Big Stories

The Royal Prank: The Story Behind The Worst Radio Stunt In History

When a pair of Australian DJs went viral by prank calling the London hospital treating Kate Middleton last December, they were lionized at home and vilified in the U.K. Then the nurse who answered the phone committed suicide amid the outrage, raising questions about mental health, privacy, and the very definition of a joke. What responsibility do pranksters have to their victims?

Justine Zwiebel


Jacintha Saldanha, her husband Benedict Barboza, and son Junal. Handout / Reuters

Speaking with the Queen of England on the telephone, even for a moment, is, by any measure, an out-of-the-ordinary experience. But Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old nurse at King Edward VII’s Hospital in central London, didn’t mention her brief conservation with Her Majesty to her husband Benedict Barboza on Tuesday, Dec. 4, last year.

Barboza and their children — Junal, 17, and Lisha, 14 — lived 118 miles away in Bristol. Along with the hospital’s reputation of caring for upper-class British citizens came a higher income than Saldanha previously earned at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, which in turn allowed the family to live in comfort while they paid their mortgage. Saldanha’s life consisted of staying at nurses’ quarters during the week and savoring weekends at home.

The nurse spoke to her family again on Wednesday and made cryptic reference to the fact that they should watch the news on television. But she didn’t call at all on Thursday. Concerned, Barboza called the hospital soon after 9 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, and asked a colleague to check on his wife. What they discovered in her room was a lifeless body with cut wrists, hung by a scarf tied to a wardrobe.

Three suicide notes were found: two at the scene, one among Saldanha’s belongings. The first note was addressed to her employers, and reportedly contained criticism of hospital staff. The second asked that she be buried in her hometown of Shirva, Udupi, India.

The final handwritten note read: “I hold the Radio Australians Mel Greig and Michael Christian responsible for this act. Please make them pay my mortgage. I am sorry. Jacintha.”



The hospital had been quiet that early Tuesday morning. That one of the most famous women in the world, the Duchess of Cambridge, was resting upstairs, recovering from acute morning sickness was not unusual; the hospital had been treating royalty since 1899. Elizabeth, the queen mother, underwent treatment here many times: In November 1982, a fish bone was extracted from her throat during surgery. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, was hospitalized here for five nights with a bladder infection in June 2012. There was no reason for the skeleton staff on the night shift to expect anything out of the ordinary.

On the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia, two radio announcers at 2Day FM were recording a bit for their nightly program. Michael “MC” Christian, 25, had only that week begun hosting the summer edition of the Hot 30 Countdown program, broadcast nationally through Southern Cross Austereo’s Today Network each weeknight from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., alongside 30-year-old Mel Greig. The show mixed pop hits with softball celebrity interviews and gossip items and, as such, attracted some of the country’s biggest advertisers. It also launched the careers of a few now-famous Australian radio personalities such as “Ugly Phil” O’Neil, Kyle Sandilands, and “Jackie O” Henderson.

“Here’s the thing,” Christian said at the beginning of the segment. “We’ve been handed a phone number. We’ve been told that this phone number is the hospital where Kate Middleton is currently staying. We thought we’d give it a call. We don’t want to cause any trouble, we don’t want to stress her out. But I reckon we could maybe get her on the radio tonight.”

“Look, I don’t know,” Greig faux-cautioned. “I mean, everybody would be trying this.”

“Well, this is why I’ve thought of a plan,” Christian replied. “We can’t just ring up and go, ‘Hi, it’s MC and Mel from the Summer 30, can we chat to Kate?’ Hang up. Not gonna happen. You are going to be the queen…”

“This is awesome!” whispered Greig, a former Amazing Race Australia contestant. She affected an upper-class British accent. “Hello, I’m the queen.”

“I’m going to be Prince Charles.” Christian gestured through the glass to his producers, Emily Mills, 26, and Ben Hamley, 21. “Ben and Em, you’re involved in this as well. We thought that maybe you could be the royal corgis, if you’re OK with that?”

