If there was an award for the programme most vetted by lawyers before transmission, this would probably be the front-runner. Its subject was the wife of no less (or less rich) a person than Sir Paul McCartney, and its object was to demonstrate that she isn’t quite what she claims to be. It succeeded, albeit while generating a large “so what?” factor at the same time.
What probably convinced the lawyers to go ahead was the quality of the witnesses, a long line of people with direct involvement in Heather’s life who talked candidly about her to camera, often directly contradicting statements she was shown making in TV interviews. Also, most of the material had already been published in the tabloid press, to a distinct absence of writs from the McCartney household.
When her childhood friend described her story about their three-day paedophile ordeal as “crap”, and her step-father said that she’d actually been living at home during the four months she claimed to have spent living rough, it was hard not to believe them. And when two ladies who had been acquaintances of billionaire arms dealer Adnam Khashoggi said that Heather had been part of their circle, that seemed credible too. Unlike the other interviewees, these ladies were given no descriptive title (not even “former friend”). Cut to Mills being asked on TV whether she’d ever prostituted her body (she said no).
Heather Mills is often described as a former top model whose career ended when she lost a leg in a road accident. She certainly lost the leg, but photographic evidence of her former career is remarkably absent from the pages of fashion magazines. The programme explained this; she was actually a struggling glamour model, and brilliantly exploited a single, incidental fact about her accident – the police motorcyclist who ran her down was on duty protecting Princess Diana – to launch her public career.
Pre-McCartney, this career consisted of using the example of her astonishing recovery to help disabled people make the best of their situations, a fact which shows Mills in a rather different light. The programme gave this side of her story full weight, although it would be interesting to know if they’d have been quite so scrupulous about balance if her husband hadn’t been worth £700 million.
In the end, Heather Mills came across as someone who fantasised desperately about fame and fortune, then proved surprisingly good at handling them when, against all odds, she actually acquired them. The worst crimes she was accused of were some heavy-duty shoplifting and inflicting misery on her long-suffering first husband. But in both cases the victims seemed curiously relaxed about the whole thing, as if for every ounce of annoyance and misery she’d caused them, she had at least brought three-quarters of an ounce of brightness to their lives in return. Perhaps those are the odds that Sir Paul, 25 years her senior, has been willing to take.