Prince William and Prince Harry have spoken movingly about the impact of losing their mother, Princess Diana, and how they coped with grief after her death.The Princes opened up about their experiences and memories of their mother, earning praise for their honest discussion of childhood bereavement in ITV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy.
“She was our mum. She still is our mum. As a son I would say, of course, that she was the best mum in the world,” said Prince Harry.
Marking 20 years since her death, the documentary looks at Diana’s life, showing never-before-seen photographs and home videos of her as a child and as a young mother. During the documentary, the Princes talked more openly than ever before about the grief they felt after Diana’s sudden death aged 36.
“It’s like an earthquake has run through your life,” said Prince William. “Your mind is completely split. It took a while for it to sink in.
“Losing someone so close to you is utterly devastating, especially at that age…You don’t quite know where you are, what you’re doing, what’s going on. The family came together and Harry and I tried to talk about it. But being so small at that age, it’s very difficult to communicate or understand your feelings.”
Aged just 15 and 12 when their mother died in a traffic collision in Paris, William and Harry had to cope not only with the emotional turmoil of losing a parent, but also the pressures of grieving in the public eye.
“It was very, very strange after her death. We saw the outpouring of love and emotion from people that had never even met her,” said Harry. “There was William and I, walking round Kensington Palace, and the sea of flowers was all the way from the palace gate to Kensington High Street. I was thinking to myself, how is it so many who never met my mother are crying and showing more emotion than I am feeling?”
Floral tributes left in Diana’s memory at Kensington Palace. Photo by Maxell Hamilton.
They shared how they had spoken to Diana on the phone just hours before her death and the regret of not knowing it was their last conversation.
“I think Harry and I were just in a desperate rush to say goodbye,” William said. “If I’d have known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have been so blasé about it. That phone call sticks in my mind quite heavily.”
“I can’t necessarily remember what I said but what I can remember is regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was,” added Harry. “Looking back on it now is incredibly hard. I have to deal with that for the rest of my life.”
Harry, who has also spoken openly about his grief as part of mental health campaign Heads Together, revealed that he has only cried twice over Diana’s death – once at the funeral and once since then – and that for years he has been trying to ignore the pain and grief of losing his mother.
“People deal with grief in different ways and my way of dealing with it was shutting it out,” he said. “The 10 years that I was in the army, I just dug my head in the sand and it was just white noise. I had to go through a whole period of trying to sort myself out.”
Julia Samuel, one of Diana’s best friends and founder of the charity Child Bereavement UK – a charity of which Prince William is now a patron – shared memories of Diana and her support for the charity.
“She had a very natural gift of empathy,” she said. “Just by looking at someone she’d have an idea of what they were feeling. I see that in the Duke of Cambridge. He has a depth of understanding through his own experience that connects with other people.”
“My heart goes out to all the people who’ve lost a loved one in the world,” William said. “It does connect you in a very sad club. You don’t want to be a member, but you do have a shared pain that you can immediately understand and see when you meet people.”
Celebrities, viewers and bereavement organisations took to social media to praise the Princes’ honest and emotional discussion of the impact of their mother’s death.
“Prince William and Prince Harry are so eloquent and brave to talk so openly,” tweeted TV presenter Fearne Cotton, while the Childhood Bereavement Network thanked William for his “wise and kind advice to bereaved families.”
Dr Shelley Gilbert, who lost her own father when she was nine and went on to found childhood bereavement charity Grief Encounter, spoke to BBC Radio Oxford about the documentary and how the Princes’ openness will help people better understand the impact of bereavement during childhood.
“As bereaved kids, you have to learn a whole new language,” she said. “It’s like being dumped somewhere in outer space. You don’t have any communication skills and people around you don’t know how to speak to you... What we need to do as adults is not only let children talk, but also listen.”
Prince Harry the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in June 2013. Photo by Carfax2.
In the documentary, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge spoke to parents coping with grief after the death of a child, sharing their own experiences of bereavement.
“It’s hard to totally let go,” Prince William told a grieving father who had lost his daughter. “I always think that how you come out of grief is a defining moment. It doesn’t go away, it never goes away. Keep the memories alive, that’s the thing.”
“It’s so important that public figures like Prince William and Harry keep talking about bereavement,” said Funeral Guide’s Jessica Hanson. “It’s so easy to sweep things under the rug and think that talking about it will only make it worse, but by sharing their story, the Princes are letting people know that grief isn’t something to be ashamed of.
“At the end of the day, grief affects everyone, whether you’re royalty or not. I hope this documentary helps people see that and become more open to talking about how bereavement has affected them.”
You can watch Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy on the ITV Hub.