Belfast Telegraph

Michaella McCollum brings the bun back to Dungannon as pictures emerge of cocaine smuggler’s high life in Peru

By Ali Gordon

The bun is back for drugs mule Michaella McCollum as she settles into life after returning to her home town.

In contrast to the glamorous hairstyles she was showing off while in Peru following her release from jail, the cocaine smuggler was sporting a plain look when Sunday Life caught up with her in Dungannon last week. 

The 23-year-old — free after less than half of her six years and eight months sentence behind bars — was out and about last week with mum Norah, sister Samantha, niece and  future brother-in-law.

McCollum was looking dishevelled with no make-up, wearing leggings, a vest and flip-flops — and of course sporting her instantly recognisable bun.

It was a world away from the glamorous social media snaps taken just before she left South America, which we have printed today.

In the shots McCollum, who with Scot Melissa Reid tried to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of Peru, is seen living the high life with other women she met in the notorious Ancon 2 jail.

We can also reveal she enjoyed a pizza party with a prison pal on her last night in the country.

McCollum’s best friends in Peru — Kaouthar Essafi and Chinagul Yulip — are foreigners living in Lima who met Michaella behind bars.

Filipina mother-of-two Yulip claims to have shared “good surprising memories” with McCollum “inside and out” of prison.

She has posted dozens of photos showing McCollum getting her nails done and dining in the swanky Malecón Costa Sur area.

The pair can also be seen having “bonding time” while eating Japanese food. Yulip, who has now turned to God, even took to social media to thank Jehovah for their food and friendship.

Behind bars, McCollum claims to have been ‘top dog’, organising dance competitions and running a thriving beauty salon.

Fellow inmates paid her for a range of treatments, including bikini waxes for 35 Peruvian soles (around £8), 25 soles for a blow dry (around £5) and haircuts and facials for 20 soles each (£4.60).

Raking in 1,000 soles a week (£230), McCollum was able to employ a Spanish inmate to do most of the work, and she paid prisoners to clean her cell.

But since her parole a few months ago it seems McCollum grew fed up of doing the treatments herself.

Pictures posted by McCollum and Yulip, who is known as Jackie, show off a set of new nails painted by Yulip at Amarige Spa in San Isidro, where she works. In one of the snaps McCollum flaunts her “Barbie nails” after another “bonding session”.

In a number of posts Yulip refers to the “magic” of God who has seen the convicts through “hard times and good times” together.

The pair grew so close that Yulip accompanied McCollum to the airport for her flight home.

Yulip took pictures from inside and outside the airport with the caption ‘Airborne to London... I will miss u baby girl @michaellaconnolly... Love you’.

McCollum’s beautician pal in Peru then took to Instagram to share a cute collage of the pals having fun on dinner dates and girls’ nights in.

McCollum then responded by taking and sending a selfie from the plane before it took off.

While McCollum has changed her name to Connolly and turned her social media accounts to private, her friends in Peru have been very public about their time together.

Dutch gym fanatic Essafi, who was caught trying to traffic 16 kilograms of cocaine from Peru to Spain in 2011,  has also shared dozens of photos of the pair partying, shopping, eating out and exercising.

It was at the same airport in Lima where McCollum and Reid, then 20 and 19, were arrested in August 2013 with 11kg of cocaine hidden in food packets as they attempted to fly to Spain.

They created an elaborate story claiming they were forced into carrying the drugs.

But the pair pleaded guilty to the charges later that year.

McCollum was released on parole in March this year, but a court ordered her to spend the next six years of her sentence in Peru.

However, the decision was overturned and she was given the go-ahead to fly home on August 12.

In June fellow drug smuggler  Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, was released and allowed to fly home to Scotland under an early release scheme for deporting first-time drug offenders.

She was spotted last week in Edinburgh bar Sportsters cosying up to her new boyfriend.

Punters looked on as Reid snogged her beau while he slipped his hand inside her waistcoat in the middle of the packed pub during the capital’s busy Festival week.

During her prison stretch, McCollum not only made friends with  fellow inmates, but also attracted more than 500 love letters.

She claims to have received a marriage proposal from a prison psychologist, who turned nasty when she rejected him.

“He once told me we could live happily ever after,” she said.

“He tried to propose. Once I rejected him he sent letters to the court saying I was the head of a drug mafia.

“He told me I would never see the light of day.”

And one lovelorn prisoner from the jail’s male wing even pretended to guards that he was McCollum’s husband to try and secure a visit with her.

Since her return, McCollum has admitted she had gone on a four-day bender on magic mushrooms and class A drug ketamine before agreeing to traffick the cocaine from Lima to Spain.

Reid has also admitted to taking large amounts of ecstacy while in Ibiza, where they were both working at the time.

The Co Tyrone woman says her actions “lost” three years of her life.

She said: “What I went through was completely my fault and I lost three years of my life.

“You get an adrenaline high because you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing. No one put a gun to my head.”

No recent pictures have been released of the ‘Peru 2’, but McCollum claims to speak to fellow drug mule Reid every day on the phone.

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