton draws gapes from diners, waiters, busboys. In person, she is an innocuously pleasant mix of languid, jaded entitlement and giggly every-girl awkwardness. She saunters in clad in a powder-blue velour sweat suit, her perilously low-cut pants perched on those narrow boyish hips.

    “Everywhere we go, people know us,” she admits.

    “Last night, we were at the party for Elite Models, and there were no cabs on 42nd Street, so we walked. Every single person, even those 80 years old, were surrounding us and taking pictures. We stood there for literally an hour. It was really annoying.”

    That gawking is the result of Hilton’s relentless pursuit and attainment of a peculiar sort of celebrity. She’s famous purely for being famous — for being sexy, saucy Paris. Her friends swear she’s a good kid with big dreams, but she has a reputation as outsized as her inheritance, estimated at $30 million. Yet the tabloids tell a different story.

    “She’s really a smart, very nice person.”

    Sure, she wears skimpy dresses, prances down catwalks and jets from party to premiere. But Hilton, say those around her, is just having fun.

    “She likes to go out and have a good time,” says Manhattan publicist Lizzie Grubman, who has known Hilton for six years. “But that doesn’t mean alcohol and drugs are involved.”

    In fact, insists Paris, she doesn’t even hit the bottle. “I hate the taste of alcohol,” she says. “When I’m drinking, I’m drinking Red Bull. When I was younger, yeah, I drank before.”

    It’s that before, though, that’s been raising eyebrows for the past six years. Back then, a teenage Paris, accompanied by Nicky, started hitting the New York party circuit full force. Big deal, shrugs Hilton, adding that “if you were 16 or 17 and invited to these parties, and you could get in, and you knew all those people, you’d go, too.”

    It was a feature in the September 2000 issue of Vanity Fair that first introduced the Hilton sisters as skin-baring, party-hopping, limelight-loving teen socialites. To this day, Hilton is furious about the article, calling the writer “mean-spirited. We were 18 and 15 at the time. To do that to little girls is so messed up. It was really hurtful. That was the beginning of it all, of everyone trying to be mean.”

    Now, Paris, the oldest daughter of Rick Hilton and his wife, former child actress Kathy Richards, wants to be taken seriously. She was born in New York, raised in Los Angeles and attended a slew of posh schools on both coasts, including Professional Children’s, Dwight and Buckley and a school for troubled kids in Utah. Her father won’t confirm if she ever earned a high school diploma. But, says Richie, who has been best friends with Hilton for years, “She’s really a smart, very nice person. She’s a good, good, good person, and if you spend 10 minutes with her, you know that.”

    But if you know Hilton at all, it’s from seeing her strike saucy poses at the September premiere of Wonderland or the Scary Movie 3 bash. Hilton shrugs off her party monster image, saying she goes out only to promote her work and is home by 10 p.m., although most movie after-parties, at which Hilton is in frequent attendance, usually don’t get going until well past that.

    “They always want to get that money shot.”

    Suddenly, Hilton’s social antics have been overshadowed by that notorious sex tape. It’s still unclear who released the video of Hilton and Salomon having sex. She was 19, he 30. A three-minute preview appeared on the Internet, but the Hiltons threatened to sue anyone who released the tape. Salomon, who still has the original and says he had nothing to do with the tape going public, has filed a $10 million slander suit against the Hiltons for their “cold, calculated and malicious campaign to portray Salomon as a rapist who took advantage of a sweet and innocent girl.”

    During the course of this interview, Hilton bragged that she had wised up about getting down and dirty in photo shoots or on the screen.

    “I’m so smart now,” she says. “Everyone is always like, ‘Take your top off.’ Sorry, no! They always want to get that money shot. I’m not stupid.”

    Richie, who has spoken to her pal since the tape was first leaked, says Hilton is “hanging in there. She’s doing the best she can.”

    It’s doubly difficult, says Grubman, because Hilton is “very sensitive. She cares what people think about her.”

    Grubman is no stranger to scandal. She went to jail for 60 days after backing her SUV into a crowd outside a Hamptons nightclub in July 2001 and injuring 16 people.

    Her advice? “Be strong. She should keep on keeping a low profile, and she’ll survive this.”

    Some aren’t shocked that Hilton, who in real life and on her Fox show sashays around in sky-high stilettos, butt-baring jeans and plunging tops, has now starred in a skin flick. Simon Doonan, author of Wacky Chicks: Life Lessons From Fearlessly Inappropriate and Fabulously Eccentric Women and creative director of the ultra-stylish Barney’s New York, has socialized with Hilton. She seems, he says, “like a delightful girl who took a wrong turn and adopted a slutty style that’s had a profound effect on her life.”

    “I’m trying to work hard.”

    Hilton has no plans to join the family business and doesn’t regret bypassing college. “I don’t feel it’s necessary for me, for what I want to do. I just think me wasting four years. I’m just pulling myself back.”

    What she wants to do is sing and act, ambitions that make her dad “very proud.” She’s recording her first album and landing small roles in this year’s gritty Wonderland and the comedy The Cat in the Hat as a club-goer. Aside from her cameo in Zoolander, Hilton has no desire to “be Paris Hilton in every movie. I want to be an actress.”

    That’s why she decided to star in The Simple Life, one of the hundreds of shows that she says have been offered to her. “Everything we do is real, but I was just playing a part. If I knew what everything was and did everything right, it wouldn’t be funny.”

    Perhaps for the first time in her life, Hilton had a midnight curfew. She was up at dawn every day to work. “It was more than milking cows,” she says. “We had so many jobs. We worked in fast-food restaurants, as taxidermists, in a gas station, as commercial fishermen.”

    She does none of the above in Hollywood, where she shares a mansion with Nicky. Paris wakes up at 9 or 10 a.m., goes to auditions or acting classes, lunches with girlfriends, shops “a little, but not every day. I’m trying to work hard and do something with myself.”

    Although she has been linked with everyone from Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley to Jamie Kennedy and Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Hilton laughs at her rumored romantic exploits. She says she wants to “find the right guy and get married.”

    Like her mother, who had Paris at 18, Hilton plans on being a young mom.

    “I want to have kids in the next two or three years. I just haven’t found the right person. I can’t wait to have a little daughter and dress her up.”

    And, hopefully, teach her to keep the clothes on — and cameras off.

    By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY

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