Belle Gibson: What happened to ‘Instagram’s Worst Con Artist’ after she was exposed?

A new ITV documentary reveals how the blogger’s cancer lies came to light

Lydia Spencer-Elliott
Monday 29 April 2024 09:25 BST
Influencer Belle Gibson admits she can't prove cancer diagnosis

Belle Gibson gained fortune and millions of social media fans by duping followers into thinking she had managed a terminal cancer diagnosis through nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

The then–21–year–old Australian influencer’s shocking fraud story has now been told in a new ITV documentary, Instagram’s Worst Con Artist, which aired on Thursday (25 April).

In the two-part documentary series, viewers learn how Gibson’s success and social media status came crumbling down after an investigation revealed she had never been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Gibson claimed she had been given six weeks to live when doctors found a malignant brain tumour in 2009. She said chemotherapy treatment made her sick and she turned to alternative therapies.

The influencer launched The Whole Pantry app in 2013, and published a book with Penguin of the same name, off the back of her claim she had cured her cancer with a gluten and sugar free diet and a wellness lifestyle. The app was downloaded 200,000 times within its first month.

She also claimed she had heart surgery multiple times, briefly died on the operating table and had a stroke. She later told followers her cancer had spread to her blood, spleen, uterus and liver.

In ITV’s new documentary, one of Gibson’s closest friends, Chanelle McAuliffe, says she grew suspicious of Belle’s illness when she had “a seizure which she then recovered from very quickly when someone suggested calling an ambulance”.

Belle Gibson duped millions of people into thinking she managed terminal cancer with a healthy lifestyle (60 minutes/ 9 News)

Investigative journalist Richard Guillatt, whose wife had been diagnosed with cancer, started ringing experts to discuss Gibson’s illness claims and noticed something was amiss.

“I realised, if it’s a scam, it’s a really big scam,” he told the documentary. “She had hundreds of thousands of followers all around the world.”

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When Guillatt met Gibson for an interview, she claimed her doctor had diagnosed her with brain cancer and then vanished. She told Guillatt she was realising maybe she didn’t have cancer at all.

In a recording of the meeting shared with ITV, Guillatt said: “Christ almighty, Belle, you’re kidding, you actually don’t have cancer? This was just the last thing I expected…Belle Gibson just recanted on the record. She’s basically saying she can’t back up her cancer claims.”

Gibson grew up in Launceston, Tasmania and moved to Manly, Queensland for school. She later relocated to Perth in Western Australia and Melbourne in 2009. A year later, she became a mother at age 18.

In 2013, Gibson launched The Whole Pantry app. Three years later, she was under investigation by Consumer Affairs Victoria for “misleading and deceptive conduct” over claims she’d donated proceeds to charity. The influencer was fined $410,000 (Aus) (£214,000) in September 2017.

Belle Gibson claimed to have embarked on ‘a quest to heal herself naturally’ (BBC/Minnow Films/Brent Parker Jones)

Following the fine, Gibson claimed she was $170,000 (Aus) (£88,200) in debt and had $5,000 (Aus) (£2,600) to her name. In 2020 and 2021, the Sheriff’s Office of Victoria raided Gibson’s home to recoup unpaid fines, which due to interest are now over half a million dollars.

After the house raid, a video emerged in which Gibson claimed she was living with an Ethiopian community in Melbourne, which the president of the Australian Oromo Community Association in Victoria, Tarekegn Chimdia, later disputed.

“It was concerning when someone is using the community’s name who is not a member of that community,” he told Daily Mail Australia. ‘She is not involved in any fundraising for us. I have not seen her since that happened.

Gibson is believed to still be living in the Melbourne area. She has remained off of all social media platforms.

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