‘I keep hug­ging you and it’s not cool…’

Harry: ‘It’s fine. We can have a hug af­ter­wards’

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - News -

Bry­ony Gor­don re­calls the frank con­ver­sa­tion in which Prince Harry opened up about men­tal health and the im­pact of loss in his life

Be­fore he could open up to the idea of mar­riage, Prince Harry had a long jour­ney to take from be­reave­ment through de­nial to self-aware­ness. The

Tele­graph’s Bry­ony Gor­don se­cured the scoop of the year last April when he chose to tell her the truth about him­self for the first time in pub­lic. Here she re­calls the drama be­hind the head­lines. Pho­to­graphs by Andrew Crow­ley

It never oc­curred to me that Prince Harry might be more ner­vous than I was about our in­ter­view. Like a small child who doesn’t un­der­stand that the spi­der is just as scared of them as they are of it, I sim­ply hadn’t en­ter­tained the no­tion that the fifth (now sixth) in line to the throne might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some pre-in­ter­view jit­ters too.

In many ways, I was the lucky one. I had the Lon­don Marathon train­ing to take my mind off the fact that I was about to do the big­gest in­ter­view of my career, and that had stopped me from think­ing too much about all the ways I could balls it up. I could do this.

I had sug­gested we do the in­ter­view as a pod­cast, the idea be­ing that this would make the Prince feel more re­laxed than the prospect of a print in­ter­view in which his words could ac­ci­den­tally be taken out of con­text. I loved the easy in­ti­macy of pod­casts, the fact that some­one’s voice could be there with you in your ear as you trav­elled to work on the Tube. Once we had the green light, I set about se­cur­ing more peo­ple for the se­ries. So far I had booked a nurse who had a break­down, a 14-year-old boy with OCD, and the writer Matt Haig, who wrote about his de­pres­sion so bril­liantly in Rea­sons To Stay Alive. I wanted to run the gamut from A to Z, from prince to, if not pau­per, then nor­mal per­son on the street. I wanted this pod­cast to show that all of hu­man life was af­fected by men­tal ill­ness, that it didn’t mat­ter who you were or what you did – it had the power to hit all of us at some point. And how bet­ter to do that than with a medium such as the pod­cast, where any­one could lis­ten any­where, safe in the knowl­edge that not a sin­gle per­son could judge them.

And so Mad World was born and Prince Harry was to be the first guest. On the morn­ing of Wed­nes­day, 22 March 2017, I wake up and se­lect a beau­ti­ful sum­mer dress I haven’t fit­ted into since be­fore I started train­ing. It has tiny flow­ers printed on it, and seems just the right side of re­gal – the kind of thing ‘one’ might wear to Royal As­cot if one was fond of talk­ing about one­self in the third per­son. I’m go­ing to in­ter­view Prince Harry!

Shortly af­ter lunch, I head to Kens­ing­ton Palace in my fin­ery with four other Tele­graph col­leagues – two pro­duc­ers, a pho­tog­ra­pher and a sound recordist. We are es­corted from se­cu­rity through to the palace proper, where we are taken into a smart liv­ing room dec­o­rated with old paint­ings. There are two huge so­fas and an enor­mous cof­fee ta­ble sits in be­tween the so­fas, cov­ered in cof­fee-ta­ble books. It’s then that I twig that this is prob­a­bly not Prince Harry’s ac­tual liv­ing room – no­body who lives in a liv­ing room ac­tu­ally has a cof­fee ta­ble cov­ered in cof­fee-ta­ble books, in my ex­pe­ri­ence; usu­ally they are cov­ered in half-drunk cups of tea and old take­away leaflets. Or is that just me?

‘Erm, earth to Bry­ony?’ says the pho­tog­ra­pher. ‘That’s a lovely dress you are wear­ing. But I can see your black bra through it. Do you want me to try to Pho­to­shop that out in the pic­tures?’

