The British royal family is an obsession with the media, but when an Australian radio station decided to play a prank around the pregnancy of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, it led to an unforeseen tragedy.
Two of the station’s hosts, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, placed a call to King George’s Hospital, where Kate, suffering from acute morning sickness, had been admitted. Mel said she was Queen Elizabeth II and asked to speak to Kate. The person who took the call was Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old nurse of Indian origin. Saldanha transferred the call to a nursing station, where another nurse gave away personal details of Kate. The prank was then placed on the internet and aired on radio, turning the hosts into instant celebrities. Later, as the audio clip went viral, Saldanha was found dead. The hospital later said she had committed suicide.
Jacintha trained at Father Muller School of Nursing in Mangalore. She married Benedict Barboza in 1993. On 7 December, her brother and mother in Mangalore had Benedict call to say, “Jacintha is no more with us.”
It was only after the media besieged their residence that they discovered the details. Jacintha’s sister-in-law, Irene D’Souza, said the family could not believe that she had committed suicide. “There was no reason. She was a strong woman with growing-up children.”
Jacintha’s mother-in-law, Carmine Barboza, said that the couple and their two teenage children used to visit India every two years. “The last time, they were here for Christmas in 2011. We had a lovely time together.’’
Sister Winnifred, principal of the nursing school, said Jacintha made a Rs 5,000 donation to the institution on its golden jubilee in 2009. “She was a very kind soul,” she said.