Warning: This article discusses mental health and alcohol and drug use which may be triggering for some readers.
Unlike most of the Crown, who adhere to the ethos of “never complain, never explain,” Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, speaks candidly about his personal life. Most recently, the 38-year-old has opened up about his relationship with his late mother, Princess Diana, and how her death has left a lasting impact.
In his five-part documentary series for Netflix, Heart of Invictus, which was released on the eve of Diana’s death anniversary, the duke spoke about his return from war, and how it triggered “trauma” from losing his mum at such a young age.
“I can only speak from my personal experience,” Harry said. “My tour of Afghanistan in 2012 flying Apaches, somewhere after that there was an unravelling, and the trigger to me was actually returning from Afghanistan but the stuff that was coming up was from 1997, from the age of 12.”
His voiceover continued amongst footage of the 12-year-old viewing Diana’s floral tributes at Kensington palace.
“Losing my mum at such a young age, the trauma that I had, I was never really aware of. It was never discussed, I didn’t really talk about it, and I’ve suppressed it like most youngsters would have done. But then when it all came fizzing out, I was bouncing off the walls. I was like, ‘What is going on here?’ I was feeling everything rather than being numb.”
This isn’t the first time Harry has spoken about his mother, who died 26 years ago on August 31 in a devastating car crash.
Prince Harry‘s childhood memories with Princess Diana
Many personal revelations have come from Harry’s widely-watched and criticised Netflix docuseries with his wife, Meghan Markle, 42.
In the first episode of the series, dubbed Harry & Meghan, the 38-year-old admitted there is a lot he doesn’t remember from his younger years with Diana.
“I don’t have many early memories of my mum,” he said. “It was almost like, internally, I sort of blocked them out.
“But I always remember her laugh, her cheeky laugh. Her always saying to me, ‘You can get in trouble, just don’t get caught.’ I’ll always be that cheeky person inside.”
The Duke of Sussex has recalled his feelings of denial following his mother’s death.
“I say 100 percent it’s a defence mechanism, right? I think for anyone, especially if you’re a kid,” he told ABC’s Michael Strahan.
“I just refused to accept she was gone,” Harry added in an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. “Part of, she would never do this to us, but also, part of, maybe this is all part of a plan.”
Coping with guilt after Diana’s death
When the dust was still ferociously swirling, Prince Harry admitted to ITV’s Tom Brady that he only cried one, “at the burial.”
He was feeling equal parts strange and guilty.
“There was some guilt that I felt, and I think William felt as well, by walking around the outside of Kensington Palace,” he said. “There were 50,000 bouquets of flowers to our mother and there we were shaking people’s hands, smiling.”
The public’s devastation from the death of the ‘People’s Princess’ did nothing to quell Harry’s guilt.
“I’ve looked back over it all, and the wet hands that we were shaking but it was all the tears that they were wiping away,” he told Brady.
“Everyone thought and felt like they knew our mom. And the two closest people to her, the two most loved by her were unable to show any emotion at that moment.”
Harry was even more direct in his memoir, Spare.
“I disliked the touch of those hands,” he confessed. “What’s more, I disliked how they made me feel: guilty.
“Why was there all that crying from people when I neither cried nor had cried? I wanted to cry, and I had tried, because my mother’s life had been so sad … but I couldn’t … not a drop.
“Perhaps I had learnt too well, had absorbed too thoroughly the family maxim that crying was never an option — never.”
To cope with the grief of losing his mum, the Duke of Sussex resorted to drinking and drug use.
“I wanted to numb the feeling, or I wanted to distract myself from how … whatever I was thinking,” he told 60 Minutes.
“I would never recommend people to do this recreationally — but doing it with the right people if you are suffering from a huge amount of loss, grief or trauma, then these things have a way of working as a medicine.
“For me, they cleared the windshield, the windshield of the misery of loss. They cleared away this idea that I had in my head that — that my mother, that I needed to cry to prove to my mother that I missed her. When in fact, all she wanted was for me to be happy.”
One of the ways in which he has been processing the trauma is by revisiting the site of her death.
Princess Diana’s last moments were in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, where she and her partner Dodi Fayed were hastily pursued by paparazzi. This ended in a fatal crash. Harry confessed he has since visited the site.
“I wanted to see whether it was possible, driving at the speed that [Diana’s driver] Henry Paul was driving, that you could lose control of a car and plow into a pillar, killing almost everybody in that car,” he wrote in Spare.
“I need to take this journey. I need to ride the same route.
“I sat back. Quietly I said: ‘Is that all of it? It’s…nothing. Just a straight tunnel,’. I’d always imagined the tunnel as some treacherous passageway, inherently dangerous, but it was just a short, simple, no-frills tunnel.
“No reason anyone should ever die inside it.”
Harry’s move to California was inspired by Diana
Confessing he had outgrown his royal environment, Harry revealed that California was “the most obvious place” to settle down.
“You know, it’s one of the places where I think my mum was probably gonna end up living potentially,” he said in Harry & Meghan.
According to her former butler Paul Burrell, the Princess of Wales had been intent on taking her sons to Malibu, California.
“She said, ‘This is our new life, just won’t it be great, think of the lifestyle the boys — nobody’s judgmental here in America, you don’t have the class system, you don’t have the establishment,'” the butler told Good Morning America in 2003.
“It was obvious to us as kids the British press’ part in our mother’s misery and I had a lot of anger inside of me that luckily, I never expressed to anybody,” Harry revealed to Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes.
While the world may be divided on some of his choices, it is safe to say we are all united in feeling the utmost sympathy for the little 12-year-old boy who had to deal with the grief of losing his mother, in the public eye.
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.