Paris Hilton said she spent years hiding behind a “dumb blonde” persona after enduring a traumatic time at boarding school as a teenager.

The influencer, 40, starred in reality TV series The Simple Life, which featured her and fellow wealthy socialite Nicole Richie struggling to do everyday work, such as farming or serving meals at fast food restaurants.

Hilton said while she was portrayed as “ditzy”, it was an act she first started after leaving a school in Utah, where the model said she was “verbally, mentally and physically abused on a daily basis” in the 1990s.

During an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Hilton was asked about her famous persona.

“A lot of it was a character,” she said. “Just from going through all those traumatic experiences as a teenager, when I got out of there I just built this shell around me, almost like a mask, where I could hide behind this character.

“And I developed that and I got The Simple Life, and then once that happened it became on a bigger level because I had to do that in public, and then I kind of got stuck with the character because it was easier for me to pretend to be someone else.

“But I always knew exactly what I was doing – it was just playing that ditzy blonde character, because it was a lot easier than really remembering everything I’d went through.”

Hilton added: “I’m not a dumb blonde, I’m just very good at pretending to be one.”

The star, who has launched the This Is Paris podcast, is celebrating after announcing her engagement earlier this month.

Her partner Carter Reum, a 40-year-old venture capitalist, popped the question on a private island.

Speaking to Fallon, Hilton revealed she had expected the proposal months ago and her now-fiance tried to “trick” her when he eventually got down on one knee.

She said: “He just said there was a photoshoot happening, because I always do pictures wherever we go, and then I think to make me feel like it wasn’t going to happen he was like, ‘if you’re not ready in time we could just chill, just do it another day’.

“So then I didn’t think it was happening. So he tricked me. And we went down to the beach and he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him and it was one of the most romantic moments of my life.”