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Sun 28 Jun 2009 04:00 AM

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Family affair

Real estate magnate Rick Hilton on how he raised a property empire, global brand and superstar daughter.

Family affair
Family affair
Family affair
Family affair
Candy Spelling has put her Holmby Hills home on the market at $150m. Hilton is handling the sale.
Family affair
Family affair
Rick Hilton is an executive producer of Paris’s reality show ‘My BFF’, which is now being shot in Dubai.

Rick Hilton hasn’t let the lure of a huge inheritance get in the way of his life. With a successful real estate empire under his belt, and a foray into the entertainment industry, the head of one of the world’s most prominent celebrity families talks fame, fortune and finance.

Most people in Rick Hilton’s shoes would just take them off, head to the nearest beach and chill out for the next twenty years. With an estimated $300m fortune, and several millions more in inheritance money to come, why bother doing anything else?

“Me? Sitting on a beach? No! I would find that really boring,” Hilton frowns. “My father pushed me really hard, and his father pushed him to work hard for what he achieved. And I’m doing the same with my children. You can’t just sit back, you have to keep working hard to get the most out of life.”

So far, the Hilton family is doing a pretty good job of that. Rick Hilton runs the Los Angeles-based Hilton & Hyland Real Estate, whose client list reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of entertainment and business. The richer, the more famous, the more likely they are to knock on Hilton’s door.

His wife Kathy is a socialite, television host and Hollywood actress. Their four children include the global superstar Paris Hilton. Oh, and let’s not forget Rick Hilton’s own father Barron — he co-chairs the mega Hilton Hotels chain. Or his grandfather Conrad, who founded the Hilton empire.

“Having the Hilton name can be a two-edged sword,” he admits. “It definitely can open certain doors, but if you don’t perform then people are looking at you with more of a fine-toothed comb. There’s a little bit more pressure than for someone without the Hilton name. Maybe they have higher expectations of you.

“At the end of the day the name only takes you so far, you need to do something on your own to make your mark in life,” he says.

He’s certainly doing something. His company was founded in partnership with Jeff Hyland — between them two of the most successful executives in the Beverly Hills real estate community. The firm specialises in the ultra-posh communities of Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Westwood, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Malibu and West Hollywood. As a founding affiliate of Christie’s Great Estates, it is part of a global network that did a staggering $128bn worth of sales last year.

So what happened to the recession?

Hilton explains: “Well, I think the market is finding a bottom. Residential market is finding a bottom in a lot of areas but the commercial market will have some difficulties in the future. There is a lot of debt and it is difficult to refinance, which is going to put pressure on owners.

“But we’re still selling a lot of properties. If sellers are realistic, then buyers are ready to make deals.”

As in many cities, the very top end of the market is showing it still has cash. And the top end of the market is where Hilton likes to deal. Candy Spelling, widow of TV mogul Aaron Spelling, has put her Holmby Hills home, known as ‘The Manor’, on the market at $150m. It is believed to be the highest asking price for a single-family home in the US, and Hilton is handling the sale.

The 123-room, 57,000 sq ft home, on nearly five acres, is also one of the largest residences in the country. Its features include a bowling alley, a beauty salon, a gift-wrapping room and a screening room. If that sounds too much, then the Fleur de Lys estate, also in Holmby Hills, will only set you back $125m.

“There is still a lot of wealth out there. For these kinds of properties all you need is one buyer so hopefully there are two of them out there for me,” grins Hilton.

There probably are for Hilton. His website lists 60 of the world’s most famous people as his clients. Eric Clapton, Barbara Sinatra and Bruce Willis are amongst the superstars who call him when they want a new home. It’s not just his feel for the real estate market, but what friends describe as a “brain with an excel sheet” that helps.

Hilton learned the real estate business in New York while working at Eastdil Realty Inc, a real estate investment banking firm specialising in commercial real estate. After that, he decided to branch out on his own, but admits it was no easy decision.

Sister act

A subscriber to her father’s ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic, Paris is the star of the Hilton clan and the face of a multimillion brand. Under the watchful eye of her father, she has lent her name to a slew of merchandise deals, including perfumes, handbags and clothing lines, fronted two successful television shows, released a music album and a string of movies.

To use Paris’s own trademarked phrase: “That’s hot!”