The pair made enthusiastic barking sounds. “Sure, we’ll pop on in, in a sec,” replied Mills.

“This is fun!” Greig said. “I mean…” She readopted the posh British accent. “…this is fun.”

Christian gave his best attempt at imitating a British man nearly 40 years his senior. “Hello. Prince Charles over here, mummy!”

“Oh, you’re Prince Charles,” Greig-as-queen said. “I like your ears.”

Shortly after 5 a.m., a telephone rang at the hospital’s front desk. Answering the phone wasn’t really Saldanha’s job, but since the reception switchboard wasn’t staffed overnight, she must have felt obliged to pick up after three rings.

“Hello, good morning, King Edward the Seventh Hospital,” she said.

A haughty, straining British accent replied, “Yes, hello, I’d like to speak to my granddaughter, Kate.”

Saldanha recognized the voice immediately, though if she was taken aback by this request, she didn’t show it. “Oh, yes, just hold on, ma’am,” she said.

Gentle strings and a tinkling piano played while the pair held the line.

“Are they putting us through?” asked Christian, dropping the Charles facade.

“Yes!” Greig replied. They both laughed.

Christian lowered his voice. “If this has worked, it’s the easiest prank call we have ever made.” He turned to his co-host. “Your accent sucked, by the way, I just want you to know.” More laughter.

“I’m not used to playing old 80-year-olds!” Greig responded.

Saldanha transferred Greig to another phone upstairs, where Middleton was being treated in a private ward. Another nurse picked up the phone.

“Kate, my darling, are you there?”

“Um, good morning, ma’am, this is the nurse speaking. How may I help you?”

“Hello, I’m just after my granddaughter Kate. I wanted to see how her little tummy bug is going.”

“She’s sleeping at the moment and has had an uneventful night,” said the nurse, who sounded decidedly more nervous than Saldanha had. “Sleep is good for her. She’s been given some fluids to rehydrate her, because she was quite dehydrated when she came in. Um, but she’s stable at the moment.”

“OK,” replied Grieg, before making a quip about feeding “my little corgis” while dogs yapped in the background. An indistinguishable male voice lurked nearby. “So when is a good time to come and visit her? Because I’m the queen, so I’ll need a lift down there. Prince…Charles!” she exclaimed away from the mouthpiece. “When can you take me to the hospital, Charles?”

The hoarse, older male voice suddenly entered the conversation. “When will it be all right to come down and see her? Maybe in the morning or something, if that’s OK?”

“I would suggest that any time after 9 would be suitable,” the nurse said. “The doctor will be in in the morning, and we’ll just be getting her freshened up.”

“Wonderful. Is Wills still there, or has he gone home?” asked Christian. “I haven’t spoken to him yet!”

“He went home at about 9 last night.”

He seemed pleased by this. “OK, lovely.” All of a sudden, he too required reassurance. “But they’re all OK, everything’s all right?”

“Yes, she’s quite stable at the moment,” replied the nurse. “She hasn’t had any retching with me since I’ve been on duty, and she has been sleeping on and off.”

“Wonderful!” replied the supposed grandfather-to-be.

The nurse added, “I think it’s difficult sleeping in a strange bed, as well.”

“Yes, of course!” said Christian. “It’s hardly the palace, is it!”

Greig found this funny too. “It’s nothing like the palace is it, Charles?” The dogs began yapping nearby again. “Oh, when are you going to walk those bloody corgis?”

“Mumsy, I’ll go and take the dogs outside,” he answered.

“I need to go and visit Kate in the morning,” said Greig, who then addressed the helpful nurse directly. “My dear, thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome.”

The pair said good-bye and hung up. That was it.

And yet nine months later, shrouded in unexpected and inexplicable tragedy, this innocuous, banal prank call continues to disrupt layers of British and Australian society. The show was canceled and its hosts sent death threats. Greig is suing her employer and the station’s broadcasting license may be lost — meaning thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Meanwhile Scotland Yard will begin a coroner’s inquest of Saldanha’s death in September. At the heart of the matter is essentially a schoolyard quandary played out on an international stage: When does a joke — even a bad joke — go too far?

