The candid statement by the prince, in a podcast released on Monday by The Daily Telegraph, is the latest indication of a shift within the British monarchy toward greater openness, led by a younger generation. The two princes, along with Prince William’s wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, are leading a campaign called Heads Together to end stigma around mental illness.
Prince Harry, 32, said that not dealing with the trauma had contributed to years of “total chaos” in his late 20s.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he said.
He added: “I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”
The exchange, a rare glimpse into the private life of a member of the royal family, drew applause from advocates for people with mental illness.
Others praised the prince for speaking out about grief.
Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, at age 36; she and Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, had divorced the previous year. The reaction to the violent, unexpected death became a symbol of emotional and generational conflicts, and a turning point in the royal family’s relationship with ordinary Britons.
For several days, Queen Elizabeth II maintained her predecessors’ traditional — critics would say stony — reserve. But as people worldwide mourned Diana, who had been distinguished by her charisma and poise, Buckingham Palace came under criticism for its silence, and the queen finally broke her silence by making a live broadcast to the nation acknowledging the “overwhelming expression of sadness” and praising her former daughter-in-law as “an exceptional and gifted human being.”
In the podcast, Prince Harry said he had tried to cope with the tragedy by not talking about it.
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” he said. He recalled thinking: “ ‘It’s only going to make you sad; it’s not going to bring her back.’ So from an emotional side, I was like, ‘Right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’ ”
Prince Harry, who spent 10 years in the British armed forces and served two tours in Afghanistan, said in the interview that his struggles had consumed much of his 20s. (He was 27 in 2012, when tabloids published images of him naked while partying in Las Vegas, which prompted him to apologize for having “let my family down.”)
The prince also praised the virtues of getting professional help.
“Some of the best people or easiest people to speak to is a shrink or whoever — the Americans call them shrinks — someone you have never met before,” he said. “You sit down on the sofa and say: ‘Listen, I don’t actually need your advice. Can you just listen?’ And you just let it all rip.”
Asked about counseling, he said he had received it “more than a couple of times, but it’s great.”
He credited his brother with telling him: “‘Look, you really need to deal with this. It is not normal to think that nothing has affected you.’”
Prince Harry also said that boxing had helped.
“That really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier,” he said.
He added that staying quiet about emotional suffering in distress was “only ever going to make it worse,” and he urged people in such situations to seek help. “You will be surprised, firstly, how much support you get,” he said.
Prince Harry spoke to Bryony Gordon, a British journalist who has written about her own struggles with depression and with obsessive compulsive disorder. The prince was the first guest on the podcast “Mad World,” in which Ms. Gordon interviews a series of people about their mental health.
He had said that he regretted not discussing his mother’s death earlier in an interview last year.
This year, Prince Harry and Prince William announced that they had commissioned a statue at Kensington Palace of their mother to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death.
As well as the Heads Together campaign, Prince Harry has also co-founded a charity to support children in Lesotho, where he spent time before joining the military, and created the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded or sick service members.
|Prince Harry at a service in London this month honoring victims of the terrorist attack outside Parliament. Credit Pool photo by Eddie Mulholland|
'I ignored my mum's death, just like Prince Harry'
Prince Harry has revealed he sought counselling after coming close to a "complete breakdown" while struggling to deal with the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
His revelation has led others to share their experiences of how they coped with losing a parent at a young age.
Here they tell their stories.
Kathryn Watson, 33, from Newcastle, lost her mum, Heather, to lymphoma cancer when she was 19.
"My mum was ill for about 18 months and it was really quite sudden. She went from being an outgoing person to simply not being there.
"I dealt with her death badly. I went straight into doing the logistical stuff and, because of my age, there was a lot of pressure from people for it not to affect my life.
"I found I lost quite a few friends because they didn't know how to cope with me. I was so busy trying to be 'normal', you don't know how to talk to people.
"When I read Prince Harry's story I thought that's exactly how I felt. You just keep going and everybody else forgets about it.
