The Duke of Sussex has said the trauma of his mother’s death led him to use alcohol and drugs to mask his emotions and to “feel less like I was feeling”.
Prince Harry was 12 years old when Diana, Princess of Wales, died in August 1997 in a car crash while being pursued by the press in Paris.
In the first three episodes of Apple TV’s The Me You Can’t See, he addressed traumatic memories from his childhood including the moment he was famously photographed with his brother, father, uncle and grandfather walking behind Diana’s coffin at her funeral.
“For me the thing I remember the most was the sound of the horses’ hooves going along the Mall,” the 36-year-old told his series co-host Oprah Winfrey.
“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.”
He also told Winfrey his family did not speak about Diana’s death and expected him to deal with the resulting press attention and mental distress.
“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’,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Harry said his family told him to “play the game” and life would improve. But he objected, telling Winfrey: “I’ve got a hell of a lot of my mum in me.”
“The only way to free yourself and break out is to tell the truth.”
The series focuses on mental health, with Harry telling Winfrey the trauma of the loss caused him to suffer anxiety and severe panic attacks from ages 28 to 32. “I was just all over the place mentally,” he said.
“Every time I put a suit on and tie on … having to do the role, and go, ‘right, game face’, look in the mirror and say, ‘let’s go’. Before I even left the house I was pouring with sweat. I was in fight or flight mode.”
He said: “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.”
He told Winfrey he would drink a week’s worth of alcohol on a Friday or Saturday night “not because I was enjoying it but because I was trying to mask something”.
During the first three episodes of Apple TV’s The Me You Can’t See, he also addressed harassment on social media of he and his wife, Meghan.
“Every single ask, request, warning, whatever it is, to stop just got met with total silence or total neglect,” he told Winfrey, referring to his attempts to get assistance from his family with the attacks levelled at the Sussexes online.
“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.”
He did not go to his family when Meghan felt suicidal because he was ashamed the situation had got “that bad” and also suspected the royals would not have been able to help.
“That was one of the biggest reasons to leave, feeling trapped and feeling controlled through fear, both by the media and by the system itself which never encouraged the talking about this kind of trauma,” he said.
“Certainly now I will never be bullied into silence.”