It’s the end of the day at the end of a week that Tulisa Contostavlos hopes she never has to go through again. She sits down, and exhales like a slow puncture. “I’ve had to stay silent for a year,” she says. “I’ve had to sit back and look like the bad guy, while my whole life was ripped apart.”
In June 2013, Contostavlos was “exposed” by the Sun on Sunday’s Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, in a front-page splash alleging she had fixed a cocaine deal for him. Even by Mahmood’s standards, it was an elaborate sting, involving first-class plane tickets between London and Las Vegas, luxury hotel suites, the prospect of a £3.5m film contract opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in a big Bollywood production. You couldn’t make it up – only Mahmood did, and Contostavlos bought it.
Since then she has lost more than a stone, changed her physical appearance, ditched (or been ditched by) nearly all her colleagues, been abandoned by friends (and found a few brilliant new ones), had her endorsements frozen, lost any number of contracts and contemplated suicide.
At the outset of the trial last month, her friend Michael Coombs pleaded guilty to providing Mahmood with £820 worth of cocaine. The Sun on Sunday printed texts in which she offered to “sort” drugs, and filmed Coombs arriving at the Dorchester hotel in London to deliver them at a later date. In court, Contostavlos proclaimed her innocence but could see only one outcome. “My heart told me: there’s no way this can happen. I’m very religious and I kept saying, God won’t forsake me.” And her head? “My head was telling me, if they’re allowed to take it this far, to tell so many lies, God knows where it can go.” She thought she’d be convicted? “100%. I was preparing for prison.”
But on 17 July, four days into the hearing, it emerged that Mahmood may have lied in a pre-trial statement. His driver, Alan Smith, had told police Contostavlos had talked about how much she disapproved of drugs when he drove her home one night, because she’d seen the damage it had done to a relative. Smith had been expected to give evidence supportive of Contostavlos, but later changed his mind. Did he discuss his statement with Mahmood? In a pre-trial hearing, the journalist denied this; but under cross-examination in court, he admitted he had received the driver’s statement and that they had talked about it.