2DayFM radio DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig leave a TV studio after giving an interview in Sydney, Dec. 10, 2012. RS/__username__ / Reuters



While Greig, Christian, and their young producers couldn’t believe their luck, SCA management knew that the prank was a live grenade: Hold onto it for too long, and it’d blow up in their faces. Though they had a world-exclusive item in their grasp, the station couldn’t anticipate whether a competitor might try a similar prank and beat them to air. According to them, five attempts were made to gain permission from the London hospital to air the conversation, which was recorded without consent — permissions required by law. But, they say, nobody would pick up the phone. A spokeswoman at the hospital insists that SCA spoke to neither senior management nor the company that handles the hospital’s media inquiries. Finally, the decision was made to go for it, prank victims’ consent be damned.

The station broadcast the four-minute segment on the Hot 30 Countdown that night, about six hours after the original phone call. Given the program’s sizable audience — it attracted an average audience of 259,000 listeners each night in Sydney alone — and the media’s obsession with the Middleton pregnancy, it didn’t take long for news of the prank to percolate into the wider world. An SCA press release, which dubbed the call “the biggest Royal Prank ever,” was distributed immediately after the broadcast.

By the next morning, the stunt was headline news across Australia. “It is the story the world’s media is working around the clock to crack,” wrote Amy Harris for News.com.au, the nation’s top online media outlet. “Yesterday an unlikely Sydney radio duo bagged the best international scoop so far in the unfolding soap opera that is the Kate Middleton pregnancy.”

To his 3,700 followers, Christian tweeted: “Not sure how it happened, but called Kate Middleton’s hospital pretending to be the queen and they PUT US THROUGH!!” On Facebook, he wrote, “The only bad thing about our Royal Prank is knowing that I will NEVER EVER top this. Less than a week in the job and I’ve already peaked.” Greig told her hometown newspaper, the Adelaide Advertiser, “This is by far the best prank I’ve ever been involved in. It seemed so far-fetched to us but it actually worked. It’s definitely a career highlight.”

Even SCA’s direct competitors were applauding the duo’s stunt. Michael “Wippa” Wipfli, co-host of the Fitzy & Wippa show on the DMG Australia-owned radio station NovaFM, was effusive in his praise. “Three cheers to them,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Anyone that doesn’t laugh at this story, and works in the media, is just angry they didn’t do it themselves. I take my hat off to them.”

Among the first wave of local reports, there were no questions surrounding the prank’s genesis, nor its legalities or the usual consent protocols that such phone calls demanded. Everyone within SCA, from the CEO and senior management down to on-air talent, is geared toward executing these types of high-profile stunts. As younger generations move away from traditional media sources, nightly shows like Hot 30 still rely on garnering attention however they can. Job done; high-fives all around. Miles of purple publicity for the radio station, red faces at the hospital, and hidden from sight, a gaping black hole in Jacintha Saldanha’s mind.



The press reception to the prank call was decidedly different in England. “How is it OK to scam a hospital into telling you about a pregnant woman’s condition?” asked The Telegraph, while the Mail Online wrote of “Palace fury” at “Australian radio pranksters pretending to be the Queen dupe nurse […] into giving out intimate medical details.” The Sun — typically the most extreme British tabloid — took a slightly different tack: “A sexy radio DJ from Oz was last night revealed to have flirted with a charge of high treason by posing as the Queen to phone Royal mum-to-be Kate’s hospital.”

The outrage was both nationalistic — how dare those arrogant Australians make fun of our duchess? — and a touch jealous. No British radio station had attempted the stunt themselves; perhaps it was too obvious, or in too poor taste. That a pair of cackling young Aussies had scooped a world exclusive update on Middleton’s condition set British blood boiling. The Queen of England is still, in effect, the Queen of Australia too; the governor-general is her local representative, and it was only in 1986 that the United Kingdom Parliament’s power to legislate Down Under was removed, under the aptly named Australia Act.