Be­fore I have a chance to an­swer, Prince Harry walks into the room. His Royal High­ness is wear­ing jeans and a grey cash­mere jumper. He looks a lit­tle star­tled when he sees the amount of peo­ple in the room, but com­poses him­self as he heads over for a hug. A hug! With Prince Harry! We ex­change pleas­antries. My col­leagues smile like goons. Dis­creetly, Prince Harry asks if he could speak to me and Ja­son, his com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, alone. Ja­son ush­ers ev­ery­one out of the room.

‘So I don’t mean to sound tricky,’ he smiles, ‘but I was won­der­ing if it could just be us in the room while I do the in­ter­view? It’s just I’m a bit ner­vous about what I am go­ing to say, and the less peo­ple there are the eas­ier it will be.’

‘Of course!’ I say, re­lief sweep­ing over me. I pat his arm in what I hope is a re­as­sur­ing man­ner. He sud­denly looks a lot cheerier. And then it oc­curs to me: I am calm­ing Prince Harry down. What on earth is he about to say?

What fol­lows is an ex­tract from our in­ter­view.

HRH: Yes you do! [laughs]

BG: I have so many ques­tions. It is re­ally, re­ally nor­mal to feel weird. In fact, it is prob­a­bly weirder to al­ways feel nor­mal. I mean, do you have any ex­pe­ri­ence with men­tal health is­sues?

HRH: Yeah. For me specif­i­cally, if you look back to the fact that I lost my mum at the age of 12, on a pub­lic plat­form, which it was, and then there’s every­thing else that hap­pens with be­ing in the spot­light and this sort of role and the pres­sures that come with it, and then go­ing to Afghanista­n and then work­ing in the per­son­nel re­cov­ery unit with other sol­diers as well and tak­ing on a lot of their is­sues… Any­one would look at that and go, ‘OK, there must be some­thing wrong with you, you can’t be to­tally nor­mal, there must be some­thing wrong.’ And I sort of buried my head in the sand for many, many years.

Some peo­ple have writ­ten about it and sug­gested there might be some­thing wrong with me, that it might be Afghanista­n-re­lated. I can safely say it’s not Afghanista­n-re­lated – I’m not one of those guys that has seen my best mate blown up next to me and had to ap­ply a tourni­quet to both his legs. Luck­ily, thank God, I wasn’t one of those peo­ple. But 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. And it was only three years ago [that it came up], fun­nily enough from the sup­port around, and my brother say­ing, ‘Look, you re­ally need to deal with this. It is not nor­mal to think that noth­ing has af­fected you.’

BG: Is that your way of deal­ing with it?

HRH: My way of deal­ing with it was, yeah… stick­ing my head in the sand and re­fus­ing to ever think about my mum be­cause why would that help? It’s only go­ing to make you sad, it’s not go­ing to bring her back. So I was like, right, don’t ever let your emo­tions be part of any­thing. I was a typ­i­cal 20-, 25-, 28-year-old run­ning around go­ing, ‘Life is great, life is fine,’ and then I started to have a few con­ver­sa­tions and ac­tu­ally all of a sud­den all this grief that I had never pro­cessed started to come to the fore­front. And I re­alised there was ac­tu­ally a lot of stuff that I needed to deal with. And that com­bined with be­ing stuck in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions… that fight or flight [feel­ing]. Be­ing in sit­u­a­tions when you’re at an en­gage­ment and not be­ing able to do the flight bit, your body ends up kick­ing into the fight.

It was only two years, so I can count my­self lucky, but it was 20 years of not think­ing about it and then two years of to­tal chaos. I just couldn’t put my fin­ger on it, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I thought it was part of grow­ing up or what­ever. And then once you start talk­ing about it to your mates, those mates were com­ing back to me, start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, and in that con­ver­sa­tion they would slowly start to un­ravel their own is­sues be­cause they knew they could; they knew that I could re­late to it. And there is noth­ing bet­ter than be­ing able to share your ex­pe­ri­ences and ask for ad­vice from some­one who’s ac­tu­ally been through it. Rather than a com­plete stranger or some­one that doesn’t get it.

