Three survivors of notorious cancer faker Belle Gibson’s wellness scam have open up on how her hoax almost cost them their lives.
Gibson hit notoriety in 2015 when she was exposed as a bare-faced liar and thief who faked keeping brain cancer at bay by nothing but healthy eating.
But the shock revelation came too late for many real-life cancer sufferers who were sucked in by Gibson’s massive social media profile, hit phone app, and book.
Australian lymphoma victim Kylie Wyllie abandoned chemotherapy and painful lumbar injection to follow Gibson’s lead but was horrified to find out it was all a hoax.
Three survivors of cancer faker Belle Gibson’s online scam have revealed the devastating effect the hoax had on them which could have cost them their lives. Kylie Wyllie, pictured, says she felt like an idiot when the lies were exposed
Belle Gibson (pictured) said she’d been given four months to live with an inoperable brain tumour five years previously but cheated death through fruit and veg-based ‘clean eating’
‘Oh my God, Belle Gibson is a liar,’ Melbourne mother-of-three Ms Wyllie, 44, said when she was told the news.
‘I felt betrayed. Why the hell would you do that? Why would you pretend to have cancer? Like, what the hell? I felt it made me look like an idiot.’
Gibson said she was given four months to live with an inoperable brain tumour five years previously, but cheated death through a fruit and veg-based ‘clean eating’ diet.
The message sparked a global wellness phenomena which led to her The Whole Pantry phone app – the first of its kind in the world – being promoted by Apple, and a lucrative book deal with Penguin.
Pixie Turner (pictured) was also taken in by Gibson’s claims after thinking they appeared to make sense, until the reality was exposed
Maxine Ali (pictured) had been another devotee of Gibson’s wellness scam after ulcerative colitis had left her isolated, unwell and unhappy
Ms Wyllie told a new BBC documentary on Gibson, Bad Influencer: The Great Insta Con, that she fell for the hoax after feeling conventional medicine was failing her.
‘Maybe she’s got the right idea, maybe I’m doing it all wrong,’ she recalled thinking at the time. ‘I’m dying, and she’s out there living her best life.
‘I was having daily chemo, I had no hair, and I had 17 lumbar punctures. I was like, ‘You’re not making me better. You’re making me worse, you’re killing me.
‘Why am I even doing this?’
Gibson’s apparently healthy, glamorous lifestyle seen on her Instagram feed, despite her supposed cancer battle, inspired 300,000 who followed her on social media.
‘I wanted to be just like Belle – beautiful and successful,’ Ms Wyllie added.
‘She was inspiring to so many people, she was what the ultimate goal was – to be like Belle Gibson.
‘The chemo wasn’t for me – it wasn’t working for me, I should come off it and try clean eating. I was desperate – my life had totally changed.
Gibson’s apparently healthy, glamorous lifestyle seen on her Instagram feed, despite her supposed cancer battle, inspired 300,000 who followed her on social media. she’s seen here collecting an award for being the Scoial Media Star of the Year in 2014
‘She appeared to be doing everything right, and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. She was saying what she was doing was curing her cancer.
‘It was making it better.
‘And I had her there to look at. I had her on my phone and she was in magazines and she was on the news. I trusted everybody who supported her.’
But within a year of the Gibson’s fame going global, she was finally exposed as a hoax after claiming her cancer had spread from her brain to her blood, spleen, liver and uterus.
When she was finally confronted, Gibson confessed she never had cancer, and none of the promised proceeds from her app and book sales went to charity.
She even lied about her own age and was actually three years younger than she claimed.
In the UK, Maxine Ali was another devotee of Gibson’s wellness scam after ulcerative colitis left her isolated, unwell, and depressed.
Belle Gibson, pictured here on her way into court in 2019, was fined $410,000 over unpaid charity donations
She adopted Gibson’s health advice to get off prescription steroid treatment which caused her to balloon in weight.
Instead though she became desperately ill and underweight.
‘I think there was a frustration that I was doing everything,’ Ms Ali told the documentary. ‘I was following all the rules.
‘My life didn’t look like that. It didn’t look glamorous or exciting.’
Within a year of starting to follow Gibson’s eating regime, Ms Ali, from London, was so ill and undernourished, she no longer had her period.
‘My health started deteriorating,’ she said. ‘I was starting to feel a lot more run down, I had lost my period, and physically, I just wasn’t feeling good any more.
