She was silent as her estranged daughter built a wellness empire as a cancer imposter but in this revealing interview, which featured in the June 2015 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, the mother of Belle Gibson, Natalie Dal-Bello paints a picture of a complicated family life. Clair Weaver and Bryce Corbett report.
THE ESTRANGED MOTHER of the disgraced wellness advocate Belle Gibson has spoken out for the first time, angrily refuting her daughter’s life story and imploring her to apologise.
Natalie Dal-Bello (formerly Gibson) says she was “deeply hurt and incredibly upset” at her daughter’s unforgiving account of her childhood and upbringing – and her refusal to say sorry to the people she had duped.
The 51-year-old, who says she has had no contact with her daughter for the past four years, said she was horrified to read Belle’s interview in last month’s magazine. Natalie called The Weekly, at first angry about our story and Belle’s comments, but eventually she agreed to talk to tell her side of the story.
“I can’t tell you how embarrassed we are about what she has done. And we sincerely wish to apologise to anyone who was deceived by Belle. For what small part we played in her life, we would like to say sorry.
“She’s got to look inside her own soul. The only way she is going to get forgiveness is to stop playing the victim card and spend the next few years doing nothing but charity work for cancer victims.”
Natalie says Belle’s account of her childhood is wrong. Speaking to The Weekly last month, Belle described growing up with a mother who had multiple sclerosis and a brother who was autistic, saying she was forced from the age of five to become her mother’s primary carer and do all the housework and grocery shopping.
“What a lot of rubbish,” says Natalie, who confimed she has multiple sclerosis, but refutes the rest. “Belle never cared for me, her brother is not autistic and she’s barely done a minute’s housework in her life. I’ve practically worked myself into an early grave to give that girl everything she wanted in life. Every time she moved house, I paid for it, whenever she needed something for [her son] Ollie, I paid for it. If she wanted a new computer, I paid for it. Phone bills, clothes, beauty treatments – you name it. And this is how she repays me.
“She’s just a girl who always had ideas above her station. She was never happy with what she had and embarrassed by her family. Her tastes just became more and more expensive, and she was living beyond her means. And she was addicted to her computer. She used to fall asleep with it. Always on Facebook, always online. But that world is not real, it’s not healthy.”
Natalie, now married to Andrew Dal-Bello and no longer living in Queensland, where she raised Belle and her brother, Nick, says she had no idea her daughter had enjoyed success as a wellness entrepreneur, cookbook author and founder of The Whole Pantry app. Natalie says Belle broke off contact with her and Andrew four years ago.
“We felt we had to speak out, to set the record straight,” says Natalie. “Our name is becoming mud very quickly. It’s got to the stage where she’s brought down a lot of friends and family. I’ve got to the stage where I can’t sleep at night.”
Andrew tells The Weekly, “It’s all lies. Her mum has done everything for her. I don’t think she could ever ask for a better mother. Belle’s been well looked after. I don’t know what she is trying to prove to people, but making up stories is not the way to go.”
However, Natalie’s own life story, as she tells it, is complex – and perhaps goes some way to explaining Belle’s actions.
In her interview with The Weekly, Belle said her childhood was confusing and unpredictable – that she had siblings she didn’t know, that the family moved house a lot and personal records were sketchy. Much of which seems to be borne out by her mother’s version of events.
The Weekly has also spoken to Belle’s older brother, Nick, 26, whom Belle falsely claimed had autism. Nick, now a single parent, says he is also “really upset” by the allegations. “I’m disgusted with Belle and what she’s done,” he says. “It’s about attention. She’s always been like this.”
Last year, Belle deceived millions of people with her incredible story of healing terminal brain cancer solely with wholefoods and alternative therapies. Off the back of her alleged cancer diagnosis – which she admitted to The Weekly last month was not true – she earned a lucrative cookbook deal and created an app which sold in its hundreds of thousands and was picked up by Apple for its new smartwatch.
Now, as her friends, fans and family say they have been betrayed, tens of thousands of her cookbooks are being pulped and her once world-beating app, The Whole Pantry, is fast disappearing into oblivion.
“She just plucked bits and pieces of other people’s medical problems and assumed them as her own,” says Natalie. “She had a heart problem growing up, but that was it. I thought [her interview with The Weekly] was going to be an apology on Belle’s behalf – an admission of guilt – but it wasn’t. She doesn’t seem to be sorry. There doesn’t appear to be any remorse. I’ve never seen her cry in her life. I’m not even sure she’s capable of empathy.”
It’s an uncomfortable conversation. When The Weekly asked Belle last month how she felt about having misled genuine cancer patients on social media, possibly steering them away from proven conventional treatment, she said, “If I knew anyone [with cancer] was going to do what I did or what I have done, I would personally have driven them to hospital.”
Belle’s fall from grace has been spectacular. And while many have pointed the finger of blame entirely at the internet entrepreneur, she did not act alone. Publishers gave the 23-year-old a book deal, she developed an adoring online fan base and very few checked her credentials.
In last month’s interview, she told this magazine, “People need to draw a line in the sand where they still treat people with some level of respect or humility – and I have not been receiving that.
“I don’t want forgiveness. I would like people to say, okay, she’s human. She’s obviously had a big life. She’s respectfully come to the table and said what she’s needed to say, and now it’s time for her to grow and heal.”
While her cancer diagnosis has been proved to be false, there are some details about Belle’s life on which Belle and her family seem to agree. She and Nick didn’t know their father when they were growing up. There were multiple family dramas, an on-and-off stepfather and several residential moves, including to Townsville, Maroochydore and Wynnum.
(When Natalie initially contacted The Weekly, she said her husband of four years, Andrew, was Belle’s father. She said the couple had a relationship more than two decades ago, separated, then reunited and married. Yet, later, she recanted, admitting Andrew is not Belle’s father and there was no relationship 20 years ago. All she would say is that Belle’s father was a “sperm donor”.)
What seems agreed upon is that, at about the age of 12, Belle did leave home, as she told The Weekly.
Of that period, Natalie and Nick say she struck up a friendship, while in primary school in Brisbane, with a man in his 60s (his name is withheld for legal reasons). It was into his apartment, her mother and brother say, that Belle moved while in her first year of high school.
Unlike Belle, whose career was born and exploded on social media, Natalie and Andrew don’t like online communication. Natalie says none of the family even knew about The Whole Pantry scandal until Belle’s grandmother in Melbourne heard about it on the news.
“Nanna called me up a few weeks ago and said, ‘Did you know about Belle having her own app and going to America?’ ” says Nick. “I looked it up on the internet. I couldn’t believe it – her living this life of luxury and being into this funny [alternative health] stuff. It’s like it wasn’t my sister – like a different person by the same name.”
Says Natalie, “I read the story [in
The Weekly] and I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe what she had done and I felt like I had been erased from her life – dead.”
Despite the drama, Belle’s family says it would like to be reunited with her.
When asked what she would say to her daughter if she could speak to her, Natalie says, “I would tell her I love her, that she needs to take care of her son, but at the end of the day, she needs to take responsibility for her actions.”
Says Nick, "I would like to see Belle again, but I don’t think I will be able to forgive her for what she’s done. The things I’d like to ask to her face now are, what did I do to deserve this? Please explain. Why did you do this to the family?'"
Belle Gibson opened up about her side of the story in The Weekly's May issue. Read the FULL investigation here.
A version of this article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly. Words by Clair Weaver and Bryce Corbett. Photography by Alana Landsberry.
Video: Before Belle Gibson's world came crashing down she was accepting awards on the back of her cancer claims. See her acceptance speech at Cosmo's Fun Fearless Female Awards.