Behind Prince Harry’s heartbreak

A lifetime of emotional unrest derailed the prince.
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Prince Harry just celebrated his 37th birthday on September 15, and the estranged royal seems a world away from the cheeky three-year-old who stuck his tongue out at photographers on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

WATCH: William and Harry arrive at the Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace

The trauma of losing his mother at just 12 coupled with the pressures of public life have weighed very heavily on the father-of-two, who’s been outspoken about his mental health struggles, particularly over the past year.

“Every time I put a suit or tie on, I was in flight-or-fight mode,” Harry said in the documentary series The Me You Can’t See, which he co-produced with Oprah Winfrey, referencing the panic attacks he suffered while under the royal spotlight’s glare.

“I always wanted to be normal, as opposed to being Prince Harry – just being Harry,” he added.

“It was a puzzling life.”

“I always wanted to be normal, as opposed to being Prince Harry – just being Harry,” the duke said. (Credit: Getty)

Yet while Harry insists he has no regrets about his decision to step away from royal life and move to the US with wife Meghan, many royal experts note that he doesn’t appear any happier.

“I am very concerned for him,” says royal expert Penny Junor, who has spent several decades reporting on the royal family. “The Harry we’ve seen in the last year or so is not the Harry that I wrote about several years ago.

“So much of what he’s done is so out of character. He has isolated himself from friends and family. The sparkle has gone from him, the charm, the friendliness and the sense of fun. Instead, he seems angry and withdrawn.”

Prince Harry has spoken about the trauma of attending his mother’s funeral while the world watched. (Credit: Getty)

Dealing with Diana

There’s no doubt that Diana’s death had a profound effect on young Harry. In The Me You Can’t See, Harry spoke of the trauma of following his mother’s funeral cortege as the world watched.

“For me, the thing that I remember the most was the sound of the horses’ hooves going along the Mall,” the prince revealed.

“It was like I was outside of my body and just walking along, doing what was expected of me. [I was] showing one-tenth of the emotion that everybody else was showing: This was my mum; you never even met her.”

Harry says he turned to alcohol “not because I was enjoying it, but because I was trying to mask something”.

He added: “I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs, I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling.”

Throughout his teenage years and twenties, Harry gained a reputation for wild partying, earning him the nickname the “party prince” and landing him naked on the front page of newspapers after a wild getaway to Las Vegas – “Sin City” – in 2012.

“I don’t think he’ll be truly happy until he works through that [Diana trauma],” royal commentator Duncan Larcombe told the Mirror newspaper earlier this year, adding that he believes Harry’s “anger and sadness” has been misdirected at the royal family.

“He has made the royals and the institution his enemies because of that – he’s on the warpath.”

Indeed, Harry has been scathing in his censure of the royal family, and in particular his father Prince Charles. While in 2017 Harry said, “[Our dad] was there for us – he was the one of two left, and he tried to do his best and make sure we were protected and looked after”, in recent interviews he has painted Charles as a neglectful father who chose duty over the emotional wellbeing of his own children.

“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.’

“That doesn’t make sense. Just because you suffered doesn’t mean that your kids have to suffer; in fact, quite the opposite – if you suffered, do everything you can to make sure that whatever negative experiences you had, that you can make it right for your kids.”

WATCH: Prince Charles speaks about the birth of Harry and Meghan’s daughter (Article continues after video)

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The dream is over

Ken Wharfe, Diana’s personal protection officer, tells Royals Monthly that he also believes much of Harry’s resentment of royal life is because it forced him to give up on his dreams.

“I remember Harry, as a three or four-year-old, he was never out of army khaki uniform. He always talked about joining the army, and had a genuine interest in joining the army, but as a young boy he didn’t realise that being royal was likely to bar him from any career, which is effectively what happened,” Ken says.

While stationed in Afghanistan in 2013, Harry told The Guardian newspaper, army life “[is] as normal as it’s going to get. I’m one of the guys. I don’t get treated any differently.”

When asked if he preferred being Captain Wales over Prince Harry, he bluntly replied: “Definitely… My father’s always trying to remind me about who I am and stuff like that. But it’s very easy to forget about who I am when I’m in the army.”

Ken says, “He was very lucky through the very good offices of the Ministry of Defence and the government that he was allowed to fight in a war zone, and it was only after his second tour in Afghanistan that any future deployments were banned.”

The embargo on active deployments meant that Harry felt he had little choice but to quit his military role.

“He had an [army] office job that was not what he wanted,” Ken explains. “So he left the army, and what did he do next? He did the only job that he can do, and that is be a member of the royal family.”

It wasn’t any easy decision. As far back as 2013, Harry had hinted at his disillusion at the role he was born into, telling royal reporter Angela Levin that he’d almost quit the royal family once before.

“I felt I wanted out. But then I decided to stay in and work out a role for myself,” he said.

Harry and Meghan officially announced they were stepping back as senior members of the royal family in January 2020. (Credit: Getty)

So, what now?

With Harry announcing that he’s set to release an autobiography in 2022, royal expert Phil Dampier says he fears it’s a move that’s set to further alienate Harry from his estranged family.

Contrary to the Queen’s insistence that “Harry, Meghan and Archie [and Lilibet] will always be much-loved members of my family”, tension between Prince Charles and brothers William and Harry have not lessened in the 20 months since his decision to step away for good.

“It’s obvious that when Harry came over for the unveiling of Diana’s statue, no meaningful progress was made in his relationship with his father or brother,” Phil tells Royals Monthly.

“His family will be bracing themselves for more criticism, more ‘poor me’ introspection and more excuses to justify his decision to quit royal life.

“I fear that many other people will see this as yet another exercise in rewriting history at the expense of his blood family.”

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