Once upon a time, in the hills above L.A., a young man's sister showed up, ostensibly to have his back as his circle of enemies grew ever larger.
But then the sister ended up liking her brother's enemies a lot more than she thought she would.
Stephanie Pratt joined the fun on season three of The Hills and, while she thought she would always have brother Spencer Pratt's best interests at heart, she soon realized that "best interests" was a subjective term, as she clashed with his fiancée Heidi Montag and bonded with the person he'd crossed the most, Lauren Conrad.
Stephanie's first impression, however, was not promising.
"Hi, my name's Stephanie Pratt, and I just want you to know that you're a [bleepin'] bitch, and you and Lauren are done,'" Audrina Patridge recalled to Lauren what "She-Pratt's" first-ever words to her were when they crossed paths at a club.
"I've met that girl before," Lauren said, not surprised. "She's a loony."
Later in the episode, Brody Jenner pointed Stephanie out to Lauren at the nightclub Opera, and she approached. "Brody, what are you doing here?!" Stephanie asked. "You're on the evil side. Come home with us!"
When Stephanie first arrived on the reality-TV scene in 2007, she was a card-carrying member of Team Speidi, even offering to officiate their wedding.
This week, on her podcast Pratt Cast, she called her brother and sister-in-law "the most toxic people I've ever met."
How did the golden-haired siblings ("she looks like him," Audrina gasped to LC after that first meeting) end up so estranged? Was it all Heidi's fault, or did Spencer master-manipulate his life just a bit far over the line? Or, could Stephanie have done more to mend fences?
Spencer was born in 1983, three years before his little sister, whom as a toddler he called "Weffie." In her 2015 memoir Made in Reality, Stephanie described their early years growing up in Malibu and Pacific Palisades as the "ultimate relaxing beach childhood," raised by mom Janet and their dentist father William, along with older sister Kristin, Janet's daughter from her first marriage to her high school sweetheart.
"Not much has changed with my brother since we were kids," Stephanie wrote. "He was always a charismatic child—there was never a dull moment...He always had tons of friends and there was a lot of laughter around him. He really knew from day one how to love life."
"I always just thought he was so cool, so much fun," she gushed, "even if he was playing pranks on me...It was nonstop shenanigans, nonstop winding my parents up and it was always the best fun to be on his side watching the mayhem take place."
Stephanie pinpoints the age of 12 when "things started to change," as in, when caught up with her fellow rich kids at school, she too became over-occupied with brand names, who was wearing what and hanging out where, as well as the race to kiss a boy for the first time. (Beginning of ninth grade, with a 16-year-old, in his SUV outside a house party.)
In high school she was diagnosed with ADD and prescribed Adderall, which she said made her feel more depressed than ever before—and not long after, a friend who was a little older showed her how to smoke what turned out to be crystal meth, and then took her to a smoke shop to buy her first pipe.
A therapist diagnosed Stephanie with borderline personality disorder, which especially upset her because, having just seen Girl, Interrupted, she didn't identify with Winona Ryder's character, who supposedly had the same condition. (She later concluded she did not have BPD.)
But it eventually hit her that she needed to stop using meth, so with her parents' support she started going every day after school to the Of One Mind clinic, where they conducted random drug testing, and seeing a drug therapist. However, though she kicked the meth habit, she would still do cocaine at parties and smoke pot with friends.
Meanwhile, Stephanie's big dream was to move to Paris, so she enrolled at American University and moved to the City of Light right after high school. She recalled her life there as "largely drug-free" and she happily adopted a dog, Kiki—but when she got home for Christmas break, her parents told her she couldn't go back, not even to pack up her stuff.
"It seems that in my absence, and following a visit from Spencer who seemed not to have taken to my French friends, my family had become convinced I was back taking drugs," she wrote.
Thoroughly devastated, she asked the friend who'd introduced her to meth to hook her up "with whatever," and Stephanie started using OxyContin. On her 19th birthday, she considered suicide.
"As far as I could see things, through my anxious, depressed haze, Spencer [who along with his best friend Brody Jenner was all in on the idea of reality TV thanks to the fleeting success of Princes of Malibu] was perfect in my parents' eyes," Stephanie wrote. "He didn't have to get a sensible job because he hadn't messed up by being imperfect like me. It seemed so unfair. Why should I be punished for being depressed, and he rewarded for being a happier person anyway? They saw him as reliable, likeable, a go-getter.
"And all I could see was my annoying brother getting away with what looked like goofing around and making it a career while I was still finding the simplest of things a struggle."
So she got in bed, took some Oxy and extra-long tablets of Xanax known as "xanbars," snorted some coke and chased it with whisky. She woke up at UCLA Medical Center and stayed hospitalized for a month.