"Over the years I completely ignored my mum's death. Life gets back to normal and no-one talks about it.
"What really spoke to me was Prince Harry talking about his anger. I felt that a lot. I turned to the gym and exercise and running.
"What also really touched me was that the age at which we dealt with it was the same.
"When I got to 28 and 29 I thought 'I can't keep going on with this'. It's the realisation it's not going to fade.
"Now, I'm able to open up and work through my grief. I think it is a maturity thing.
"Counselling has brought me to a good place. It's about finding the right counsellor for you - it's so important.
"I feel relieved and a lot calmer. I still have bad days but I now know if I'm going into one it will pass and I know who to contact and who to talk to.
"It doesn't seem so overwhelming or daunting now."
Andy Savage, 37, from Nantwich, Cheshire, was 12 when his mum, Diane, died from a blood clot in her lung.
"It was completely out of the blue. I was 12 at the time, my younger brother was nine and my sister was six. They were taken into care, our family was split up.
"We had been the typical little family back then. My dad couldn't cope afterwards, his grief was as big as ours.
"You lose several things when you lose your mum. You lose someone very close to you but you also lose the person who takes care of you. There's a mixture of emotions.
"I can't think of anything that decimates someone's life more as a kid than taking their mum away from them.
"There was a lot of anger for me personally. It messes up your life in a lot of different ways. I dropped out of school, didn't really get an education and didn't look after myself too well.
"It's only looking back now, that I realise it was linked to my mum's death. I know I'm not the person I would've been if she had stayed alive.
"Like Prince Harry, I had that chaotic period. I went off the rails in my late teens because I didn't have any guidance, I did what I wanted to do. I burnt myself out quite quickly.
"I think it's vital you find something in life that's your passion, whether it's sport or a hobby - something to give your life meaning.
"I was lucky that social services were there and they provided counselling sessions. For me it was massively beneficial, but not everyone's a talker.
"As Harry said, venting at someone, letting it all out has got to be a good thing. It helps you make sense of what's happened."
Susan Steel, 55, from Hull, lost her dad, Gerry, who suffered from hypercholesterolemia, at the age of 12.
"My dad had been unwell for quite some time. On the day he died he'd come out of hospital and I remember coming out of school and seeing him in the passenger seat.
"For the first time I thought that's not my dad. He was shrivelling away.
"That evening my mum was in the kitchen and me and my sister were watching the 9 O'Clock news with my dad.
"We heard a clatter and the table turned over and we turned around and his eyes were rolling. I charged out screaming, I knew what had happened. I never saw him again.
"Now I can't really remember him. I think a lot of it you block out.
"I saw a child psychiatrist at the time because I wouldn't go to school. I had separation anxiety from my mum. I didn't understand it at the time.
"I couldn't concentrate at school and I didn't do very well in my A-levels. I couldn't eat either and lost loads of weight.
A young prince in turmoil, who he turned to and who let him down: The Mail's Royal expert RICHARD KAY has the inside story on Prince Harry's 'total chaos' after his mother's death
His arm thrown out in the signature ‘lightning bolt’ pose of the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt, Prince Harry was at his most relaxed as he clowned around with the Olympic champion.
His visit to Jamaica in 2012, where he and the athlete staged a mock race, cemented his reputation as the most personable member of the Royal Family. Here was someone who wore his reputation as the world’s most eligible bachelor easily, and with none of the introspection that so affected his older brother William.
This was the happy-go-lucky Prince, whose popularity was undented — indeed it seemed to be enhanced — by every scrape he found himself in, from falling out of nightclubs the worse for wear to swinging a punch at a paparazzo.
Even the emergence of pictures of him naked while playing a game of ‘strip billiards’ in a Las Vegas hotel in 2012 did little to damage his image.
This was a young man who was neither overwhelmed by royal privilege nor consumed by the responsibilities of royal duty.
