by Rebecca Sullivan
A NEW book by the journalists who exposed Belle Gibson's extraordinary web of lies reveals the series of panicked emails that eventually led to the health blogger's downfall.
In 2015, journalists Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano from Melbourne's The Age newspaper began investigating claims that Gibson had lied about having cancer and donating profits from her cookbook and app The Whole Pantry to charity.
Donelly and Toscano had interviewed several people close to Gibson who knew her story didn't add up, so they contacted the popular wellness influencer demanding answers.
They emailed Gibson a list of 21 questions, asking why she had failed to make donations to a series of charities she claimed to financially support. They also sought clarification about her supposed brain cancer diagnosis.
It was the emails and phone calls Gibson made on that day in 2015 that led to her downfall, the pair explain 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.
Just 10 minutes after Gibson received the list of questions from Donelly and Toscano, she went into damage control.
"The email was delivered at 3.20pm on the Thursday," the pair wrote in the book. "Gibson immediately hit the phones. At 3.30pm, she called the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray. She spoke to its director of fundraising for 15 minutes, apologised for the misunderstanding, and promised to pay them $20,000. At 4.01pm, she transferred $1000 to One Girl, the 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."
The next day at 1.16am, Gibson replied to Donelly and Toscano in a 1500-word email. It failed to answer any of their questions properly, including specifics about her age, her current cancer diagnosis, the hospitals where she had been treated and names of her doctors.
"Gibson kept spruiking her charity work, wrote about her sacrifices for others, and her support for those less fortunate," the book says. "This was odd. Usually, when people are caught out like this, and a reporter comes knocking, they say very little. Or they bunker down and say nothing at all.
"Gibson, on the other hand, attempted to explain away the fact that she kept money raised for charity. She said it had something to do with 'cash flow' problems.
"Even more bewildering, Gibson promoted the $1000 donation to One Girl. She had transferred it to the not-for-profit less than 10 hours earlier, 15 months after she took it, and only after she was asked what happened to it."
Gibson had earned almost half a million dollars from her app and book advance, but her charity donations totalled just under $6000. She had previously claimed that most of her profits went to charity.
The two journalists sent Gibson a follow-up email, repeating questions she had failed to answer.
Gibson replied: "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."
That evening, Donelly and Toscano published their first story about Gibson, detailing how she had failed to make donations to multiple charities, despite numerous public declarations that she had given them money.
The next day, The Australian newspaper published a front-page article, headlined: 'Mega-blogger Belle Gibson casts doubt on her own cancer claims'.
Donelly and Toscano then published another article with quotes from several sources in Gibson's inner circle who didn't buy her cancer claim.
Her cover had been blown.
Three years later, Gibson has gone to ground and her entire web of lies has unfolded in court.
In September last year, she was fined $420,000 in a civil case against Consumer Affairs Victoria, after the Federal Court in Melbourne found her guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct.
The court said she misled her readers and is banned from making deceptive claims about her health in connection with wellbeing advice.
One of the most grievous acts was failing to donated 100 per cent of one week's app sales, or $150,000, to the family of Joshua Schwarz, a boy who had an inoperable brain tumour
The judge presiding over the case, Justice Mortimer, said this was the worst of Gibson's failings.
"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," Justice Mortimer said.
Gibson did not show up to court during the proceedings and is yet to make a public comment on the judgement.
The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson's Cancer Con and the Darkness at the Heart of the Wellness Industry by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano is out now.