The Duke of Sussex has accused the royal family of “total silence and total neglect” as his wife, Meghan, struggled to adjust to palace life, and said the family tried to prevent the couple from leaving.

In a new mental health documentary series with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry tells how he turned to drink and drugs to mask the trauma of his mother’s death, and also of his fears media harassment would end with his own wife’s death.

Over five episodes of The Me You Can’t See, shown on Apple TV+, he revealed that before the couple’s earlier Oprah interview “the combined efforts of the firm and the media” to smear Meghan had left her crying into her pillow at night.

His biggest regret, he said, was not calling out racism in traditional and social media soon enough, saying Diana, Princess of Wales “was chased to her death while she was in a relationship with someone that 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.”

The wide-ranging interview addressed his therapy, and how he feels his mother would be proud of him.

Meghan’s struggles

Harry said: “I thought my family would help, but every single ask, request, warning, whatever it is, just got met with total silence, total neglect.

“We spent four years trying to make it work. We did everything that we possibly could to stay there and carry on doing the role and doing the job. But Meghan was struggling.”

Meghan, while six months pregnant with Archie, had told him about her suicidal thoughts just before the two were due at a charity event at the Royal Albert Hall in south-west London.

“The thing that stopped her from seeing it through was how unfair it would be on me after everything that had happened to my mum, and now to be put in the position of losing another woman in my life with a baby inside of her, our baby,” he said. He added: “I was ashamed that it had got this bad. I was ashamed to go to my family, because to be honest with you, like a lot of other people my age can probably relate to, I know that I’m not going to get from my family what I need.”

That Oprah interview

In an apparent reference to bullying allegations against Meghan that emerged ahead of the interview in March, he said: “Because of their headlines and that combined effort of the firm and the media to smear her, I was woken up in the middle of the night to her crying in her pillow … That’s heartbreaking. I held her. We talked. She cried and she cried and she cried.”

Of the interview, in which an unnamed member of the royal family was accused of racism, he said: “I like to think that we were able to speak truth in the most compassionate way possible, therefore leaving it open for reconciliation and healing.

“The interview was about being real, being authentic and hopefully sharing an experience that we know is incredibly relatable to a lot of people around the world despite our unique privileged position.”

Harry and Meghan are interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in March
Harry and Meghan are interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in March. Photograph: Reuters

Leaving the royal fold

“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 I was like: ‘How bad does it have to get until I’m allowed to do this? She was going to end her life? It shouldn’t have to get to that’.”

Making the move to the US “was really scary. Like at every possible opportunity the forces were working against us trying to make it impossible. Did I expect to find ourselves in this situation so quickly? No. I think we’ve done a really good job. And I have no regrets. It’s incredibly sad. But I have no regrets at all because now I am in a place where I feel as though I should have been four years ago.”

Princess Diana’s death

On walking behind his mother’s coffin aged 12, he said: “For me what I remember is the sound of horses’ hoofs going along the Mall.” He and William were “both in shock”. “It was like I was outside my body and just walking along doing what was expected of me. Showing one tenth of the emotion that everyone else was showing.” He remembers feeling anger at the weeping crowds, thinking: “This is my mum. You haven’t even met her.”

Overwhelmed by her loss, he suffered panic attacks and anxiety. “I just decided not to talk about it. No one was talking about it.”

He escaped to the army, which is where he “felt my most normal” in his younger years, especially in Afghanistan “away from the media”. “But I was going to have to deal with my past, because there was anger there.”

Harry (right) and Prince William bow their heads as their mother’s coffin is taken out of Westminster Abbey following her funeral service in 1997
Harry (right) and Prince William bow their heads as their mother’s coffin is taken out of Westminster Abbey following her funeral service in 1997. Photograph: Adam Butler/AFP/Getty Images

Drink and drugs

He was in “fight or flight mode”. “Panic attacks, severe anxiety from 28 to probably 32 was a nightmare time in my life.

“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.

“OK, I wasn’t drinking Monday to Friday, but I would probably drink a week’s worth in one day on a Friday or a Saturday night. And I would find myself drinking not because I was enjoying it, but because I was trying to mask something.”

Therapy

“Towards my late 20s I was starting to ask questions of should I really be here. And that’s when I suddenly started going, ‘You can’t keep hiding from this’.”

He has been in therapy for more than four years, which he began in earnest because he feared losing Meghan if “I didn’t do therapy and fix myself.

“There was a lot of learning at the beginning of our relationship. She was shocked to be coming backstage of the institution, of the British royal family.”

He said: “I became aware that I’d been living in a bubble within this family, this institution. And I was almost trapped in the thought process, or a mindset.”

He is shown in a video session having eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and reveals that, throughout his life, flying back into London has triggered anxiety “because of what happened to my mum, and what I experienced and what I saw”. His negative thoughts are “as being the hunted and being helpless”.

Therapy has equipped him to be able “to take on anything”, he said. “That’s why I’m here now. That’s why my wife is here now.”

Prince Harry with his mother in 1995
Prince Harry with his mother in 1995. ‘I’m living the life that she wanted to live for herself.’ Photograph: Martin Keene/PA

Regret

His biggest regret is “not making more of a stance earlier on in my relationship with my wife” and calling out the racism. “History was repeating itself, my mother was chased to her death while she was in a relationship with someone that wasn’t white. And now look what’s happened. You want to talk about history repeating itself. They are not going to stop until she dies.” Referring to the media, he said: “And it all comes back to the same people, the same business model, the same industry.

“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. It’s going to be like that for you.’ That doesn’t make sense. Just because you suffered that doesn’t mean that your kids have to suffer. In fact, quite the opposite.”

The media

“They are desperately trying to control the narrative. Because they know if they lose it then the truth will come out,” he said of media coverage.

He added: “Family members have said: ‘Just play the game and your life will be easier.’ But I’ve got a hell of a lot of my mum in me. I feel as though I am outside the system, but I’m still stuck there.”

Diana

“I have no doubt that my mum would be incredibly proud of me. I’m living the life that she wanted to live for herself. Living the life that she wanted us to be able to live. So not only do I know that she is incredibly proud of me, but that she’s helped me get here. And I have never felt her presence more as I have done over the last year.”

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