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Nicole Weighs In

Emerging from Paris Hilton’s shadow, Nicole Richie is busy one-upping her former best friend and Simple Life co-star, from the best-seller list to the style pages, to a debut album in the works. At 24, the adopted daughter of pop star Lionel Richie has sworn off the heroin she used after her parents’ divorce, but her weight is now the issue. Persuading her medical team to talk to the author, Richie also discusses her family’s struggle to heal, her take on the Hilton “feud,” and the dangers ahead.

During a break, Nicole sits down for an on-camera meeting with Judith Regan, who published The Truth About Diamonds, Nicole’s tell-almost-all about privileged debauchery among the self-styled junior royalty of Beverly Hills. The novel sold so well that they are discussing another collaboration.

As they chat, Regan’s cell phone rings; she has been bragging about her twentysomething son, and here he is. Grinning, the publisher hands her phone to Nicole, who is wearing a Pucci jumpsuit made of floaty emerald-and-turquoise chiffon. Her voice as smooth and sweet as butterscotch syrup, Nicole coos into the phone, telling the young man that his mother says he’s tall, and smart, and handsome.

“And she says you have a really big penis,” Nicole adds, batting her false eyelashes.

Regan, who has said no such thing, shakes her head. “My son is going to kill me,” she says.

The sly put-on is nothing new for Nicole, who has long been known for her transgressive sense of humor. Far more unexpected is her emergence as the latest darling of the fashionistas, a red-hot style setter who has recently been transmogrified into a latter-day Audrey Hepburn, complete with oversize sunglasses, gamine hair, and a twig-like body whose bone structure looks as if it couldn’t support a hummingbird.

Camera-ready after a long hair-and-makeup session, everything from her luminous face to her luxuriant tresses to her shrewd eyes is a rich caramel color that appears to be lit from within. “Her skin is like butter!” raves her makeup artist. “She’s like my little Barbie doll!” exclaims her fashion stylist, Rachel Zoe, who dresses Nicole in vintage couture and cinches the back of each dress with clothespins so it doesn’t billow around her five-foot-one frame.

The elegant star now striking poses for the cameras is virtually unrecognizable as the pudgy sidekick who made her debut on the first season of The Simple Life, in 2003. The so-called reality show was originally planned as a vehicle for Paris and Nicky Hilton, whose wild-child antics had grabbed headlines since they were teenagers. But when Paris’s sister bowed out, her friend Nicole Richie stepped in.

Te multi-racial adopted daughter of pop star Lionel Richie, Nicole was struggling with a rampaging heroin addiction that nearly sank her TV career before it began. Released from rehab only 10 days prior to the start of filming, Nicole managed to score laughs with her rude remarks. But her body was upholstered with the extra weight she gained during rehab, and her ratty long hair was festooned with fuchsia hair extensions one day, Morticia Addams–black ones the next. “She was not a pretty sight,” says one early career adviser.

Since then, however, Nicole has shed so many pounds that the tabloid press is obsessed with her skeletal appearance. “From sex kitten to scary skinny,” trumpeted the Star in March. “Nicole Richie keeps dropping—now 85 pounds!”

Despite the alarming weight loss—or perhaps because of it?—Nicole has become the celebutante du jour of the paparazzi publications. From her trendsetting outfits to her on-and-off engagement, to the falling-out with her former best-friend-forever, every facet of her life is chronicled in breathless weekly installments.

Although neither Paris nor Nicole explained the reason for their feud, it launched a silent game of one-upmanship played out across the entire spectrum of pop culture. Paris got a micro-dog as a style accessory; Nicole got two. Nicole got engaged to Adam Goldstein, better known as DJ AM; Paris got engaged to Greek shipping heir Paris Latsis. Paris got disengaged; Nicole got disengaged. Paris published a book, Confessions of an Heiress; Nicole published The Truth About Diamonds. Paris published her second book, Your Heiress Diary; Nicole went to work on her second book, a showcase for her sense of fashion and style.

But Nicole’s novel surprised everyone, becoming a national best-seller last fall. Glossy magazines on both sides of the Atlantic are now clamoring for her to adorn their covers. Hordes of teenyboppers throng to her appearances and yearn to buy whatever she wears. “When I was at a book signing with her, it was like the Beatles had come to town,” says Michael Broussard, who was Nicole’s literary agent for the novel and is now an acquisitions editor for HarperCollins.

