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Australian radio hosts make tearful apology for royal prank call

December 10, 2012|By Henry Chu

LONDON -- Tearful and contrite, two Australian radio hosts Monday described themselves as heartbroken over the apparent suicide of the nurse in England who took their prank call seeking information about Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Mel Greig and Michael Christian said their impersonation of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles was a silly stunt that they never expected to succeed, let alone play a potential role in the death of Jacintha Saldhana, who worked at the hospital where Prince William's wife was being treated for acute morning sickness.

"It was never meant to go that far. It was meant to be a silly prank," said Greig, who repeatedly broke down in tears during interviews with two Australian television stations. "The accents were terrible. It was designed to be stupid."

"The joke was always on us, not anyone else," added Christian, who was also overcome with emotion at times.

Saldhana took the two radio presenters’ call to King Edward VII Hospital last Tuesday and, believing them to be the British monarch and her son, patched the pair through to another nurse, who revealed details of Middleton’s condition.

On Friday, Saldhana was found unconscious and then declared dead at her apartment around the corner from the hospital in central London.

An inquest is being conducted into her apparent suicide. Police have made no explicit link between her death and the hoax call. The hospital has said only that Saldhana was on the receiving end of the call and that it had been "supporting her through this very difficult time."

That has not stopped the media here, particularly the tabloids, from blaming the two DJs for the death of Saldhana, a married mother of two. Some readers have even left comments on websites calling the two radio personalities killers.

Greig and Christian, who have been suspended from their show on 2Day FM until further notice, said they were devastated upon learning what had happened.

"It was the worst phone call I've ever had in my life," said Greig. "There's not a minute that goes by that we don't think about her family and what they must be going through. And the thought that we may have played a part in that is gut-wrenching."

She and Christian insisted that there was no malice behind their stunt, saying that prank calls were "routine" on their show and radio shows everywhere.

With their bad British accents and extra touches such as fake corgis barking in the background (the queen dotes on her pet dogs), the two DJs said they expected to be caught out from the start -- either hung up on or referred to a complaints department at the hospital.

"It wasn't about trying to fool someone," Christian said. "We just assumed that with the voices that we'd put on, we were going to get told off, and that was the gag."

Jeremy Hunt, Britain's health secretary, told Sky News that the hospital is investigating whether its policies to protect patient confidentiality are being properly followed, including mechanisms to confirm the identities of callers asking for private information.

The company that owns 2Day FM has said it is reviewing whether any rules were broken by the prank call or its airing. Some critics have suggested that recording and broadcasting the nurses' remarks without their permission could be in breach of communications regulations.

Outrage and even threats have been directed at the radio station since Saldhana's death. But Greig said these were secondary to the real tragedy.

"There is nothing that can make me feel worse than what I feel right now and for what I feel for the family," she said. "We're so sorry that this has happened to them."

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