Retributions were swift and fierce. Conservative British commentators were calling for Greig and Christian to resign; for the radio program to be taken off the air; at very least, for the pair to apologize to the Duchess of Cambridge for invading her privacy so egregiously, and deceptively. This cyclical blame game became a sport for Australians too. Many are ambivalent toward British influence, if not outright resentful; few pay any serious attention to the royals on any regular basis. A chance to stick it to the “Poms,” as they’re known by manner of popular epithet — a contraction of “pomegranate,” extinct Australian rhyming slang for immigrant — is always welcomed with open arms.

In the eye of the storm, John Lofthouse, the chief executive of King Edward VII’s Hospital, was forced to admit that his internal systems had failed. “We take patient confidentiality extremely seriously and we are now reviewing our telephone protocols,” Lofthouse said. “I think this whole thing is pretty deplorable. Our nurses are caring, professional people trained to look after patients, not to cope with journalistic trickery of this sort.”

The ease with which the radio announcers could extract intimate information about one of the most famous women in the world was both revealing and embarrassing. Lofthouse assured reporters that there was no chance of the duchess receiving the call: “This was a breach of patient confidentiality, which I very much regret. Having said that, the information which was inadvertently revealed is already in the public domain.” While no one had been hurt by the prank, the Hot 30 hosts had crossed a line by peering behind the curtain that housed an ill, expectant mother.

Still, it wasn’t all stern faces, pursed lips, and smacked wrists. On Thursday, Dec. 6, two days after the prank call, British reporters asked Prince Charles to comment on the news of his impending grandfatherhood. The next-in-line to the throne raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “How do you know I’m not a radio station?”

A woman places flowers on Jacintha Saldanha’s coffin during her funeral inside a church in Shirva, India. Reuters / Reuters


When news of Jacintha Saldanha’s death first broke, the tone of discussion shifted quickly into venomous condemnation. In the absence of any insight into the nurse’s private life — or any detail at all, really, besides her name and photograph — news outlets in both Australia and the United Kingdom were quick to link the broadcast of the phone call to the tragic outcome. This seemed logical; to newsmakers, it seemed like the right decision. The vacuum that surrounded her suicide was filled with speculation, most of it aimed squarely at the two “Radio Australians” mentioned in her handwritten note, which was obtained by British newspaper The Sunday Times in April.

Southern Cross Austereo moved into damage-control mode upon learning of Saldanha’s death on the evening of Friday, Dec. 7. On Monday, the station released a media statement, citing a “deep regret for what has taken place” and outlining four actions undertaken since “the events took place”: the suspension of all advertising on 2Day FM; the termination of the Hot 30 show; a company-wide suspension of “prank” calls; and a “comprehensive review of relevant company policies and processes.” Both Greig and Christian were to stay off the air until further notice. The pair had also deleted their Twitter accounts following torrents of abuse and death threats. A video addressed to the station supposedly from the hacker group Anonymous demanded Greig and Christian’s contracts be terminated: “You have one week to do so. I repeat: you have one week to do so.”

That night, the two were interviewed on two of Australia’s most popular nightly TV shows: A Current Affair and Today Tonight — their first public appearances since Saldanha’s death. The pair sat in chairs side-by-side. Christian was clean-shaven and wearing a crisp gray-blue dress shirt; he leaned forward and frowned, telling the story of how the prank came together. “We had the idea for just a simple, harmless phone call,” Christian said. “When we thought about making a call, it was gonna go for 30 seconds, we were gonna be hung up on, and that was it. As innocent as that.”

Greig was dressed conservatively and in dark tones. She was more emotional than Christian. “It was the worst phone call I’ve ever had in my life,” she said of the moment she learned of Saldanha’s death, while wiping away a tear with her left hand. “There’s not a minute that goes by that we don’t think about that family and what they must be going through. And the thought that we may have played a part in that is gut-wrenching.”

