Australian radio presenter Mel Greig has told the Radio Festival in Salford about how she was the victim of internet trolling for 12 months after the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha.
Mel and co-host Michael Christian – then at Sydney station 2Day FM – made the prank call to the hospital where Jacintha worked and where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness in 2012.
Speaking at the Radio Festival 2014, Mel talked about the background to the prank call as well as her feelings in the aftermath.
“Prank calls in Australia have been around for years,” she said. “They’re normally quite harmless because you get permission from the person involved. We didn’t think about what could go wrong, because there was a process in place. We thought ‘Let’s have terrible accents and see how quickly we can get hung up on, then have a laugh at ourselves getting hung up on.'”
Mel gave presenters attending the Radio Festival session some advice about wind-up calls: “Don’t call emergency services, don’t call hospitals. We thought there was a media centre or a reception to go through. If you’re going to do a prank call, make sure you know the person you’re pranking.”
She said that after making the call the team at 2Day FM’s Hot 30 Countdown was shocked that they’d got through, and wondered whether it had actually happened. Mel says she emailed a suggestion for the editing process – to change the nurse’s voice and remove personal information – but that it was ignored.
Mel also spoke about what happened after the call had aired and the hospital had said that no action would be taken against the staff who’d taken the prank call. “It was surreal,” she said. “You had all the biggest news outlets talking about it and the majority of it was positive.”
But things changed when news started to break about Jacintha Saldanha’s death. “Midnight Friday night I was in bed, my boyfriend was on Twitter and saw some horrific tweets saying I had blood on my hands,” Mel told the audience in Salford.
“My phone started ringing and I was told one of the nurses had committed suicide. There were three hours I don’t remember. I was in complete shock and so disgusted with myself that I’d played a part in this poor woman’s suicide that it was so hard to live with.
“When the hospital said they’ve got the support, they’re not going to be disciplined, you believe that. After the suicide it was horrific. People were saying I deserved to die. I honestly thought I did deserve to die, because I was in lockdown and reading all the messages. I believed everyone in the UK hated me and wanted me dead. I believed everyone in Australia wanted me dead.”
In an interview with journalist Daisy McAndrew, Mel also talked about her feelings and the support she received: “I went into a really deep depression but I wasn’t going to commit suicide. When you’ve got people who are supportive they don’t let you go down that route and I was lucky that I had people around me. I was never to be left by myself. It was a constant feeling of numbness. Work were great in providing security and also mental health – they found me a psychologist.”
And she spoke about the abuse she’s received: “It was a good 12 months of trolling. I still have a stalker now. Nearly two years later and it’s still topical – people want to talk about it. One individual has been harassing me for 18 months. I don’t want to be the victim, I don’t want it to be about me. I was vilified the most, I don’t know why the media focussed more on me or whether it was because I was female.”
Mel said that the appearance on stage in Salford was the first time she’d been near a microphone since her engagement party 8 months ago, when she’d made the decision that she did at some point want to return to work in the media.
She also said that since arriving in the UK for Jacintha’s inquest and a series of media interviews, she had noticed what a lovely country it was, joking that it wasn’t full of people with pitchforks waiting for her when she arrived as she had expected it might be. “I’d love to move here if the opportunity came up,” she said.