Real Life

EXCLUSIVE: “I’ll never forgive Belle”

The fraudster’s former friend Chanelle reveals why she had to expose her
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It was a year into their friendship when Chanelle McAuliffe began to suspect Belle Gibson was lying to her and the thousands of fans who’d been following her terminal cancer journey.

“It started with small things, like she was going to the solarium and drinking alcohol,” Chanelle tells Woman’s Day. “[It] wasn’t aligning to what she publicly was selling herself as. And then I realised I’d never seen her sick. Ever.”

Finding out your friend has lied to you is an experience many people would consider a hurtful betrayal.

But for Chanelle, it was a matter of literal life and death, as the now-convicted fraudster had built a high-profile career out of offering advice on how to cure cancer through diet, exercise and alternative medicine.

“I asked her straight out, ‘Are you sick?’ and [asked her] to go and get any evidence – scans, doctor’s letters, anything from a hospital,” remembers Chanelle.

“She said she’d received the diagnosis from a ‘Dr Phil’ in the suburbs. That’s when I was 100 per cent certain. This is a scam.”

Chanelle contacted the police with her suspicions, but they said they couldn’t do anything due to a lack of evidence. She then contacted a lawyer who accused her of defaming Gibson. So she went to the media.

“I never set out to expose Belle – I just wanted to stop her from causing harm,” Chanelle explains. “I knew there were two outcomes – either she’s going to keep doing this and people were going to die, or it was going to come out. It was going to be a train wreck either way.”

After she claimed she was unable to pay her fines, authorities raided Gibson’s home to recoup the funds.

(Image: Supplied.)

It’s been eight years since Gibson, now 32, appeared in the toe-curling 60 Minutes interview where journalist Tara Brown repeatedly asked the influencer if she was lying.

“I didn’t trade in on my story or in other people’s lives,” Gibson said, insisting she had been misdiagnosed. “I’m not trying to get away with anything.”

“It was embarrassing to watch but it wasn’t shocking to me,” says Chanelle.

“It was validating in a sense for the world to see. It was also very tragic for her followers, and I guess you could call them her victims, who didn’t get any comfort or closure from it.”

It all began in 2013, when Gibson claimed she had been diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2009 by an unnamed German doctor and launched The Whole Pantry website and Instagram account, which shared healthy recipes she claimed cured her illness.

With more than 300,000 downloads, an offer from tech giant Apple to work on a new app and a reported $420,000 book publishing deal with Penguin, Gibson received countless plaudits, including being given Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Female Award in 2014.

However, in early 2015, a series of media investigations into Gibson’s business dealings disputed her story. In March, The Age newspaper discovered none of the charities Gibson had named as recipients of her book’s profits had received a cent from her. In April, The Australian Women’s Weekly published an interview with Gibson that saw her admit, “No, none of it’s true.”

In September 2017, Gibson was found guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct by the Federal Court and fined $410,000. However, she later claimed she was “not in a position to pay [the] fine”.

“It was tragic for her victims, they didn’t get any closure.” Chanelle says.

(Image: Phillip Castleton/

Chanelle met Gibson in October 2014, at the height of the wellness crusader’s fame.

Chanelle, who now works in finance, was interning at a website and assigned to interview Gibson, and they quickly formed a friendship.

“It was a very close relationship. I slept at her house, I hung out with her son Oliver and her partner [Clive Rothwell]. I told her about my partner at the time who had a traumatic brain injury. Belle really tried to connect with us,” says Chanelle.

She remembers the “awe-like” presence Gibson had while meeting her followers.

“She was just kind of floating around the room,” she says. “I met one of her followers who’d flown over from Sweden to come to the book launch. She had a brain condition that caused seizures.”

Looking back, Chanelle suspects meeting this follower is what could have inspired Gibson to add this to her collection of physical ailments.

“She’d take on other people’s symptoms,” she says.

These moments of uncertainty began to weigh heavily on Chanelle, leading to her confronting Gibson and getting a shocking response from her partner.