“I don’t think that anyone could have predicted that outcome,” Christian said.

Yet a report published on Dec. 21, 2012, by Ronald Anil Fernandes of the Deccan Herald, an Indian English-language daily newspaper, indicated that intense, international media scrutiny was perhaps the last thing Saldanha needed. The year leading up to that 5 a.m. phone call hadn’t been easy: Before Christmas in 2011, Saldanha returned to South West India to attend a wedding and spend time with her family. Hospital records acquired by the Deccan Herald show that Saldanha was rushed to a private hospital after an episode of “self-harm” on the morning of Dec. 30. On Jan. 8, 2012, she was admitted to the Father Muller Medical College Hospital with head injuries caused by “a fall.”

After this second incident, the nurse was diagnosed with “a depressive disorder;” the Herald reported that, at the time, “her mood was one of ‘sadness,’ and she suffered from decreased sleep for more than 15 days, because of which she made ‘two attempts of deliberate self-harm.’” Saldanha was apparently unwilling to establish eye contact with others while in the hospital, but began psychiatric treatment — including the prescription of antidepressants — and was discharged on Jan. 13, her condition having improved considerably. Hospital reports noted the patient’s “happy” mood; her stock of medication would last until September — three months before she’d answer the Christian and Greig call. It’s unclear whether her employers or coworkers knew about her condition. As of August 2013, the website for King Edward VII’s Hospital Sister Agnes continues to display a link to a memorial fund for Jacintha Saldanha on its front page.

How did the call make it to Southern Cross Austereo’s airwaves without the prank victims’ consent? When asked during their TV interviews about the radio station’s approval process before content is broadcast, neither Christian nor Greig would go into any specifics. They made clear that this decision was out of their hands, but wouldn’t name colleagues or even particular departments within SCA. One former 2Day FM producer was willing to speak to BuzzFeed about the environment at the station on the condition of anonymity.

“They always hired young people for the Hot 30 — it’s at night, you can push the boundaries a bit and try out new talent,” she says. The production meeting where the royal prank was conceived would have been held a few hours before the show. “People will pitch all types of ideas, like, ‘Oh, Justin Timberlake’s in town, we heard he’s staying at the Hilton — let’s try to sneak into his hotel!’”

The former radio producer, who worked on a high-rated Southern Cross Austereo show prior to Christian and Greig taking over the Hot 30, was familiar with this tactic, having tried it in years past when calling a North Korean government building and “fucking with them for a while,” or the White House, asking to speak with Barack Obama. “From a producer’s perspective, they landed on a nugget of gold. When you get information like that, you don’t think worst-case scenario, you think, ‘Wow, we’ve got something the opposition don’t have — fuck, let’s air it.’”

The producer is still Facebook friends with former colleagues at Southern Cross Austereo, and in the relative calm before Saldanha’s death, she noted SCA producers crowing on Facebook: Wow, Conan is talking about it! “2Day FM were press-releasing that it was a worldwide exclusive; they thought it was the greatest thing,” she remembers. “They were really happy, and putting my producer’s hat on — good on ‘em. It was quite a scoop; something a bit different. And then of course everything went down, and it all went to shit.”

As for the call itself, the former producer found it “kinda boring. I thought they could’ve asked a bit more, but you can tell that as soon as they got connected, they got quite nervous. Instead of being able to think creatively — ‘Let’s ask some wacky questions!’ — they were like, ‘Holy shit, we just got through.’ If you’d given it to a more seasoned broadcaster, they’d have been able to ask them stuff that would’ve made it a more entertaining call.”


The Masked Avengers. justiciers.com

Prank calls are becoming obsolete roughly at the rate phone calls themselves are. Even two of the more well-known radio prank callers, veteran Canadian comedy duo the Masked Avengers, whose program Les Cerveaux de l’info (“Brains of the News”) airs on Montreal’s CKOI-FM, have only occasional success these days. But they know a misfire when they hear it.