“She’s such an icon of style,” says Judith Regan. “She’s chic and cool, but there’s something about her that’s vulnerable, that people relate to. She’s like the orphan child who led the princess life.”

AAlthough Nicole has signed a development deal for a new sitcom with Fox, she has other scores to settle first. Paris formed her own label, Heiress Records, in 2004 and is supposed to release her first pop CD this year. But Nicole grew up with a recording artist who sold more than 100 million albums, and she isn’t about to cede the music field to Paris. Bringing out the big guns, Nicole began 2006 by hiring a new manager, Benny Medina, the music-industry Svengali whose clients have included Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, and Tyra Banks.

Because Nicole and Paris don’t speak, The Simple Life resorted to filming the stars separately on alternate days—a structure of co-equals that confirms a distinct shift in the balance of power. “It was always about Paris,” says one associate, “but Paris was like a mannequin, and Nicole really drove the show. People were always saying to her, ‘You’re the funny one.’”

These days Nicole’s work schedule can run from early morning until long past midnight; her final appointment tonight is a 1:30 a.m. haircut. But Paris continues to party; recent paparazzi photographs showed her smoking what appeared to be a joint in South Beach, under the headline paris—what a dope! And The National Enquirer reported that a taxi driver accused an inebriated Paris of peeing in his backseat. Who’s skanky now?

Indeed, it’s the ugly duckling who has turned into a swan. After years of angst, Nicole’s parents are amazed to see their former bad girl making good on such a grand public scale. “Her dad and I crack up laughing,” says Brenda Richie. “We just can’t believe it. Lionel will call and say, ‘Brenda, she’s huge in India!’ It’s hysterical! Every country he goes to, they want to know why he didn’t bring Nicole.”

“I’m just jealous,” says Lionel, only half joking. “I’ve worked so hard—I had to have a body of work to get that famous!”

But as Nicole dances from one glamorous appearance to the next, her high-powered advisers watch intently, trying to gauge her commitment to building a serious career. “So many kids aspire not to any profession but to fame, and it appears to have been such an easy run-up to fame for her,” says Medina. “A celebutante in a fight with another celebutante, who socializes with the best of the best, who comes out of drug addiction into an eating disorder—that’s a lot of good copy. Now, what do you want to do with it, young lady? You want to sing? You want to act? You want a television series? Let’s get to work!”

Nicole has a long history of troubled behavior, however, and lately her intimates have grown worried. Although she denies she is anorexic, every new round of paparazzi photos reveals what looks like perilous shrinkage. She was upset by tabloid reports that the delicate red bracelet encircling her wrist is a “friends of Ana” token signaling covert solidarity with other anorexics. In fact, she says, it is a Jewish hamsa bracelet with a “hand of god” charm. But her wrists themselves are alarming enough—“the smallest wrists ever seen on any human being over the age of 12,” Rachel Zoe admits.

And yet Nicole’s waif-like persona belies the steel underneath. As her novel inadvertently makes clear, the forlorn Cinderella who was rescued by a rich, famous daddy didn’t get to Beverly Hills entirely by accident. Even at the age of three, Nicole Richie knew how to work a room.

“I’ve taken a lot of turns in my life,” Nicole acknowledges.

Right now the road ahead is full of dangerous curves.

WWhen Nicole arrives at her favorite breakfast spot, she is toting a Fendi Spy bag that’s almost as big as she is. Her sleek blond hair is neatly secured by a wide black headband, and she’s wearing a vintage red-and-white striped top, ballet flats, and Tsubi jeans that make her legs look like pipe cleaners.

Eluding the paparazzi who wait outside her West Hollywood condominium, Nicole has driven to the café alone in her tank-like Mercedes-Benz G-Class S.U.V. As she orders huevos rancheros, the real subject on the table this morning is anorexia nervosa, a life-threatening disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Speculation about Nicole’s condition rages in the tabloid press, and photographs of her looking like a scarecrow have popped up on Web sites devoted to “thinspiration,” which attract girls obsessed with extreme caloric restrictions. For the “pro-ana” community, Nicole is the new poster girl.

Despite her public persona of flippant heartlessness, Nicole knows how high the stakes are on this matter. Anorexia now represents the leading cause of death among young women aged 15 to 24 who suffer from the disorder, ultimately killing up to 20 percent of them. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 11 million Americans suffer from anorexia or bulimia, in which victims binge and purge; another 25 million suffer from compulsive eating.