When she was discharged, she went back to social drug use, cocaine at parties and Oxy "from time to time." "A disaster waiting to happen," she described the state of her life.
Stephanie moved to Hawaii on a whim after being enchanted by the first season of Lost, and returned to full-time prescription-drug use. On pills and toasted on the free champagne provided to serious shoppers at Neiman Marcus, she and her pal Amber paid for $4,000 worth of stuff and then got caught trying to walk out of the store layered in $15,000 worth of designer clothing and accessories.
After a few days in jail, Amber's dad took them to the airport, and their moms picked them up in L.A.
Stephanie recalled telling her mom that she wanted to kill herself. "'I am really sorry to cause you more trouble but I just know what a disappointment I am,'" she told Janet. "And it's never-ending. I can see that life would simply be so much better for you guys if I weren't here. I am serious.'"
Instead, Janet Pratt drove her to the hospital, where after a few days Stephanie broke her arm in order to get her hands on painkillers, which they did not give her. She ended up on a 72-hour psych hold. After the three days were up, Janet drove her to the airport again, and they flew to Houston to check Stephanie into a real rehab facility.
So by the time she joined The Hills, Stephanie Pratt had lived harder than all the other cast members put together.
That being said, having grown up idolizing her brother, she was primed to wreak a little havoc.
With no TV and no phone in rehab, she hadn't been keeping up with Spencer and Heidi on The Hills, let alone with any adjacent drama involving Spencer or Heidi being accused of starting the rumor that Lauren and then-boyfriend Jason Wahler had a sex tape—a reality-TV moment that has of course been brought up in conjunction with the not-entirely-accurately-titled The Hills: New Beginnings.
"Jason and I would like to make it clear that we did not make a tape with us having sex," Lauren wrote on her website in 2007. "Jason and I are both shocked and hurt that people would say such horrible things about us. I can't believe that somebody would go to such great lengths to try to damage my reputation."
"I adored Heidi from the minute I met her," Stephanie gushed in her book. "She is the sweetest person I have ever met." Once she was home from rehab, she and Heidi spent a lot of time together at the Pratt family's house.
Heidi told Stephanie all about her by-then former roommate Lauren Conrad, with whom she'd had a falling out, "and it didn't take long for me to gather that Spencer was at the bottom of it all," his sister concluded. "The girl I was told about was cruel, judgmental Lauren, who was being so mean to Heidi simply because she didn't like Spencer." Brody had dumped Heidi and Spencer in favor of Lauren too, she was told.
Speidi told her she should totally come on the show to be Heidi's new bestie, and that led to the night at Opera, a trial run to see how Stephanie would do on camera.
"Stop messing with Heidi, stop being mean girls," Stephanie's pal Roxy Olin told Lauren and Audrina. "What have I done to her?" Lauren asked.
"Just because you hate Spencer," Stephanie fired back.
"I haven't done anything to her," Lauren insisted. "You don't know me. Do you know me?" She said her issues with Spencer and Heidi were none of their business.
"Heidi's my family now," Stephanie countered. "They're getting married. When you hate my brother, it makes me hate you."
"I love your brother," interjected Brody, "but he f--ked up, and that's his fault, and he has to deal with that. It's not between you, it's not between [Roxy]. Heidi's business and [Lauren's] business is their business. Stop getting involved!"
"Don't fight other people's battles," added Lauren. As Stephanie and Roxy walked away, Audrina told LC they reminded her of "Cinderella and the stepsisters."
Needless to say, Stephanie was hired—and Spencer appreciated the loyalty.
Meanwhile, Stephanie had returned to school at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), and it was when she walked in and saw Lauren in one of her classes...
"If I only had known then what I know now," she recalled in Made in Reality. "Because Lauren is just so nice. One of the best, most funny, honest and kind people who has ever been in my life."
The pair went for coffee after class and Stephanie tried to explain herself, that Heidi "has just been so upset." Lauren informed her it was a lot more complicated than that, and Stephanie believed her. After that they were friends—but at first, only secretly, because Stephanie wasn't sure how she was going to explain that turn of events to her brother or her future sister-in-law.
Meanwhile, Spencer settled into his role as reality-TV villain (or anti-hero) extraordinaire and seemed to relish the part. He and Heidi started alternately wedding planning and fighting, with each other and others, as the rest of the excitement on The Hills—hookups, breakups, not going to Paris!—unfolded around them.
"We were fame whores, getting literally a million plus a year in photos and being hated for it," Pratt proudly reflected to Vice's Broadly. in 2016. "It's frustrating for me that people don't recognize that this was genius. This was innovating!"
For a time Stephanie tried to get Lauren and Heidi back together, but while Lauren said unconvincingly that she would always love Heidi (case in point, Heidi was not at Lauren's wedding), she and Spencer were done for good.