“I said to Clive, ‘You need to tell me the truth.’ He replied, ‘I need to protect that little boy. She’s not sick and she’ll try to destroy anyone that exposes her.'”

In November, it was reported that Clive and Gibson had split.

(Image: Supplied.)

Chanelle continued to contact Gibson in the following days, messaging to ask if she was willing to apologise and “do the right thing”.

Chanelle received an “aggressive” reply and never heard from her again.

“We’ve all known someone with cancer or who’s been affected by it. So, to use that to prey on people is really hideous,” she says. “She wanted money and fame, and she was willing to do whatever to get that. Even faking violent seizures at her [then four-year-old] son’s birthday party. If she was willing to do that in front of her son, what else is she willing to do?”

Although Gibson has remained largely under the radar in recent years, Chanelle believes we haven’t heard the last of her.

“There are murmurs she’s working on new businesses,” says Chanelle. “I don’t doubt she’ll keep reinventing herself. She was on her way to creating an empire. She’s capable of continuing to deceive people. It’s what she knows best.”

In 2021, Gibson was snapped wearing the traditional clothes of an Ethiopian ethnic group, despite being frozen out by them.

(Image: Supplied.)

Gibson’s new scam foiled

After being shunned from public life, Gibson laid low for a while before taking on a new persona and reappearing in public as a vocal supporter of Melbourne’s Ethiopian community.

Concern quickly grew that Gibson could defraud a new group of people who had no idea about her background, when she talked about raising large sums of money for the community. The East African migrants had, it was reported, “adopted” Gibson into their fold and she had renamed herself “Sabontu”.

A bizarre 11-minute video posted in October 2019 shows the conwoman speaking in passionate detail about the ongoing plight of the Oromo people and speaking in the native Afaan Oromo language. She appeared to claim the nation as her “home”.

“My heart is deeply embedded in the Oromo people,” she said. “I see no difference in your struggle and the struggle I have for fighting for the liberation of Oromo.

“We… discussed looking forward to the future and doing a community grouping to raise large amounts of money for the ongoing support of Oromia,” she said in a video posted by Shabo Media, which is still available on YouTube.

Gibson claimed she began volunteering with the group in 2016, with others telling Daily Mail Australia she had attended BBQs, weddings and community meetings to integrate herself within the group.

President of the Australian Oromo Community Association in Victoria, Dr Tarekegn Chimdi, said after learning of Gibson’s past actions, she’d been frozen out of the community and told not to return.

“It was concerning when someone is using the community’s name who is not a member of that community,” he said. “She is not involved with us. She’s not coming to our place, no way, no time.”

When contacted about her fundraising remarks, a Consumer Affairs Victoria spokeswoman told the outlet, “We would encourage any organisation which uses volunteers for fundraising activities to consider their suitability for the role.”

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Hollywood calls…

Gibson’s cancer con is about to make it onto the international stage after streaming giant Netflix recently commissioned a big-budget series about health and wellness scammers.

The six-part drama has started filming in Melbourne and stars Ticket To Paradise’s Kaitlyn Dever alongside Aussie actors Mark Coles Smith and Tilda Cobham-Hervey.

In November, the US actress was snapped walking around a set in St Kilda, apparently shooting a celebration scene for the drama series.

The production, which has the working title Apple Cider Vinegar is scheduled to wrap up filming in February.

Described as a “true-ish story based on a lie”, the series is being made by British-Australian production company See-Saw, whose previous shows include ABC’s Top Of The Lake, the recent Netflix teen hit Heartstopper and Apple TV+’s Slow Horses. It is written by Samantha Strauss, who produced Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman.

It comes after Gibson was recently the subject of two UK documentaries, including ITV’s The Search For Instagram’s Worst Con Artist in November and BBC’s Bad Influencer: The Great Insta Con in 2021.

Kaitlyn Dever stars as Gibson in the drama series.

(Image: Supplied.)

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