In 2011, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton met with an exciting new singer named Ariana Grande.
She was 18 at the time, and looking for a manager to help launch her career. Hilton, a well-known figure in the entertainment industry, could see her potential and wanted to work with her. But ultimately, Grande went with someone else.
“I was really hurt, so for years afterwards I was super petty toward Ariana on my website and on social media,” Hilton admits in his new memoir. “I regret that.”
It’s one of the many stories he tells in TMI: My Life in Scandal, which recounts his 16 years in showbiz. It sees him reflect on his success, but also express his many regrets. It’s a memoir he hadn’t intended to write.
“I’d never put much thought into writing an autobiography before, because while I have this public persona of being extremely confident, I also am extremely filled with self-doubt, worry and insecurity,” Hilton tells BBC News.
“This book came about because I was trying to sell another book, unsuccessfully, about health and wellness,” he explains, with characteristic transparency. “But when I got my rejections, that’s when I tried to turn my lemons into lemonade.”
Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, had been approached by a Swedish writing duo about doing a memoir while he was in talks with publishers about the wellness book, but hadn’t initially taken them up on the offer.
He later relented, and when you read the many juicy anecdotes in the memoir, you can see why they were so keen.
And yet, the 42-year-old says candidly: “I expect my book to not do well, in terms of sales. And I’m fine with that, because it’s not a reflection on me at all.
“I get it, I’m not hot right now. I’m 16 years into my career. But while I might not have the heat of [TikTok star] Charli D’Amelio, who is the ‘it girl’ of 2020, I have a lot more to offer. I have a whole life that she hasn’t quite lived yet.”
Hilton started his gossip blog from a café near his apartment in 2005. At the time, he couldn’t afford to have internet installed at home, so he would use the free wi-fi at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in LA.
“I would always sit in the same place, because in the entire coffee shop there was only one power outlet, so I had to sit there to plug in my laptop,” he laughs. “I hope they’ve upgraded since then.”
The website grew quickly, attracting eight million hits a day at a time when the internet was still in its relative infancy. Hilton would write stories about the celebrity world, often adding his own catty comments. It was quickly dubbed the most hated website in Hollywood, a description he embraced.
Word got around that Hilton was running the entire operation from this coffee house, and before long, celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes were dropping in to feed him stories.
But plenty of celebrities, as you can imagine, weren’t thrilled by the site’s content. Nicole Richie turned up one day to complain in no uncertain terms about his mean-spirited coverage.
“To me, he was the first person that created ugly news, that literally just spread filth,” Mila Kunis said in 2018. “It was just mean, and so it allowed people to be mean.” She suggested the “whole concept of trolling really didn’t exist” prior to his blog.
Hliton rejects this specific charge, pointing to the countless celebrity magazines that preceded him. “Did Mila Kunis never read Us Weekly or National Enquirer or Star magazine?” he asks. “All of those existed before I ever did, and they did the exact same thing. Maybe I was the first to do it online, and therefore, I’m a pioneer!”
However, there were other complaints about the website which prompted him to significantly change its tone. The LGBT community criticised him for outing gay celebrities, while others were upset by his use of nasty nicknames.
In 2010, for example, Hilton repeatedly referred to Christina Aguilera as “Floptina” in an effort to damage her sales and boost those of his then friend Lady Gaga.
Hilton’s remorse for his behaviour makes for one of the most interesting sections of the book.
“I have a ton of regrets, particularly because I now see that I never needed to be so mean or cruel,” he writes. “One of the many things I regret is that I hurt so many people by giving them nasty nicknames, and above all that I was unkind to the children of celebrities.
“I also regret that I thought it was OK to out celebrities. That is something I no longer believe.”
Hilton, who is gay himself, received death threats when he outed former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken. But it was a social-action campaign that led him to change his ways.
In 2010, activist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better movement in response to the multiple suicides of teenagers that year who had been bullied because they were gay. But when Hilton recorded a message of support for the campaign, he faced an immediate backlash.
“The response I got truly shook me to my core,” he explains. “Almost every comment said, ‘You’re a hypocrite, you’re a bully, you’re part of the problem.’ I knew a lot of people didn’t like me before then, but I was living in my own little bubble.
“I had brainwashed myself into saying things like, ‘If people don’t like what I’m writing then they shouldn’t read it.’ Or ‘[Perez is] just a character, these people don’t know the real me.’ But at that point I said, ‘Wow, I need to take ownership of what is happening here and what I’m doing.'”
Hilton has since made efforts to make amends. “I reached a point in my private life where I started having these thoughts about changing. But I was paralysed by fear, that I would lose everything that I had worked very hard to achieve up until that point,” he says.
“Over the last 10 years, it’s been this ongoing process of making constant changes, finding out what the line is, and making mistakes along the way. I’m not perfect, I’ve had slip-ups, even in the last 10 years.
“And it’s been a whole variety of changes from not outing people to no longer drawing inappropriate doodles on photos and no longer having nasty nicknames. I don’t share photos of people grieving leaving a funeral or outside of a hospital when a loved one is sick… You can do your job and have an opinion and have it be strong, but not be hurtful or cruel.”
Nowadays, Hilton often appears on celebrity reality shows and presents his own showbiz news podcast alongside his superb co-host Chris Booker, whose scepticism and impatience with much of celebrity culture is the perfect balance to Hilton’s excitable and animated personality.
As for his website, Hilton can still be found regularly making cutting comments about the day’s entertainment news. But, he says, there’s a difference between being mean for the sake of it and an honestly held opinion.
“For example, if Mila Kunis were to release a song tomorrow, and I said I don’t like her song, she might be like, ‘Don’t say that. just keep it to yourself,'” he says. “And to Mila Kunis, I say, ‘Snap out of it!'”
TMI: My Life in Scandal by Perez Hilton is out now