Heidi Montag is running 10 minutes late for her photoshoot, but a quick check of Snapchat shows that her and husband, Spencer Pratt are indeed nearby — they just stopped for a double scoop of ice cream. They’re laughing, narrating their whole day, having the best time. The two show up a short time later, full of apologies, cheer and spunk. They make their rounds, introducing themselves to each person, giving hugs, learning everyone’s name.
Six months pregnant, the blonde 31-year-old pop culture icon has already fully embraced the “mom” look. She is dressed down in a striped shirt and a pair of white cuffed shorts that practically hit her knees — a far cry from the low-cut sex symbol duds you remember her in. She gets right to hair and makeup, snapping the whole experience, exclaiming how it’s been awhile since her last photoshoot and how she feels so honored and pampered. Spencer, 34, is on the other side of the room entertaining with stories of the hummingbirds he has raised, Alan, in particular — one he’s had since birth.
These two — you think — you already know a lot about. Known for being friendship anarchists of reality TV shows the entire world has seen, you’ve watched The Hills and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. You’re aware of their Big Brother stints in the U.K. But who are they when there are no reality TV cameras around? Who are they really… like, in reality?
From the small town of Crested Butte, Colorado, Heidi didn’t grow up with money but had always been into fashion. Obsessed with the glossy pages of Vogue, she was a girly girl, nicknamed “Rocky Mountain Barbie,” often clomping through the snow in heels to high school.
Motivated by her big dreams, she longed for more excitement and moved to Italy at 17 for a study abroad program where she lived with a well-to-do family with connections to the Missoni franchise. She attended fashion shows and enjoyed her first glimpse into the glitz and glamour of the fashion world. Upon her return to the States, she graduated early and moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University to pursue her love of fashion.
And that’s when her world changed forever. That’s when she met her ultimate frenemy (before frenemy was even a word), Lauren Conrad.
“There was a rumor this “MTV girl” was going to be going to our school, but it was before Laguna Beach was, like, a thing. I definitely didn’t have a TV and had just got back from Italy and was like, ‘MTV is the last thing I’m worried about — I’m worldy!’” laughs Heidi. “I met her my first day of school and we became best friends. We were immediately drawn to each other.”
Besties for a year, Lauren decided to move back to SoCal to shoot the pilot for a new MTV venture, The Hills (2006-2010). She asked Heidi to come along and be part of the cast and the next thing we know the girls are bonafide celebrities, living the high life in LA.
After Season 1, Heidi (then 19) was introduced to Spencer Pratt (then 22), a rich kid from Malibu, and it was another quick connection. But one that ultimately tore Heidi and Lauren apart… which MTV then capitalized on. The show now had its plot twist and Heidi and Spencer became the social villains all reality TV thrives on.
Rather shy away from the limelight, the two fully embraced the roles they were given. And then they milked it for all it was worth.
“Spencer and I had too much fun, which could have been part of the problem, because we would never take anything seriously. We had just found love and became so rich all of a sudden. We had the world at our fingertips and we were traveling everywhere and becoming famous. It was so fun and we just didn’t care,” Heidi explains a little wistfully. “Then suddenly it built up and just kind of took over where we couldn’t control it.”
The world watched the cat fights, we watched them fall in and out and back in love. We watched their elopement in Mexico. We watched as this blonde firecracker turned from small town cutie into an actual Barbie doll, getting a whopping 10 surgeries in one day. We watched their staged paparazzi shoots — ones they were payed hundreds of thousands of dollars for. And then, we watched as they blew through almost 10 million dollars. People talked, they scrutinized and “Speidi” became an actual thing. The two young reality stars made statements comparing their celebrity to that of Barack and Michelle Obama. Al Roker called them the poster children for everything that is wrong with celebrity in this country.
“The whole thing was such an experiment. It was such a different time with tabloids; social media wasn’t even out yet, the recession hadn’t happened, and it was this whole turning point in the world. There were just so many elements that weren’t there then that are here now. We were this fluke,” Heidi explains of how reality TV has changed in the almost 12 years she’s been a part of it. “We thought we’d be Kardashian rich and famous at this point because we were that before they were. And looking at where they are now, it makes sense why we kind of thought that. But we didn’t have co-stars that stuck together. Everyone secretly didn’t like each other and everyone was fighting. When you have a family that sticks together it’s different; the Kardashians are a huge cast that has each others backs. If we would have banded together who knows where we’d all be?”
The public’s criticism and the betrayal of her friends on national television was understandably hard for the young star to handle.
“I was always a very confident person and slowly it just kind of chiseled away at me, especially with MTV making Lauren the sweetheart and trying to villainize us,” Heidi shares. “They were manipulating things the whole time and then suddenly you’re the bad guy and you don’t even have the platform to say the truth because MTV has so much more power. It’s a mafia. They controlled the press and the media… we were just two rogue agents.”
After the show wrapped production in 2010, it was a dark and intense time for the young couple and they retreated to Spencer’s parent’s beach house in Santa Barbara for a few months — which ended up turning into six years. “It took a total collapse to rebuild,” Heidi, humbly admits. “We needed to reevaluate our lives and think about who we wanted to be. It was a lot of soul searching and reflecting upon the last few years. When you’re in the height of things you don’t realize the magnitude of everything going around. Sometimes it just takes a moment to step back, away from the spotlight and the chaos, to get a new perspective — so that’s what we did.”
They needed to learn how to be adults and they needed to grow up on their own. “We were irresponsible. Learning finances was hard and humiliating. But at the same time, really liberating and put us in a good grounding position. It really took me back to an appreciation for every dollar,” Heidi says as she points to the $100 Birkenstock sandals on her feet, laughing when she says, “I would never spend money on something like Louboutins now! Even these I was having a hard time buying and Spencer’s like ‘Get the freakin’ sandals!’ and I’m like ‘I just don’t know, because I’m our accountant and I’m going to see this later!’”
Today, over a decade after the world was first introduced to Speidi, the two have defied the odds and are still very much in love — a rare feat for Hollywood couples. They have grown into smart, business savvy parents-to-be who genuinely enjoy every day together and always prioritize each other. They are confident, humble and down-to-earth, and although they still dabble in the reality TV game and haven’t yet sworn it off (“It’s just part of who we are at this point,” Heidi says) they aren’t there to bring the drama anymore and aren’t willing to compromise for money or success.
Through it all Heidi is thankful for all that they went through. Having recently bought a house and moved back to LA, the pair is looking forward to a fresh start with their new baby. “I was so young but I’m a woman now. It all made me so much stronger. It was something I needed to go through in order to move forward in such a powerful way,” she says.
Hours after the shoot wraps, I find myself on a boat with Heidi, Spencer and the rest of the team from the photoshoot. There’s not a care in the world or any rush to leave coming from anyone. Heidi and Spencer each take out their phones to narrate the Laguna Beach sunset as it goes down, fielding DM’s and comments from curious fans wondering what the two are up to (Laguna Beach, OMG!). As we sail, Spencer entertains with hilarious stories while Heidi chats with the girls, laughing and watching her husband’s endearing antics with admiration. It feels like a regular group of friends just hanging out, living their lives, having fun and being real.
It’s the true Heidi and Spencer Pratt — more real than you’ve ever seen on reality TV.
Lindsay DeLong is the Managing Editor of The Fullest. She’s always been Team Speidi (sorry LC!). Find her on Instagram @lindizzaster.
Hair: Pamela Lund; Makeup: Therese Curatolo; Styling: Nikki Bostwick; Flowers Walden Design Co.