In the years following Princess Diana’s fatal car crash on August 31, 1997, her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, remained notably silent about her tragic death, refusing to make any sort of official statement about their grief. But in recent years, the boys have started to open up about their mother to the press. And as we approach the twentieth anniversary of her funeral, they are finally taking the time to publicly reflect on Diana, and how they plan to continue her legacy.
At the end of July, Diana's sons used the HBO documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, as a platform to open up about what it was like to lose her at such a young age.
For the young princes—William, then age 15, and Harry, then age 12—their last interaction with their mother came in the form of a phone conversation—something that had become a nightly occurrence after Diana's split with Prince Charles.
"I can’t really, necessarily, remember what I said," Harry said in Diana, Our Mother. "But all I do remember is probably, you know, regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was. And if I’d known that was the last time I was going to speak to my mother—the things I would have said to her."
When news of Diana's death reached her family, William and Harry were devastated. "There’s nothing like it in the world," William said. "There really isn’t. It’s like an earthquake has just run through the house and through your life and everything. Your mind is completely split. And it took me a while for it to actually sink in."
Just a few days later, on September 6, an estimated 2.5 billion people around the world watched Diana’s funeral, as a young William and Harry stoically walked behind her cortège.
In an interview with Newsweek, Harry explained how difficult it was for him to handle the news of his mother's death. "My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television," said Harry, now 32. "I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today."
Immediately following Diana's death, the royal family made attempts to engage the young princes in conversation about their mother's passing. "The family came together and Harry and I tried to talk as best we could about it," William said in the newly-released documentary. "But being so small at that age, it was very difficult to communicate or understand your feelings. It’s... it’s very complicated."
For young Prince Harry, tears over his mother's passing were put on hold in favor of shock. At only 12 years old, he couldn't understand how his mother—who took him to soccer games and snuck him out every now and then for a burger or a movie—could mean so much to so many people he'd never even met.
“It was very, very strange after her death, you know, the sort of outpouring of love and emotion from so many people that had never even met her," Harry said in Diana, Our Mother. "... And I was thinking to myself, how is it that so many people that never even met this woman, my mother, can be crying and showing more emotion than I actually am feeling?”
Diana was buried on a small island in the middle of the Oval Lake at the Althorp Estate, her family home. “The first time I cried was at the funeral on the island…and only since then, maybe once," Harry said in the documentary. "So, you know, there’s a lot of grief that still needs to be let out.”
Despite their sadness, the boys had to maintain a positive public image and did their best to stay strong in the face of a world that was watching them so closely. "Slowly, you try and rebuild your life, and you try and understand what’s happened, and I kept saying to myself that, you know, my mother would not want me to be upset," William explained in the documentary. "She’d not want me to be down. She’d not want me to be like this. I kept myself busy as well—which is good and bad sometimes—but allows you to kind of get through that initial shock phase.”
Though personal memories of their mother have faded over time, part of Diana, Our Mother centered around William and Harry looking through old photo albums, assembled by Diana herself.
“One of the [side effects] of grief and bereavement is that memories kind of get suppressed or obliterated, so I don’t think they knew,” director of Diana, Our Mother Ashley Gething told Vanity Fair. “And, we certainly didn’t know until we began the interview that they would be so candid. But quite quickly, when we began the interview, you could almost begin to see the memories surface.”
Specifically, one image of Diana and Harry caught the filmmakers' attention.
“There is one photograph of Diana hugging Harry, and I think it tells you everything about their relationship,” they said.
"She would just engulf you and squeeze you as tight as possible,” Harry recalls in the documentary. “Even talking about it now, I can feel the hugs that she used to give us and, you know, I miss that. I miss that feeling. I miss that part of a family. I miss having that mother... to be able to give you those hugs and give you that compassion that I think everybody needs.”
Over the years, the loss of their mother has taken an immense toll on William and Harry. “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of twelve, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last twenty years, had had a quite serious effect not only on my personal life, but also my work as well,” Harry said in an interview with Bryony Gordon in The Telegraph.
"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 at you from every angle."
Such a close, personal relationship with the issue of mental health inspired Prince Harry, Prince William, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, to form their own joint charity called Heads Together. The charity focuses on raising awareness of mental health issues and seeking treatment for the homeless, military veterans, and young people. The creation of this organization is a charitable step forward for both princes in demonstrating the empathy they inherited from their mother.
Prince William has also revealed that he does his best to keep Diana’s memory alive for his two children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte—whose middle name is Diana. “We’ve got more photos around the house now of her and we talk about her a bit and stuff," William said near the end of the documentary. "... I do regularly, putting George or Charlotte to bed, talk about her and just try and remind them that there are two grandmothers—there were two grandmothers—in their lives. And so, it’s important that they knew who she was and that she existed.”
William hopes that in sharing his mother's memory with his children, he can carry on some of what Diana taught him. “Time spent with her, the feeling of having her around, and being loved as a family—or as a son—I think those are the most precious and special memories to me," William admits.
With their personal accounts of their mother officially on record, Prince William has made it clear that this is the last time he will be sharing such intimate memories of his mother with the public.
“I think she would be proud of everything Harry and I have come through, having lost her," William said. "And that gives me positivity and strength to know that I can face anything the world can throw at me.”
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.