In March 2015 – nearly two years to the month after formally registering her business The Whole Pantry, and over a year after landing a book deal worth $125,000 – The Age journalists Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano began hearing whispers not all was how it seemed in the case of wellness blogger Belle Gibson.
They had heard from five people within her “inner circle” that some had doubts about her terminal cancer diagnosis. These whispers would take them on an investigation that proved Gibson, then 27, had faked her illness and fraudulently acquired funds from her book and app on the promise of donating the money to charity.
Now, in their new book, The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con and the Darkness at the Heart of the Wellness Industry, the journalists detail the moment they sent Gibson an email, asking why she had not donated to the charities she said she supported. They also pressed Gibson on her cancer diagnosis.
In total, they sent 21 questions in an email was delivered at 3.20pm on a Thursday.
"Gibson immediately hit the phones," the two write of the moment she received the email. "At 3.30pm, she called the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. She spoke to its director of fundraising, apologised for the misunderstanding, and promised to pay $20,000.
"At 4.01pm, she transferred $1,000 to One Girl, a charity that had been chasing her for its promised donation for more than a year, and then sent a screenshot of the internet banking receipt from her phone to its CEO. She fired off emails to the other charities, too."
Toscano and Donelly went on to say at 1.16am the following Friday morning, Gibson finally replied in a 1,500 word email that addressed next to none of the concerns they raised.
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"We sent a second email, again asking the questions she hadn’t answered: where were you diagnosed? What was the prognosis? Where were you treated?
"In the morning, she wrote back.
"....I have been very open and generous with the amount of personal information I have put out into the public domain and have been hurt by that. As such I am not willing to expand on that any further at this point.”
Within a week, reports were made public. First, in The Age, questioning Gibson's donations to charity. Next came a report in the Weekend Australian, questioning her cancer diagnosis.
It was the beginning of the end.