real life

Megan Bhari was accused of faking her brain tumour. Then she died.

In 2012, children's charity Believe in Magic was set up by 16-year-old Megan Bhari and her mother Jean.

The charity's aim was to help the needs of children and young people up to the age of 18 in the UK suffering from serious or terminal illness. This was done in a 'make-a-wish' sort of way, granting hundreds of sick children's wishes - from lavish parties to sending families on holiday or letting them meet their 'celebrity superhero'.

It was an extremely successful charity that did a lot of good for a number of years, and it raised a large amount of money. 

Now a decade on, the charity is shrouded in murky controversy.

"The truth is a lot darker," the journalist behind BBC's Believe in Magic podcast, Jamie Bartlett, tells No Filter. "The story's a lot stranger than this. It didn't add up, there was still something that hadn't been uncovered."

Watch: One Direction 1D: This Is Us official trailer. Post continues below. 

Video via Sony Pictures.

As for what spurred Megan's desire to start a charity, she herself knew what it was like to be a young, sick person.


Aged 13, she was diagnosed with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension - a rare brain condition where fluid around the brain and spinal cord builds up around the skull, causing pressure. A couple of years later, her mother Jean told friends that Megan had also been diagnosed with a brain tumour. 

Despite Jean's regular online posts about Megan's daily cocktail of drugs and frequent hospital visits, the pair worked tirelessly for their charity. 

Listen: It Seemed Like A Scam But Then She Died. Megan Bhari's Story. 

It was even backed by a number of high-profile figures, including iconic boy band One Direction, with all the band members wearing Believe in Magic wristbands while on tour.

Louis Tomlinson and his mother did a significant amount of work with the charity, along with Harry Styles and his mum too. Tomlinson reportedly personally donated £2million to the fund.

"Megan was one of the thousands of young teens who just were obsessed with One Direction. And she'd managed to meet the band backstage after one of their gigs in London," explains Bartlett on No Filter

"She was really good at sort of charming celebrities. She'd managed to somehow get their attention and get them to support her charity to which she decided to set up."

And right by Megan's side was her very attentive mother, Jean. 


"They were best friends really, rather than mother and daughter. They would do everything themselves and they ran this entire charity. It was the Jean and Meg show," says Bartlett.

In 2015, Megan was given an award by then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who praised her "extraordinary courage" and charitable work.

As one mum whose child received a wish from Believe in Magic, said: "She [Megan] had more sympathy and love for people than anyone else I'd met before. So much kindness."

Megan Bhari prior to her death. Image: Twitter.


But around this time, Megan's health was worsening. Jean said treatment for Megan wasn't available through the National Health Service in the UK, and she needed specialised treatment in the US. 

They managed in turn to raise £120,000 for Megan's treatment.

But as the attention on this fundraiser grew, it raised suspicions among a small group of parents in the child cancer community, who were concerned that Megan's mother was allegedly lying about her daughter's brain cancer diagnosis. They claimed that what Jean had said about the cancer itself wasn't medically accurate. 

One of these concerned fellow parents in the community was Joanna, who spoke on Bartlett's podcast on the topic.

"They were like amateur sleuths, like online investigators digging around becoming obsessed with the story," he says about Joanna, who uncovered a lot of truths behind Jean and Megan.

It was found that when the mother-daughter duo were supposed to be in a US hospital, they were instead reportedly at a luxury hotel at Disney World in Florida.

And when Jean reportedly posted on social media that she and her daughter would be returning home with "five cases of medical kit and a huge oxygen concentrator", they were photographed getting off the cruise terminal from their holiday with no oxygen tanks. A private investigator claimed the pair were laughing and chatting as they pushed luggage trolleys piled high with cases.


With all of this in mind, the group of concerned parents thought there was enough to their 'case' to consider rightly that Megan wasn't as sick as what was being projected publicly.

Then in 2018, Megan passed away aged 23.

She died on March 28, 2018, at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. 

As per the BBC, the cause of death was unclear so there was a coronial investigation. And later that same year, an inquest into her death took place. 