But Nicole is profoundly uncomfortable with the burden of setting a good example. “Part of the reason I don’t really talk about being sober is that I don’t want to feel the pressure of being a role model,” she says. “I am learning so much about myself that for me to tell other people what to do in their lives is something I’m not really fit to do. I’m a work in progress. I’m not ‘there’ yet. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be ‘there.’”

She understands that her dramatic weight loss may affect others, however, and she is trying hard to be responsible about her situation. “It upsets me,” she says. “I know I’m too thin right now, so I wouldn’t want any young girl looking at me and saying, ‘That’s what I want to look like.’ I do know that they will, which is another reason I really do need to do something about it. I’m not happy with the way I look right now.”

In Nicole’s view, the main problem is stress. “I had a bad breakup, and it eats me up inside when I’m upset about something,” she explains, referring to her broken engagement with DJ AM last December. “I get really stressed out, and I do lose my appetite, but I do force myself to eat. I tried to put the weight on my way, eating burritos, but that wasn’t working, so I started seeing a nutritionist and a doctor. I was scared that it could be something more serious, because it wasn’t making any sense to me; I really was trying. So I had thyroid tests and all that. I do recognize that I have a problem, and I want to be responsible and fix it, and I’m on that path right now.”

The diagnostic criteria for anorexia include extreme weight loss, the cessation of menstrual periods, a refusal to maintain a minimally normal weight, a distorted body image, and a pathological fear of weight gain. Although Nicole doesn’t believe she’s anorexic, she knows that others suspect she’s simply in denial, a hallmark of the disorder. Having put herself under the supervision of a doctor, a psychiatrist, a nutritionist, and a personal trainer, she has persuaded the team of medical professionals now treating her to talk with me, despite their reluctance to waive confidentiality even at the patient’s request.

At the moment the consensus seems to be that Nicole’s weight is “in the realm of anorexia,” as one caregiver puts it, but that she doesn’t meet the other criteria, judging from her own description of her psychological and physiological state.

That diagnosis could change at any time, however. “Our evaluation is an ongoing one,” says Dr. Jeffery Wilkins, vice-chair of the department of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles. “We’re working on a systematic plan to get more calories in, and we’re going to watch it and see if it succeeds. We’re all concerned, and she’s concerned, but it’s either going to improve or it won’t. If it’s not anorexia, she should be able to gain the weight. If it ends up being anorexia, we’ll help her with that. I think she’s willing to look this in the eye.”

AAnd yet the attention showered upon Nicole seems to increase in inverse proportion to her declining weight, a bitter irony that worries her supporters.

“I think she’s motivated to be scary-little,” says Benny Medina. “The more cheruby Nicole Richie—she was cute, but she was not the dynamo that this one is. When she walks into a room now, and she’s got on the right gear, she looks drop-dead. She might be more attractive to me personally if she put on a couple of pounds, but is that more attractive to the camera, to the clothes she wears, to the pages she fills? No. There’s an aspirational look; the younger generation has become obsessed with thinness that pushes it to the point of concern. It’s a style. I personally think everyone in California has an eating disorder.” As he speaks, he is sipping green tea on the fourth day of a self-imposed fast.

“There are a lot of conflicting pressures,” Nicole acknowledges. “I’m not going to sugarcoat the power of the tabloids. The week after Lindsay Lohan and I were on the cover for being too thin, the cover was ‘Celebutantes and how they stay thin!’ Imagine how hard this is for me: everyone else is allowed to fluctuate, but let’s say I lose a few pounds—I’m in the anorexic category of the magazine.”

But is that where such starlets secretly want to be? Nicole’s emergence as a fashion icon has been facilitated by Rachel Zoe, the stick-thin stylist who has been accused of transforming Richie and Lindsay Lohan into Zoe mini-me’s. “Fashion insiders have whispered privately that she is single-handedly bringing anorexia back,” the Los Angeles Times reported last year.

Zoe scoffs at the idea that Nicole is anorexic, and cites as evidence her predilection for fattening fare. “I eat the worst foods—salty cheese-and-grease kind of stuff,” Nicole admits. Last night’s dinner was from Taco Bell, and her afternoon snack yesterday was a PayDay candy bar, a bag of Doritos, and a Coke. It’s hard to believe she maintains her featherweight status on such a diet, and she claims the scale is slowly creeping upward: “I have gained weight since I was at my thinnest.” And yet she avoids knowing how much she weighs: “I get weighed once a week with my nutritionist, but I don’t ask. Numbers aren’t going to mean anything to me.”

