Queen of hypocrisy: Helen Mirren is a brilliant talent but her views on cocaine are daft, naive and dangerous

Helen Mirren revealed she loved taking cocaine

Helen Mirren revealed she loved taking cocaine

Dame Helen Mirren is a woman who never fails to surprise.

Here is an actress who, one moment, is busy winning awards for her hauntingly realistic portrayal of a 72-year-old monarch in The Queen, yet the next is pictured on holiday in a red bikini, revealing a figure that would not disgrace a 23-year-old Hollywood ingenue.

She is, in every way, a quite remarkable talent.

Alas, as is the case with so many stars of stage and screen, I just wish she would stick to what she's good at.

For when celebrities open their mouths to make some woolly pronouncement on global issues, the results are invariably wrong, muddle-headed or toe-curlingly naive.

Such is the case with an interview that Mirren has given to GQ magazine in which, among inflammatory observations about date rape, she lets slip that she used to love taking cocaine.

'I never did a lot, just a little bit at parties,' she says. 'But what ended it for me was when they caught Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, in the early Eighties.

'He was hiding in South America and living off the proceeds of being a cocaine baron.'

Oh dear. Here, in one off -the-cuff confession, the Oscar-winning actress reveals that she is quite capable of being every bit as stupid as the latest brain-dead Big Brother contestant.

For her account of the politics of cocaine is as baffling as it is offensive.

For a start, Dame Helen, I must inform you that Klaus Barbie was never, ever a 'cocaine baron' in South America. To claim otherwise is simply sensationalist nonsense.

That said, he was certainly a revolting specimen.

As head of the Gestapo in Lyons during World War II, he took pleasure in torturing prisoners personally, was responsible for the deaths of as many as 4,000 people, and even towards the end of the war had 44 Jewish children deported from an orphanage straight to Auschwitz. 

'Stick to what your good at': Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of the Queen

'Stick to what your good at': Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of the Queen

After the war he was used for a few years by U.S. Intelligence to gather information in postwar Germany, before fleeing to Argentina in 1951.

There, true to form, he engaged in arms dealing and dubious politics, but his involvement with the cocaine trade was only ever peripheral.

Historian Guy Walters, whose forthcoming book, Hunting Evil, gives an authoritative account of how Nazi war criminals were able to forge new lives abroad, explains:

'Barbie gave protection to various unpleasant political characters in Bolivia during the Seventies and Eighties, who were all profiting from the cocaine business in one way or another.

'He provided security, but he was in no way a coke dealer himself.'

Yet it's almost as if Mirren is saying that had it not been for this (highly imaginative) Nazi connection, there would have been nothing wrong with her cocaine habit; that taking a line or two at parties would have been a bit of harmless fun.

And apparently, that's how most other celebrities still think today.

Cocaine lies like a trail of gunpowder from one glitzy celebrity hang-out to the next. Elton John, Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss, Russell Brand  -  it would be much quicker to compile a list of celebs who haven't taken the drug than who have.

The worst offenders often end up at The Priory, their favourite drying- out centre, before writing a long, whingeing exercise in self-pity routinely called something like 'My Drugs Hell'.

Every time I see that headline, it makes my blood boil. Yes, it was their drugs; but it was other people's hell.

Award-winner: Helen Mirren arriving at the Golden Globe Awards with British actress Emily Watson in 2005

Award-winner: Helen Mirren arriving at the Golden Globe Awards with British actress Emily Watson in 2005

For it is at the other end of the coke trade  -  the supply rather than the demand end  -  that the real victims of the drugs industry are to be found.

In a neighbourhood somewhere near you, for instance, on some sink estate or even some dull-looking suburban street, there are teenagers ready to kill each other with knives or guns over drugs money and the turf wars that are fought over it.

Or how about the desperate women who are bribed or coerced into swallowing condoms full of lethal quantities of cocaine to be smuggled into Europe?

As many as half the foreign females in our prisons today are drugs mules.

Impoverished, barely educated single mothers from Jamaica, and more recently Nigeria, they're nothing more than useful transport devices to the drugs overlords who control them.

If the condoms burst in their stomachs, as is not unusual, they will die in agony.

If they're caught, then they face lengthy jail sentences that will destroy not only their own lives but the lives of the children they have left behind on their desperate and foolhardy missions.

Aware that customs officers have become more adept at identifying these mules, the drugs barons have resorted to even more extreme measures.

Over in Amsterdam recently, there were the two Labradors found at Schiphol airport on a flight from Colombia with cocaine stitched into their stomachs.

One had to be put down because its internal organs were so badly damaged by chemical burn. Its final hours must have been excruciating.

Still in the mood to party, Dame Helen?

Let me tell you a little about the true price of your cheeky old habit. Never mind ageing Nazis, in Latin America it is Marxist terrorists who've been generously funded by Western coke-lovers for decades.

Just as heroin funds the Taliban, so cocaine funds FARC, who have been visiting untold misery on Colombia since the Sixties.

In only one incident in 2002, FARC terrorists managed to blow up a church with gas cylinder bombs, killing around 199 civilians  -  the majority of them children.

If the agonies of Latin America seem too far away, then don't worry, it's spreading to Africa. Antonio Maria Costa, Under-Secretary- General of the UN, recently savaged 'coke- snorting fashionistas', saying that the cocaine trade is already 'threatening to bring about the collapse of some West African nations'.

Having already suffered civil war and genocide, failed states like Sierra Leone and Liberia are now faced with a whole new parade of horrors as the drugs industry moves in.

Costa offered a powerful analogy. 'In the 19th century, Europe's hunger for slaves devastated West Africa.

'Two hundred years later, its growing appetite for cocaine could do the same.'

I could go on, but the point is made. All along its journey from the coca fields of the Third World to the nostrils of some dim-witted celebrity in a West End nightclub, cocaine leaves a trail of unrelenting human misery.

Yet none of those celebrities  -  not even the clever and captivating Dame Helen  -  seems to feel any shame . . . unless, it seems, they are told some fanciful tale that a Nazi might be profiting from their habit.

Perhaps it's unfair to single Mirren out.

After all, she is by no means the worst offender among her kind.

Nor is it true, any longer, that cocaine is the preserve of the showbiz circuit.

Nowadays it's rife on the football terraces, on Royal Navy warships, and has even been found in the lavatories of the House of Commons.

But it was the rich and famous  -  in this, as in so many other things  -  who set the trend and blazed the trail, achieving the almost impossible task of glamorising a substance that comes to us via an unimaginably squalid and savage trade.

And what is especially nauseous is that it is these selfsame actors, musicos and fashionistas who loudly advertise their profound and heartfelt concern for the powerless and the dispossessed of Africa or Latin America.

It's those same people who always insist on Fair Trade coffee and who would never dream of buying hardwood from an unsustainable forest who are responsible for a trade that brings terror and tyranny to the most benighted nations on earth.

The very nations they claim to care about. The hypocrisy is breath-taking.

If our Class A celebrities could get it into their dim, addled little brains that the true victims of the drugs trade are not found in a Priory recovery ward, but at every blood-spattered step along the supply line that feeds their repulsive habit, then perhaps things might change.

Until then, Dame Helen, I ask only that you think a little more carefully before lurching into unscripted territory.