Artwork for Schapelle Corby Qweekend feature
Artwork for Schapelle Corby Qweekend feature

Schapelle uncensored: ‘I know people hate me, I don’t care’

Schapelle Corby knows you don't like her. She also knows you love her. She knows you think she's guilty. She knows you think she's innocent.

She knows you think she has no business dancing in a pretty dress beneath a mirror ball. She knows you'll be cheering her on dancing in a pretty dress beneath a mirror ball.

She knows you want her to win. She knows you want her to lose.

Schapelle Corby knows all the things people think of her, but here's the thing; in the strange, Janus-faced world Corby occupies, where her very name polarises people, she doesn't give a damn about what you - or I - or anyone outside her extremely close-knit circle, thinks at all.

Not anymore.

Schapelle Corby for Dancing with the Stars. Picutre: Sam Ruttyn
Schapelle Corby for Dancing with the Stars. Picutre: Sam Ruttyn

 

The latest recruit to go for a spin around the dance floor in a sea of shedding feathers on Channel 7's wildly popular Dancing with the Stars series, is now 44 years old, and no longer the teary young woman imprinted on a nation's psyche as a judge sentenced her to 20 years in a Bali prison almost 17 years ago.

Schapelle Corby with her dance partner Shae Mountain rehearsing for Dancing with the Stars, MacGregor. Photographer: Liam Kidston
Schapelle Corby with her dance partner Shae Mountain rehearsing for Dancing with the Stars, MacGregor. Photographer: Liam Kidston

That girl - sitting in a tiny courtroom, wild-eyed and clutching her interpreter's hand as the full weight of her sentence (after being arrested at Bali's Denpasar airport with 4.2kg of marijuana in her now infamous boogie-board bag) slowly dawned across her increasingly distressed face - is long gone.

Instead, nine years in Kerobokan prison, three years on parole in Bali, a pardon from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and a flight home on May 27, 2017, later, Corby is ready, both figuratively and literally to dance.

Schapelle Leigh Corby in front of her cell in women blok of Kerobokan Jail in Bali.
Schapelle Leigh Corby in front of her cell in women blok of Kerobokan Jail in Bali.

 

"I was really happy when they (Channel 7) asked me to join the show," Corby, on a Zoom call and looking fit and healthy, says.

"Everything has changed, my body is definitely changing, it's much more elongated and I'm feeling really good, but exhausted.

"I trained in Brisbane for five hours a day for five weeks, and then in Sydney we have been training every single day for between five to eight hours a day, so I'm completely shattered, but really happy - my feet are killing me though," she smiles.

But despite her very obvious joy at her inclusion, it is fair to say Corby's foray into the world of reality television (first on last year's gruelling series SAS Australia, and now entering Dancing with the Stars: All Stars, as a so-called "Wild Card") has not been met with a chorus of universal approval.

 

Schapelle Corby on SAS Australia
Schapelle Corby on SAS Australia

Instead, the show's Facebook page has been littered with a litany of negative comments: "I didn't know being a criminal made you a 'star' … I guess Dancing with a Convicted Drug Smuggler doesn't have the same ring to it."

Nestled among the negativity are words of warmth and support - "Go, Schapelle! Everyone needs a second chance in life", "Give the girl a break! Good on you, Schapelle, for turning your life around" - but either way, make no mistake, Channel 7 knew exactly what it was doing when it signed on Corby.

Because while other cast members - personalities such as actor Ada Nicodemou, radio host Fifi Box, television presenter Luke Jacobz, and television chef Manu Feildel - might attract a couple of hundred comments on the show's Facebook page, the post announcing Corby's inclusion has 27,000 - and it's ever climbing.

And if they're commenting, chances are, despite their protestations ("I'll never turn on your program again!") they're watching - such is the continuing fascination with Corby, who is very cognisant of her effect on others.

