Twenty years ago, Paris Hilton was the stiletto-heeled embodiment of the zeitgeist. With a chihuahua called Diamond Baby kennelled in her designer handbag, this nepotistic partygoer juggled five mobile phones while cantering across continents to sell branded merchandise to the fans she smarmily addresses as “my Little Hiltons”. Now, in her early 40s, she has published a memoir, which for ephemeral, unreflective celebrities like her is usually a way of fending off imminent obsolescence.
The book – ventriloquised by Joni Rodgers, who describes herself as a “story whisperer” – is as vapid and vaporous as the fragrances Hilton sells; all the same, archaeologists may one day consult it in the hope of understanding how and why our species underwent a final mutation into something glossily post-human. The antics of this entitled flibbertigibbet expose the absurdity of a culture in which the self only exists if it is validated by a selfie, membership of society depends on the mirage of social media and the reality in which we were all once anchored has been replaced by a flimsy virtual replica.
The high-pitched tale begins in midair above Las Vegas, with a hungover Hilton sky-diving at dawn after “the greatest 21st birthday celebration since Marie Antoinette” (a precursor whose fate she should bear in mind). Freefalling through an empty sky, Hilton recognises that she is a gilded speck of dust, buffeted by angry winds and plummeting towards annihilation. Then, once her parachute opens, she relaxes into an ecstatic state of grace, “suspended above the desert like a diamond on a delicate silver chain”. Her tumble becomes the descent of a biblical dove or perhaps the Virgin Mary’s assumption in reverse; artfully envisaged as a piece of expensive jewellery, it convinces her that she is an astral phenomenon.
“I’m not,” Hilton insists, “pretending to be, like, the Dalai Lama in Louboutins”, but there’s a dizzy spirituality to her account of following what she calls “my bliss” and her rhapsodies about the beauty of the cosmic design. She later gabbles about “going on this trip with the Dalai Lama and a bunch of other people”: did she take His Holiness to party in Ibiza? Christ is invited to join her entourage, though his mission is to sprinkle dollar bills like stardust and instantly fulfil all wishes. “I made the ask,” Hilton tells us after suffering a few seconds of self-doubt, “and like Jesus said, ask and it shall be given unto you.” Schooled by the saviour, she drifts through the crowd at the Coachella Neon Carnival carrying a glitzy cluster of cheap tiaras “so I can gift them as the spirit moves me”.
In the religion for which Paris evangelises, cosmetic pampering takes the place of prayer. “Skin care is sacred,” she declares in italics and she supplements the decalogue that Moses brought down from the mountain by adding her own 11th commandment: this recommends a slathering of sunscreen, her equivalent to extreme unction. “Wellness as an act of love” is another of her slogans, with a day spa as its tabernacle. But she is sceptical about a heavenly reward for which you can only qualify by dying: after escaping from a series of reformatories set up to discipline bratty teenagers, she calculates the price of salvation and decides that “a hundred million dollars would make me feel safe”.
Although she hobnobs with the Dalai Lama and expects Christ to make her mercenary dreams come true, Hilton truly belongs in Greek myth, where flighty nymphs are plucked from the Earth by lecherous gods and installed among the stars in return for their sexual favours. At the end of the book, portioning out her wisdom in bullet points, she suggests that we can elevate ourselves to immortality with no need for divine intervention. “See yourself,” she counsels, “as part of a galaxy.”
This air-headed mysticism merges with the digital revolution, which allowed Hilton to disseminate her image around the globe and to seep into our defenceless heads. She defines her success electronically, theorising that “I was an amplifier and attention was the power cord” that made her “a marketable commodity”. Cryptocurrency, NFTs and the metaverse are another void into which she hurls herself, as if repeating that leap from the plane above Las Vegas: “I jumped in,” she says, “without hesitation.” “Everything I do is tied up in swiftly advancing technology,” she confides, referring to her sideline as a DJ and to the “product development” that turned her into “a corporate-branding diva”; she might also have mentioned the sex tape in which, thanks to a camera that could see in the dark, she thrashed about in bed with a poker player she was dating. Commercialised despite her protests, the tape was bizarrely dedicated to the victims of 9/11 with a solemn vow that “we will never forget”. It certainly ensured that we never forgot Hilton, whose clitoris became clickbait and who subsequently embraced Twitter as her “ADHD wet dream”.
At one point, Hilton remembers that “my mom threw an epic, epic party”. Like the yapping of a chihuahua, that adjective obsessively recurs, applied to lobsters liberated from a supermarket tank in a juvenile game, to a product launch for Juicy Couture, to her quest for true love and to anything else that takes her fancy. She has good reason for her constant recourse to the inflationary word. Like such classical epics as The Iliad or The Aeneid, this memoir is a saga of territorial conquest. To consolidate her triumph, Hilton is currently starting a family: having hired a surrogate to do the obstetric chores, she regrets missing out on a new wardrobe of “amazing maternity looks” and has no Beyoncé belly to document in selfies, but she keeps busy by scanning the map for cities, states and countries after which her offspring might be named. Her forthcoming son will be called Phoenix; any future daughter is to be christened London, which warns us of possible annexation. Yes, it’s her world and after reading her book I just wish I could move off-planet.
Paris: The Memoir by Paris Hilton is published by HQ (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply