Monday, December 08, 2003

The Observer | International | Sex video gives Paris Hilton publicity money can't buy 

The Observer | International | Sex video gives Paris Hilton publicity money can't buy
She is a party-loving socialite heiress whose amateur sex video fuelled an internet frenzy and sparked a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the world's most famous hotel-owning family.
But as Paris Hilton pleads her embarrassment and regret at the damage done to the family name, suspicions are growing that the entire episode might have been one giant and well-timed publicity stunt designed to further the career of America's newest celebrity obsession.

The scandal broke just before last week's television premiere of a new reality show starring 22-year-old Hilton, blonde great-granddaughter of hotel empire founder Conrad Hilton, who with her younger sister, Nicky, stands to inherit up to $30 million of the family's estimated $5.2bn fortune.

The Simple Life, in which the pampered Hilton and best friend and fellow 'heirhead' Nicole Richie, daughter of pop star Lionel Richie, swap the Beverly Hills and New York party circuits for 30 days working on an Arkansas farm, was panned by critics yet still attracted 13 million viewers.

'It all seems very convenient and worked just right for her in the run-up to the show,' said Cynthia Cotts, a respected columnist on New York's Village Voice newspaper, which has been following Hilton's rise from obscurity.

'It's impossible to know what drove the release of the sex tape, but I look at who benefits and that's Fox TV and Paris Hilton. Whether she actually came up with this hare-brained scheme herself is irrelevant when you look at the publicity it attracted.'

Excerpts of the grainy three-year-old tape, shot in night-vision and featuring Hilton and former boyfriend Rick Salomon engaged in various sexual acts, became one of the year's hottest internet downloads, despite a deal reached between the Hilton family and porn company Marvad Corp to prevent copies of the 27-minute video being sold commercially.

Hilton's parents, Rick and Kathy, say they will take legal action against anyone seeking to distribute the tape and are in turn being sued for $10 million by Salomon for defamation. He claims that the family and their publicist, Siri Garber, have in effect accused him of rape following suggestions that Hilton was underage or incapacitated when the film was shot.

Those who have seen the tape describe it as average, with notorious radio DJ Howard Stern rating the action as 'four out of 10' at best. The highlight is when Hilton, who is fully aware of the camera's presence, leaps off the bed to answer her mobile telephone.

At first she denied the film's existence, but now says she is upset at the hurt she has caused her family. 'I'm just so embarrassed,' she told this week's Us magazine. 'I don't want to go out any more, I don't want to party. Every time people see me, it's all they'll be able to think about.'

Hilton's stock as a celebrity, however, continues to rise, despite her lack of any discernible talent other than an ability to court the attention of the paparazzi. She and her 20-year-old sister share a permanent suite at the family-owned New York Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and photographs of them at showbiz parties in various states of undress appear regularly in the city's newspapers and magazines.

In The Simple Life, Hilton, who is said to spend $1,000 a month on tanning sessions, admits proudly that she has never had a job. The nearest she has come is bit parts, ironically as a partygoer, in the 2001 film Zoolander and this year's The Cat in the Hat.

New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson has been charting Hilton's activities since she hit the East Coast social circuit at the age of 16 and believes she might not be as contrite as she makes out about her role in the sex scandal.

'When people were saying she was devastated by it, I wasn't buying it,' he said. 'It's very difficult to get Paris upset about anything that's written about her, she's very thick-skinned. I don't think this tape thing has slowed her down in the least. If anything, it's had the opposite effect.'

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