Heidi Montag didn't ask for this. Once infamous for thrusting herself onto the cover of every American tabloid possible, the former reality star has serious reservations today about posing for cameras. She's vocally anxious, which has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with her six-month-old baby Gunner, whom she's spent every day with since his birth. "I don't want a nanny," Heidi admits, because a nanny would mean less one-on-one time with Gunner — something she's not willing to sacrifice, even if it means a much-needed full night's sleep. "I'm not ready to share him," not even with husband Spencer Pratt, she says, only half-joking. Nevertheless, she's agreed to our shoot today, but we'll have to move at the baby's pace, allowing Heidi to take frequent breaks to breastfeed, put him back to sleep (several times) and regularly check on Spencer, who'd largely be responsible for his son throughout the day. For someone once publicly lambasted for her unapologetic selfishness, 31-year-old Heidi couldn't be any more selfless these days.
"It's weird to think I was a person before Gunner," she says, and his impact on her life is immediately evident. Heidi greets the production crew wearing pajama pants and little-to-no makeup, diligently handing out blue disposable shoe covers to every person who enters the front door. "It's either covers on or shoes off," Heidi informs, stern but still smiling, with Gunner rocking gently in her arms. "I want to keep the floor germ-free for the baby." She lives with Spencer, Gunner and their four dogs on a quiet peak in Pasadena, California, surrounded by new families and retired couples. On the ride up their winding hill, moms parade down with blown-out platinum hair, skin-tight yoga pants and luxury strollers. Heidi fits in perfectly, not just because she looks the part, but because her values align with this calm, centered environment. "I've always wanted a family," she says. "I've been with Spencer for 11 years now, so I told him, 'You had me alone for 10 straight years.' We have a great marriage, and it was the perfect time for us to move into this next chapter."
Top (Vintage) by Anne Fontaine, Earrings by House of Emmanuele
While the couple's current life is much like that of a traditional family, inside their home are relics of the past decade as "Speidi," a celebrity duo the public loved to loathe. The most glaring reminder is a pair of giant portraits taken by photographer Martin Schoeller, which Heidi says previously shared wall space with shots of George Clooney and Cate Blanchett at a Beverly Hills restaurant. Today they're hung side by side in the dining room, offering a reminder about the way Heidi and Spencer originally rose to fame for being themselves. In the next room, there's a wall packed with framed copies of every magazine that's featured them on the cover, both for positive and negative reasons. A recent Us Weekly cover announces the arrival of Gunner as a "Miracle Baby," and the issue directly to its right shows Heidi alongside the headline, "I Was Betrayed By Spencer." One reads "Destroyed By Fame," while another argues, "The High Price of Fame is So Worth It," next to the couple's smiling faces. Their 11 years together have been riddled with dramatic highs and lows, but this shrine of their own celebrity shows they've embraced it all — even if they've now moved past it.
Heidi's life changed forever when she moved from small town Crested Butte, Colorado to study fashion at San Francisco's Academy of Art University in 2005. During freshman orientation, the young student met Lauren Conrad, who at the time was a lead character in MTV's hit reality series Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. They became immediate best friends, and after one semester transferred together to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles and became roommates. Heidi appeared on four episodes of Laguna Beach's second season before becoming a primary cast member on the show's spin-off, The Hills, which followed her friendships with Lauren as well as Audrina Partridge and Whitney Port.
"The Hills machine was so powerful."
After the first season of The Hills, Heidi (then 19) met Spencer, a successful 22-year-old from Malibu who'd previously created and executive produced his own reality series, The Princes of Malibu, where he starred as Brody Jenner's manager. Heidi and Spencer quickly grew inseparable, and they decided to move in together — a change that sparked the ultimate demise of Heidi's relationship with Lauren. By the second season, the two's friendship had degenerated, and by the third, Lauren officially ended things when she suspected Spencer was spreading rumors of a sex tape with her and former boyfriend Jason Wahler. An archetypal reality TV storyline, Speidi became the series' central villains, and failed to shake their notorious reputation through the sixth and final season in 2010.
