Belle Gibson is definitely 23-years-old says Australian Women’s Weekly editor Helen McCabe – and she knows because she’s seen her birth certificate.
The magazine broke the story that self-confessed “wellness warrior” had lied about having brain cancer in the May issue of Australian Women’s Weekly and McCabe says that, like Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview, it was hard to decipher what was – and wasn’t – true.
Gibson struggled to clearly state her age during her interview with Tara Brown on Sunday night but McCabe said that although a lot of details around the ‘social media star’ are murky, the magazine has seen a birth certificate provided by her mother, Natalie, which clearly states she was born on October 8, 1991, making her 23.
McCabe told B&T: “I think Tara did an incredible job. I think she is one of the great quiet achievers in journalism in this country and I wondered how she was going to approach it and if she was going to soften her questions but she didn’t. I was totally riveted to the screen – it was utterly compelling television.
“I’ve been very worried about Belle. We spent a lot of time with her and her family trying to find out where the truth lay, and it turns out it’s not really there – not been able to even say her own age is a typical example of the trouble with this story.
“After spending time with her what we uncovered is even more riveting but the angles left are impossible to prove. The difficult thing is that her name has been changed a number of times by deed poll, so there are also elements of truth. At one point she said her mother was in witness protection, but that turned out not to be true.”
“It was hard to get to the bottom of what is true but we checked her birth certificate and she’s definitely 23-years-old. We also saw her school reports.”
Staff from Australian Women’s Weekly spent weeks with Gibson in the run up to publishing the interview, which she didn’t receive any payment for, and McCabe says she is concerned for her mental health and wellbeing.
“We spent a lot of time with Belle and her family and I’m not a doctor but I think there are some serious issues around her and mental health. I hope she gets help.”
The public backlash against Gibson has been fierce, especially as she has been rumoured to have received a five-figure sum for the interview.
When asked if redemption could be round the corner for the social media star, McCabe said: “Watching the TV interview, I don’t know if she has really apologised or not. It was a brilliant interview by Tara but I don’t think that’s where Belle is at the moment. I’m not sure if she even knows what is and isn’t real. Things are more complicated than that.”
Australian Women’s Weekly has been at the forefront of some of the country’s most topical subjects in the booming wellness industry – which generates $4billion for the Australian economy – over the past year, including the furore surrounding Pete Evans and his paleo book Bubba Yum Yum.
“I can’t take the credit to be honest on the Pete Evans and Belle Gibson stories,” adds McCabe. “The execution has been testament to the reporting staff and the standout has been Clair Weaver, she’s excellent.”
Weaver also went undercover for the current issue of Australian Women’s Weekly at a wellness conference.
“We look at what they are spruiking,” added McCabe, “and it’s all anti-vax and anti-sunscreen. They’re very evangelical about these issues but they have a total platform. And it bumps into the Belle Gibson phenomenon where there is this hunger in the community for alternative health messages, and because of the boom of social media, it comes under less scrutiny.”
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