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We’re going to take a wild guess: the words “Hilary Duff” don’t mean a great deal to you. But, as a follower of emergent2 woman-talent, you’ll know the name. One that began with her debut in the Disney Channel’s teenage drama Lizzie Maguire3. And now, seven years later, she can count five albums and 16 films under her belt4. In the process, she’s more or less cornered the “tween5” market:a large part of the teenage girl market pop that’s worth an estimated£3.1 billion a year in the UK alone. Not bad for the daughter of a convenience store owner.

With her role in the John Cusack’s movie War, Inc., she’s making the transition from teen queen to “older” movies. But she’s done it without going off the rails6, going to prison or getting addicted to anything powdery like many others in Los Angeles. And most importantly,she’s managed it and has grown up to be a beautiful, sexy woman who is still fun, and easy-going. No wonder you voted her the 39th sexiest women on Earth.

All of which leads us critics to conclude that she cannot be as nice as her public persona7 makes out. Somewhere there’s got to be some dirt—a contract taken out on Nicole Richie’s8 life perhaps. Or how about...

There’s a reason why Wikipedia10 lists her as an “actress, pop singer and entrepreneur11”: underneath all that beauty is a calculating12 business woman. Look how she’s managed her “tween queen” status—with a clothing range, Stuff by Hilary Duff (sensible, accessibly priced, not too naughty), a perfume with Elizabeth Arden, her own character in The Sims 2 computer game and a range of accessories all bearing her signature. The result? In three years she’s amassed13 a fortune of $25m.

Q:So what’s the one thing you’ve spent most on if you’re treating yourself?

HD: Handbags are expensive, you know. But I don’t think I would ever spend more than $1,500 on a handbag.

Q:Have you ever downloaded anything illegally?

HD: You know what? I’m so bad on computers, I can never figure out iTunes14!

Q:Okay, if a kid was being prosecuted15 of illegally downloading your album, would you leave them there to get their just punishment?

HD: I don’t think I would want them to get sent to jail, but might wanna give them a piece of my mind. It’s just not cool, because this market is for our music and for an artist to be able to tour and do what we do, you know, now it’s so scarce. We need to be able to make money to be able to have our record label16 support us and go into the studio, make records, shoot great videos. But when people are getting it illegally and not supporting it, they’ve no... It sounds greedy, but it’s not like all that money goes to us, you know.

On Nov. 3, 2006, police arrested Maksim Miakovsky, an 18-year-old Russian immigrant who had come to America purely to meet and become “romantically involved” with Duff. He went about this by threatening to kill her and anyone else who got in his way, and then told a private investigator17 about his plans. Terrifying indeed—especially as she’d only recently stopped living with her mother.

Q:So has that changed how you live?

HD: Definitely. It was hard for a while because I had someone, a security person, living with me and going everywhere with me. It’s, like, you feel so trapped, there’s no freedom, and everything scares you. It was horrible, because I like my independence.

Q:Is it different when you come to the UK?

HD: Yeah! I notice that when people recognize you in England, they’ll come up and maybe ask for a picture or an autograph or something and then they leave you alone. In the States, people want something from you and then they wanna keep staring and watch every move you make... and then video you on their phone.

Q:What’s the worst accident you’ve ever been in?

HD: I got bit on the face by a dog. I was about eight. It was a big dog that had those crooked18 teeth—it was bad, right under my eye. I was over at my friend’s house and I was playing with it... it just snapped19. We went to the hospital and they put stitches20 in one direction and they were pulling my eye down, so then they took out the stitches and put them in the other way, and it was still not working. So they pulled it out and put the skin together. I had no anaesthetic21, no anything. It was crazy.

Q:Have you ever stolen anything?

HD: No, but my friend stole something and I made her return it. I had already moved to LA. And a lot of my girlfriends got into stealing stuff. It wasn’t like they didn’t have the money. It’s a real teenage girl thing I think, like, to see if you can get away with it. I never understood that.

Q:How did you make her take it back?

HD: I was just, like, “Why did you do that? That’s horrible, that’s gonna come back on you, you know. There’s no point, you have the money to be able to go and buy that and it’s not cool.” I didn’t make her take it back to the person, but I made her put it into the store.

Album Dignity is said to be her most personal (possibly because—get this—she actually helped write the lyrics). Excitingly, they offer some comments about famous people. For instance, lyrics such as “Where’s your dignity?/I think you lost it in the Hollywood Hills/” suggest someone less than impressed by the whole Paris Hilton scandals. But the track gaining the most attention is “Gypsy”, which observers claim is a dig24 at Nicole Richie.

Q:You seem to be remarkably well adjusted, compared to some of your peers. Why do you think that is?

HD: It’s just who I am as a person. Plus, how my mom handled me. I didn’t get special privileges growing up, and I didn’t get everything that I wanted and I wasn’t the one supporting the family, so I wasn’t like the boss. I think that has a lot to do with it. And then growing up around lots of young people that were so talented, and seeing them getting involved in stuff and not really having anyone around to tell them how to handle it.

Q:Do you ever look at more high-profile25 similarities, like Britney, and think“that could have been me”?

HD: I don’t look at them and think “that could have been me” because I’m me and I’m not like that. I know that it can be really hard and there’s lots of pressure with everyone watching you. But I don’t think that excuses some behavior.

Professionalism26? Restraint? Good manners? Alarmingly, it seems like Duff actually is as nice as she makes out. We have one last try and ask about her school life. After all, by the age of six she was a ballet dancer with Columbus Ballet Met.

Q:What’s your strangest school memory?

HD: Some kid threw up on me when we were doing square dancing. I had to go home.

Q:Was it from the square dancing, or were they just over-excited?

HD: I think he was over-excited. It was third grade and we did square dancing instead of gym during February. My partner threw up on me; it was just after lunch. I had to go home because I didn’t have a change of clothes.

Q:You know he’s still saying, “I threw up on Hilary Duff” to this day, right?

HD: Oh my gosh! I hope not. It’s not the greatest claim ever. Is it?