LONDON – It is an image those who saw it will never forget: Prince William and Prince Harry — just boys, really — walking silently behind their mother’s cortege as the world mourned Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
Now Harry has revealed for the first time that losing his mother when he was only 12 left him in emotional turmoil for 20 years, filling him with grief and rage he could only manage after he sought counseling.
Breaking sharply with the royal tradition of maintaining a stoic silence about mental health, the 32-year-old prince told The Daily Telegraph in an interview published Monday that he had nearly suffered multiple breakdowns since his mother’s death.
It was by far the most frank interview of Harry’s life and gives the public a much fuller view of Harry and the inner turmoil he suffered growing up in the public eye after losing his mother.
He told the newspaper he “shut down all his emotions” for nearly 20 years and had been “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.”
He describes a long, painful process of refusing to face his sense of loss that only came to an end when he was in his late 20s and sought professional counseling to cope with the pressures and unhappiness.
“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 of his teens and 20s, a period in which he embarked on a successful military career but also occasionally attracted unwanted headlines, notably for being photographed playing “strip billiards” in Las Vegas.
In the interview, Harry said he had at times felt “on the verge of punching someone” and had taken up boxing as an outlet for the aggression he felt.
He said the long suppression of his grief eventually led to “two years of total chaos.”
He said he was pretending that life was great until he started counseling and faced his problems head on.
“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 said.
Along with his brother Prince William and sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge, Harry has worked with a charity that promotes mental health. They have argued that mental health problems must be given the same priority as other illnesses and should be spoken about openly and without stigma.
Harry has also worked extensively with wounded veterans and has organized the Invictus Games to foster international sporting competition for injured or ill service personnel and veterans.
Harry told interviewer Bryony Gordon, who has written extensively about her own struggles with depression and other issues, that he is in a “good place” now, and praised William for helping him seek help after many years of suffering in silence.
He credited counseling with helping him recover.
“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,” he said.
Harry has also formed a romantic relationship with American actress Meghan Markle and in November took the unusual step of chastising the press for harassing her.
Harry and William have both been wary of press coverage, in part because of the way photographers shadowed their mother’s every move.