Prince Harry - On the road to happiness
Despite his titles and privileges, we must never forget that Prince Harry is an ordinary human being. He has emotions, drives, needs and vulnerabilities, just like the rest of us. Here we take a look at his journey to-date, on the road to finding happiness.
Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor, aka Prince Harry, was born on September 15, 1984, at 4:20 pm, the second child to Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales. With his signature red hair, which he inherited from his mother’s side of the family, as a young child, he was described by palace officials as quiet, vulnerable and of a sweet disposition. This made him the perfect target for bullies, when he began his school days at Mrs Mynor’s nursery, in 1987. Fortunately, he was also a happy-go-lucky little boy, with a naughty streak of his own, so made plenty of friends before joining his older brother, William, at the Wetherby School, in 1989.
His parents, particularly his mother, were determined their children should have as normal an upbringing as possible, despite their royal status. Diana would pick them up from school, after which they would often pop into the local supermarket. She gave them pocket money and took them to places such as The London Dungeons, the zoo and the cinema. And at Christmas, they waited in line like the other children to meet Santa at Selfridge's. Speaking openly in the documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Harry remembers his mother as “very loving and caring, and an incredibly funny person.” And that “she made the decision that, no matter what, despite all the difficulties of growing up in that lime light, on that stage, she was going to ensure that both of us had as normal a life as possible. And if that meant taking us for a burger or sneaking us into the cinema, or driving through the country lanes with the roof down, in her old school BMW, to listen to Enya, I think it was part of her being a mum.”
Diana told how she also wanted her boys to see the less privileged side of life: “I take them round homelessness projects; I’ve taken William and Harry to people dying of Aids – albeit I told them it was cancer – I’ve taken the children to all sorts of areas where I’m not sure anyone of that age in this family has been before. And they have a knowledge – they may never use it, but the seed is there, and I hope it will grow because knowledge is power.”
Sadly, throughout Harry’s life, he would have been very aware of the growing rift between his parents. Even if they had tried to protect him from the animosity, the break down of Charles and Diana’s marriage was shared with the world, and he later admits that his suspicion of the press started early due to the way they treated them. In August of 1996, when the Prince was 11-year’s-old, his parents finally divorced.
However, it was the following year that the young prince was plunged into unthinkable grief, when at just 12-year’s-old his mother died in a car accident in Paris. This would have had a severe psychological impact on the young Prince, as psychiatrist Dr Nikole Benders-Hadi explains: “The death of a parent is traumatic, but it also changes their children biologically and psychologically. In cases where a death is unexpected, such as a traumatic accident, children may remain in the denial and anger phases of the loss for extended periods of time … [leading to] diagnosis of major depressive disorder or even PTSD.”
Tragically, the young prince would have to put his mourning on hold, as he was forced to carry out his royal duties: "My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me, while millions more did on television," he told Newsweek ."I don't think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don't think it would happen today.”
Deeply scarred by the events, the 12-year-old decided the best way to deal with it all would be by never allowing himself to think about it. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2017, he said he reacted by: “Sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? [I thought] 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’.”
A short time after the funeral he returned to Ludgrove, a boarding school for just 200 boys, where he was in his first year, and in 1998 he passed the entrance exam to Eton, where he joined his brother. Not being academically inclined, they weren’t the happiest of times. "I didn't enjoy school at all," said Harry, in 2015, whilst visiting the Ottery Youth Centre in Cape Town, that looks after teens from troubled backgrounds. "I would have liked to come to a place like this. When I was at school I wanted to be the bad boy!”
And a bad boy he was. In 2001, the 16-year-old admitted to underage drinking and smoking marijuana. According to The Guardian the prince was running with the wrong crowd when these activities started to happen. After hearing this, his father asked Prince William to encourage Harry to visit the Featherstone Lodge Rehabilitation Centre in south London. The prince went for a day, not to receive treatment, but as a shock tactic to see what addition could lead to.
In May of 2005, Prince Harry enrolled at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. After undergoing 44 weeks of training, in April of 2006 he joined the Household Cavalry as a second lieutenant. In 2007 Prince Harry began training for possible war zone deployment and in February of 2008 began his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Royal expert, Duncan Larcombe, wrote in his book Prince Harry: The Inside Story: “Harry may have accepted he was a royal, but as far as he was concerned, his military career had nothing whatsoever to do with his accident of birth. During his 20s, Prince Harry felt he was a “soldier first and a royal second”. The Prince admitted feeling most at home during his years in the Army. So when, after just ten weeks in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, his position was leaked by a magazine and he had to be hastily withdrawn for security reasons, it was described as “one of the lowest points in his life”.
“I felt very resentful,” he told Newsweek. “Being in the Army was the best escape I’ve ever had. I felt as though I was really achieving something. I have a deep understanding of all sorts of people from different backgrounds and felt I was part of a team. I wasn’t a Prince, I was just Harry.”
