Former Australian radio DJ Mel Greig became the centre of a media frenzy after a prank call to a London hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for morning sickness. She spoke about her experience to news.com.au's Sunday Style.
It was midnight on a Friday in December 2012 when I received the phone call informing me that Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who had initially transferred our prank call to London's King Edward VII hospital through to the ward sister, had taken her own life.
At that moment, the life I'd created ceased to exist. Just hours earlier, I'd been out celebrating what had been an extraordinary week.
When my co-host, Michael Christian, and I called the hospital at 5am on Tuesday (UK time), we assumed that because our comedic accents were so woefully bad, we'd be told off for being silly and hung up on. Not for a second did anyone on our show imagine we'd be put through; let alone be given personal information on the Duchess's condition [Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted for severe morning sickness].
Initially I was concerned enough to send an email to the team: was this even legal? Would we be putting the hospital staff in a position where they'd be disciplined, or even lose their jobs? At the time, that was the worst-case scenario. Ultimately, the decision to broadcast it wasn't mine.
The prank was put to air on Tuesday night and quickly went viral. There was speculation the call was a hoax. But after the hospital confirmed it was real, the media frenzy surrounding it escalated a hundredfold. We were world-famous. It sickens me to say it now, but we were excited by the attention and completely caught up in the surreal hype of being global headline news. American talk-show host Conan O'Brien even performed a monologue about us.
By Thursday, the hospital stated there'd be no repercussions for the staff involved, and Prince Charles even poked fun at our poor impersonation of his accent, saying, "How do you know I'm not a radio station?" At first we were relieved no harm had been done. However, we'd lost sight of the fact there were real people involved, who had been globally humiliated.
When I received the news of Jacintha's suicide, the first question I asked was, "Was she a mother?" The answer was yes; she was 46, married with two teenage children. Waves of emotion overwhelmed me - shock, shame, disgust at myself and utter devastation that this woman had taken her own life.
I can't recall the next six hours, as I went into a deep state of shock. Steven, my boyfriend at the time, tells me I was screaming and crying hysterically, curled up in a foetal position on the sofa. At 6am, we switched on the TV. Cable news channels were running blanket coverage. I felt as if I needed to watch it unfold, so I could learn as much as I could about Jacintha - who she was, how her family was coping.
As I watched myself at the centre of this awful tragedy, I felt as if I was hovering over my body, my soul fractured. My mind couldn't comprehend, or even begin to accept, what had happened. All I could do was cry.
We were put into lockdown, because of the death threats. I was completely cut off from the outside world. The curtains were drawn and we had a bodyguard living with us in the apartment. I barely slept, ate and wasn't even capable of speaking.
Thankfully, the media couldn't find me. Just two weeks beforehand, after a nine-month long-distance relationship, Steven had moved from Adelaide to Sydney, and we'd just moved into our first home together.
It was my poor mum and dad in Adelaide who copped it, as they had their address and phone number listed in the phone book. The media camped outside their house for seven days and their phone never stopped ringing. Both of my parents were also subjected to death threats by letter and telephone. At one point, Dad was rushed to hospital from the stress of it.
At home, I was consumed by watching the news and reading every story online, in an attempt to put it into some sort of perspective. I was looking for signs this wasn't my fault; that I wasn't directly to blame for Jacintha's death.
It was probably the worst thing for my mental health, but I was living and breathing what was happening. Reading the comments on stories online, it was clear I had become one of the most hated women in the world, but due to my guilt, I felt I deserved it.
For months, I barely functioned. Steven wanted to hold me and help me, but I didn't want to be touched and I didn't want to be helped. I wanted to just sit there, comatose in my devastation. I didn't care about myself or my career. I just felt so horrifically bad for Jacintha and her family. I didn't have any other thought processes apart from being absorbed in blaming myself for her death.
In April 2013, Jacintha's suicide note was leaked, in which she directly blamed Michael and me. This clarified everything for me. Whether I was or wasn't to blame, Jacintha had written my name, Mel Greig, in her suicide note. She thought of me before she took her own life. That broke my heart.