BG: I find when talk­ing about men­tal health it’s not en­tirely al­tru­is­tic. There’s also an el­e­ment of hear­ing other peo­ple tell their sto­ries that makes me re­alise that it’s com­pletely nor­mal to feel this way.

HRH: Yeah, to­tally nor­mal. And as I touched on ear­lier, with the per­son­nel re­cov­ery unit with the army, I was go­ing there as a vol­un­teer to show my sup­port and hear all the sto­ries from these in­di­vid­u­als. There was one day when I sat down with three peo­ple. One girl who had tried to com­mit sui­cide and told me why and how. An­other guy was suf­fer­ing so badly from posttrau­matic stress dis­or­der that he was shak­ing and blink­ing and un­able to ac­tu­ally make con­ver­sa­tion with me. And an­other guy had tin­ni­tus from a prac­tice grenade be­ing thrown into a tun­nel when he was on ex­er­cise in Canada and that tin­ni­tus means that he can’t… he has to go to bed with his mis­sus with the speaker on play­ing rain and thun­der­storms be­cause oth­er­wise it’s just ring­ing in his ears all night. And then in the after­noon I was at a Wellchild event, meet­ing ter­mi­nally sick chil­dren and speak­ing to their par­ents. And I’m like, ‘Aargh…’

So you just park your own is­sues be­cause of what you are con­fronted with, and all you want to do is help and lis­ten, but then you walk away go­ing, ‘Hang on a sec­ond, how the hell am I sup­posed to process this? I’ve lit­er­ally just taken on ev­ery­body else’s…’

BG: You have got to deal with your own stuff.

‘Los­ing my mum at the age of 12 and shut­ting down all of my emo­tions has had quite a se­ri­ous effect’

HRH: You do, I think. I have spo­ken to a cou­ple of psy­chol­o­gists and I asked, ‘You guys, what is the rule?’ Be­cause we are not cut out to take on ev­ery­body else’s emo­tions. But I got to a point at the age of 28 when I re­ally started to care, I was re­ally un­easy, I was try­ing to find a path in life and by the age of 30 I was like, wow, this is a much bet­ter way of life.

Deal­ing with all the grief, be­ing able to have that con­ver­sa­tion, shar­ing other peo­ple’s grief and know­ing what they are go­ing through. It’s OK, now I can ac­tu­ally have those con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple, and hope­fully they can un­der­stand that I’ve got a lit­tle bit of ex­pe­ri­ence to be able to share with them. You can then have that ban­ter with them, you can make it light­hearted when nec­es­sary, but also you can be that per­son, hold­ing their hand and be­ing a com­fort for them when they cry. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing process for me that I’ve been through, not just per­son­ally, but all of the peo­ple that I get to meet.

I’m so for­tu­nate to get to meet these peo­ple who have lit­er­ally turned their lives around and it’s all part of a con­ver­sa­tion of be­ing able to talk to a brother, a sis­ter, a par­ent, a col­league or a com­plete stranger. As I’m sure you know, some of the best, or the eas­i­est peo­ple to speak to is a shrink or who­ever. Some­one you’ve never met be­fore, you sit down with and say, lis­ten I don’t ac­tu­ally need your ad­vice, can you just lis­ten. And you just let it all rip. I’ve done that a cou­ple of times. More than a cou­ple of times ac­tu­ally.

BG: I think ev­ery­one should be made to do it on the NHS just for their well­be­ing.

HRH: Wouldn’t it be great? Ev­ery­one has a stress­ful Mon­day to Fri­day so wouldn’t it be great if ev­ery­one has some­one to speak to where you can off­load all of your week’s grief. Are we al­lowed to swear on this or not?

BG: Yeah, you can swear.

HRH: OK. All of the day-to-day shit that ev­ery­one has to put up with be­cause that’s, you know, the hon­est truth. If you can just dump that on a Fri­day, how much bet­ter would our week­ends be? Be­cause I can safely say that once I off­load my stuff to some­body else, I feel so much bet­ter. And the thing about keep­ing it quiet is that it’s only go­ing to make it worse not just for you but also for ev­ery­body else around you as well, be­cause you be­come a prob­lem, and through a lot of my 20s I was a prob­lem.