From 2009 to 2012, Prince Harry trained to become an Apache helicopter pilot in the Army Air Corps. He then put these newfound skills to work in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, which began in September 2012. After participating in several combat missions, in 2015 he ended his official military duties to concentrate his efforts on his royal duties.
But the fact that he had never allowed himself to grieve the loss of his mother, had caused a serious decline in his mental health. “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for 20 years, had quite a serious effect, not only my personal life but on my work as well,” he told Bryony Gordon for the first episode of her podcast, Mad World.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions, when all sorts of grief, lies and misconceptions are coming at you from every angle.”
The prince had also developed anger issues.
“During those years I took up boxing, because everyone was saying boxing is good for you and it’s a really good way of letting out aggression,” he said.“And 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 eventually sought support with the encouragement of his brother and others close to him, who told him: “Look, you really need to deal with this. It is not normal to think that nothing has affected you.”
Harry said his work with the personnel recovery unit, where he listened to wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women talk about serious mental health issues, had proved a turning point in his understanding. He finally decided to seek counselling. “I started to have a few conversations and actually all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.”
He now counts himself very lucky that it was “only two years … of total chaos” before he learnt how to open up about it all. “I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” he said. “I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.” Even at royal engagements he said he had found himself battling a “flight or fight” reaction without properly understanding why.
“I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is that it’s only ever going to make it worse,” he said. “Not just for you but everybody else around you as well because you become a problem. I, through a lot of my twenties, was a problem and I didn’t know how to deal with it. “I can’t encourage people enough to just have that conversation because you will be surprised firstly, how much support you get and secondly, how many people literally are longing for you to come out. Because of the process I have been through, I’ve now been able to take my work seriously... been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else.”
In 2016 Harry finally met the love of his life, and wife-to-be, Meghan Markle. Before they met, his longest relationship had been with Chelsy Davy. However, the intense media focus took a toll and they finally separated. The same result happened with the Prince's next long-term relationship with Cressida Bonas, heiress and aspiring actress. The couple dated from 2012 to 2014, but things ended as Bonas felt overwhelmed by the media's criticism. So when he and Meghan fell in love, a woman who had spent her life in search of the spotlight, things seemed perfect.
However, in a candid interview for an ITV documentary, with Tom Bradby, Meghan admitted that she had “no idea” of the struggles she would have to deal with as a member of the royal family. Which, agrees Royal Central's Deputy Editor, Jamie Samhan, is one of the most difficult jobs in the world: “You are destined to constant criticism from everyone around you. From your looks, to what dress you wore, to what charities you support and when you do. You are never truly alone, with protection officers or your staff lurking around at all times. Going out day after day, facing the inevitable critic no matter what you do, until your last breath, has to be pretty darn tough.”
The Duchess went on to tell Bradby of the emotional impact it was having on them: 'I've said for a long time to H – that's what I call him – it is not enough to just survive something. That's not the point of life. You've got to thrive and feel happy.
“I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried. But I think what that does internally is probably really damaging.”
In the hour-long documentary, 'Harry & Meghan: An African Journey', Prince Harry said his wife has faced 'relentless propaganda'. He also told of the pressure he felt trying to “protect” his family from unwanted media attention, because he doesn't want a “repeat of the past.”
Harry is understandably fiercely protective of his new family, which includes their beautiful baby boy, Archie. And this is completely understandable, given what happened to his mother. Speaking in the documentary, Diana, 7 Days, he said: “One of the hardest things to come to terms with is the people who chased her into the tunnel were the same people who were taking photographs of her while she was still dying on the back seat of the car.
“She'd had quite a severe head injury but she was very much alive on the back seat. And those people that caused the accident instead of helping were taking photographs of her dying on the back seat. And then those photographs made their way back to newsdesks in this country.”
It’s easy to understand how his feud with the media runs very deep, and continues to this day.
One of the most endearing, yet sometimes problematic things about Prince Harry, is that he wears his heart on his sleeve – what you see is what you get. He’s passionate and compassionate, with the inborn ability to interact and form a bond with anyone, no matter what race, colour, background, young or old, rich or poor. It’s these qualities that make him a perfect ambassador for many charities, and he has supported many good causes over the years. However, he is particularly drawn to those that have been established to help children.
Of his work he says: “I love to see people excel and succeed. If you give care and consideration to younger people they will flourish. Anyone can do anything if you put your mind to it. You just need passion and belief.”
He has now thrown himself into raising the profile of mental health, and recently joined up with his wife, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to voice a televised advertisement for a new mental health campaign, Every Mind Matters.
He is also teaming up with US chat show host Oprah Winfrey, for a new TV series that will tell tales of the "human spirit fighting back from the darkest places," which Harry can not only connect with but hopes "could save lives".