SYDNEY (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Australian DJs behind a hoax phone call to the U.K. hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was treated were in tears Monday as they described how their joke ended up going too far.
They expected a hang-up and a few laughs. Instead, the phone call, in which they impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince
Charles, went through and their station broadcast and even trumpeted the confidential information received.
Whatever pride there had been over the hoax was obliterated in a storm of worldwide public outrage after Friday’s death, still unexplained, of the first nurse they talked to.
“There’s not a minute that goes by that we don’t think about her family and what they must be going through,” 2DayFM radio host Mel Greig told Australia’s “A Current Affair,” her voice shaking. “And the thought that we may have played a part in that is gut-wrenching.”
She and co-host Michael Christian spoke publicly about the prank for the first time in the televised interview. A separate interview on rival show “Today Tonight” also aired Monday.
Both DJs apologized for the hoax and broke down in tears when asked about the moment they learned that the nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, was dead.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW:
But neither described having reservations before the hoax tape was broadcast; they said higher-ups made the decision to air it.
“We didn’t have that discussion,” Greig said.
Southern Cross Austereo, the parent company of 2DayFM, released a statement on Monday saying Greig and Christian’s show had been terminated and that there would be a company-wide suspension of prank calls. The DJs themselves remain suspended.
Saldanha, 46, had transferred their call last week to a fellow nurse caring for the duchess, who was being treated for acute morning sickness. That nurse said the former Kate Middleton “hasn’t had any retching with me and she’s been sleeping on and off.”
“We just wanted to be hung up on,” said Greig. “We wanted to be hung up on with our silly voices and wanted a 20-second segment to air.”
“The call itself was not malicious and no harm was intended on Jacintha or the other nurse or Kate or Prince William or anyone,” said Christian. “It wasn’t — from start to finish — there was no harm intended.”
Three days later, Saldanha died. Police have not yet determined the cause of death, but many immediately assumed it was related to the stress from the call.
“It’s a shocking turn of events,” said Greig. “If we had any idea that something like this could be even possible to happen — we couldn’t see this happening. It was meant to be a prank call.”
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.
“The joke 100 percent was on us,” Christian 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.
Southern Cross Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran 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.
Hospital CEO John Lofthouse said Friday that Saldhana was “a first class nurse” who was well-respected.
“Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much-loved and valued colleague. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family and her friends,” Lofthouse said.
Saldanha had two children. Her husband, Ben Barboza, expressed his sadness on his Facebook page with a short note “Obituary Jacintha.”
“I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances,” he wrote.
“It is nothing more than a tragic turn of events that no one could have predicted,” said Christian. “For the part that we played, we’re obviously incredibly sorry.”
Saldanha will be laid to rest in Shirva, India.
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)