So it was nothing short of a seismic shock yesterday to learn, thanks to his candid interview, that behind this playful image, Harry was at this time a deeply troubled young man still struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
He had, he confessed, been ‘very close’ to a complete mental breakdown on numerous occasions.
The turmoil over his emotions saw him endure two years of what he described as ‘total chaos’ before seeking professional counselling on the advice of Prince William. He disclosed that he had only begun to address this grief when, at the age of 28, he had felt himself to be ‘on the verge of punching someone’ while also facing anxiety when carrying out official engagements.
Ironically, it was during that period that the Prince was transforming from party-loving playboy to a fully paid up member of the royal ‘firm’.
As someone who has watched Harry from nursery school toddler to accomplished soldier and much-loved Prince, his frank admission revealing how he has coped — or rather not coped — since his mother’s death in Paris in 1997, is startling.
His words are shatteringly honest. ‘I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all my emotions for the past 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life, but my work as well,’ he said.
Yet how well he has bottled up all this sorrow over the past two decades. Only those closest to him have ever known the extent of the anguish he carried inside.
That image of him walking behind his mother’s coffin between his father Prince Charles and his uncle Earl Spencer, with William and their grandfather Prince Philip, was the most poignant moment of Diana’s funeral.
All the advantages of his privileged birth were cruelly counterbalanced by the disadvantages of losing his mother just two weeks short of his 13th birthday.
For any young child, losing a parent is profoundly shocking. When that parent is the most famous woman on the planet, the distress must be endless.
Because for Harry, there was never any danger of his mother being too easily forgotten. Far from it, Diana was simply too big a figure for that. Her influence, not just on William and Harry, but on the whole of the Royal Family, has simply never gone away.
Two days before the Princess’s funeral, the brothers went with their father to see the lake of flowers placed in tribute to their mother at Kensington Palace and then went inside to the apartment where they had lived. Instantly, Harry burst into tears and fell into the arms of Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell. The boy was inconsolable.
For two years afterwards, Harry would weep for his mother. He was still tearful about her absence during a family summer holiday aboard the late Greek shipping tycoon John Latsis’s yacht, Alexander, in August 1999.
So how did his father and other members of the Royal Family help Harry come to terms with his loss?
Certainly, the way in which the Prince of Wales set aside his own unhappy experiences of his life with Diana, and filled Highgrove, his Gloucestershire home, with photographs and mementoes of the marriage, helped.
‘He arranged to have lots of framed pictures of the Princess dotted around the house,’ recalls an aide. ‘Despite his own personal feelings, he knew that Diana had been a brilliant mother, and he wanted to ensure there were plenty of reminders of her that the boys could see every day.
‘Old wedding presents were dusted off, anything for which there could be a common talking point.’
It was an act all the more extraordinary when you consider that, not long before, as the couple were divorcing, Charles did all he could to eradicate Diana’s memory by redecorating the house.
Charles also encouraged his sons to talk about their mother around the dining table, for example, and asked his friends to share their memories of her with them. This cannot have been easy, for many of these friends had sided with the Prince when the royal marriage was breaking up.
In the very masculine atmosphere of Highgrove and St James’s Palace, where Charles then had his office, there were few female role models on his father’s staff whom Harry could confide in, should he have wished to. Two who did help him were former Press secretary Sandy Henney and her successor Colleen Harris. Both provided a shoulder for him to lean on.
The pivotal figure at this time, however, was former royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke, who was especially close to Harry. The Prince is godfather to her elder son Fred, now 15 — younger son Tom has William as a godparent.
Tiggy was key in the first two years after Diana’s death and until after Harry was at Eton College. Unlike William, who flourished at the school, Harry was less successful there, making fewer friends and finding the work hard.
Had he got his way, it is quite possible that he would have gone somewhere less academic, but Charles was convinced he needed to be close to his brother.
By the time Harry was 16, it was clear that all this mentoring was not necessarily working.
