The two Australian radio hosts at the heart of the royal hospital prank call that is believed to have led to the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha say they are “gutted and heartbroken.”
In their first televised interviews since the death, with Australia’s “A Current Affair” and rival program “Today Tonight”, presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian wept openly as they spoke about the nurse.
Jacintha Saldanha, a nurse at the Kind Edward VII hospital in London, died last week in what is believed to be a suicide. The 46-year old nurse was working on reception when on Tuesday morning she answered a phone call from the two Australian presenters. The prank involved Greig impersonating the Queen and asking about the health of the Duchess of Cambridge, who at the time was being treated for an acute form of morning sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum.
Saldanha put the call through to the Duchess’s ward, where another nurse spoke about the Duchess’s condition. The call was pre-recorded and vetted by lawyers before it was aired to listeners in Sydney on the station 2Day FM. On Friday morning, Saldanha was found unconscious in her nurse’s residence not far from the hospital. Paramedics attempted to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Both Greig and Christian, who have been receiving counseling following the news, have faced public backlash, including in India, where Saldanha hails from, after the suspected suicide was reported. Copycat pages have been set up of the radio station’s website, including one that asked users to vote in a poll on whether they would commit suicide if they received a prank call.
Asked if they remember the first time they heard the news, Greig responded that it was a moment she has “not stopped thinking about since it happened.” She wept as she recalled that her first question had been, “Was she a mother?”
Both Greig and Christian appeared shell-shocked as they explained that the turn of events was something they believe was unforeseeable. “It was never meant to go that far,” said Greig. “It was meant to be a silly little prank that so many people had done before. This wasn’t meant to happen.” Christian added that the stunt was not meant to cause upset, and that the “joke was always on us. We assumed that with the voices we put on, that was the gag, it was on us.”
The radio station’s parent company, Southern Cross Austereo, said that staff had tried five times to get in touch with the nurses who were on the call to ask their permission to broadcast the prank. In a statement on its website, the company announced that there would be a “comprehensive review of relevant company policies and processes” and that it will “fully cooperate with any investigations.” Its chief executive officer Rhys Holleran apologized to Saldanha’s family for their loss.
Friends and family are currently comforting Saldanha’s two teenage children and husband, who reside in Bristol, England. The hospital has established a memorial fund in her name, and an inquest into the apparent suicide is expected to open in the next few days.