Prince Harry to Oprah: Prince Charles and the Royal Family ‘Bullied’ Me
In the Apple TV+ series “The Me You Can’t See,” Prince Harry sits down with Oprah for a candid talk about his mental-health struggles and why he left the British royal family.
In The Me You Can’t See, his new docuseries about mental health with Oprah Winfrey that premieres Friday on Apple TV+, Prince Harry expresses his frustration with his father, Prince Charles, for enabling the suffering he experienced as a child. He also discussed his disappointment that Charles never intervened later in life when he and wife Meghan Markle experienced scrutiny in the public eye.
“My father used to say to me when I was younger, he used to say to both William and I, ‘Well, it was like that for me so it’s going to be like that for you,’” he says in the series’ third episode, which centers around mental health treatment and recovery. “That doesn’t make sense. Just because you suffered, that doesn’t mean your kids have to suffer. Actually quite the opposite. If you suffered, do everything you can to make sure that whatever negative experiences you had, you can make it right for your kids.”
Throughout the series, he and Winfrey, both with emotional candor, guide frank discussions about mental health, trauma, and the stigma that surrounds admitting suffering and seeking help.
The goal, as Winfrey says, is to normalize mental health treatment and validate people’s stories without judgment or shame: “The telling of the story. The being able to say out loud, ‘This is what happened to me,’ is crucial.” Harry agrees, “The only way to free yourself and break out is to tell the truth.”
People from across the globe discuss their experiences battling issues of depression, trauma, anxiety, and mental illness, including famous faces like Lady Gaga, Glenn Close, and NBA star DeMar DeRozan.
It’s Harry’s honest and, at times, shocking detailing of his own journey that anchors the series: his failure to process the grief from the death of his mother, Princess Diana; the helplessness he felt to protect her; his dependence on drugs and alcohol to numb the pain; feeling anxious and trapped by the palace; the family’s refusal to help when Markle experienced suicidal thoughts; and how therapy helped him overcome all this and “break the cycle.”
“For me, therapy has equipped me to be able to take on anything,” he says. “That feeling of being trapped within the family, there was no option to leave. Eventually when I made that decision for my family, I was still told, ‘You can’t do this.’ And it’s like, ‘Well how bad does it have to get until I am allowed to do this?’ She [Markle] was going to end her life. It shouldn’t have to get to that.”
When asked if he has any regrets, he says it is not taking a stand earlier in his relationship with Markle. “History was repeating itself. My mother was chased to her death while she was in a relationship with someone who wasn’t white. And now look what’s happened. You want to talk about history repeating itself? They’re not going to stop until she dies. It’s incredibly triggering to potentially lose another woman in my life. Like, the list is growing. And it all comes back to the same people, the same business model, the same industry.”
In the first episode of the series, Harry addresses the many years that passed where he wasn’t given the space or the opportunity to address the grief he had after his mother’s death in a car accident when he was 12 years old.
When he thinks of his mother, he says, the first memory to always come to mind is being a boy riding in the car with her and his brother. She was driving, and their car was being chased by five paparazzi on mopeds. “She was almost unable to drive because of the tears. There was no protection. One of the feelings that comes up with me always is the helplessness...That happened every single day until the day she died.”
What he remembers most about her funeral is the sound of the horses’ hooves on the pavement as they pulled her casket in a carriage. “It was like I was outside my body, walking along, doing what was expected of me. Showing one-tenth of the emotion everyone else was showing. This is my mum. You haven’t even met her.”
Winfrey suggests that strangers have probably done more processing of her death than he’s done, which he agrees. “I didn’t want to think about her, because if I think about her then it’s gonna bring up the fact that I can’t bring her back and it’s just going to make me sad.” When she pointedly asks if anybody in his life would talk about the death or their grief with him, he says, “Nobody was talking about it.”
He cites the years between ages 28 and 32 as the hardest for him. He would have anxiety attacks any time he was required to be in public. He would drink and take drugs to “feel less of what I was feeling,” estimating that, even if he abstained during the week, he would drink a week’s worth in one day on a Friday or Saturday night. It was a coping mechanism “to mask something.”
It wasn’t until he met Markle and she recognized a lingering anger in him that he first sought out therapy: “I knew if I didn’t do the therapy and fix myself I would lose this woman I could see spending the rest of my life [with].”
The airing of Prince Harry’s intimate account of his struggles with his mental health comes after a number of public disclosures of intensely personal matters, the likes of which would normally be anathema to the buttoned-up royal family.
In March of this year, Harry and Meghan gave a bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey in which, among many other claims, they both accused an unnamed member of the royal family of making a racist inquiry about the likely color of any of their children’s skin.
Harry also roundly criticized his father in that interview for his lack of compassion and understanding, accusing him of cutting him off financially and even at one stage refusing to take his phone calls.
Harry’s father came in for another bashing during a lengthy podcast interview in which Harry said that he had inherited, “genetic pain,” from his dad, who had inherited the same from his parents, the queen and Prince Philip.
“When it comes to parenting, if I’ve experienced some form of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father or my parents had suffered, I’m going to make sure that I break that cycle, so that I don’t pass it on basically,” Harry said. “There’s a lot of genetic pain and suffering that gets passed on anyway. As parents we should be doing the most we can to try and say, ’You know what, that happened to me, I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.’”
Harry added, “I also know that it’s connected to his parents. So that means that he’s treating me the way that he was treated, which means, how can I change that for my own kids? And well, here I am. I’ve now moved my whole family to the U.S. That wasn’t the plan. Sometimes you’ve got to make decisions, and put your family first and your mental health first.”
In The Me You Can’t See, he revisits the dark story behind the famous photo and video footage of when he and Markle attended a gala at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019, holding hands and smiling for the cameras while dressed in elegant attire.
As they had previously discussed in their earlier sit-down with Winfrey, just hours before that event, Markle revealed to Harry that she had suicidal thoughts that were so clear she had even planned out how she would do it.
“The scariest thing for her was the clarity of thought,” he says in The Me You Can’t See. “She hadn’t lost it. She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t self-medicating through pills or alcohol. She was absolutely sober. She was completely sane. Yet in the quiet of night these thoughts woke her up.”
He was ashamed of how he handled it, he says. He was ashamed that he let the situation get that bad. More, he was ashamed to go to his family and ask for help.
“Like a lot of people my age could probably relate to, I know that I’m not going to get from my family what I need,” he says. “I then had a son who I’d far rather be solely focused on, rather than every time I look into his eyes, wondering whether my wife is going to end up like my mother and I’m going to have to look after him myself.”
That was one of the biggest reasons he and Markle left their roles in the royal family. “Feeling trapped and feeling controlled through fear, both by the media and by the system itself, which never encouraged the talking about this kind of trauma. But certainly now, I will never be bullied into silence.”
With reporting from Tom Sykes