Earlier this week, Prince Harry opened up about the loss of his mother, Princess Diana, in a new televised documentary, Prince Harry in Africa. Harry, now 32, has been relatively quiet on the matter over the years, and understandably so: His mother — “the People’s Princess” — died in a car crash in 1997 when Harry was just 12 years old.
At the time, the prince appeared to handle his mother’s death with a grace and maturity few display at such a young age. But now, he says he handled his mother’s death in the only way he knew how: he avoided it. He repressed it. He attempted to deny it had happened.
“I’d never really dealt with what had actually happened, so there was a lot of buried emotion,” Prince Harry shared. “And, for a huge part of my life, I just didn’t even want to think about it … I used to bury my head in the sand, and let everything around you tear you to pieces. I was fighting the system, going, ‘I don’t want to be this person.'”
And I get it; I really, truly get it.
I understand because my own father passed away the year before Princess Diana. My father died when I was Harry’s age — when I was 12 — and I repressed the pain, too. I didn’t want to be “that person,” the one who lost a parent. The one who had to grow up without a parent.
Of course, Harry has endured hurdles I cannot possibly imagine. My life was not in the spotlight and my every move wasn’t under intense scrutiny — nor was it made in the public eye. But, like Harry, I buried emotions. I swallowed pain and suppressed tears, and I moved forward with my proverbial “head in the sand” — which is to say that, in my own little world in New Jersey, I kept to myself. I kept my head down and headphones on for the remainder of my teenage years. And I lived that way for years.
I spent much of my young adult life fighting the hand I had been dealt; fighting the life I had been given.
The good news is that, eventually, I worked through the pain — past the anger, despair, and rage. Eventually, I worked through grief, and on the other side I found a new me. Not necessarily a better me, but a different me. A stronger me. A more empowered me. And a version of “me” that I believe my father would have been proud of.
And it seems quite clear that Harry has done the same, and then some.
The famous royal has channeled his grief into Sentebale, a charity he co-founded in his mother’s honor back in 2004, to assist children suffering from HIV and AIDS.
“[Sentebale has given me the opportunity to continue the] unfinished work my mother never completed,” the prince said. Of course, “I now view life differently from what it used to be. My mother died when I was very, very young and I don’t want to be in the position [but] now. I’m so energized, fired up, to be lucky enough to be in a position to make a difference.”
This isn’t the first time in recent history that Prince Harry has spoken about the death of his mother, though. According to the BBC, he opened up about that painful period while speaking with fellow Brit Rio Ferdinand at a BBQ in July to support his mental health charity, Heads Together. Ferdinand, a former English footballer, lost his wife to breast cancer last year, becoming a single dad to his three children.
Prince Harry in Africa aired Monday on ITV in the U.K., and documented the prince’s charitable work in Lesotho, Africa. But the candid words about his mother weren’t the only heartwarming moments caught on film — producers also caught an emotional reunion between Prince Harry and an orphan he met over 12 years ago.
The prince also opened up about just what it is that’s drawn him to work in Africa over the years:
“I think anybody that I’ve spoken to who has been to Africa, most of the people get it, and Africa gets them,” the prince shared in the film. “For me personally, it’s an escape. And now not only have I found that escape, but I’ve found a way to try and use the name and the position for good.”
He certainly has.More On