SYDNEY – The Australian radio hosts behind a hoax phone call to the U.K. hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was staying said through tears on Monday that they were shattered upon learning that the nurse who was duped by their prank had died.
2DayFM radio DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who have faced worldwide fury over the hoax, spoke publicly about the prank for the first time in a televised interview with Australia's "A Current Affair." A separate interview on rival show "Today Tonight" also aired Monday evening.
Nurse Jacintha Saldanha answered the phone last week when the pair, impersonating Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, called the hospital where the former Kate Middleton was being treated for acute morning sickness. She transferred the call to a fellow nurse caring for the duchess who gave the DJs confidential information about the Duchess's medical condition, which was broadcast on air.
Three days later, Saldanha died. Police have not yet determined the 46-year-old's cause of death, but many immediately assumed it was related to the stress from the call. Greig and Christian have been taken off the air indefinitely.
The radio hosts apologized on Monday for the hoax and both broke down in tears when asked about the moment they learned Saldanha was dead.
"There's not a minute that goes by that we don't think about her family and what they must be going through," Greig said, voice shaking. "And the thought that we may have played a part in that is gut-wrenching."
The DJs said that when the idea for the call came up in a team meeting, no one expected that they would actually be put through to the duchess' ward.
"We just assumed we'd get cut off at every single point and that'd be it," Christian said.
"The joke 100 percent was on us," he said. "The idea was never, `Let's call up and get through to Kate,' or `Let's speak to a nurse.' The joke was our accents are horrible, they don't sound anything like who they're intended to be."
"The entertainment value was in us," Greig added. "It was meant to be in our silly accents. That's where it was meant to end."
The decision to air the prerecorded call was made by executives higher up the chain, the DJs said.
Rhys Holleran, CEO of 2DayFM's parent company Southern Cross Austereo, has called Saldanha's death a tragedy, but defended the prank as a standard part of radio culture. He has also insisted the station had not broken any laws and had adhered to procedures. On Monday, Holleran said the station had tried at least five times to contact the hospital to discuss the prank before it went to air.
The call has sparked outrage across the globe, with the hosts receiving death threats and calls for them to be fired. Greig said she doesn't even want to think about returning to the airwaves.
"I remember my first question was, `Was she a mother?"' she said on "Today Tonight." Saldanha had two children.