When Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car accident in 1997, an entire nation mourned – and so too did her sons, Princes William and Harry. But it wasn’t until Harry turned 28 that he finally spoke about his mom’s death. In the period between, he buried his feelings deep down, remaining almost silent on the matter – for reasons that didn’t come to light until years after she died. And now, Prince Harry’s moving words will break your heart.
Diana Spencer may not have been royalty but her ancestors were, and that made her a noblewoman. So when she married Prince Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1981, it seemed like a perfect match – even taking into account the 13-year age difference.
Indeed, other members of the British Royal Family certainly seemed to think so. Both Prince Charles’ parents, the Queen and Prince Phillip as well as his grandmother, the Queen Mother, took to Diana. The latter even gifted Diana a diamond and sapphire brooch upon her engagement to Charles.
By 1984 the married couple had brought two sons into the world, the youngest of whom was Henry Charles Albert David – better known as Prince Harry. Princess Diana was far more involved with her children’s upbringing than was traditional for a royal. Indeed, she arranged their clothes, trips and nanny, while she also escorted them to school.
It was no surprise, then, that Harry was close to his mom. And because she got involved in humanitarian causes, including the fight against AIDS, she proved to be a great role model. In fact, Diana was central to destigmatizing preconceptions of AIDS victims, including the falsehood that the condition could be passed by basic physical contact.
But life in the public eye took all manner of tolls on the young princess. Multiple suicide attempts and a troubled relationship between Diana and her husband ultimately led to divorce for the pair in 1996.
And, just a year later, tragedy struck. Pursued through Paris by the paparazzi, Diana’s driver – intoxicated at the time – crashed their car at high speed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, killing them both, as well as Diana’s then-partner, Dodi Fayed. When the news reached British shores, the entire nation went into mourning for the “people’s princess.”
But while the people of Britain turned out on the streets to express their grief for Diana’s loss, the Royal Family did the opposite. At the time of her death, the royals were staying at their summer home in Balmoral, Scotland, and they decided not to return to Buckingham Palace – nor to grieve publicly. So, at first, Prince Harry – just 12 at the time – had no option but to hide his immediate feelings.
In the years since, Harry has led an eventful life. Indeed, he twice served with the British Army in Afghanistan – once in 2007 and again in 2012. He eventually left the military in 2015 to pursue other challenges.
Yet while Britain has commemorated Diana’s life several times, Harry and his brother Prince William have remained mostly silent. In 2000, for instance, they chose not to attend an opening ceremony for a playground dedicated to Diana’s memory.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 2013 – 16 years after Diana’s death – that Harry began opening up about his feelings. And now, he says that’s something he absolutely regrets.
But why did Harry bury his feelings for so long? Well, an aide to the prince told the Daily Mail that one possible reason was that he didn’t want to upset his father. “For a long time, they worried, and those around them worried, too, that whatever they said about their mother could be misinterpreted as somehow being critical of the Prince of Wales.”
In fact, Diana’s very name proved to be a delicate subject for Harry. One of the late princess’ friends told the newspaper that the young prince “used to throw a fit if anyone mentioned his mother’s name.” It was clear that Harry wasn’t yet ready to talk about his mom’s passing, or express his feelings.
But perhaps the most likely reason that Harry showed so few signs of grief was that he though it a private matter. Unfortunately for him, however, Diana’s public presence meant it was one that had to eventually be shared with a nation.
Indeed, it wasn’t for years that the prince decided that burying his feelings wasn’t the wisest strategy. Speaking at a barbecue hosted for mental health charity Heads Together, he told soccer star Rio Ferdinand, “You know, I really regret not ever talking about it.”
Harry used the event to draw attention to mental health issues surrounding grief and loss. He told BBC Breakfast, “It is okay to suffer, but as long as you talk about it. It is not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognizing it and not solving that problem.”
There’s no denying that these are important issues to address, which makes Harry’s words all the more poignant. According to Net Doctor, around one third of people experience depression after losing a loved one.
The prince stressed that these feelings can affect anyone, no matter who they are. He continued, “A lot of people think if you’ve got a job, if you’ve got financial security, if you’ve got a family, you’ve got a house, all that sort of stuff, everyone seems to think that is all you need and you are absolutely fine to deal with stuff.”
In the years since leaving the military, Prince Harry has dedicated his life to continuing Diana’s legacy. A source close to the prince told the Daily Mail, “Like his mother, he has an emotional intelligence, is tactile, too, and, like her, connects easily with people. He is not afraid to show his humanity. Shining a light onto forgotten children around the world seems a very natural thing for him to do.”
It took Harry 16 years to begin opening up about his mother’s death. And now he has, it’s absolutely heartbreaking – but it also sends a vital message to anyone experiencing similar feelings of loss and grief.