By her own description, her current appearance doesn’t represent her feminine ideal. Asked who she thinks is sexy, she replies, “Girls who look like hourglasses,” naming Jennifer Lopez and Joy Bryant. But Nicole long ago “lost all of her curves,” as one tabloid put it, and she seems unsure of her goal, whether in terms of numbers on a scale or her appearance in the mirror. “I don’t know how I would like to look,” she says. “I guess I’ll know when I get there.”

Her track record suggests that it would be foolish to doubt Nicole’s ability to get wherever she wants to go. Three years ago, the relevant numbers were hardly ones to inspire confidence, either. As calmly as if she were reading the day’s weather report, Nicole reels them off: “Three arrests, five car accidents, two times in rehab.”

Unlike her co-star, Nicole Richie has never been accused of being simple.

As dusk falls, the lights in Brenda Richie’s garden twinkle on, illuminating the tall palm trees and splashing fountains surrounding her Bel Air estate. Although Nicole later came to view it as a prison, the Mediterranean-style mansion offered safe haven when she arrived as a small child. Lionel and Brenda Richie first saw Nicole as a three-year-old who was dancing and shaking a tambourine onstage at a Prince concert. “Both of us instantly fell in love with her,” Brenda recalls.

The daughter of a single mother who was “friends with Prince,” as Nicole puts it, the child was leading a rootless existence, sometimes staying with other people while her mother traveled. Lionel remembers being disturbed that a toddler was cavorting in a rock arena at midnight, instead of home in bed.

But Nicole had a dazzling smile and a precocious talent for charming anyone who might take care of her. “She was a hell of a salesperson,” says Lionel. “She knew every song, every dance, and when she did her Shirley Temple thing, everyone was saying, ‘Nicole, you are the cutest thing!’ She was an entertainer, but she was looking for approval. It was: ‘If you like me, maybe you’ll keep me.’”

The Richies began keeping Nicole for periods of time, eventually enrolling her at Buckley, the exclusive Los Angeles private school, where her schoolmates included Paris Hilton. Nicole’s biological father, who was one of Lionel’s band members, didn’t play much of a role in her life, but she continued to see her biological mother as the years went on.

“If I wanted to go on tour with my dad [Lionel], if I wanted to go to San Francisco to see my mom, if I wanted to be in L.A. with Brenda—whenever I wanted to go someplace, they would put me on an airplane that day,” Nicole says. “For me, at the time, it was fun.”

According to the Richies, the young Nicole was a model child who played the piano, violin, and cello and became a competitive ice-skater. She was nine years old when the Richies officially adopted her—but no sooner had she solidified her place in a stable family than it disintegrated around her.

Lionel left Brenda for another woman, and the divorce was extremely acrimonious. “Nicole was really crazy about her dad,” says Brenda. “She was 10 when he moved out, and it had a big effect on her.”

As Brenda sank into despondency, Lionel and his new wife had two children of their own while Nicole began running wild. “I learned the power of manipulation early,” she admits. “I was hurt about the divorce, so I chose to spin it so it would work out for me, too. I liked the fact that my parents weren’t speaking, because I could play them against each other. I was very free to come and go as I pleased. I don’t really blame anybody for it. Everyone wanted to make me happy. Their way of making me happy was to say yes to everything I wanted, but I don’t think a little girl should have that much freedom.”

The Richies, who chose Michael Jackson as Nicole’s godfather, attribute many of her problems to a decadent environment. “She went to all the hip schools, had all the hip friends, went to all the hip parties—and when kids go to the best schools, they have the best drugs, the best sex, and the best accidents,” Lionel says. “When you say she can’t have a car, she pulls up in a Ferrari. You say, ‘Where did you get that car?’ and she says, ‘My friend loaned it to me.’ When a 17-year-old gets a Ferrari for his first car and wrecks it the next week, his father gives him another one. In Beverly Hills, if a kid says, ‘I’m sleeping over at a friend’s house,’ the sleepover turns out to have been in Vegas.”

Brenda pleads ignorance about Nicole’s activities. “I thought she was with Lionel; he thought she was with me; and all the time she was out with some of her older friends,” her mother explains. “I didn’t know she was out at clubs. She was so good at pulling scams. She could look you dead in the eye and be lying.”