Top by Arianne Elmy
"There was a lot of Team Lauren," Heidi remembers. "And it was just a different time when people took reality TV very seriously. They were invested in Lauren emotionally, because she had come from Laguna Beach and was the narrator for each episode. It was frustrating for me at the time — everyone just assuming I was this bad friend and bad person. It was especially challenging when everyone was against my relationship [with Spencer]. The Hills machine was so powerful, and it was impossible to get over. The money definitely made it a little bit easier, but the repercussions were really hard."
Before she's able to get into glam, Heidi has to slip away into their master bedroom to feed Gunner. While she's gone, the camera crew asks Spencer if his wife has a preferred good side. "She's so beyond that at this point," he laughs, pulling espresso shots in the kitchen. Spencer clearly hasn't considered this type of concern for several years, either. In a former life, the two had their angles down to an art, whether performing on The Hills or posing for the paparazzi, but in this present one, Heidi's more focused on tending to a fussy six-month-old while Spencer gets caffeinated for a long day of babysitting. Once she's finally sitting for hair and makeup, though, it's clear Heidi's no stranger to this process. Even if it's been nearly a decade since the height of her fame, getting camera-ready is like muscle memory, and Heidi's the ultimate pro. "I haven't done a shoot like this in years," she admits, opening her iPhone camera to document the process for her fans. "But I'm back, people!" Heidi announces on Instagram, as a mascara wand and blow dryer dance around her in the frame.
With Gunner finally asleep (for who knows how long) and Heidi finally sitting down (for a few brief minutes), the effects of new motherhood are having a visible impact. She's a bit dead-eyed, and her answers trail off like she's on the brink of passing out — but rightfully so. "The most sleep I get is two hours — sometimes three," Heidi says matter-of-factly. "I'm usually up every hour with Gunner, it's really intense. Gunner's given me a whole new strength that I didn't know. I feel like I am stronger than I've ever been emotionally. At the end of the day, I'm his mom, and that's my main priority."
Jacket by Kenzo, Glasses by ManéMané
Still, Heidi admits to missing the cash flow of her previous celebrity lifestyle. "That was really fun, going to the bank," she says wistfully, "It was such a different carefree time in my life." So carefree that Heidi made the decision to invest $2 million of her own money into a music career to fulfill a lifelong dream. "Who doesn't grow up wanting to be like Britney Spears or Janet Jackson? I admired those women and wanted to make music since I was really young," Heidi says.
Before she met Spencer, Heidi had already laid the framework for a music career. Her manager at the time was pushing things toward a trendier rock-pop route, much like Ashlee Simpson, but Heidi had a different vision for herself: "I wanted to be a pop star." She joined forces with songwriter/producer David Foster, who had previous successes with powerhouses like Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera. Together they created Heidi's debut single, "Higher," which inspired her to continue creating tracks with the industry's leading talent. "I had [Cathy Dennis], who wrote 'Toxic' for Britney Spears, [and The Runners], who wrote for Rihanna," Heidi says. "The songwriter behind [my song] 'No More' had just won a Grammy. Little by little, it all added up to $2 million. When you're so immersed in that world and spending money, you're like, 'That's a hit! That's a hit!' Obviously I wish I had that money back, because that was a lot of money."
With so much hate spewing from Lauren's invested fanbase, Heidi had a lot to publicly overcome in order to release a successful debut album. And she exerted herself tirelessly to shake that TV villain reputation. "What people don't know is after filming The Hills, Spencer and I spent our entire nights and days in the studio," she says. "I can't even count how many hours — literally blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes I'd be crying, because I was so exhausted. You have to hit the same note over and over again, so I worked really diligently, and I'm proud of everything I put into my music."
Top (Vintage) by Anne Fontaine, Earrings by House of Emmanuele, Pants by MURMUR
Her single "Body Language," released in 2009, was a mission statement for Heidi's pop career, with shamelessly manufactured synth production and an explosive chorus that gives herself entirely to the listener. "Read my body language/ I do what you like/ So prove that you're right/ Control me." As a public figure, Heidi had relinquished control, and the song only underlined this. The title track off her 2010 full-length album, Superficial, fed critics even more, with lyrics written specifically for Heidi's life as an unapologetic celebrity. "They say I'm superficial, some call me a bitch/ They're just mad cause I'm sexy, famous and rich." Names like Dawn Richard, Taylor Momsen and LP are notably listed under the album's songwriting credits with 12 self-obsessed tracks about seduction, clubbing and status — everything America loved to hate about The Hills alum.