Ms Hilton’s business profits now outweigh her expected inheritance — which, after a decision by her grandfather, Barron Hilton, to donate 97 percent of the Hilton fortune to charity, will total around $5m after tax — and the celebutante is showing no signs of slowing. Despite the downturn, Paris is still commanding sizeable fees for personal appearances. Last year she pocketed $1m for flying to Vienna, and waving at a crowd.

Less well-known is younger sister Nicky Hilton. Despite largely steering clear of the limelight, the 25-year-old has built a successful career.

Nicky started her working life as a fashion model, and went on to design two well-received clothing lines; Chick and Nicholai, which debuted at the 2007 New York Fashion Week.

She has also fronted a line of handbags, which has proved popular in Asia. More than 100 stores across Japan now stock her bags.

The pair has two younger brothers, 19-year-old Barron Hilton and 15-year-old Conrad Hughes Hilton. To date, both have opted for a quieter life than their sisters, bar an incident last February when Barron unwillingly hit the headlines for a string of driving offences.

“I was quite nervous. Going off on my own was a big step. Not having a real revenue source at that time it was a big jump. It was a big risk.

“But my father used to say that you don’t want to work for other people because you have to make them $100 to see one dollar. He encouraged me to be an entrepreneur and to go on my own. I’m glad I did that. It’s a real feeling of self-satisfaction. You don’t have to answer to anyone, you don’t have to deal with the politics in companies.”

Despite the success, running a real estate brokerage is only part of the Rick Hilton story. He has successfully ventured into the entertainment industry, having already produced one movie. He is the executive producer of his wife Kathy’s US television show, ‘I want to be a Hilton’, and also an executive producer of daughter Paris’ reality show ‘My BFF’, which is currently being shot in Dubai.

More importantly, he looks after allher commercial deals, including licenses for fragrances, handbags and shoes. The Paris Hilton brand has gone global, largely thanks to her father’s work behind the scenes.

“Paris' fragrances did $200m last year at retail. Now that’s a pretty significant number. I oversee all her different activities, and it’s an exciting brand. I am very proud of what she has achieved and keeps achieving,” he says.

“I am also proud of my younger daughter Nicky, who just recently signed an important licensing deal with a division of Sumitomo for Japan.”

And this is just the beginning. This week the real estate magnate and his wife will join their daughter in Dubai. Hilton wants to look over the editing of Paris’s television show, and while in town, talk to potential investors for his real estate operations. Not to mention striking a few deals along the way.

“Due to the global crisis there has never been a better time for investors to acquire assets,” Hilton says. “I’ve never been [in the UAE] before but it all sounds pretty incredible, especially the amazing real estate projects that they have built in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

“We have many ideas, and my wife Kathy is coming with me on this trip and she is interested in launching her skincare line as well as her fragrance in the UAE.

“I’m hopeful of this being a very positive trip for the whole family,” he adds.

But this is of course no ordinary family — apart from being worth millions, each member appears to have found fame and fortune in their own right.

But with that celebrity has come constant media attention, and not always the type they would want. Does he ever wish they were just an average American family that nobody had heard of?

“The press can get a little bit tiresome at times. It can get to you a bit, but you have to live with it and deal with it. I guess the public only the see the results and whatever they might read in the papers.

“But I can tell you, there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It doesn’t just happen….What is important is to be honest and work hard, yet as my wife says, take time to smell the roses and enjoy your life.”

So wouldn’t Hilton prefer an easy life?

The business mogul pauses for a moment. “No… that would be boring.”

Wifely ambition

Born in New York, Kathy Hilton started early. The daughter of a stage mother, Kathy Dugan, she modelled as a small child before moving on to television, landing parts in shows such as ‘The Rockford Files’, ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Happy Days’.

But her star has really risen since her daughters became household names. From being a career socialite, Kathy has now become a brand name in her own right. She has fronted a number of television series, including the reality show ‘I Want to Be a Hilton’, where contestants vie for the chance to live the high-life.

The show was hosted by Kathy, and produced by her husband. Typical challenges included learning how to hold a wine glass correctly.

More recently, the Hilton matriarch signed a deal for her own skincare collection, branded as “reflecting the luxurious Kathy Hilton lifestyle’, which now sells on the Home Shopping Network.

She had previously fronted a series selling merchandise on QVC’s home shopping network.

Last year Kathy landed a role in the blockbuster film ‘Tropic Thunder’, playing opposite Tom Cruise as his wife. She also scored a guest slot in an episode of ‘The Young and the Restless’, a bestselling US soap, playing herself.

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