Belle Gibson's empire was crumbling before her eyes. Weeks before her book, "The Whole Pantry," was set to be published in Britain and the United States, an Australian newspaper began chipping away at Gibson's claims that she had been given only months to live after she was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer in 2009.
The wellness guru survived for years and said she withdrew from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments and healed herself with “nutrition and holistic medicine."
“I believe that people are here to be teachers,” she said in November. “And I know that I defied so many universal and life rules for a reason.”
The fantastical story seemed too good to be true. And, it turns out, it wasn't true at all.
Several book deals, nearly 200,000 Instagram followers and one acclaimed mobile app later, Gibson has finally come clean.
"None of it's true," she told the Australian Women's Weekly in her first comments acknowledging that she had duped the world with an elaborate hoax.
"I don't want forgiveness," she told the Weekly. "I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do. Above anything, I would like people to say, 'Okay, she's human.'"
An excerpt published online by the magazine is based on multiple interviews with a coy Gibson. The full interview and story will be published in print on Thursday.
The excerpt doesn't reveal much about Gibson's motives for inventing such a serious diagnosis and leading her legion of followers to believe that fruits, vegetables, and natural remedies -- not medical treatment -- cured her of a deadly cancer.
If anything, the revelation leads to even more questions than answers.
Her interviewer, Clair Weaver, explained the nearly impossible task of verifying just about anything Gibson said:
At first, she seems gullible, muddled and emotional. She tells stories that are frustratingly vague, unverifiable and sometimes far-fetched.
When pressed by The Weekly, she’s often unable to provide details such as names, locations and dates. Nor explain why her behaviour, even by her own telling, often seems irrational and illogical.
Why, for example, did she never have a brain scan? Wasn’t she terrified to find out she was pregnant with her son after allegedly being given months to live? Why would she devote so much time and energy into developing The Whole Pantry app (including time away from her son) if she believed she was dying?
In response, she claims to have been naïve, to have trusted the wrong people and to have honestly believed she was healing herself of cancer. She didn’t have a parent figure to guide her, she says.
Gibson's claims go on and on.
She said that her health issues were related to a negative reaction to the Gardasil HPV vaccine.
She claimed to have died during a medical procedure -- and then emerged from a post-operative coma.
How much of it is true, no one knows. Everything is being questioned.
"She says she is passionate about avoiding gluten, dairy and coffee, but doesn't really understand how cancer works," the Australian Women's Weekly wrote. "All of which begs the question: is this young woman really capable of masterminding one of the biggest hoaxes in recent history?"
Believe it or not, the improbability of all of these stories might have gone unnoticed, and Gibson might have quietly joined the growing ranks of "holistic" healing evangelizers, had it not been for the diligence of the Australian, which first exposed some of the massive holes in Gibson's story in a March investigation.
After the newspaper spoke with Gibson and questioned her story, she claimed that perhaps her initial cancer diagnosis in 2009 was due to a medical error, despite the fact that earlier in 2014 she had informed her followers that the cancer had spread to her spleen, liver, uterus and blood:
Would she name the doctor? No. Was he a medical practitioner? She seemed uncertain. Suddenly Gibson broke down sobbing, saying she had never wanted her private medical details to become public property.
"I want some of my privacy back," she declared.
Earlier in the month, charities for which Gibson claimed to have raised money told the Sydney Morning Herald that they never saw any of it.
That was all it took for publishers to move swiftly to pull her book in Australia and cancel production plans in the United States and Britain, citing their inability to verify Gibson's story.
If nothing else, Gibson's saga is a cautionary tale about the growing alternative medicine industry, which thrives on a resistance to facts and science.
Gibson rose to fame knowing that her ardent followers, some with large megaphones, would be willing to ignore the medical improbability of her story in favor of the hope she represented.
She was right -- at least for a short time.
The Australian Women's Weekly noted that she had "millions of followers." At one point, her "Whole Pantry" app was featured on Apple's Web site for the new Apple Watch. Her book of the same name was also a hit.
Now, courtesy of the magazine's cover, Gibson is known as this: "The girl who conned us all."