"I was confident the music would speak for itself," Heidi says, but her $2 million investment saw nearly no return. Superficial sold just over 1,000 copies in its first week of release and failed to chart (album highlight "More Is More" had already been released and debuted at number 50 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs, but that'd be her only charting single to date). Disappointed, Heidi believes the world wasn't ready for her music and didn't want to see her successfully cross over from reality TV to mainstream pop. Beyond being a daily target, Heidi also attributes slim sales to her chosen genre. "Pop wasn't trendy or cool when my album was released," she says. "I think even a few years before or after, Superficial would've been a big hit. It's about finding the right people at the right time, but it just never quite lined up." Today, with hundreds of thousands of Spotify streams and a cult audience, Heidi recognizes her foray into music as an "underground pop phenomena," saying that people can finally "appreciate it for the music" without her notoriety clouding its quality. And, although she has no plans in the immediate future to return to music, she hasn't ruled out the possibility of getting back into the game in 10 years or so when she's done having kids. "I look at Erika Jayne and I'm like, 'Wow, she's older than I am and touring.' So you never know," she says, adding that, like Jayne, a sizable part of her fanbase come from the LGBTQ community, and she'd be open to doing a gay club tour one day.
"I was confident the music would speak for itself [...] I think even a few years before or after, Superficial would've been a big it."
It wasn't only her pop music, Heidi argues, that suffered from timing issues. She points to how the nature of fame and celebrity has evolved over the years, particularly thanks to the rise of Instagram, thirst traps and selfies. "Things that Spencer and I were shamed for, like, 'Oh they're so cheesy and over-the-top' — now every A-list celebrity is doing, it's just on their Instagram," she says. "It's the exact same thing, and it's being seen by maybe even more people than what we had done. It's fascinating that that's accepted now, but it was cheesy and fame-whorey when we did it."
Top by Arianne Elmy
But no matter how much more acceptable or normalized peoples' attempts for fame may have become, Heidi knows firsthand the pitfalls of this attention-seeking and vanity. Reflecting on one of the most controversial (and scariest) moments of her life, she recalls how youthful self-involvement and impulsivity led her to electively undergo 10 body-altering surgeries in the course of 24 hours — an irresponsible decision that caused a familiar tabloid frenzy, and ultimately led to her brief death. "Spencer thought he lost me," Heidi says, emotionless as if she's processed the story too many times for any feelings to remain. "I died for a minute. With that much surgery, I had to have 24-hour nurse care and Spencer didn't want to leave my side. I was at a recovery center and had Demerol to deal with the pain because it was so extreme. My security guards called Spencer and told him, 'Heidi's heart stopped. She's not going to make it.' And I easily could've. Cutting yourself up isn't something I'd recommend, and Demerol isn't anything to play around with. That's how Michael Jackson died."
"My security guards called Spencer and told him, 'Heidi's heart stopped. She's not going to make it.'"
Still, she says, "A lot of positive things came out of that. I had to look at myself in the mirror every day healing, and be like, 'What did I do to myself? How did I get here? What is going on?' I basically had to hit that rock-bottom moment in my life, to realize what was important to me." With her husband and baby in the next room over, Heidi's thoughts turn to them as well as her intimate relationship with God. She thanks Him for protecting her from "a huge mistake" and says she can scarcely recognize the person she once was who risked her "own life for vanity." Looking forward to the future, which is Heidi's top priority despite us reminiscing all day over her controversial past, the new mother wants to create opportunities for her son. Maybe they'll move to Colorado "and raise him with different values"; perhaps they'll stay in California "where you're not as sheltered." Much like her music, Heidi wants Gunner to flourish without the polarizing tinge of Speidi's legacy. "I just want him to enjoy his life, and not live in his parents' mistakes or shadows."
Jacket by Kenzo, Glasses by ManéMané
Photography: Nikko La Mere
Styling: Lisa Katnic
Hair: Marley Gonzales
Makeup: Amy Chance (at Celestine Agency using Kat Von D Beauty)