When the telephone rang at the King Edward VII Hospital early on Tuesday morning, Jacintha Saldanha, one of the night nurses on duty, had the terrible misfortune to pick it up.
The voice on the other end purported to be the Queen, wishing to speak to the Duchess of Cambridge. The accent was comical at best but Mrs Saldanha could be excused for falling for the hoax perpetrated by a pair of Australian radio presenters. For she was born 5,000 miles from the London hospital, in Mangalore, a port city in the Konkan region of south-west India. Her upbringing was a world away from the lives of the wealthy patients for which she was caring; and from the tomfoolery and mockery of the Australian media.
Sorrow over pranked nurse's death
Londoners express sadness at the suspected suicide of a nurse who answered a prank call from an Australian radio station about pregnant British royal Kate.
Mrs Saldanha, 46, had worked hard to earn an honest living, moving to Britain with her husband, Benedict Barboza, and their two young children, nine years ago after working in the Middle East. She had never thought — perhaps naively — that anybody would want to trick a ''dedicated and caring'' nurse. But the radio stunt, milked for all the publicity it could muster, backfired and an innocent, close-knit family has been left distraught and in shock as a result.
It appears that Mrs Saldanha took her own life — she was pronounced dead in her nurses' accommodation on Friday morning — three days after being ''humiliated'' by the Australian presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian.
''I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances,'' Mr Barboza posted on Facebook yesterday.
Their 14-year-old daughter wrote: ''I miss you, I loveeee you,'' and signed off with a heart.
Yesterday, Mrs Saldanha's family in India spoke of their despair. With tears in her eyes, her mother-in-law, Carmine Barboza, 69, told of the distressing moment when her son telephoned her with the news on Friday night.
''He was crying and couldn't speak much,'' said Mrs Barboza, at the family home in Shirva, near Mangalore.
''We got a call last night from Benedict informing us that Jacintha had died.
''More than that, we do not know, about what actually happened. She is dead, that's all. Jacintha was a very caring woman. She used to call us every Sunday without fail. We just cannot believe what has happened.
''We don't know whether we'll be able to bring her dead body back to India but we desperately hope so. We spoke to Benedict again this morning and he said he hasn't been allowed to see her body yet because of legal formalities and she'll not be handed over before Monday. We want to bring her dead body to India to perform her last rites.''
Celin D'Souza, her sister-in-law, said: ''I will really miss her a lot. She was a good-natured sister-in-law. I cannot forget her; she was so good. She was beautiful. Jacintha and Benedict looked great together. Their son is also adorable.''
I will really miss her a lot. She was a good-natured sister-in-law. I cannot forget her; she was so good. She was beautiful.
Cerolin D'Souza, another sister-in-law, said: ''It is so sad. I am unsure as to what is in store.''
Mrs Saldanha family's returned to India every two years or so and as recently as last January for New Year celebrations. Yesterday, her wider family were gathering at the same, neatly kept single-story house in order to console each other. Mrs Saldanha had been a diligent student who had, after school, gone to medical school to train as a nurse. It is a path that thousands of women from Britain's former colonies have trodden over the years, providing qualified labour for the NHS.
''Jacintha was a very efficient, intelligent and lively personality who had won laurels in her nursing studies,'' said Sister Aileen Mathias, chief nursing officer at the Father Muller's School of Nursing in Mangalore.
Mrs Saldanha, described by her former college as 'very dedicated', had pursued further, advanced nursing qualifications before moving to Muscat, the capital of Oman in the Arabian peninsula. She also worked in Kuwait after the first Gulf war.
Lysa Barboza, 48, who is not related, studied with Mrs Saldanha in Mangalore and is now a nurse at the Liverpool Royal Hospital. She spoke to her husband to offer her condolences but found it hard to speak.
''I could hardly get the words out, we were both in tears on the phone. To say Benedict is devastated is an understatement.''
She spoke with her friend two weeks before the Duchess was admitted to hospital. ''We had a good chat, we always did. It was always great to catch up on what we were doing,'' she said.
''No one knows what drove her to take her life, only God will know why. She just must have been so upset and traumatised by it all.''
Another friend from nursing school in Mangalore, who now lives in Salford, Greater Manchester, spoke of her grief yesterday.
''She was the smartest of all of us, kind, generous and very jolly. She was also mentally very strong and academically capable, a very hard worker and a competitive student,'' said Renny Buthello, 46.
''I saw the news of the hoax call, then on Friday I had a call from a friend who said 'Renny, put the television on. Is it the woman we knew?'
''Soon word came through the Konkani community that it was our Jacintha. I am deeply shocked. I just can't describe the loss, it is too bad. No words can express how I feel.''
Mrs Saldanha moved to Britain in 2003 with her husband, whom she had married a decade previously. Mr Barboza is understood to work in an NHS accounts department in Bristol, where they set up home.
Mrs Saldanha registered as a nurse in the same year, initially working for the North Bristol NHS Trust. The couple bought their pounds 123,000, three-bedroom home in the Westbury-on-Trym district of Bristol in 2005.
She switched jobs four years ago to work at the King Edward VII Hospital, staying in nurses' accommodation and commuting home at the end of a pattern of shifts. The family were regular church-goers, popular in the neighbourhood and active members of the expatriate Konkani community.
A family friend said yesterday that the authorities had been alerted when Mr Barboza had failed to reach his wife. Miju Philip, 34, a cardiac care nurse at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, who works with some of Mrs Saldanha's close friends, said: ''The family became worried when she wasn't answering their phone calls. They are absolutely devastated at what's happened.''
Mr Philip spoke after visiting Mr Barboza and their children at their home, where a steady stream of friends and relatives arrived throughout yesterday to comfort them.
''I work on a cardiac intensive care unit and we get lots of calls for patients from family members,'' he said. ''It's an easy mistake to make to put someone through like Jacintha did. It wasn't her fault.''
Another family friend, who did not wish to be named, said: ''Ben is utterly devastated by the news. He cannot believe it. They used to speak most days on the phone when she was away working.''
Fr Thomas Finnegan, the family's priest at St Vincent an St Teresa's Catholic Church, in Southmead, Bristol, said: ''We are deeply saddened at the loss of a loving and caring wife and mother and a very good professional. This is a terribly sad time for her family and they have our support.''
James Ravi Pinto, aspokesman for the Konkani Community Association, said: ''It is a terrible thing to have happened. We are all shocked and saddened and the Konkani community will do everything we can to support Jacintha's family and Benedict, her husband, and their children. I saw the news of the hoax call to Kate's hospital ward, but didn't connect anything at all until the news of Jacintha's death came on to the television.
''No one could have foreseen this. She must have been terribly worried about the incident even though the hospital had not reprimanded her and she wasn't in any trouble.
''I think some system should have been in place at the hospital so such a call could not have got through to the ward and Jacintha would not have had to take that call, given the high-profile and sensitive nature of the patient's condition. Our hearts and prayers go out to Jacintha's family.
''It is terrible to think that out of something meant as a joke a life has been so needlessly lost.''
The Sunday Telegraph
■ For help or information, call Suicide Helpline on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au