In the opening moments of High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule, Michaella McCollum says: “You might wonder how a regular kid from Northern Ireland ended up here.”
What, starring in your own five-part BBC series, you mean?
“In a maximum security prison in South America.”
Oh, that. Right. So tell us: what was the reason?
“One bad decision.”
Mmm... that’s putting it mildly, to say the least. Anyway, she continues: “This is the story of how I got myself into this mess, and how I got myself out of it.”
This is also a story that should be approached with caution. A disclaimer at the start warns that “only some of the facts can be verified”.
In other words, take everything you hear with a large pinch of salt. I’d recommend about 11kg, the same weight as the €1.6m worth of cocaine – ludicrously disguised as bags of porridge and jelly – McCollum and fellow drug mule Melissa Reid tried to smuggle from Lima in Peru to Spain in 2013.
Reid doesn’t appear in the series, other than in archive footage. Maybe she wasn’t asked to take part, or maybe she was but just prefers to put the whole experience behind her and live a quiet life.
If so, it’s one of the smarter moves she’s made. High probably wouldn’t have done her any favours. It certainly doesn’t do any for McCollum, whose life since leaving prison – the newspaper and TV interviews, the book, the social media profile, including the Instagram bikini shots obligatory for any minor female celebrity – has been anything but quiet.
The series is being pitched as a cautionary tale, but also a story of redemption in which McCollum, who, like Reid, was sentenced to almost seven years but paroled after less than three, emerged from prison a better woman.
After a long period of despair, she began to learn Spanish and make friends with some fellow inmates.
She discovered the prison had a beauty salon, landed a coveted job there (in Peruvian prisons, it seems, inmates can earn money and even run their own small businesses) and amassed enough cash to bribe enough people in the corrupt system into securing her an early parole hearing.
But all this happens in the final episode. By that point, any potential sympathy or understanding McCollum might have been hoping to garner has been undermined by everything that’s gone before.
The first two episodes (the second is on Thursday) are heavy on ropey dramatised reconstructions of McCollum’s hedonistic lifestyle in Ibiza, which revolved entirely around partying, getting pissed and snorting industrial quantities of cocaine.
These, plus her jarringly glib, jokey voiceover, give High the feel of a pound shop GoodFellas.
As she tells it, she was swept off her feet by a tall, dark, handsome stranger who called himself “Davey” – a drug dealer who, like all the smartest ones, didn’t touch drugs himself.
McCollum’s best friend in Ibiza, Parry, who expresses amazement that McCollum agreed to be a mule for a paltry £5,000, says she warned her that “Davey” was bad news.
Another acquaintance, a part-time drug dealer called “John”, who appears in silhouette with his voice distorted and knew McCollum from her endless partying and prolific drug-taking, also marvels at why she did it: “Was it a case of being really, really naive, or being extremely stupid?”
McCollum herself offers several self-contradictory takes throughout the five episodes.
At one point she says she wanted the money to stay on in Ibiza and knew what she was doing – although she assumed she’d be picking up a small package. At another, she plays the innocent who was too out of her head on drugs to make a rational decision. She didn’t realise until the plane was in the air that Lima was in Peru and not just another place in Spain.
Credibility wasn’t her strong suit after she was busted and it’s not now, either. She appears to throw Reid under the bus by claiming she was the one who fabricated the story (which nobody believed anyway) that they’d been forced at gunpoint into trafficking drugs.
Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. But in a series as transparently self-serving as this, it won’t cut McCollum any slack with her detractors.
‘High’ is on BBC1 tonight at 11.05pm