"Since then I've got to know my brother better," Stephanie wrote in Made in Reality, "and I realize more and more that there are always going to be people who don't get along with him or his way of doing things. Sometimes he deserves it, and sometimes he just comes across people who have made their mind up about him long before meeting him because of things he has said or done in the media. And I realize that I need to separate myself from taking sides, because I love my brother, but it's also perfectly possible to be a great person who just doesn't get along with him."
Obviously Stephanie—who was inclined to believe her brother when he eventually claimed he didn't spread the sex tape story, even though he's since boasted that he did—couldn't keep her friendship with Lauren (and Audrina, and Lauren Bosworth) a secret for long, and when Speidi saw them all photographed together in the summer of 2008, they considered it a major betrayal.
The couple eloped to Mexico in November 2008, unofficially tying the knot out of spite for everyone on The Hills, including Stephanie; but Heidi was holding fast to her dream of a big family wedding, so they waited to make it legal.
Having stopped pressing the matter for fear of further upsetting (and annoying) both sides, Stephanie stopped trying to facilitate a reconciliation between Lauren and Spencer, but the ice had thawed enough so that Lauren did end up attending Speidi's real wedding the following spring. Stephanie and Heidi's sister Holly Montag were bridesmaids.
"Little did I know that it would be the last fond memory I would have of them for some time," Stephanie wrote.
After officially becoming Spencer and Heidi Pratt, the newlyweds became increasingly their own deal—on The Hills and off
In June 2009 Speidi took off for Costa Rica to shoot I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, but on day two Heidi got sick and was taken to the hospital. The couple's reputation having preceded them, audiences weren't convinced that they weren't trying to play the sympathy card.
Stephanie stuck up for them, telling E! News at the time, "She was throwing up 30 times with nothing in her stomach. She was really sick. She thought she was dying….I know they pulled such s--tty antics. But being treated like criminals or terrorists? It's insane!"
Speidi returned to the show, but didn't last much longer. But instead of heading right back to L.A., they checked into a luxury hotel to recover from what they claimed had been a very traumatic experience.
On the night of Holly Montag's birthday party in October 2009, Stephanie had some champagne and then got behind the wheel of her white BMW X5 with tinted windows—and was promptly pulled over. She was stopped because of the windows, but the cop administered a breathalyzer and she blew a .08, resulting in her being arrested for DUI.
At her parents' behest, she spent two weeks as an outpatient at the Betty Ford Center, staying in a nearby hotel.
That winter, Heidi and Spencer skipped Thanksgiving and Christmas with their families that year in favor of being alone, and soon both families would know why.
Janet Pratt found out at the grocery story from the cover of People magazine about Heidi's plastic surgery.
Cue the backlash because of how different she looked and the rumor that Spencer encouraged Heidi to go under the knife. There were also true stories about how Heidi had a bad reaction to the painkillers she was given after the surgery; how, in general, she took a long, long time to heal; and how the couple spent $70,000 on a so-called healing crystal. Stephanie recalled the ensuing few years as being extra-hard for them as they devoted themselves to capitalizing on post-Hills infamy.
"You definitely were on a spiritual quest [with the crystals]," Heidi noted to her husband during an interview with Broadly. in 2016. "Yeah, I was trying to find wizard powers!" Spencer agreed.
Asked why he was trying to do that, he replied, "Because we needed magic."
"We were going down," Heidi said.
Meanwhile, Lauren had left The Hills and Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County star Kristin Cavallari had returned to be at the center of season six. She and Stephanie didn't initially trust each other, but dealing with Spencer continued to bring all the ladies together.
Stephanie, who in hindsight had realized how much of an instigator she had been in seasons past and was painfully aware of what sort of image she was projecting to Hills viewers, tearfully announced to Kristin, Lo and Audrina at one point, "I want to cut them out of my life."
The series finale of The Hills aired on May 18, 2010, with Heidi and Spencer there in flashback footage. Stephanie, who by then was dating motocross racer Josh Hansen, was sorry they hadn't been there to celebrate at the impromptu wrap party when they were done filming.
Almost a decade later, one of the most shocking—and yet simultaneously kind of expected—twists to come out of The Hills is the endurance of Spencer and Heidi's relationship.
"I'm so obsessed with my husband," Heidi told Complex in 2015. "I love to rub his feet. I love to brush his hair. I love him so deeply and would do everything 100 times over to be with him. That's it." Added Spencer, "Only God would bring Heidi into my life. I don't think I deserve someone who is really that sweet. For me, that's my miracle."
They celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in November, and in 2017 they welcomed their first child together, son Gunner Stone Pratt.