In the Believe in Magic podcast, it's revealed that doctors had confirmed Megan had been unwell throughout her life. But most of the conditions she had were "in theory manageable".

According to the forensic pathologist, Megan's brain had been "morphologically normal", reportedly no mention of a brain tumour. It wasn't a tumour that killed Megan, but an abnormality of the rhythm of the heart, also known as acute cardiac arrhythmia. Doctors said this was linked (and likely caused) by her fatty liver disease.

As for how the fatty liver disease came about for Megan and what caused it - that remains a mystery. 

One expert told Barlett that a fatty liver disease so severe it could lead to death for a 23-year-old is typically caused by "living extremely unhealthily for years and years". It is a preventable condition. 


One medical professional noted Megan's "opiate-seeking" behaviour, and reported there was an attempt to obtain morphine with a forged prescription. The doctor said Megan had no signs of immunodeficiency.  

It left many wondering why Megan and her mother had mentioned a brain tumour publicly, when that was in fact not a reality for Megan. There were also accusations of Munchausen syndrome and malingering by proxy being a factor. 

"There was no mention at all anywhere of a brain tumour. The post mortem found that her brain was morphologically normal. So in a strange way, the coroner concluded its she died of natural circumstances. But it's so unusual for a young person to die of cardiac arrhythmia caused by liver disease," says Bartlett.

Six years ago, the UK's Charity Commission began an investigation into Believe in Magic and found sums of more than £100,000 missing and money transferred into Jean's personal bank account. It was subsequently shut down in 2020.

Professor Marc Feldman is one of the world's most renowned experts on factitious disorders. One disorder he knows a significant amount on is Munchausen by proxy, now known in the UK as Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII).

It's a rare form of child abuse where a parent or carer exaggerates or deliberately causes symptoms of illness in the child. He says some people do it for money, others want attention or have a desire to be cared for.


Professor Feldman claimed to the BBC that he personally believes Megan's case "screams" of FII. It is of course, an allegation.

A review from Kingston Council - as per The Times - later said: "Despite there being no formal diagnosis of FII in this case, the presentation and coroner's conclusion lead all involved to think it was likely to have been FII."

There are also reports from some of Megan's older half-siblings that their now-estranged mother Jean allegedly "wanted one of us to have an accident" for "attention" from others.

One of the sisters said she has a kidney problem, but claims that her mum would feed her "cups and cups of salty Bovril as a child". Bovril is a popular British meat extract paste (similar to yeast extract) that is very high in salt content, which should be avoided if one has a kidney problem. 

Barlett has spoken with one of the sisters, who recounted to him: "Well, I believe she wanted us to have an accident. I believe she would have liked the attention. But at the time, it seemed completely normal to us."

After Megan's death and the shutdown of the Believe in Magic charity, Jean disappeared from public view.

In a statement to the BBC recently, Jean said: "I loved and cared for my daughter. Suggesting I might have harmed her in any way at all is absolutely sickening."


As many have noted, this case is an incredibly complex one. There are some questions that have been answered, but others that are likely to remain forever shroude in confusion.

For Barlett, he wishes he had the opportunity to speak to Megan before she died, to uncover the full truth.

He has also tried to get in touch with Jean.

"She obviously denies this. She sent us a long response," he says.

"She said she care for Megan, loved Megan and never wanted anything bad to happen to Megan. She said the sister we spoke to was jealous and bitter. Jean also says Megan really did have a brain tumour. Jean is out there somewhere - I don't know where she is though."

After months and months spent on this case, Barlett says his emotions about the story swing from "feeling very, very angry with Jean" to "almost feeling sorry for her".

"It's just such a difficult story. In my personal view on what sort of happened, there's Munchausen syndrome and malingering by proxy - an overlap between the two," Bartlett claims.

"The problem is when that happens, you then have to carry on this myth. You can't go back. And you almost get trapped by your own lies. And you have to continue the story of the brain tumour and everything because that's what your whole identity is built around."

Feature Image: Twitter.