Prince Harry Says He Sought Counseling Over His Mother’s Death


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Prince Harry at a service in London this month honoring victims of the terrorist attack outside Parliament.

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Pool photo by Eddie Mulholland

LONDON — Prince Harry has said in a new interview that he suffered for years after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, before finally getting help about three years ago at the urging of his elder brother, Prince William.

The candid statement by the prince, in a podcast released on Monday by The Daily Telegraph, is the latest indication of a shift within the British monarchy toward greater openness, led by a younger generation. The two princes, along with Prince William’s wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, are leading a campaign to end stigma around mental illness.

Prince Harry, 32, said last year that he regretted not having discussed his mother’s death sooner. In the interview, he said that not dealing with the trauma had contributed to years of “total chaos” in his late 20s.

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he said.

He added: “I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”

The exchange, a rare glimpse into the private life of a member of the royal family, drew applause from advocates for people with mental illness.

Others praised the prince for speaking out about grief.

Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, at the age of 36; she and Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, had divorced the previous year. The reaction to the violent, unexpected death became a symbol of Britain’s emotional and generational conflicts. The royal family’s handling of the aftermath became something of a turning point in its relationship with ordinary Britons.

For several days, Queen Elizabeth II maintained her predecessors’ traditional — critics would say stony — reserve. But as people worldwide mourned Diana, who had been distinguished by her charisma and poise, Buckingham Palace came under criticism for its silence, and the queen finally broke with tradition by making a live broadcast to the nation acknowledging the “overwhelming expression of sadness” and praising her former daughter-in-law as “an exceptional and gifted human being.”

In the podcast, Prince Harry said he had tried to cope with the tragedy by not talking about it.

“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” he said. He recalled thinking: “ ‘It’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.’ So from an emotional side, I was like, ‘Right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’ ”

Prince Harry, who spent 10 years in the British armed forces and served two tours in Afghanistan, said in the interview that his struggles had consumed much of his 20s. (He was 27 in 2012, when tabloids published images of him naked while partying in Las Vegas, which prompted him to apologize for having “let my family down.”)

The prince also praised the virtues of getting professional help.

“Some of the best people or easiest people to speak to is a shrink or whoever — the Americans call them shrinks — someone you have never met before,” he said. “You sit down on the sofa and say: ‘Listen, I don’t actually need your advice. Can you just listen?’ And you just let it all rip.”

Asked about counseling, he said he had done it “more than a couple of times, but it’s great.”

He also said that boxing had helped.

“That really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier,” he said.

He added that staying quiet about emotional suffering in distress was “only ever going to make it worse,” and he urged people in such situations to seek help. “You will be surprised, firstly, how much support you get,” he said.

Prince Harry gave the interview to Bryony Gordon, a British journalist who has written about her own struggles with depression and with obsessive compulsive disorder. The prince was the first guest on the podcast “Mad World,” in which Ms. Gordon interviews a series of people about their mental health.

This year, Prince Harry and Prince William announced that they had commissioned a statue at Kensington Palace of their mother to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death.

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