x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

She'll always have Paris

Saloon The hotel heiress talks to Dubai

Hilton in Dubai:"The media presents a false persona. On this show you'll see the real me."
Hilton in Dubai:"The media presents a false persona. On this show you'll see the real me."

The hotel heiress talks to Dubai. At the far end of a conference room at the Dubai InterCon, on an elevated trestle table, the trappings of the press conference were in place: seven chairs, seven water bottles, seven name cards. There were also seven microphones - all bunched around a single seat. To the front and left of the dais, two dozen photographers had been herded into a velvet-roped pen, where they clacked lenses and perspired heavily. The rest of the room was crammed with the editors and writers of the region's society pages, all of whom leaned forward like a single organism when Paris Hilton made her entrance.

"Is this on?" Hilton said, tapping the microphone in her hand. "Is this thing on?" It wasn't. As the event's star attraction continued to tap the dodgy mike, you could just make out the sound of a thousand toes curling, and for a moment, Hilton's trademark perma-smirk looked in danger of slipping. But the crowd was in a forgiving mood. "We love you Paris!" shouted someone from the back. By the time you read this, Hilton will have been in Dubai for about a week, with two left to go. The hotel heiress has been in town to shoot the much-ballyhooed Paris Hilton's Dubai BFF, the latest instalment of the reality TV show in which contestants vie for the opportunity to savour, however fleetingly, the fruits of the wealthy starlet's patronage.

It's not only Paris's prospective friends who want a piece of her. Over the last year or so, in the wake of a global media backlash and a plummeting property market, Dubai's reputation as a destination for the monied masses has taken a hit. Who better to restore the city to its former heights than the Queen of Sheen? In terms of celebrity endorsements, you couldn't ask for a better fit. She even provided us with a tagline: "Dubai: It's hot!"

The media at the event gobbled this line up, along with everything else that came out of Hilton's mouth. Which was odd. Normally, journalists here cultivate attitudes of eye-rolling, yawn-stifling apathy. On this night, though, the entire corps seemed about to lapse into fits of goodness-me giggles. When invited to ask Hilton questions, most did so with clammy, hand-wringing deference. "Hi, Paris!" chirped one reporter. "Who did your dress?"

Hilton had on a gaudy, greeny floor-length gown, the kind of thing a fairy tale princess might wear at her wedding to a frog. It was designed by somebody local, Hilton told us. "My stylist choosed it." I leaned into the woman scribbling notes beside me and hissed, "Choosed is mine." She looked up and gave me a pained, split-second smile. "What do you look for in a BFF?" asked another. "Somebody loyal, someone with a good heart," Hilton replied, adding, "I meet a lot of people, especially in Hollywood, who are fake."

Hilton went on to say that she loves the "culture and fashion" of the Middle East, which drew a round of applause. She's looking forward to the indoor skiing, she added, and "swimming with the dolphins". But Hilton's time in Dubai wouldn't be all fun and games. "Everywhere I travel, I always do my part," she said. "Like charity, visiting an orphanage." And, of course, there would be her quest to find a new best friend.

When someone asked Hilton whether any of her previous BFFs have found fame as a result of the show, she lost her cool. "This is not about fame," she snapped. "I want people to love me for me. Anyone who is in this for fame shouldn't apply." "Do we know the real Paris Hilton?" asked one reporter. "The media presents a false persona," Hilton replied. "On this show you'll see the real me." Around the dimly-lit room, a hundred people hunched over their notebooks, eyebrows pinched in concentration. "I'm kind." Scribble, scribble. "I'm giving." Jot, jot. Hilton's face, meanwhile, revealed nothing. She smirked. She smirked some more. And then, at the end, she swished up and down the makeshift catwalk, the media at her feet.

Later, at the opening-night party of the nearby Bed Lounge, a few photographers milled around, sipping paid-for drinks and comparing identical snapshots, sticking around on the off chance that Hilton might show up. She didn't. The new club is situated in a dome-shaped marquee behind Festival City, and its plastic windows blurred the Dubai skyline. At 10pm, the room was still quiet, and the photographers began packing up their gear. Next door, a funfair was in full swing, its lurid lights dancing on the flat black surface of the creek.

* Chris Wright