To Nicole, substance abuse offered a ready escape from emotional pain. “I went into drugs so I wouldn’t have to deal with it at all,” she says. By the age of 14, she had graduated from marijuana to cocaine, later progressing to a pill habit. “I’m a very anxiety-ridden person, very nervous all the time,” she says, “and when I got into Xanax and Valium and Klonopin, I absolutely loved it.”

Already under the influence, she tried China White heroin one day and immediately found herself hooked. “To me it was the epitome of caring about absolutely nothing,” Nicole says. “There were points when my mom would come home and scream at me about something, and I literally didn’t care about anything. It was like watching a really dramatic movie with the volume turned down. I thought I was getting away with everything, when the reality was that I was arrested three times and had five car accidents. Two were totals.”

Nicole was arrested once for drunk driving, once for heroin possession, and a third time for an assault at a club. “A guy said I stabbed him in the eye with a glass at Bungalow 8,” she says, sounding nonchalant. “I had stolen my mom’s credit cards and run away from home. In my mind, it was great.”

Lionel finally became so disgusted with Nicole’s behavior that he barred her from his house. “My dad wouldn’t let me in, because he didn’t want me around my brother and sister,” Nicole says. “He always thought I was lying, which I usually was. But even when I wasn’t, they were just fed up with me and my lies.”

Brenda believes that the instability of Nicole’s early years contributed to her eventual meltdown. “Even though you know that the people you’re with love you, and you’re in a better situation, you also know that your biological parents weren’t there for you and didn’t take care of you,” she says.

When I ask Nicole if she felt any guilt about the angst she caused her adoptive parents, she says, “None. I thought they didn’t understand and were just being really strict. I didn’t feel bad at all.”

NNicole finally faced up to her heroin addiction when she had to function for The Simple Life. “I knew I could not go on television being as wasted as I was,” she says. “I went to my parents and said, ‘It’s time for me to get help.’”

During a month in the Sierra Tucson drug-treatment program, family therapy began to change her perspective. “I had to sit in a room with my parents, and they were crying,” Nicole says. “I kind of put down my shield, and I wasn’t as defensive—and then I felt really bad. We all had to change the way we dealt with each other. My parents didn’t speak for 10 years, until we went into rehab and they both had to figure out what to do about me.”

Although Nicole says she has been clean since then, she was required to serve a second stint in rehab, this time at the Cirque Lodge, in Sundance, Utah, following an arrest for possession of heroin found in a friend’s car she was driving. She says the heroin was not her own.

These days the Richies all get along well. “I have a really good relationship with both my parents,” Nicole says. “I know they both love me.” Lionel is now divorced from his second wife, and he and Brenda are on cordial terms again. “Nicole managed to bring her mother and father together,” says Lionel.

But Nicole is still wrestling with the challenges of real life. “I did build a lot of walls around myself, and I’m now, at 24, just learning to deal with my problems instead of concealing them with drugs or whatever,” she says. “I really have to make a conscious effort not to do that, and that causes a lot of stress. It’s all very new for me—feeling feelings instead of turning them off, dealing with my problems like a normal human being, doing what I feel is the right thing to do, not necessarily doing what I want to do all the time, owning what I do and not putting the blame on somebody else.”

She is determined to grow up. “I want to be able to take whatever comes to me and not physically break down every time hard things come my way, because hard things are always going to come my way,” she says. “I’m really trying to make it so I have the proper tools to deal with life.”

It is in this context that Nicole understands her current weight issues. “Yes, I’m too thin, but that’s just a result of what’s really going on with me; the bigger picture is how I deal with problems,” she says.

Part of this challenge is repairing her romantic life, which seems to be improving: Nicole and DJ AM are seeing each other again. They vacationed together in Los Cabos, Mexico, in March, and Nicole threw him a surprise birthday party in Las Vegas in April. “She loves him so much,” says Vanessa Traina, Danielle Steel’s daughter and one of Nicole’s best friends. “They’re very in love, and everything’s happening very naturally.”

With The Simple Life wrapped for another season, Nicole’s top priority is recording an album, which is where Benny Medina—whom she calls Suity, because he wears a suit—comes in. “She’s got a really pretty voice that needs collaborative partners to help shape a sound around her,” he says. “She’s been around music all her life, but being a recording artist isn’t a part-time job. We’ll help Nicole construct a sound, help her to write and express herself in music, and then we’ll know if she has the discipline and drive to do it. She’s hungry but not desperate, and that’s always sexy.”

