The wellness blogger who lied about having cancer

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
Photo credit: 9 News/60 Minutes

From Cosmopolitan UK

Wellness blogger Belle Gibson built an entire empire off the back of claims she had cured her terminal brain cancer through changes to her diet and lifestyle.

She rose to fame in May 2013 after posting online about having used whole foods and alternative therapies to defy medical estimations that she only had four months to live, and people believed her. Here she was, it seemed, still alive and apparently healthy, four years after her supposed diagnosis.

Gibson attracted millions of followers across her social media platforms, and went on to develop The Whole Pantry App - where people could pay to access recipes and guidance from the so-called health guru - along with a book of the same name. She earned a fortune, and promised donations to various charities from the money she made.

Photo credit: Penguin

But in March 2015, the whole thing fell apart. After questions were raised about the authenticity of her story by the media and by people who knew her, police began to investigate the situation, and she eventually confessed. Speaking to The Australian Women's Weekly, when asked if her cancer story was true, she admitted: "No. None of it’s true."

The whole thing had been a farce. Belle Gibson had never been diagnosed with cancer in the first place; her lifestyle and diet choices hadn't 'saved her', she never donated any money to charity, the fictional brain cancer hadn't spread to her blood, liver, spleen or uterus as she'd told her followers, and her young son was not going to be left without a mother. She had lied, and in doing so she'd given thousands of desperate families a lot of false hope.

And now, two-and-a-half years after her confession, the former blogger has been ordered to pay her penance - literally. Back in March this year, a judge ruled the young woman (whose age is now thought to be 25, after some speculation she had previously lied about this, too) had committed unconscionable conduct under Australian consumer law by lying about the proceeds of The Whole Pantry being donated to charity.

Photo credit: 9 News/60 Minutes

Gibson could have been liable to pay back up to $1.1 million in Australian dollars for her wrongdoing (just less than £650,000), but the Australian Federal Court this week announced the exact figure she's being fined: $410,000 Australian dollars (or £240,000).

Justice Debbie Mortimer, the judge in the case, ordered the money should be given to "some or all" of the charity groups and individuals Gibson had previously promised she would donate to.

The former blogger did, however, avoid having to place an A4-size apology advert in one of Australia's main national papers - either the Herald Sun and The Australian - which had been called for as one form of punishment by Consumer Affairs Victoria who took legal action against her.

But during the ruling, Judge Mortimer said Gibson's dishonest conduct proved "her relentless obsession with herself and what best serves her interests." She added: "One of the clear demonstrations of the dishonesty and self-interest attending Ms Gibson's conduct was the fact she and the company she controlled did not in fact make any donations to the organisations she had mentioned in her publicity statements until public questioning of her claims."

"I don't want forgiveness"

Gibson failed to attend any of the civil court hearings regarding the case, and reportedly emailed saying, "Thank you for the update. Much appreciated", when the figure of the fine was revealed - something the judge said indicated she had not taken any responsibility for her actions.

"I don't want forgiveness," Belle Gibson said in her confession interview with The Weekly back in 2015. "I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do. Above anything, I would like people to say, 'Okay, she's human.'"

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