It emerged that during a two-month period when William was away on his gap year and Charles was distant and busy with royal engagements — and his romance with Camilla Parker Bowles — Harry was often to be found in country pubs near Highgrove, where he was exposed to a dangerous cocktail of underage drinking and the illegal drug cannabis.
Looking back now, it is clear this must have been a critical moment. He missed his mother terribly, his father and brother were not always around — and he was easily led astray.
If ever there was a moment for his mother’s family, the Spencers, to become involved, it was then. At her funeral, Diana’s brother Lord Spencer had famously, and very publicly, pledged to play his part in William and Harry’s upbringing.
But the fact is his contact had been minimal, not least because with a young family then based in South Africa, Spencer simply was not around enough.
In truth, Harry was closer to Diana’s sisters, Sarah and Jane, and their children.
The cousins had often holidayed together and those bonds remained. Lady Sarah, for example, made sure that Harry received the 13th birthday present Diana had intended him to have, and tried to attend sporting fixtures when he was still at Ludgrove prep school in Berkshire.
One is entitled to wonder what part, if any, the Princess’s friends played. The answer, sadly, is not very much.
Several of her close friends wrote to the boys offering to share their memories of Diana, only to receive a brush off from an aide.
One told me: ‘One can’t blame the boys, they were only young, but the only conclusion you are left with is that the people around them didn’t really want us involved. Perhaps it was all too uncomfortable.’
Another said: ‘Rightly or wrongly the Royal Family seem to typify the stiff-upper-lip approach, but Diana was not like that and it now seems that Harry isn’t either.’
Over the 20 years since her death, Diana’s reputation has suffered damage; revisionist writers have denigrated her memory while there have been few to champion her.
It was against this backdrop that Harry tried to ignore his grief. As he put it in the interview: ‘My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? It’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.’
According to Harry’s timescale, his years of turmoil occurred towards the end of his 20s, and yet it was in the early part of that decade that he was attracting the wrong kind of attention. In 2004, he got into an altercation with paparazzi after a scuffle outside a London nightclub. That incident takes on more significance now in light of his comments about his suppressed emotions and his desire to ‘punch’ someone.
Boxing, he said, provided an outlet for his frustration. (This, presumably, was when he was still in the Army and able to use a gym away from prying eyes.)
The following year he had to issue an apology after being photographed wearing a swastika armband to a fancy dress party.
Aged 26, he was reported to have been seen taking ‘hippy crack’ (nitrous oxide or laughing gas) from filled balloons being sold at £1.50 a time.
And then, of course, there were his Las Vegas frolics which he later admitted had let himself and his family down.
All this, of course, could be filed neatly under the heading of youthful indiscretion. After all, many a young man eager to kick over the traces has done far worse than Harry.
So a clue, perhaps, lies in his remark that shutting away his emotions has played havoc with his personal life.
During the period of turmoil Harry appears to be talking about, he had two significant romances, one with Zimbabwe-born Chelsy Davy, and the other with actress Cressida Bonas.
He did not mention either girlfriend in the interview, but was widely reported to have been in love with both of them.
The relationships ended because neither woman felt they could adjust to the extraordinary pressures of being a royal wife.
Was he blaming himself for the failure of these romances? It certainly seems so.
As the world knows, for the past nine months Harry has been dating Californian-born actress Meghan Markle whose own mother, intriguingly, is a therapist.
One theory doing the rounds in royal circles last night is that this connection might have been behind Harry’s decision to speak so honestly, and movingly, about his life and problems.
Such openness among the royals is rarely seen. Earlier this month, biographer Sally Bedell Smith claimed in a new a book about the Prince of Wales that Diana’s emotional instability sent Charles into therapy for 14 years. If so, the Prince of Wales has said nothing about it.
Princess Diana did talk about her battles with bulimia, the eating disorder which cast such a shadow over her marriage. She also consulted psychotherapist Susie Orbach and took up kickboxing as a way of dealing with her anger.
Perhaps the only certainty in Harry’s decision to speak out is that he is very much his mother’s son.