Like everyone else in Nicole’s life, Medina is waiting to see what her choices will be. “She is at that wonderful stage where everything is possible,” says Lionel. “What she’s capable of, I don’t know. But I’m no longer guiding this rocket. Everything I told her not to do, she did it—and she won. This rocket has cleared the atmosphere and is on its own.”

NNestled in the oversize sofa that dominates her living room, Nicole is surrounded by her pets—Honey Child and Foxy Cleopatra, two beige puffballs that look like stuffed toys but are in fact a Shih Tzu and a Pomeranian, and Sweet Shalomie and Muggsy, her Persian and Russian Blue cats. She has lit candles all over the apartment, a sleek marble-floored spread with sweeping views of Los Angeles, and the soft light makes her skin look as creamy as café au lait.

Tonight’s topic is the rupture of her friendship with Paris Hilton, which reportedly followed a party at which Nicole showed Paris’s notorious sex tape—an allegation Nicole has repeatedly denied. “That was completely made up,” she says. “A, I don’t watch porn, and, B, I don’t want to see someone I’ve known forever having sex. I mean, that’s gross!”

Nicole prefers to attribute the breach to divergent values. “We never had a fight,” she says. “I just decided I didn’t want to be her friend anymore. We’re just two completely different people; we don’t have that much in common. I really don’t have anything horrible to say about her.”

A close reader of Nicole’s novel might deduce otherwise, given its snide portrayal of “Simone,” whose debauched behavior exerts a dangerous influence on “Chloe,” the character who succumbs to drug addiction. Simone is “famous for being famous,” the narrator explains, but everything about her is fake, from her fortune to her breasts, her nose, and the color of her eyes. Her voice “had that somnambulant quality, half Stepford and half Valium.… The dial tone had more personality.”

“When I got out of rehab, I had to figure out what path to go down, and part of that included taking certain people out of my life,” Nicole says. “When Paris made her little announcement that ‘Nicole knows what she did,’ I didn’t really understand what that was about, because we hadn’t been friends in such a long time. I can only guess that she had House of Wax coming out.”

While Nicole denies feeling any kind of rivalry with Paris, whose striptease in House of Wax failed to save the film from oblivion, she admits that theirs is a small world, “and I do hear some things about what she says. Every time I hear something, it just reminds me of why I made the decision I did,” she says. “It’s not like I hate Paris and it’s war; I just didn’t want to be her best friend anymore. I can totally imagine how that would be hurtful. But you can’t threaten people into being your friend; you can’t bribe them into being your friend.”

Nicole remains contractually obligated to The Simple Life should the ratings warrant its continued existence, but she’s now focusing on bigger dreams. “I never wanted to be on television; I always wanted to be a singer,” she says. “I always wanted to do Broadway.”

Even as her career flourishes, however, the old demons lurk in the shadows, waiting for a chink in her armor. As she struggles to accept doctors’ orders and live up to all her commitments, Nicole seems to be thriving on her jam-packed schedule. “I always push myself,” she says. “If I don’t have anything to do, I always feel like I’m going to do something wrong.”

Nicole’s rebellious streak may be concealed inside ladylike couture these days, but it has left a telltale brand on her finger.

When I ask Nicole how many tattoos she has, she replies, “Nine and a half.” These include a rosary around her ankle, a tiara on her hip, a cross on her lower back, ballet slippers on her abdomen (“because my dad wrote the song ‘Ballerina Girl’ for me”), the word “virgin” on one wrist (“because the Virgo symbol is a virgin”), a red shooting star on her other wrist (companion to the stars received by two of her close friends, Quincy Jones’s daughter Kidada and the late singer Aaliyah), angel wings on her shoulder blades, and “Richie” on the back of her neck.

So what about the half? “The tattoo artist told me not to play with the tattoo gun, so of course I did,” Nicole says, showing me the spray of dots that were permanently etched into one finger when she accidentally dropped the gun and it fired.

Does she always do what she’s told not to do?

“I used to,” she says. “I don’t anymore.”

There is a moment’s pause as a knowing look dances in those amber eyes.

“To be quite honest, sometimes I do.”

Jun 2006 – Vanity Fair – Written by Leslie Bennetts