Dancing with the stars full crew
Dancing with the stars full crew

"I know everyone has an opinion on me, I get that completely, but it doesn't mean I have to buy into it, and I can't let what anyone feels about me affect how I feel about myself," she says.

"I have made myself learn not to care.

"I have had many years to come to the point where I am strong enough to not let nasty comments get to me."

Corby leans back in her chair, peering through black-rimmed glasses to smile at the screen.

"I know who I am now. I am strong. I have people I can trust. I have an incredible family, a back-up system which gives me courage. I have people who love me, I have people who like me.

"I like myself," she says, and whether or not you believe she did or didn't know there was 4.2kg of cannabis sativa stashed inside her boogie board, it is clear she has fought long and hard to achieve this peace of mind.

Corby's mental health struggles, which she has described as "living in the hell of my mind" have been well documented.

She has spoken in the past about her suicidal thoughts, periods of psychosis, hallucinations and flashbacks, all stemming from her years in the grim Kerobokan prison, and the 2008 death of her father Michael Corby during her incarceration.

In an "interrogation" scene during her time on SAS Australia (in which contestants complete a series of physical and psychological challenges) Corby told chief instructor Ant Middleton: "I started to have mental illness really bad in 2008. And I lived in psychosis for four years … I started losing my mind … hallucinating. I couldn't eat. I don't eat meat anymore because my hallucinations were so vivid I thought I was eating my dad's human flesh. I am not fully recovered from it. (My dad) used to come to visit me (in prison) a lot. I didn't think that he would die and I didn't understand that would be the last time that I would see him," she said.

The scars of Corby's conviction and imprisonment are not visible - indeed looking at her on screen; rosy cheeked and clear eyed, she looks to be in rude health, but nevertheless they are there, not too far beneath the surface.

They can be found in her deep distrust of strangers, and the black dog of depression that still occasionally winds itself around her legs and follows her home to the south of Brisbane where she lives with her mother Rosleigh Rose Corby.

Asked why she chose to do that first reality television show, SAS Australia, she simply answers: "To get me out of my bedroom."

Schapelle Corby on SAS AUstralia
Schapelle Corby on SAS AUstralia

"But I consider myself very lucky to be living in a time when it is okay not to be okay," Corby says.

"We are all human. We all suffer. We all have good days and bad days.

"If I have a bad day, I ask for help.

"I'm not shy about talking about mental health, I am very proud that I have survived it.

"I climbed out and I want to tell others not to be ashamed."

Corby's chosen charity for Dancing with the Stars is LIVIN, an organisation which aims to break the stigma of mental health through delivering community based programs to businesses, sporting clubs and schools; Corby is particularly keen to raise mental health awareness among young people.

"Oh, it just really upsets me what happens to some of our kids now," she says.

"When I get trolled I can handle it, I really can, but I'm 44 and I've lived through a bit (Corby does a nice line in understatement) but if I was a child I don't know how I would cope at all.

"Being trolled by school peers so viciously and in front of everybody, some of this behaviour just absolutely disgusts me.

"Parents don't understand it, they're like, 'Oh, just ignore it', 'oh, don't worry about it', but I know it's deeper than that.

"What I would say to a teenager in that sort of trouble is that they need to pass their phone to a trusted friend, they need someone else to go through the messages, and block, delete, report, block, delete, report, block, delete, report, for them.

"I know that people who do that sort of stuff, well, they are usually sad themselves, or sad about themselves, and they need to be cruel to someone else to make themselves feel better, but when you are young knowing that doesn't really help, so they need to talk to someone who they can trust."

These days, Corby's circle of who she can trust includes her mother Rosleigh Rose, her sister Mercedes and her extended family, as well as her agent Stephen Moriarty, a handful of close girlfriends, and her long-distance boyfriend Ben Panangian, who lives in Bali.

Schapelle Corby, 42, enjoys a holiday in Thailand with boyfriend Ben Panangian. Pic Instagram
Schapelle Corby, 42, enjoys a holiday in Thailand with boyfriend Ben Panangian. Pic Instagram

Corby met Panangian while in prison, where he was serving three and half years for marijuana possession.