“Was it a good prank call? No. Was it of public interest? No,” Marc-Antoine Audette, one half of the Masked Avengers, says of the royal prank. The pair has successfully fooled the likes of Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, and Paul McCartney.

“It sounded like it was probably their first time,” says his partner, Sébastien Trudel. “If they’d caught Kate Middleton, it would be more interesting. But her nurse?”

Audette says the goal of the call is always to be funny: “It’s comedy first, and then if it happens to [have] global impact on politics, that can be interesting too.” The duo prefer politicians because “they have the biggest entourage,” Audette says, which theoretically makes them tougher targets to get on the phone. “It’s interesting to find out if the politician in question is a good person or if they have different flaws than the public expects. It’s about finding out about their true nature.”

One of their most famous pranks occurred in November 2008, when they called vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin while posing as French President Nicolas Sarkozy just days before the election. The six-minute call included the faux Sarkozy telling the governor of Alaska that he loved the porn parody Who’s Nailin’ Palin, referring to it as “the documentary they made on your life — that was really edgy.”

“Oh, good, thank you, yes,” Palin replied uneasily.

They then reveal themselves: “I must say something also, governor: You’ve been pranked by the Masked Avengers. We’re two comedians from Montreal.”

“Oh, have we been pranked?” she says. “What radio station is this?” After a moment, an aid takes the phone and says they have to go. The two burst out laughing.

“If you don’t identify yourself at the end, it really has no point. That’s when you see how a person’s going to react,” Trudel says. His partner agrees. “The reaction of the prankee is really important. The other person has to laugh, or be mad.”

Listening back on the royal prank, the absence of comedy is remarkable. Neither nurse is in on the joke, because to the best of their knowledge, there’s no laughing matter at hand. They’re simply passing on important information to (presumed) family members — a routine occurrence in hospitals throughout the world. The call ends with nervous good-byes from both parties, and afterward, laughter in Sydney.

Candid Camera’s Peter Funt. © PAX /__username__

Yet any situation that relies on exploiting human emotion is treading in dangerous territory; pranks of all stripes invariably inspire an emotional response — embarrassment, anger or mirth, maybe even relief. Few in the entertainment business know this better than Peter Funt, the 65-year-old producer and former host of proto-Punk’d institution Candid Camera. Peter hosted it for eight years (1996–2004), after taking over the show his father, Allen, created in 1948.

Funt and his team avoided the word “prank,” and they never referred to their unwitting stars as victims. “We were very careful with our lingo,” he says. “We called the unsuspecting people who we photographed ‘subjects.’” The vast majority signed a release permitting their image to be used on the program. Funt estimates that less than 1% declined, usually for one of two reasons: “Either they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or with the wrong person,” he says. All of the show’s filmed sequences ended with the classic reveal: “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” Funt says, “If there wasn’t some moment where the person reacted in an interesting way, then we’d sort of wasted our time. And if it didn’t end on a happy note, we were disinclined to use [the footage].”

The closest the show ever came to controversy in its 65 years was an accidental bruise on the thigh of a subject after his clothing was caught in a fake airport X-ray machine in 2001. (That resulted in a vexatious lawsuit from the injured party that was eventually settled for far less than he sought.) The news of Saldanha’s death certainly prompted him to “step back and take stock,” but Funt hints that a revamped version of Candid Camera may soon return, and why not? He says that he and his father always viewed themselves as amateur psychologists and observers of human nature. Their show offered rare, honest glimpses into how we interact with one another and the world around us.

Asked whether it’s possible to separate the Australian prank call itself from the tragic outcome, Funt replies, “I’m sure you could argue that if they hadn’t done such a prank in the first place, then this tragedy would simply not have occurred. You could say that if most of us didn’t get out of bed each day, a lot of things wouldn’t have happened. That doesn’t mean that you stop doing entertainment radio, and you stop doing entertainment television, and you stop doing hidden-camera sequences — so long as they’re properly conducted with the right permissions. I just don’t think those dots fully connect.”