For about four months, I went completely numb; I couldn't feel any emotion at all. I felt dead inside. I'd pinch my skin and feel nothing. I'd drink a bottle of wine and not feel the effect of the alcohol. That was scary. It came down to making a decision about whether I wanted to live or not. I needed to think about suicide and determine if it was an option for me. It wasn't. I wanted to live, but I knew I needed help.
After Jacintha's death, I'd seen a psychologist a couple of times, but I needed to step it up. I started seeing a psychologist once a week. I was diagnosed with severe depression and I started taking antidepressants. Then I was referred to a psychiatrist.
I was basically the only female member of the 2Day FM radio show's team and I became its public face. It didn't help that my tearstained face had been plastered all over the newspapers after Michael and I conducted TV interviews to express our sorrow over Jacintha's death. It's fair to say I certainly took it harder than the other members of the radio show.
Michael was able to rationalise it for what it was and moved on a lot quicker. He went back on the air a few months later [Greig's show was taken off the air and both DJs were suspended after the suicide], and within six months he won the Top Jock award for our radio network. Meanwhile, other team members retained their jobs and were subsequently promoted over the years.
To add to all this, a stalker started a concerted hate campaign against me on social media. He started a Facebook page in my name, impersonating me and saying degrading things like that I'd slept my way into my job and I was about to die. He sent it to the media and to all of my friends. I wasn't worried for myself because I was so deeply depressed, but he made direct threats against my family.
Somehow he managed to get my phone number and called to say he wouldn't stop harassing me until I killed myself. Neither the Australian or the UK police could track him down, but it was understood he was living in London.
I stayed on the antidepressants for the next 12 months, then I had to at least try to regain a sense of normality. I dyed my blonde hair dark brown and started to venture out of the house to the shops. I didn't want to be that shamed blonde girl that had been plastered everywhere. I decided to go away to a resort for some thinking time.
I asked myself, "What do I want to do next?" That's when I started to take tiny steps to gain my life back. My first priority was to get my health back on track. I'd gained more than 14 kilos because of the antidepressants and the stress.
In November 2013, Steven and I took a holiday to Bali and he proposed. He's a very strong and sensible guy. Despite only being together such a short time before Jacintha's death, Steven loved me when I hated myself. Our engagement proved he was in it for the long haul. That was the major turning point in my recovery, because it gave me something to look forward to, something to plan for.
It was the one thing that I had control of in my life and no one could take that away from me. My future existed again.
When I made a speech at our engagement party in March 2014, it was the first time I had touched a microphone since Jacintha's death. It made me realise how much I loved it. I needed to get back to work. I applied for literally hundred of jobs in radio, and for communications roles in other industries, but I got knocked back at every turn. I was persona non grata - charities didn't even want me in their offices stuffing envelopes as a volunteer.
After being delayed four times, the inquest into Jacintha's death took place in London, in September 2014. I had volunteered to travel to the UK to answer any questions the family needed to have answered. Jacintha's family expressed that they wanted me there.
It was terrifying.
Only my lawyer accompanied me because I didn't want to put anyone else in danger. I cared about my life by this point and there were a lot of people in London that hated me, including my stalker, who had been relentlessly spreading lies about me. As a precaution, the night before I left, I sorted out my life insurance and wrote a document expressing my wishes if I died.
In the tiny courtroom, the invited parties sat in the front two rows. At the end of the inquest, I stood up and read a personal statement. I steeled myself not to cry because this wasn't about me. It was an opportunity to look the family in the eye and directly apologise.
I held eye contact with Jacintha's daughter, Lisha, who was in tears, but something told me she empathised with my pain and my honest intention to make amends. My closure came from knowing I had done everything I could to help.
When Steven and I were married in November 2014, I finally felt as if I was myself again. Then, earlier this month, I was offered a job at an advertising agency in Adelaide. With countless hours of therapy, I've found a way to deal with the guilt, without letting it define my life. I know I'm not a bad person. I'm a good person, who became involved in a terrible situation.
While I'll never ever forget Jacintha, I've finally allowed myself move forward and given myself permission to be happy again.