After Belle Gibson was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 she went on to cure herself, and released a popular smartphone app focused on healthy eating. Gibson even donated a small fortune to charity with the proceeds. At least that was her story. Both Gibson’s cancer and her “cure” were lies. And now a court has ordered her to pay a hefty fine.
Gibson, a 25-year-old Australian woman, built a health and wellness empire by not only pretending to have brain cancer, but then claiming to have cured her cancer with what she claimed were all-natural remedies. Gibson said that much of the proceeds from her cookbook and app, The Whole Pantry, would go to various charities. But that didn’t happen.
“No. None of it’s true,” Gibson finally confessed in April 2015 after questions were raised about her story. “I don’t want forgiveness. I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do.”
Before she shut down her Facebook and Instagram accounts, Gibson had amassed quite a following, and kept everyone up to date on how she was “curing” her cancer. How did she cure it? By cutting out gluten, dairy, and coffee, among other things.
Gibson made over $420,000 AUD (£245,280) during the course of her elaborate hoax. She was found guilty back in April but the fine of $410,000 AUD (£239,440) was just issued today. The court found that Gibson made just over $10,000 AUD (£5,840) in donations to charities during her venture, far short of what she claimed.
A screenshot of Belle Gibson’s now defunct app, The Whole Pantry (left) and Gibson trying a prototype of the Apple Watch before it was released (right)
Previously magazines had hailed her diet as a miracle and they touted her award-winning app as essential to a healthy lifestyle. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Gibson even flew to the US to help work on the Apple Watch before it was released.
“She’s fun and fearless ‘cos: she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, but instead of giving in, it became the impetus for her dedication to health and wellbeing,” Cosmopolitan magazine’s Australian edition wrote about Gibson back in 2014. “Oh, and her app was named runner-up for the Best iPhone App of 2013 by Apple. Not bad, hey?”
Except that it was all bullshit. And the app was quietly pulled from the App Store after it was revealed in March of 2015 that she was a charlatan. Gibson’s app, The Whole Pantry, was so popular that it was even featured in online promotions for the Apple Watch.
A screenshot of an Apple Watch promotion from 2015 touting Gibson’s app, The Whole Pantry, before it was ultimately pulled from the App Store
According to Australia’s ABC News, the fine issued to Gibson was broken down by the various infractions, which included everything from failing to donate money from the proceeds of her wellness app, to her personally promising $150,000 AUD (£87,600) to a young boy named Joshua with a brain tumour. She never gave Joshua the money that she pledged.
“Ms Gibson expressly compared the terrible circumstances of young Joshua to her own, asserting she had the same kind of tumour as he did; a statement which was completely false," the judge said in her ruling.
The fines were broken down as follows, according to ABC News:
- $90,000 AUD (£52,560) for failing to donate proceeds from the sale of The Whole Pantry app, as publicly advertised
- $50,000 AUD (£29,200) for failing to donate proceeds from the launch of The Whole Pantry app
- $30,000 AUD (£17,520) for failing to donate proceeds from a 2014 Mothers Day event
- $90,000 AUD (£52,560) for failing to donate other company profits
- $150,000 AUD (£87,600) for failing to donate 100 per cent of one week’s app sales to the family of Joshua Schwarz, a boy who had an inoperable brain tumour
Gibson faced $1.1 million AUD (£642,400) in fines, but has been ordered to pay just $410,000 AUD (£239,440) because the court found that there’s no sense in issuing such a large sum if she has no ability to pay it. She didn’t even show up for the court proceedings.
“She has chosen not to explain her conduct. She has chosen not to apologise for it,” the judge said this morning. “It appears she has put her own interests before those of anyone else.”
After the ruling, the prosecutors in the case and public health advocates warned the public that there are a lot of scams out there when it comes to health and wellness. But Gibson was certainly a special case.
“Our advice is to be wary of anyone who encourages you to eliminate many types of food or whole food groups from your diet,” head of the local Cancer Council, Todd Harper, told ABC News. “Always seek information from reputable sources and consult your doctor or dietitian first.” [ABC News Australia]