She was a popular Australian Instagram influencer with 300,000 followers, promoting herself as a guru for a so-called ‘clean’ lifestyle.
Belle Gibson, whose story was recently covered in a BBC documentary, became a mum at 18 years old and launched an app for information about healthy eating, The Whole Pantry, when she was just 21.
In 2013, The Whole Pantry was voted Apple’s Best Food and Drink App of the year – and soon after, Belle signed her first book deal.
The Whole Pantry became a recipe book which contained 100 ‘clean’ meals, released in 2014.
With incredible success of the app, the book and her loyal Instagram following, Belle’s career was going from strength to strength – but all was not as it seemed.
‘I have cancer’
Never one to shy away from an interview, Belle often shared details of her personal life and health with her followers and fans.
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From early on in her career, the influencer told the world she had cancer in her brain, blood, spleen, liver and kidneys.
She claimed the malignant tumours were a result of receiving the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine.
In the preface of The Whole Pantry cookbook, Belle claimed her cancer was ‘stable’ and had not shown any signs of growth for two years.
While some fans were relieved to hear she was doing well, others started to become suspicious – and some details in Belle’s story weren’t adding up.
Inconsistencies in story
Contradicting the claims made in the preface of The Whole Pantry, Belle had posted on her Facebook page three months earlier that her cancer had spread.
Another claim Belle made was that she’d previously had open heart surgery and briefly died on the operating table.
But fans noticed there was no scar on her chest where the operation had supposedly been.
Over on her Instagram page, Belle was spreading dangerous misinformation about anti-vaxx conspiracies. She was also an advocate of highly controversial Gerson therapy.
Gerson therapy is a specific vegetarian diet that was developed in the 1920s. Some people have claimed, without evidence, that the diet can help cure cancer by ridding the body of toxins.
However, according to the Cancer Research website, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest this is the case, and following the diet can have severe side effects.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence surrounding Gerson therapy’s ability to cure cancer, Belle touted it as the solution for her to keep it at bay.
Web of lies
In 2015, an Australian publication accused Belle of not giving charitable donations she had raised in 2013 and 2014 to their intended charities.
While she denied the claims, two charities confirmed to The Australian newspaper that Belle had failed to hand over the donations she’d raised in their names, or the numbers didn’t add up.
Self-described philanthropist Belle had claimed to be working with dozens of charities, and to have donated $300,000 AUD (£161,000) to these charities.
But media reports suggested the equivalent of less than £4000 had reached those charities.
As allegations about Belle’s credibility were thrown around, she realised the game was finally up. In April 2015, she sat down for an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly where she admitted her entire story was fabricated.
“None of it is true,” she told the magazine.
Defending her lies, Belle said she’d been abandoned by her now-estranged mother at the age of five and had to take care of herself and her autistic brother from a very young age.
Belle’s mother later denied her daughter’s claims in the same magazine – and added her son did not have autism.
After the truth of Belle’s deceit came to light, public body Consumer Affairs Victoria took her to court for breaking Australian consumer law.
She was eventually fined $410,000 AUD (£220,000) in 2017 – but by 2019 she still hadn’t repaid the fine. When she was taken back to court, the disgraced influencer claimed she was in debt and couldn’t repay.
On 22 January 2020, the Sheriff’s Office of Victoria raided her house and seized items to recoup the money she hadn’t paid.
Just one day after the raid, a video surfaced, believed to have been filmed in October 2019, which showed Belle in a headscarf, and partially speaking in Oromo.
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In the video, she claimed the Ethiopian community in Melbourne had taken her under their wing following four years of her volunteer work.
The same day as the video appeared, Tarekegn Chimdi, the president of the Australian Oromo Community Association in Victoria, claimed Belle was not a registered volunteer, was not a member of the community and that no one seemed to know who she was.