And certainly there’s another obvious factor that Funt’s father never had to consider: virality. “We live in an age where everything is magnified, and where the second and third stages [of dissemination] can be so much more impactful than the first broadcast,” says Funt.

“We made it our business to learn the warning signs, to take people’s temperature, and not push things too hard and too far,” he says. “Yet it is a risky business. You don’t know what kind of day someone is having when you briefly step into their life.”

Michael Christian returned to the Southern Cross Austereo airwaves on Feb. 11, and he broadcasts each weekday morning on the Melbourne station FOX FM. In early June, he was named Top Jock by SCA management in its national radio awards. Mel Greig, on the other hand, has rarely appeared in public since the furor erupted. She had reportedly been on stress leave until, in July, she returned to the headlines after lodging an application with the Fair Work Commission, the Australian authority on industrial disputes. Her complaint accuses SCA of “failing to maintain a safe workplace,” although further details of the claim have not yet been made public.

“I’d expect Greig would be likely to say that there was a culture at the workplace that encouraged and promoted prank calls, and that 2Day FM should have realized that prank calls could have unintended consequences, which would carry risks for employees’ mental health,” Terri Butler, who heads the Brisbane law firm of Maurice Blackburn’s employment and industrial law section, tells BuzzFeed.

Besides Greig’s recent complaint and the resultant negative publicity, the radio station is also under close scrutiny from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the government authority that oversees media regulation and legislation. In late June, SCA applied to the Federal Court in Australia in an attempt to stop further investigation into whether SCA’s lack of consent before airing the prank breached the commercial radio codes of practice — a decision that may put SCA’s broadcasting license in jeopardy. The entire matter is a cause of frustration for a company that employs over 2,000 staff members nationally and whose annual turnover for the 2011–2012 financial year was AUD$273.6 million ($247 million U.S.). The wording of that portentous SCA press release announcing the “biggest Royal Prank ever” certainly may not have been hyperbole after all.

A coroner’s inquest into Saldanha’s death is set to take place in England on Sept. 12 and 13. It will seek to clarify the morass surrounding the nurse’s final hours: her conversations with family and colleagues, the details of her three suicide notes, and the precise cause of death, as well as her history of mental illness. Of course, certainty will remain elusive.

The duty nurse who spoke at length to the faux queen and prince will give evidence anonymously; she was also the last member of the hospital staff to speak with Saldanha. “The particular facts of this case cry out for anonymity of the staff involved,” said Fiona Barton, who represented King Edward VII’s Hospital at the interim hearing. “We would be very anxious to prevent the duty nurse from coming under the same media pressure and scrutiny that happened when the phone call was released.”

Representatives of Southern Cross Austereo have no intention of attending the inquest. Mel Greig will be there, though — in person or via a video link — to address questions from both parties. “Ms. Saldanha’s suicide was a devastating tragedy and Ms. Greig’s thoughts have been with the family ever since,” read a statement. “Ms. Greig fully understands their need for answers, which is why she has taken this step to appear as an individual at the inquest.”

It’s also still possible the matter will be brought to trial in Australia. The radio station will potentially argue that the nurses weren’t “identifiable,” in order to skirt consent laws.

While the court of public opinion requires no such additional evidence or patience, Funt, the scion of a family that has spent two generations publicly tricking strangers, has reached his own conclusion. “I don’t think the DJs did anything particularly wrong,” he says. “Their accents were ridiculous, and their whole patter was sophomoric. The fact of the matter is that they spoke to this particular nurse for a few seconds. It wasn’t even really part of the gag. So I just don’t know how anybody could have — or should have — done anything differently.”

In the Today Tonight interview, Greig said, through tears, “If we played any involvement in her death, then we’re very sorry for that, and time will only tell. If we’d had any idea that something like this could be even possible to happen, you know? We couldn’t see this happening. It was meant to be a prank call.”














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A freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. Author of 'Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs' (UQP, 2014; http://talkingsmack.com.au/).
Contact this reporter at andrew.mcmillen.spam@gmail.com
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