HRH Prince Harry (1/2) Back to the menu...

Any teenageer’s parents will testify to the fact that growing up is not an easy business. But to a young man whose entire life has been lived in the public eye, adolescence presents an even greater challenge. For Prince Harry, the youngest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, it is a challenge that was made even more difficult with the news, at the end of August 1997, that his beloved mother had been killed in a car crash in Paris. Yet, looking back at news footage of the funeral of the Princess of Wales on September 6, 1997, one is struck by two things: firstly, by the brave dignity of both the young Princes as they walked behind their mother’s funeral cortege; and, secondly, by the maturity of Prince Harry, who, although only 12, seemed possessed of a wisdom and a calm determination far beyond his years.

Both Princes have, by birthright and events, been forced to grow up at astonishing speed. Yet, as those close to Prince Harry can attest, the boy’s cool, diffident exterior conceals a young man who, although very much sharing his mother’s shy disposition, has inherited her lust for life as well as his father’s strong-minded, common-sense view of the world.

Prince Henry Charles Albert David was born at twenty minutes past four on September 15, 1984, at St Mary’s Hospital, in Paddington, West London. He weighed 6lb 14oz, and, whereas many commentators soon decided that William had inherited more of his mother’s looks than his father’s, it was generally agreed that Harry had received an almost exactly equal share. Just over two months later, on December 21, he was christened in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie.

Like his elder brother, the green-eyed, auburn-haired Prince doted on his beautiful mother, and the sense of affectionate dependence was mutual. In the years before her death, Diana frequently made reference to how much of a comfort and a reassurance the unconditional love of her two sons had been in her darkest hours. It was therefore something of a wrench for both mother and son when, in September 1987, at the age of three, Harry embarked on his school career. To begin with, the Prince attended Mrs Jane Mynors’ nursery school in London (where his elder brother had also begun his education), just twice a week. It soon became clear that Harry was very fond of his new environment, and actively enjoyed being around children from circumstances rather less lofty than his own. Indeed, his years at the nursery school soon revealed Harry to be a warm, friendly and rather gregarious child, every bit as “normal” as his playmates.

In 1988, Harry demonstrated a love of, and a considerable talent for, acting and singing. As with most children, his stage debut came with the school nativity play, in which he played one of the classic roles of the nursery stage – the shepherd. The next year, aged almost five, Harry joined William at the Wetherby School, a prestigious West London pre-preparatory. Once again, it was not long before the Prince’s performance skills found an outlet: in that year’s Christmas Carol concert, Harry volunteered to sing a solo, which teachers say he accomplished with considerable aplomb.

As comfortable on the sportsfield as on the stage, Harry had build up a formidable reputation as an athlete and rider by the time he arrived at Ludgrove School in Berkshire. When not studying, horse-riding, or go-karting (another of his passions), Harry particularly looked forward to days out with his mother. The Princess of Wales determined that her sons should never be cosseted or shielded, and that they should learn to enjoy as “ordinary” a lifestyle as they could. To this end, Diana, William and Harry enjoyed family days that, security allowing, were as “normal” as possible – whether getting soaked to the skin on courage-testing theme-park rides, or going to see a film at the local cinema (the Odeon on Kensington High Street) and then popping into McDonald’s for a quick burger. Both Princes prized their days out with their mother above other distractions, at the same time learning a great deal from mixing freely with their people, under the guidance of their mother.

Happiness was invariably tinged with more complex, darker emotions. Witnessing first-hand the disintegration of their parents’ relationship took its toll on both boys. Whilst they did all that they could to alleviate their mother’s sense of loneliness and isolation, the boys did not find it easy to understand the broader implications of the marital crisis. William was older, and was gaining an early awareness of the enormous pressures that faced Royal relationships. For a boy of Harry’s age, the awareness of his mother’s pain was suffused with confusion. In public, he never for a moment let this affect his demeanour.

Yet fate had reserved a far more harrowing and painful test for the boys. Most people can remember exactly where they were when news broke of the death of Princess Diana. Imagine, then, how the news hit Prince William and Prince Harry. One can only speculate as to the immense, desperate grief that must have descended upon the Royal Family when the final confirmation came from Paris that Diana was dead. Although Harry and his brother were determined to maintain a brave face as they faced a nation also in mourning, Harry’s behaviour and demeanour are said to have changed radically immediately after the death. Understandably, the Prince is still said to suffer periods of intense grief, and has burst into tears in public on more than one occasion.