Because of Panangian's conviction, entry into Australia is unlikely and Corby
has been unable to travel to Bali due to COVID-19, and has not seen her boyfriend since February 2019.

When she is not venturing out to jump out of a helicopter into freezing waters (SAS Australia) or mastering her lifts (Dancing with the Stars), Corby leads a quietish sort of life, playing with her dog Princess, and making epoxy resin clocks, which she sells through her Instagram page, @schapellecorby (167k followers).

Schapelle Corby making her epoxy resin clocks. Picture: Instagram
Schapelle Corby making her epoxy resin clocks. Picture: Instagram

 

The clocks sell almost as quickly as she posts them for sale, and making them, she says, gives her a place of quiet refuge.

So too, paradoxically does reality television.

For someone like Corby, this form of entertainment offers a safe space of sorts - the talent is protected, even isolated from the outside world, a team is there for support, and the production crew are well practised at putting nervous participants at ease.

And Corby, for all her hard-earned self belief, was nervous.

"The first time I was dancing I was watching the other dancers, and they were just so phenomenally good I just froze."

Corby laughs. "I mean I did do a couple of terms at Tiny Tots dance school when I was little but running around going, "I'm a butterfly, I'm a butterfly" is not really the same thing.

"And I just had this moment when I thought 'My God, I've been giving it my all, I've been training and training but I'm nowhere near good enough'.

"It just kind of spiralled to where I thought 'What am I doing here? I'm a complete fish out of water, I don't belong here', and then Luke Jacobz came over, I guess he could see I was not good and he just said, 'Hey Schapelle, this is your journey, your dance, you can't compare yourself to everyone else, stop being so hard on yourself', so I stopped crying and just got on with it."

Schapelle Corby with a mirrorball
Schapelle Corby with a mirrorball

The show's host, Daryl Somers was also, Corby says, "very welcoming".

"I don't know for someone like me … I mean I grew up with Hey, Hey It's Saturday, he's the King of TV to me, I was like 'Oh, there's Daryl Somers', I was the ultimate fan girl, but he just came right over to me and said, 'Hi Schapelle, my name is Daryl Somers, it's lovely to meet you'."

Corby shakes her head. "I couldn't believe it."

Because here's the other thing about the strange, Janus-faced world Schapelle Corby occupies - she never knows how people are going to respond to her.

Every single person she meets (or at least those old enough to remember that wide-eyed girl in the Balinese courtroom) looks at her through their own particular lens, and she doesn't know, in the seconds before they approach her, if they are friend or foe.

She doesn't know if you or I or anyone wants her to win or lose when she takes her turn beneath that spinning, silver disco ball.

What she does know is that Dancing with the Stars has given her - to borrow a phrase from the best-selling Terry McMillan book and film about another young woman called Stella - her groove back.

"I can't really say how much it's given me, it's just been the best experience. My dance partner Shae Mountain has been so kind, so patient with me, I'm so lucky to have him, and the rest of the cast."

When her stint on the show is over; when the glittery gowns are packed away in their costume bags, and the mirror ball is taken down from the studio until the next lot of celebrities are ushered onto its dance floor, Corby will return to her life of making epoxy resin clocks, going to the beach, playing with her dog, and hanging out with her small group of friends and family.

Schapelle Corby shopping with her dog. Picture: Instagram
Schapelle Corby shopping with her dog. Picture: Instagram

But she will do so, courtesy of her stint on Dancing, with more of a spring in her step, and an open mind to the future.

Corby's face, so familiar to so many, settles into calmness on the screen.

"I realise that we only live once, so I'm embracing life," she says. "I'm finally learning how to say 'yes'.

Dancing With The Stars: All Stars airs tomorrow at 7pm on Channel 7.

 

Originally published as Schapelle uncensored: 'I know people hate me, I don't care'



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