“I know I’ve got a lot of my mother in me. I am doing a lot of things that she would probably do.”
It was nothing short of remarkable for Prince Harry’s friends to read that he had publicly uttered those words in an interview given to the US tabloid magazine People to promote the Invictus Games, which start this weekend.
Harry, they say, spent much of his teenage years so utterly traumatized by the death of his mother that he would never even mention her, let alone invoke her memory.
Harry kept a photograph of Diana on his desk, according to contemporaries at Eton, but didn’t talk about his mom openly. And no-one else would have brought it up. It wouldn’t be the kind of thing you’d raise.
It has never been publicly disclosed whether Harry received formal psychological support at Eton, but the school does have a full-time in-house child psychiatrist, and, like all children experiencing trauma there, Harry would certainly have been offered such help.
If he did avail himself of therapy, it did not appear for many years to have helped much.
Harry, who cut a pitiful sight walking behind his mother’s coffin at the age of 12 in front of a global audience, spent most of his twenties apparently trying to do all he could to quash the memories of Diana with copious quantities of alcohol.
He also found relief in the drill of army life and front line fighting (an experience which, he recently revealed, has left him, like many other former soldiers, suffering flashbacks).
If the army has been a constant of royal growing up, a fondness for alcohol has also been a wearyingly familiar feature of life in both the Windsor and Spencer family histories—the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Diana’s father Johnny are some of the better-known casualties—and on several occasions Harry’s friends had reason to fear that he was going down the same route as some of his troubled ancestors.
The problem was that after the alcohol, Harry could, like many young men, become bolshy and unpredictable and sometimes, after drinking bouts, there came trouble: fights with photographers, strip-billiards with random blondes, and a familiarity with Gloucestershire’s posh druggy set at the local boozers such as the Rattlebone Inn, where, as Harry admitted to his father, he smoked marijuana.
Now however, sources say that Harry has cut back on the booze and is drinking significantly less, as he faces up to the responsibilities of his position.
He is clearly determined to honor the memory of his revered and idolized mother not just through his charity work but also in his private life.
That doesn’t mean sobriety (and the sobriety with gritted teeth of the kind endured by Princess Margaret at the end of her life would hardly be a great encouragement to follow that path, although Prince Andrew provides, whatever his other faults, a realistic example of teetotal living)—but it does mean cutting out the all-nighters.
Don’t expect to see Harry dancing with his shirt off at any festivals this year.
Of course, Harry has spoken about his mother before, but the terms in which he has been speaking about her in recent days are strikingly mature and confident.
“All I want to do is make my mother incredibly proud,” he told People magazine, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
“When she died, there was a gaping hole, not just for us but also for a huge amount of people across the world.”
He had clearly thought about what he was going to say ahead of the interview, and on Wednesday evening he raised Diana’s memory again in another moving tribute.
He was giving a speech after a polo match, a fundraiser for Sentebale, a charity he co-founded to help children affected by Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, now expanding into Botswana.
He said: “12 years ago I made my first visit to Lesotho hosted by Prince Seeiso.
“As we travelled across the country I was amazed by it’s beauty but I was also struck by the many children that I met who lives had been torn apart by the loss of one or both parents to AIDS related illnesses.
“Having lost my own mother seven years before I felt a profound connection to these children. In spite of the obvious differences in our lives we shared the loss of a parent and that ever present emptiness that could never be filled.”
The words sounded completely natural. The ring of authenticity was unmistakable. It would be hard to imagine William saying the same thing into a microphone in a crowded public room.
That may be because, as a former confidante of Princess Diana, Lady Colin Campbell, tells the Daily Beast: “Harry has inherited many of Diana’s virtues while William has certainly inherited one of her vices, in that he is very self-willed.
“But Harry leads with the heart just like Diana did, and he has a natural propensity towards being affectionate and generous, and has that same ability to connect on a human level.”
Christopher Andersen, author of the new best seller, Game of Crowns, who has been covering the royals for several decades concurs, saying, “Diana’s influence is so much more noticeable in Harry than it is in William.
“While William has retreated into formality, Harry is an envelope-pusher in the way that she was, and he has that rebel quality that Diana had and William does not have.”
Another example of Harry’s more emotional style of communicating came at the Sentebale dinner, when, reflecting on the fact that ‘Sentebale’ means ‘forget me not’, he told his audience, “Incidentally I found out today that forget-me-nots were my mother’s favorite flower growing up, so that’s a very nice thing for me anyway.”
Harry reportedly was told the information about his mother’s floral preferences by “a member of the royal family” earlier in the day, and although he stopped short of implying Diana’s spirit was somehow steering him, there was a sense in his words that the choice of name for his charity was more than mere coincidence.
Again, it would be hard to imagine William publicly channeling Diana’s memory in such an emotional way.
Andersen suggests that William and Harry’s childhood roles may have as much to do with the brothers’ different characters as genetics.
“Harry was not having to play that role of peacemaker between his parents. And you see that, as a result, William is cautious. William is fundamentally a traditionalist but Harry likes nothing more than throwing convention to the winds. In that sense he really is Diana’s son.”
Andersen suspects however, that, ironically enough, had Diana survived she would have been a calming influence on her son.
“A mother-son bond is so special, and I have no doubt that were she alive today she would be the one person capable of reining him in and making him toe the line. Her personality and her attitudes would have changed. She would have been able to guide him and help him avoid some of those PR gaffes.”