“I FELT ABANDONED”
SHE WAS THE WOMAN AT THE CENTRE OF THE NOTORIOUS ROYAL PRANK. HAVING REBUILT HER LIFE, AN OLDER AND WISER MEL GREIG IS DETERMINED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
For years she was known only as “the royal prank” DJ. But Mel Greig has put the tragic episode behind her as she focuses on helping others.
Mel Greig has run into so many brick walls over the past five years that anyone else would struggle to get back up.
Most famous was the devastating depression the 34-year-old endured after the notorious “royal prank” she and 2Day FM radio co-host Michael Christian made in 2012, in which Greig pretended to be the Queen checking on Kate Middleton’s health and was put through to the Duchess’s hospital room. It proved to be a fateful call, following the subsequent suicide of English nurse Jacintha Saldanha.
In the international outcry that ensued, Greig’s tear-soaked TV apology made global headlines for days. Her remorse was rewarded not with understanding that an otherwise run-of-the-mill, albeit foolish, FM radio stunt had produced such a wildly unpredictable outcome, but with two years of trolling that was so vicious it made Greig consider suicide herself.
“I got to the point where I thought, ‘Can I live through this?’ I started to believe what those people were telling me,” she tells Stellar. “The English press called me a nurse-killer.”
It was a witch-hunt that brought out the weirdos. Her most dedicated online stalker tracked her down, while some close friends she thought she could trust soon abandoned her.
“I had one persistent troll who would not go away; he was from London and was very organised and structured. He would do a monthly attack on me on social media, contact me on email and Facebook, he got my mobile number from someone and he went next level. He really got to me,” says Greig, who, ironically, is so naturally open in person she is impossible to dislike.
It was at this lowest point she learnt the “valuable lesson” that people you think you know may surprise you. “People will go one of two ways; they will either support or abandon you. I didn’t really find a happy medium.
“I found there are people who want to be there for you and know how to get you through, and I had people who wanted to sell me out and abandon me.”
During the worst of it, the woman who hit Australian screens as the up-for-anything Adelaide resident on the first season of The Amazing Race in 2011 (competing with sister Alana Munday), knew she had to make a choice. “The turning point was when I chose life; when I sat there and said, ‘Is suicide an option for me?’ and it’s not.
“You handle things differently after you make that choice. You get to know what you stand for and who you are deep down.”
One of the lasting impacts of the two lost years Greig says she spent “in limbo”, waiting for what she hoped would be the cathartic experience of attending Saldanha’s inquest and apologising directly to her family, was that she no longer aspired for everyone to like her. “If someone does the wrong thing, or needs to be pulled up on something, I’m going to be the person to do it,” she says. “I don’t want to be that super-nice person and be nice to everyone [no matter what], I want to be that realistic person. Some people don’t deserve that niceness.”
Even the fact that Greig shared how distraught she was over the fallout from the prank seemed to work against her. While the self-contained Christian – with whom Greig had been working for less than a week before the disastrous call – sailed into a healthy career on air, the obviously shattered Greig was an industry pariah. “I kept applying for jobs and kept being told ‘No’,” she recalls.
All the while, she was increasingly battling the painful and debilitating condition endometriosis, her health worsening to the point where she was told she only had a tiny “window” in which to conceive if she wished to carry her own baby.
The bright spot was the support of her then boyfriend, and later her husband, Steven Pollock, her “rock” throughout. The pair married quietly not long after Greig attended Saldanha’s London inquest in late 2014. Because of Greig’s dire fertility outlook, they embarked upon IVF on doctor’s advice.
The resilience she says she developed as a result of the fallout from the royal prank came in handy sooner than she may have expected.
In April last year, Greig found herself on Studio 10 explaining how it felt to be constantly asked about how the newlyweds’ pregnancy hopes were panning out. “It’s hard when people ask you, ‘How’s the baby-making going, when is he moving to Wollongong?’ [south of Sydney, where Greig is currently based for work],” she told the show’s hosts. “Now I just have to put it out there and say, ‘This is what’s happening: he’s not moving to Wollongong, there are no babies on the way and we’re going to deal with it in private as best we can.’”
Greig has maintained dignified discretion with regards to what caused the split. “I don’t want to drag him
“I got to the point where i thought, `can i live through this?´ ”
through the mud,” she says now. “It ended and we’re both moving forward.” But she confesses it hurt.
“I’d built up a lot of resilience but to be honest there was a month where I was really tested. I could feel the symptoms of depression coming back – that numbness – it was hard to deal with when the shock set in.
“I had let myself create this future I thought was locked down. I thought that I had the husband and the white picket fence. He was due to move to Wollongong. I felt like I’d gone back to that time [when] I had no control over my future. When I tapped into my resilience I was good; I’m great now.”
It sounds like the acceptance of the radio listeners of Wollongong, a city that understands setbacks and hard knocks, has healed Mel Greig. While most stations would go nowhere near her as she struggled to relaunch her career, early last year an old colleague, working as a manager at Wollongong’s Wave FM who recalled Greig with affection, decided to give her a shot. He assigned her to the breakfast shift with co-host Travis Winks – a gamble that appears to have paid off, with the most recent ratings showing the pair has made great gains for their timeslot.
“It has been fantastic,” she says, clearly grateful for the second chance. “There was a point where I didn’t think it was ever going to happen again, and when I got that job it was an incredible feeling. It’s been an amazing 12 months.
“The majority of people kept saying, ‘No, you’re just the royal prank DJ’ and didn’t even think about what I had to offer, how I could connect with people, they didn’t take that into account,” she says. “But [her new employers] didn’t care. They saw me for me and wanted to welcome me into the community.”
And Greig has kept a resolution that she made during her darkest time. She promised herself that if she did get back on air she would use the platform to do whatever good she could, as well as build her own future. She has been an active ambassador for Endometriosis Australia (March is endometriosis awareness month) and has written widely about a condition that not only causes severe pain, but still carries a stigma for many women.
She runs public health campaigns, such as her drive to get women to have their scheduled mammograms and check for lumps, which she dubbed “Mel’s Booby Bus”, and she launched the well-received national Troll Free Day, which runs each March, to fight cyberbullying.
“I made myself a promise when I returned to air that it would be different,” says Greig, who lives with her Instagram-friendly “moodle”, pet dog Mia. “I’m still Mel but instead of all the boobs and bum jokes, I make sure to make enough time to make a real difference. Mel’s Booby Bus gathered a heap of women who had been putting off having a mammogram and took them to all get tested. I had a lady call up saying, ‘You telling all these stories made me get checked. You saved my life.’ She was diagnosed with a very bad form of breast cancer.”
Greig says that made her feel proud, and adds that after having let herself fully experience the pain of the prank derailment, she now feels stronger and more fearless.
“My life is where it needs to be. I learnt from that horrible time, I am using it to help other people,” says Greig. “Bad things are going to happen but you don’t need to let them define you.”
“I learnt from that time; I am using it to help other people”
MEL WEARS Max Mara coat, maxmara.com; Witchery shoes, witchery.com.au; stylist’s own belt
FACING THE MUSIC Radio co-hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian during the aftermath of their 2012 royal prank.