Deported from Indonesia to Australia in an elaborate security operation on May 27, 2017, Schapelle was chased by media helicopters and rapidly acquired a massive social media following after landing in Australia.
She’s been the subject of stage musicals, TV spoofs and much speculation.
A reluctant celebrity, Schapelle has appeared on reality shows SAS Australia and Dancing with the Stars, but regularly refuses most interview requests.
“It’s too emotional for her,” a family confidant reveals. “She doesn’t get why people are interested in her. But she’s come to accept that a lot of her social media followers do genuinely want the best for her.”
That’s why the convicted drug smuggler shared her heartbreak after splitting with Indonesian boyfriend Ben Panangian in 2021. She even asked fans to help her find somebody else to love following the long-distance couple’s break-up.
Taking to Instagram, she posted a photo of herself with Ben scribbled out and wrote, “Looking for a new Four Leaf Clover. *ATTENTION* Help a girl out.” They hadn’t seen each other in person since 2019 but enjoyed a couple of Asian holidays together before Ben pulled the pin on their 16-year relationship.
It was yet another blow for Schapelle. Almost a decade behind bars not only put her sanity at risk but also robbed her of the chance to be a mother. Instead, she dotes on her nieces and nephews, plays with “best friend” Lulu and crafts ocean-themed clocks.
The former beauty student has “always been creative” according to a former prison visitor who got to know her well inside Kerobokan’s forbidding walls.
“Schapelle’s sister Mercedes used to take her beads to make friendship bangles and ankle bracelets,” he says. “She would also knit or crochet quite elaborate mobile phone covers as gifts.
“Even when she was close to despair and battling the Indonesian justice system, she would still do other inmates’ nails. It was really touching.
“The jail was a hellhole. Schapelle was housed in a cell with up to 20 other women, sleeping on thin mattresses on a concrete floor, with a communal squat toilet cordoned off in one corner.
“It was hot, steamy, and smelled terrible. There was absolutely no privacy – people would have sex in the visiting area. No wonder she was diagnosed with severe mental illness. It was sad. Even in the depths of psychosis, she always dreamed of the Pacific Ocean near her Queensland home.”
At long last, Schapelle can splash in the breakers whenever she wants. Blessed with new-found serenity, she says simply, “The world is going to judge you no matter what you do, so live your life the way you want to.”