BG: Re­ally?

HRH: I didn’t know how to deal with it. I prob­a­bly dealt with it in the same way as you. I don’t know.

BG: I drank a lot. When I was ill I didn’t even know I was ill. I would just kind of bury it. It was that thing of try­ing to numb out all of the pain. And it works in the mo­ment, but a day later it’s 10 times worse.

HRH: Yeah, I know ex­actly what you mean. And my brother, you know, bless him, was a huge sup­port to me. He kept say­ing, ‘This is not right. You need to talk about stuff, it’s OK.’ But the tim­ing wasn’t right. BG: You need to feel it in your­self, right?

HRH: You need to feel it in your­self, you need to find the right per­son to talk to as well and that’s been one of my big­gest frus­tra­tions over the past few years – how hard it is to find the right per­son, the right rem­edy, be­cause there’s so much stuff out there. But I can’t en­cour­age peo­ple enough to just have the con­ver­sa­tion. Be­cause you will be sur­prised firstly how much sup­port you get and sec­ondly how many peo­ple lit­er­ally are long­ing for you to come out. You’ve got so much more in com­mon with some peo­ple than you orig­i­nally thought.

BG: Do you know how amaz­ing it is what you have just said? And hon­estly I’m not just blow­ing smoke up your arse. I re­mem­ber when I came to the launch of Heads To­gether last May. I wasn’t feel­ing very well at the time and I re­mem­ber see­ing the kids from [chil­dren’s men­tal health char­ity] Place2be. And they knew every­thing about de­pres­sion and I thought, ‘God, here are three of the most high-pro­file peo­ple in the whole world talk­ing about men­tal health,’ and I just want to say that was amaz­ing. Be­cause if when I was 12 a sim­i­lar thing had hap­pened, I won­der how dif­fer­ent my life might have been. I re­ally just want to thank you for that…

HRH: You know what? No one needs to thank us for that be­cause it is a con­ver­sa­tion that was bound to hap­pen any­way. The three of us de­cided to come to­gether be­cause it is some­thing that we re­ally be­lieve in.

And one of the best things – what my mother be­lieved in – is the fact that if you are in a position of priv­i­lege and re­spon­si­bil­ity and if you can put your name to some­thing that you gen­uinely be­lieve in and other peo­ple be­lieve in and if you get sup­port and en­cour­age­ment, then you can smash any stigma you want and you can en­cour­age any­body to do any­thing. And I think and I hope that’s what Heads To­gether is proving.

This is not about us; this is about ev­ery sin­gle per­son out there who is suf­fer­ing from daily stress, post-trau­matic stress, anx­i­ety, al­co­holism, de­pres­sion, what­ever it may be. We are do­ing it for them.

BG: So you feel in a good place now?

HRH: Yeah, I do feel in a good place. It’s weird be­cause yes, I’m a prince, I have a house and the se­cu­rity that I need. I have a car, I have a job that I ab­so­lutely love. Pre­vi­ous to that I had a sec­ond job that I ab­so­lutely loved as well that ob­vi­ously came to an end for nu­mer­ous rea­sons – but be­cause of the process I have been through over the past two and a half years, I’ve now been able to take my work se­ri­ously, and my pri­vate life se­ri­ously as well and be able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that re­ally make a dif­fer­ence and the things that I think will make a dif­fer­ence to ev­ery­body else.

For me, the priv­i­lege comes with a huge amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity. If you can com­bine the two and try to make a dif­fer­ence and just be as gen­uine as pos­si­ble and hope that ev­ery­body else sees that, then you get that tidal wave of sup­port and then you can make a dif­fer­ence. Be­cause you know what would re­ally suck? Be­ing in a position where you should be able to make a dif­fer­ence but peo­ple aren’t lis­ten­ing to you.

BG: So do you think you will have chil­dren now you are in that good place?