Stephanie, meanwhile, had extended her reality-TV fame abroad starring on Made in Chelsea and, following in Speidi's footsteps, competing on Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K. She found out on her birthday that her big brother was going to be a father—from reading The Daily Mail.
She moved to London after The Hills, but she would see her brother and sister-in-law whenever she was in L.A., and they had given her pointers when she did Celebrity Big Brother. In 2014 she brought her boyfriend Josh to stay at the Pratt family beach house in Santa Barbara and they were all together.
"I think Josh was surprised at how normal they were!" Stephanie wrote in Made in Reality, also reflecting, "So much had happened with Spencer and Heidi over the years, so the fact that we were just sitting there laughing and having a good time felt almost unbelievable."
But the couple's antics, including an emotional turn on Marriage Boot Camp in on which Heidi "forgave" Lauren in absentia for "trying to ruin [her] life," continued to befuddle all of their remaining nearest and dearest. And barely a year later, the chasm had formed once again.
In 2015, Spencer told Complex that he still blamed Lauren for the fact that he wasn't speaking to Stephanie and wasn't on great terms with his own mother—even though he and Heidi were living in his parents' beach house at the time.
"Today, I would be like, 'Bitch, you know what you did,'" Heidi cracked.
"My mom's a Lauren supporter," he said. "She's like, 'Mark Cuban says on Shark Tank that you shouldn't help your kids.' I'm like, 'Mark Cuban can go jump off a freaking cliff for all I care.'"
They had been spending holidays with Heidi's family, having forgiven them for, according to Spencer, accepting "twenty thousand dollar checks to be Team LC."
Stephanie was pretty diplomatic toward her brother and his wife in her book, but she has apparently since decided that Heidi is the one who has been the wedge between Spencer and the rest of his family.
Since Gunner's birth she has at least met her little nephew, but it doesn't sound as if the adults are playing nice.
"[Their] child just turned one and I have seen him five times," she said on Pratt Cast in December. "I held him once. It's horrific, but I'm still in a good mood. It's all good."
"We are not on good terms. We are not on speaking terms, I do not consider them my family," Stephanie announced on Pratt Cast in April; at the time, she wasn't following either of them on Instagram, and neither of them were following her. She also insisted to co-host Wells Adams that she was not trying drum up interest in the new show.
"No one knows the real Heidi," Stephanie continued on her podcast in April, choking back tears. "Before the new Hills, the Beginnings, my mom, brother and I all sat down and we said, 'We will not let this ruin our family again." I'm done. I don't care. I'm not protecting them anymore. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can put on someone else's … That's what I'm doing right now. If my mom can't handle this, that's her issue. I cannot help her."
Stephanie said that Heidi snubbed her at a recent photo shoot, pulling a queen-bee move in which she brought champagne and shared it with all the other ladies except her.
"I'm not going to pretend that Spencer and Heidi are good people like I was doing for most of the series for my parents," Stephanie said. "For the s--t they have done to me recently, I'm done. This is why I moved to London. I'm done. They are the most toxic people I've ever met."
Then she spelled it out for Adams: "If you ever have a son, Wells, I pray that he does not meet a Heidi Montag. What Heidi Montag does, she has played my family for money."
"I've literally protected her for 10 years," she said. "If it weren't for Heidi, I would have an epic relationship with my brother, so would my parents. But Heidi does not want my brother to be connected to my mom, dad or me."
Whitney Port observed to E! News about the Pratt family squabbles, "They have some deeply-rooted issues that I would love for them to work out, but I'm not sure they're at the place themselves where they want to work it out yet."
Heidi and Spencer's vow renewal was shot in December with most of the cast of The Hills: New Beginnings, including Stephanie, in attendance. But since the show's premiere in June, relations really do seem to be on a downswing again.
From London "where evil siblings don't exist," Stephanie unloaded in an Instagram post this week, accusing Audrina of being a "crazy" character assassin and bringing up one of the defining moments of Spedi's place in The Hills lore, which occurred almost 12 years ago.
"(Spencer often screamed that everyone hates me, is fake nice to me and to go back to London because no one wants me here)," she continued. "omg and Heidi- I have no words for how evil you truly are- you had no choice to admit all of the lies you've been spewing about me was for a magazine cover and for real WE ALL KNOW WHAT YOU DID 10 years ago. You awful human being- and to your BEST FRIEND? You are truly a hideous person. No wonder you don't have 1 friend (your nanny doesn't count- you pay her)."
On Wednesday, Heidi's Instagram Story directed to a new post on her Pratt Prayers account, a photo of a rainbow captioned: "'Don't be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else.' 1 Thessalonians 5:15."
The rest is still unwritten, but it may end up sounding familiar.
(Originally published April 10, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)