Momagers! Meltdowns! Bums! And 189 million Instagram followers… as the first lady of social media marks her 40th by climbing out of a cake, Laura Craik charts the rise and rise of the most famous member of the world’s most famous family
The Sex Tape
Kim was a nobody when a leaked sex tape (co-starring then boyfriend Ray-J) went viral in 2007. In the intervening 13 years, speculation about who leaked it has reached fever-pitch. We also learned from a 2018 episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians that Kim was high on K — sorry, I mean E — when it was filmed. The revenue Kim’s earned is enough to make anyone ecstatic, with or without chemical enhancement: she and Ray still bank an estimated $360,000 a year from their 41-minute sexploits, making the sex tape the most-watched porn of all time.
Which brings us neatly to Momma Kris, who has denied persistent rumours that she is the person who leaked the tape. Wikipedia describes 64-year-old Kristen Mary Jenner as “an American television personality, entertainment manager, producer, businesswoman, and author”. When the sex tape leaked, Kris wasted no time in pitching a reality TV series to E! The first episode of KUWTK aired the same year. To the devastation of its fans, the final one will air in 2021. Say what you like about Kris — and people do — but there would be no Kim Kardashian without her: as well as KUWTK, Kris has helped mastermind all three of Kim’s marriages and every business move she makes. If you want to know where Kim gets her drive, focus and ambition from, look no further than the woman who in 2008 encouraged her own daughter to pose for Playboy.
The TV Show
Rare is the TV show that manages to run for 20 seasons, yet Keeping Up With The Kardashians is that phenomenon. First aired in October 2007 and peaking at about five million viewers, it has been critically panned since its inception, accused of fabricating its storylines by those who don’t quite grasp just how fantastical the extended Kardashian family’s real life actually is. Do you really need to fabricate plotlines when you’ve been robbed at gunpoint by five masked men in a Paris hotel who made off with millions of pounds of your jewellery? I think not.
Sure, KUWTK is the ultimate expression of the “famous for being famous” genre, but for its millions of fans, it’s an indulgently guilty pleasure — one which they’re devvo will finally end in 2021. Without KUWTK, Kim wouldn’t have 190 million Instagram followers, Kylie wouldn’t have become a near-billionaire with Kylie Cosmetics, Kendall wouldn’t have enjoyed such a stratospheric rise in the modelling world and who knows what would have become of Khloe?
Where to begin with this bounteous, beauteous creation touched by the hand of God and — some speculate — surgeon? Truly, Kim’s rear deserves its own entry in the Hall of Fame, although arguably, it has something even better: that 2014 cover of Paper magazine, in which Kim balances a champagne coup on her derriere. “Break the Internet” said the coverline, and it did, becoming a major news story for two weeks solid, and spawning countless hashtags and memes. Over the years, Kim has denied having implants, in 2011 even having an X-ray to prove it. “Who the hell of a normal person gets butt implants?” she asked, as doctors confirmed it was natural. Yet the rumours persist. Is it real, or the result of covert fat transfers? Given the hugely positive way in which it changed how curvy girls and women felt about their bodies, who cares? The world needs more body confidence, full stop.
After failed marriages to athlete Kris Humphries and record producer Damon Thomas (as well as rumoured flings with Nick Cannon, John Mayer and Cristiano Ronaldo), it was a case of third time lucky when Kim married Kanye West in a lavish Italian wedding in 2014.
Well, kind of lucky. The union may have spawned four kids and a portmanteau, but the course of true love hasn’t always run smooth for Kimye. The doting parents to North, seven, Saint, four, Chicago, two, and one-year-old Psalm have been dogged by divorce rumours, with Kim struggling to cope with Kanye’s bipolar episodes, in particular a tweet in which he accused her of having wanted to abort her pregnancy with North. Most wives would find such a betrayal unforgivable: that she continues to stand by him surely shows a deeper love than many first assumed.
The Business Empire
In June 2020, while the rest of us were fishing for pennies behind the sofa, Kim became a billionaire after selling a 20 per cent stake in her beauty business, in a £162 million deal with global beauty company Coty. Kanye was the first to congratulate her, posting on Twitter a picture made out of vegetables (“so blessed still is this life/that I made you a still life”).
Whatever you think of her, Kim’s business acumen is as sharp as the needles that haven’t made contact with her bum, encompassing over the years everything from clothes to tanning ranges to weight-loss teas to mobile games to coffee-table tomes. It doesn’t hurt that in addition to her shapewear brand, Skims, and her beauty range, KKW Beauty, she can earn up to £500,000 per social media post. Famous for fame’s sake she may be, but Kim has monetized her fame like a pro. Others might celebrate their fortieth with champagne and cake: Kim marked hers by announcing @kkwbeauty’s The Opalescent Collection — launching at 10.46am on October 21, the time and date she was born.
Where there’s brass, there’s always muck. How many people hate her? Let us count the names.
Famously, after a 2016 spat between herself and Kanye West over the lyrics to his song Famous, Taylor Swift claimed that Kim framed her and “put me, my family and fans through hell”. In 2019, Jameela Jamil slammed her for promoting a weight-loss tea. After calling her “a talentless half-wit”, Piers Morgan has feuded with Kim for years: also off the Christmas card list are Blac Chyna, Bette Midler and Chloe Grace Moretz. Although even her haters were turned into a marketing opportunity in 2018, after she posted a Snapchat video claiming that she’d be sending them all bottles of her new perfume.
The Social Justice Warrior
At the start of her fame, Kim seemed to be just another vain, spoiled, well-connected Hollywood brat. Watching her in that sex tape, few would have guessed she would end up a successful businesswoman, philanthropist and social justice advocate. In 2018, inspired by a visit to the White House in which she persuaded President Trump to have prisoner Alice Jackson released from jail, the following year she enrolled in a four-year apprenticeship law programme in California. She aims to take her bar exam in 2022. She is also a staunch supporter of The Armenia Fund, donating $1 million to the humanitarian crisis.
Responding to criticism on Instagram, she wrote: “I want people to understand that there is nothing that should limit your pursuit of your dreams. You can create your own lanes, just as I am.”
Not to brag, but I’ve spent half an hour with Kim. It was in 2014, in a suite at Claridge’s. “She is one of those rare celebrities who manages to look exactly the same in the flesh as she does in every other medium, be it print, Instagram or TV,” I wrote. “She is as flawless as her best selfie.” And it was true. She was also far more engaged and endearing than I expected. As seemed fitting, given the interview’s sole purpose was to promote Kim’s new book, Selfie, our encounter concluded with me asking for a selfie with her.
After three were taken, her assistant took my phone, examined the photos and summarily deleted all but one of them. When I complained that I looked like a fat, sweaty, troglodyte next to Kim, she smiled and said: “You know what I do when that happens? When I feel like that about myself? Sometimes I crop it. Like if my arm looks big I’ll just crop it like this, and make out it was kind of just half of me in the photo.” Words to live by. And also make a billion by.
Keeping Up With The Kardashians Kim’s 40th Birthday Special episode will be available on hayu this Thursday 22nd October