There's a scene in a new documentary about Paris Hilton, where the so-called socialite is speaking with former classmates from a Utah boarding school. They joke about how on her reality series The Simple Life, Hilton pretended to be clueless over many things— including how to perform any sort of manual labor.
One bluntly described it as "some straight-up (expletive)," as they all laughed.
"I don't think you had like a high-pitch voice back then," was another observation.
None of this is a surprise to Hilton. What's revealed in This is Paris, which debuted for free on Monday on Hilton's YouTube channel, is that the ultra glam, baby-talking young woman whose standard line was "that's hot", was a manufactured caricature not just for fame but self-protection, too.
Hilton says as a teen she got into the nightlife scene and would sneak out and go to clubs while her family lived at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Her exasperated parents sent her away to various programmes to straighten out. There was an outdoor wilderness camp where Hilton and another girl tried to escape. Hilton claims they were caught and beaten in front of others as punishment.
When she was 17, Hilton was finally sent to what she describes as "the worst of the worst": Provo Canyon School in Utah.
"This is the only place where it's impossible to run away. So it's basically like that one place that they all talk about at the other places saying, 'If you run away or you're bad, you're going to be sent to Provo'," said Hilton.
She stayed at Provo for 11 months and says while there, she was abused mentally and physically, claiming staff would beat her, force her to take unknown pills, watch her shower and send her to solitary confinement without clothes as punishment.
The 39-year-old says the treatment was so "traumatising" that she suffered nightmares and insomnia for years.
"We are aware of a new documentary referencing Provo Canyon School (PCS). Please note that PCS was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time," the school said in a statement on its website.
Attempts to find the previous owners for comment were unsuccessful.
Hilton says when she agreed to be the subject of This is Paris, it was never her intention to speak about past abuses, but she opened up as she became more comfortable with director Alexandra Dean.
Hilton said while she was at Provo, she decided she wanted complete control in her life and image. That meant she would never tell anyone about what happened to her there. She also wanted to be very, very wealthy.
"I saw success as freedom and I just imagined this glamorous life. .. I made all these plans of what I wanted to be. And all I cared about was being successful and independent."
For someone who has been criticized for being famous for no reason, Hilton has built a multi-billion dollar company around her image. She has branded stores in the Middle East and Asia, is a successful DJ, and has released 27 fragrances, among other products.
"It turns out that whole machine, all that attention she got, the paparazzi, the insta-fame, it was all a creation of this traumatised girl trying to figure out how to climb her way out of this hole she was in," said Dean. "She attracted it all. In some ways she created it all. What I want people to know is that they should give her credit for being immensely innovative, but they should also understand that what they watched was not the person, but the shield that she constructed to protect herself."
Hilton says since speaking out about what happened at Provo, she feels free. She's now sleeping through the night and no longer has nightmares. She also says she's happy and in a healthy relationship with businessman Carter Reum.
Her life has slowed down in the past six months due to the pandemic, and she's no longer traveling for work. Hilton says she likes it this way and plans to continue to be more choosy about leaving home. "I'm moving on to the next phase of my life."
She's also hopeful that speaking out against programmes like Provo will deter parents from sending their kids to similar situations.
"I would never recommend that to any family ever, because I think it just causes more drama and more issues than anyone would ever have."
She's now a part of the Breaking Code Silence movement, a network dedicated to raising awareness about the "troubled teen industry".
"The parents are manipulated and lied to and told a completely different story," she said. "I think it's important to do your research."