"I'm actually just seeing this for the first time," the breakout "friend of" of season 11 tells ET over video chat from her Los Angeles home, admitting she's still getting used to seeing all the memes about her (though she does enjoy them). From failing a game of "Two Truths and a Lie," to pranking her co-stars by downing faux martinis, and wandering around holding her microphone pack instead of wearing it ("It gets hot!" Kathy exclaims), fans can't get enough of the Hilton family matriarch's reality TV presence.
"I am really flattered and very happy," Kathy says of the viewer response. "Any time anybody's ever seen me on TV, there is this very serious side … and so, [with Housewives], I'm comfortable, because I go back with Lisa Rinna for 25 years. I know Dorit [Kemsley] and socially we've been together many times, so I'm very comfortable with her. Garcelle [Beauvais], we've been out socially. Kyle [Richards] is my sister. I was just very comfortable. But it was really interesting for me to watch. Sometimes, I can't watch because I'll think, 'Oh, my goodness, I have no makeup on, how can I really let people see me like this?' You know?"
It took more than a decade for Kathy to say "yes" to the show, despite the fact that her sisters, Kyle and Kim Richards, were original cast members on the Bravo series. At the time of the show’s inception in 2009/2010, Kathy, Kim and Kyle were toying with the idea of doing a separate show centered on their families.
"We were working on a project … and I called the girls to say, 'OK, well, everybody's coming in from the East Coast, the network is coming in to have dinner with us,'" Kathy recalls of how the switch happened, "and Kim said to me, 'Well, we just received an offer to do … the Housewives,' or something, so I said, 'Why don't you just go ahead with that?' Because this is a proven brand, this is, you know, it's a successful show, so go ahead with that."
Cut to 11 years later and the offer for Kathy to join Housewives finally came around, thanks to Kyle's persistence. The 62-year-old says it was always a "no" until COVID-19 hit, and she was stuck at home, bored. She jumped at the chance to spend time with her baby sister (whom she affectionately calls "Doogie," despite Kyle’s disdain for the nickname), but never expected to bond with all the other women in the way she did.
"It's like a girls' club," she says. "I feel like I'm a member of a very special group of dynamic women -- that have their drama -- and I love to be in the middle of it."
While she's enjoyed her time so far, Kathy isn't ready to say she’ll be back for season 12. "We’ll see," she teases. "There’s 21 episodes, so there’s another 15 episodes to watch." Kathy also says she’s "not sure" she’ll be at the all-cast reunion, but "would love to … experience that." However, she does declare that she'll "never hold a diamond," aka become a full-time Housewife.
"I will never hold a diamond, ever, that I can tell you," she reiterates. "I have a lot on my plate right now and working on some interesting, exciting things. I wouldn't have time."
When Kathy’s casting first circulated in the tabloids, her daughters -- Paris Hilton and Nicky Hilton Rothschild -- scoffed at the idea. Then, when it was confirmed, they were blindsided, a story they shared on an episode of Paris' podcast, This Is Paris, earlier this year.
"I'm not knocking the show! I love the show! I am a huge fan," Nicky said. "But if someone were to ask me, do you want your mother being on it? No! And the funny thing is, believe it or not, my mom's never even seen the show! She doesn't know what she's getting into."
"I know that I'm not going to go and be cursing and starting fights with people. I didn't understand why they would be so concerned," Kathy says. "I don't know if Paris has seen the show, because she's been traveling, but she did send me some memes. They're very much proud, and when they make the decision, especially Nicky, she's not going to -- she's too proud to say, 'Oh, it's so fabulous,' and whatever, and, like, that she was wrong."
On that same podcast episode, Nicky shared a story about a day of filming at Kathy's house, courtesy of her and Paris' brother, Barron.
"Barron told me they were filming a few weeks ago at the house, some dinner, and he could hear the shouting from his bedroom," she said. "He just heard all this shouting."
It seems likely that said dinner is the one teased in the season trailer, where Erika Jayne grits her teeth at Sutton Stracke, seemingly over questions surrounding her divorce from Tom Girardi and the couple's ongoing legal woes. "I am not a liar. You have a lot of f**king nerve," Erika fires off at Sutton, gritting her teeth. "Shut the f**k up!"
"It did get a little out of hand," Kathy shares. "It got very out of hand."
That episode is likely weeks away, but Kathy advises viewers to "put on your seatbelt" ASAP as the drama really kicks off with Wednesday night's all-new episode, the aftermath of Erika breaking the news about her surprise divorce to the women. Kathy confesses that sometimes she'd look up at a group get together and wonder what exactly she'd gotten herself into.
"Sometimes I get up and go into another room, go into the refrigerator and get something to eat just to get out for a second," she reveals. Kathy's snack habits are part of her charm this season (she sipped on a Coke Zero during her chat with ET). She memorably crashed into Kyle's bedroom after midnight during the cast trip to Tahoe, a bag of chips and Red Bull in hand for a little late-night snack, much to Kyle's chagrin.
"I think she should have been a little bit more happy that I came in," Kathy remarks. "I wanted to come in and bond with her -- and so much scoop went on in the evening and I wanted to talk to her about it, and it's not like, oh, she'd been sleeping for two hours. I figured she'd just taken her makeup off and I didn't want to sleep by myself. And ... I didn't start to eat the food until I thought she was already asleep! I had a fan going, too, so I didn't realize the noise would be that... and she was angry and she doesn't have a lot of patience."
Before she jumped into Kyle’s bed, Kathy stormed her way into Sutton's room ("Maybe I was confused," she says), then took a detour to the kitchen to grab that unexpected bedtime meal.
"I think that was the night that we had the burnt salmon Kyle made, so I was a little hungry," Kathy recalls, "and I didn't have my glasses on and there wasn't anything where I could make a sandwich, so all I could find was chips and a soft drink. And I could see, I know what a Coca-Cola and a Zero Coke looks like, so I just grabbed something that I thought was just a soft drink. Or maybe I thought it was a health drink, because we had stopped at a health food market."
Kathy's kooky antics translate off TV and onto social media, too, with multiple, memorable Instagram Lives in RHOBH’s first few weeks back on air. That behavior actually predates the show, with Comments by Celebs archiving Kathy's many confusing comments on Instagram over the years. She's known to leave lengthy responses which often read like personal emails rather than quick reactions to posts.
"There's times I didn't realize [people could see my messages] because I really started getting familiar with the computer about two-and-a-half, three years ago,” she admits. “I do have to have somebody help me.”
As people get to know more about the "real" Kathy, they're learning about her past, too, which includes a childhood friendship with Michael Jackson that turned into a close bond with the entire Jackson family. Kathy says she "really doesn't remember" whether she and her child bestie had pacts to name their firstborn daughters Paris (Paris Jackson has called Kathy a surrogate mom of sorts), but does admit that Michael was always down for her antics, regularly taking part in late-night prank calls. When asked if she could see her pal, LaToya, Michael's sister, ever joining Housewives, Kathy offers up a "maybe," noting that they've done reality TV together before.
While she's not down to hold a diamond, Kathy does offer up a quick tagline: "Perception is not always reality."
"You don't know what people, how they're going to respond to you," she says. "And I am one of these people, I do care what people think about me and that's important to me. And I would be sad if I was offending people or that would not sit well with me."