‘I would often find myself hungry a lot of the time… I just felt like a complete failure.
‘I felt incredibly gullible that I had fallen for something that could so easily have been disproven. How can I be so stupid?’
Belle Gibson (pictured) sparked a global wellness phenomena which led to her The Whole Pantry phone app – the first of its kind in the world – being promoted by Apple and a lucrative book deal with Penguin
When she was finally confronted, Belle Gibson, pictured, confessed she had never had cancer, and none of the promised proceeds from her app and book sales had gone to charity.
Her friend Pixie Turner was also taken in by Gibson and said after a year she found there was almost nothing she could eat as a result.
‘Clean Eating was a phrase that the wellness community really latched on to,’ she said. ‘The idea that we needed to clean up the way that we were eating.
‘Everyone knows vegetables are good for you. Fruit is good for you. Plants are good for you, it made sense.
‘The idea that all these processed foods and these various ingredients that we were eating were not good for us, it was so simple, and it made so much sense.’
But it ruled out any products with five or more ingredients, anything that was processed or had meat, gluten, or dairy in it.
Soon, the restricted diet was playing havoc with her health, physically and mentally.
‘I was at the end of my first year of uni when I got into wellness,’ she said.
‘While a lot of my friends and colleagues were going out and drinking, I was only very occasionally going along with them and I wouldn’t drink that much
‘Clean Eating’ ruled out any products with five or more ingredients, anything that was processed or had meat, gluten or dairy in it. Seen here is Gibson with one of her recipes
‘Somebody who’s going into that already vulnerable, and probably with low self esteem is probably not feeling too great about themselves.
‘It just pushes you down further and just makes you feel worthless – that is s**t.’
The documentary also spoke to one of Gibson’s childhood friends from her days growing up in Brisbane who revealed she was a notorious liar even then.
‘There was nothing that she could say that you could take at face value,’ the unnamed friend told the documentary.
‘When she came to class in a sling, there was no chance it was actually a broken arm. The next week she told us she was a test tube baby, we all went oh sure, OK, Belle.
‘We all knew from the beginning that Belle likes to lie.’
Belle Gibson, pictured, is said to have converted to Islam and now works in Melbourne as a teacher
But the friend was still shocked to see the hoax her childhood friend pulled on the world.
‘I remember opening up Facebook and seeing a video, and I recognise the face,’ she said. ‘It was Belle, talking about some app that she was creating.
‘Instantly I had alarm bells ringing in the back of my mind. I sat there going, “has she done it again, but on a massive scale now?”‘
Gibson was fined $410,000 over her unpaid charity donations – which she has never paid – and is said to have converted to Islam and now works in Melbourne as a teacher.
Her loyal followers initially refused to believe that she had faked everything – but eventually the reality became unavoidable, Ms Turner said.
‘People’s immediate reaction was denial, this can’t be real. Surely not,’ she said.
‘And then I think it started to sink in. That’s when the doubt creeped in and people thought, okay, maybe she actually did lie…’
Belle Gibson’s Melbourne home was raided recently in an attempt to recoup some of the $410,000 fine she has never paid
She added: ‘It’s so devastating for the industry. She was such an important figure.
‘It blows all trust out the water with everyone’s stories. I felt really disappointed in myself for having been tricked by her. I became a lot more cynical that day.
‘It was clear that wellness was never going to be the same.’
Since the revelation about Gibson’s lies, Ms Wyllie has returned to conventional medicine and is in remission after chemotherapy on her cancer.
Others were not so lucky and in the backlash against Gibson many claimed they lost loved ones to cancer who ignored traditional medicine for Gibson’s clean eating cure.
Many claim to have lost loved ones to cancer who had ignored traditional medicine for Belle Gibson’s clean eating cure
‘It was driven by a lot of people whose family had gone through cancer whether it be directly or indirectly and people who had lost people because they didn’t go through conventional treatments,’ Ms Wyllie said.
She admits she is still bitter about Gibson’s deception.
‘She’s definitely not well, because a well person doesn’t do what she’s done and believe in her own lies. But she’s also highly intelligent,’ she said.
‘She thinks we’re all stupid. That’s what annoys me about it.
‘She is the type of person that thinks that she’s smarter than the rest of us, and we’re all fools…
‘Maybe we were for a little bit.’