HRH: Yeah, I’m a god­fa­ther to quite a few of

‘Keep­ing it quiet is only go­ing to make things worse, not just for you but for ev­ery­one else around you’

my friends’ kids, ac­tu­ally five or six.

BG: Are you a re­ally awe­some god­fa­ther?

HRH: I’d like to think so. The key to that is to grow up but also be in touch with your…

BG: Your child­ish side.

HRH: Yeah, your child­ish side. If that means go­ing to some­one’s house and sit­ting down and play­ing Playsta­tion and kick­ing the ass of their son on Counter-strike or Halo or what­ever it is then I will try and do that – though I’m ac­tu­ally so out of prac­tice with that. But of course I would love to have kids.

You haven’t even looked at your sheet [of ques­tions]!

BG: Be­cause it’s just flown by, Harry.

How do you stay sane? What are the lit­tle things, the lit­tle tricks that you do? Do you ex­er­cise? Do you se­cretly Mor­ris dance?

HRH: I don’t Mor­ris dance. And in an­swer to your ques­tion, I have no idea how I or any of us stay sane. There is day-to-day pres­sure on all of us, and there’s day-to-day pres­sure on ev­ery sin­gle per­son, I get that, but I can gen­uinely say that I don’t know how I stay sane. I don’t have any secrets, though I have prob­a­bly been very close to a com­plete break­down on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions when all sorts of grief and lies and mis­con­cep­tions are com­ing at you from ev­ery an­gle. But, you know, it comes with the role and one of the hard­est things is not be­ing able to have that voice or be­ing able to stand up for your­self, you have to just let it wash over you. I hope that we as a fam­ily or we as an in­sti­tu­tion are able to try and re­mind peo­ple about cer­tain core val­ues and stan­dards, and the fact you can put up with a huge amount of grief. You shouldn’t have to but you can.

And some peo­ple have tech­niques, and per­son­ally I go run­ning or do a bit of box­ing. Dur­ing those two years I took up box­ing be­cause ev­ery­one was say­ing box­ing is good for you and it’s a re­ally good way of let­ting out ag­gres­sion. And that re­ally saved me be­cause I was on the verge of punch­ing some­one, so be­ing able to punch some­one who had pads on was cer­tainly eas­ier.

But ex­er­cise is re­ally the key. It doesn’t mat­ter who you are. I know that with Lent peo­ple are al­ways en­cour­aged to give up things. I al­ways think, why don’t you take up some­thing in­stead? Whether it is go­ing for a walk in­stead of tak­ing the Tube, that kind of stuff – I think that makes a huge dif­fer­ence. And run­ning the marathon . . . What is it? Twenty-six miles?

BG: It’s 26.2 miles. It’s the point two that’s the most sig­nif­i­cant.

HRH: Isn’t the point two down the Mall in front of Buck­ing­ham Palace?

BG: I… will… Yeah, I will be crawl­ing by that point.

HRH: No you won’t, you are go­ing to nail it and prob­a­bly in un­der four hours as well. Guys, did you hear that? Un­der four hours for Bry­ony!

BG: Harry, thank you so much.

HRH: No, thank you for the chat.

BG: That’s been amaz­ing. I feel like, I just… I want to clutch you to my bo­som but I keep hug­ging you and it’s not cool.

HRH: It’s fine. We can have a hug af­ter­wards.

‘I was on the verge of punch­ing some­one, so be­ing able to punch some­one who had pads on was eas­ier’

Left Princes Wil­liam and Harry at Thorpe Park with their late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales in 1993. Right Prince Harry shows his sup­port for com­peti­tors run­ning the Lon­don Marathon for Heads To­gether in 2017

Above Mi­cro­phones on, Bry­ony and Prince Harry record their pod­cast at Kens­ing­ton Palace in 2017

Left Bry­ony re­ceives a hug from Prince Harry be­fore the Lon­don Marathon in 2017. Right Chat­ting to the Duchess of Cam­bridge at the first Royal Foun­da­tion Fo­rum in Fe­bru­ary

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