From the moment his autobiography, Spare, landed on bookshelves around the world, we were given an astonishing insight into the unhappiness Prince Harry felt as a member of the Royal Family.
Two years after the formal announcement by Buckingham Palace in February 2021 that together with his wife Meghan the prince would cease to be a working member of the Royal Family, the publication of Spare set out in searing detail the frustration and resentment of a man who had turned his back on his birthright to pursue a life with more autonomy on the other side of the world.
It left readers in little doubt that his frustrations had been bubbling for years, long before he met Meghan Markle in July 2016.
The Mail’s new Royals section can now reveal that in fact the Prince, 38, had spoken of his feelings of disengagement and frustration some years earlier, not long after meeting the woman who would go on to become the Duchess of Sussex.
A sombre Prince Harry arrives by himself for his father’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey
Prince Harry, pictured with his wife Meghan, his father, brother and sister-in-law on Commonwealth Day in 2020 before quitting the UK, revealed years before Megxit, that he ‘wanted out’ of the Royal Family
Prince Harry, pictured with Meghan in the couple’s Netflix docuseries in December 2022, has taken aim at the Royal Family in a series of TV interviews as well as his biography Spare
In 2017, Prince Harry – then 32 – gave an extraordinarily candid interview in The Mail on Sunday to journalist and author Angela Levin, speaking about his struggles to find a meaningful role
Six years ago, in comments that foreshadowed the seismic events to come, The Mail on Sunday revealed how Harry had confided he ‘wanted out’ of the Royal Family and yearned for an ‘ordinary life’.
During an extraordinarily candid interview with journalist and author Angela Levin, the then 32-year-old Harry spoke about his struggles to find a meaningful role for himself at the heart of what he called the ‘goldfish bowl’ of royal life and admitted he had come close to a breakdown on several occasions.’
Making it clear he was primarily motivated by his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, he added: ‘I spent many years kicking my heels and I didn’t want to grow up. I felt I wanted out, but then decided to stay in and work out a role for myself.’
Poignantly, Harry also revealed his view that the monarchy would have to change once his grandmother passed away – a transformative event that would unfold just over five years after that interview, in September 2022 – as well as his astonishing assertion that ‘no one in the Royal Family wants to be King or Queen’.
‘We want to make sure the monarchy lasts and are passionate about what it stands for,’ he told Ms Levin, who has recently published a biography of Queen Camilla.
‘We feel that the British public and the whole world needs institutions like this, but it can’t go on as it has done under the Queen.
‘There will be changes and pressure to get them right.
‘Things are moving so fast, especially because of social media, so we are involved in modernising the monarchy.’
Perhaps even he could not have foreseen just how quickly things would move. Within four years, Harry and Meghan had not only turned their back on the Royal Family but Britain, too.
The astonishingly prescient interview took place in June 2017, just under a year after he was introduced to Meghan, whom he would marry in 2018 in a ceremony watched by millions across the globe.
Few knew at the time how his relationship with the actress – then best known for her role in the US legal drama Suits – would prove the catalyst for a complete transformation of his role, and a profound rift with both his brother, William, and father, King Charles.
Yet in his 2017 interview he revealed that with his older brother’s encouragement he had finally sought therapy at 28 for the loss of his mother Diana 16 years earlier, when he was just 12.
The image of Harry as a young boy walking solemnly behind his mother’s coffin in the glare of millions is seared on to the public imagination, his grief a thread that has underpinned his life ever since.
It is a grief that he writes of in devastating detail in Spare, but which he also spoke of in touching detail in 2017, confiding that he had bottled it up for many years, seeking solace in partying.
‘William and I were 14 and 12 when our mother 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,’ he said.
‘I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. It certainly wouldn’t happen today.’
The incident was the start of what he describes as years of suppressing his feelings. ‘Instead of dealing with it I buried my head in the sand and let everything around me tear me to pieces,’ he recalled.
At Eton, he said, he just wanted to be a ‘bad boy’, while it was only during his time in the Army, which he joined in January 2006, that he felt something close to fulfilment.
That time was brought to a premature end in 2007, when ten weeks after being deployed with his unit to Afghanistan’s Helmand province, his position was leaked by a magazine, and he had to be hastily withdrawn for security reasons.
‘I felt very resentful,’ he recalled. ‘Being in the Army was the best escape I’ve ever had. I felt as though I was really achieving something.
‘I have a deep understanding of all sorts of people from different backgrounds and felt I was part of a team…. I also wasn’t a prince; I was just Harry.’
Prince Harry said he did not think ‘any child should be asked’ to walk behind their mother’s coffin being watched by millions on TV, and believed ‘it certainly wouldn’t happen today’
Prince Harry was deployed with his unit to Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2007, but after his location was leaked to a magazine he was withdrawn for security reasons
Harry, William and Kate attending the start of the Virgin Money London Marathon in 2017 for the Heads Together mental health campaign
Years of wild partying followed, along with public criticism of a boy who did not appear willing to do anything positive with the privileged life he was born into.
Only by his mid-twenties did he feel ready to try to confront his grief. He said: ‘I needed to fix the mistakes I was making and what was going on with me.’
With professional help, recommended by his brother William, Harry found a way to reinvent himself and carve out a role that won public respect and affection – such as promoting the cause of injured servicemen and women and tackling mental health issues.
‘We are incredibly passionate with our charities and they have been chosen because they are on the path shown to me by our mother,’ he said at the time.
‘I love charity stuff and meeting people… I love to see people excel and succeed. If you give care and consideration to younger people they will flourish.
‘Anyone can do anything if you put your mind to it. You just need passion and belief.’
The prince was also happy to acknowledge his own weaknesses, saying: ‘I can do most things with my hands. My next challenge is to learn to play the guitar. But I get very agitated if I am stuck in front of a computer for long.
‘The passion in me, I can give some of that to other people… well, anyone I am with – but I can sometimes get too impatient.’
This was a thoughtful, reflective prince – one whose fraternal rift had yet to become the seismic one it is today.
He spoke with avuncular affection about his niece and nephew, George and Charlotte – yet to be joined by their younger brother Louis – insisting he bore no resentment that their birth had pushed him further down the line of succession.
‘The reason I am now fifth is because of my nephew and niece, and I could never wish them away,’ he said. ‘They are the most amazing things ever.’
In fact, he added, he believed no one in the family actively wanted to be King or Queen.
‘Is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be King or Queen?’ he pondered. ‘I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.’
Those comments have now taken on an eerie quality in the light of ‘Megxit’ – the decision by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to part ways with royal life and live their days as private citizens in the Californian sunshine.
Yet back in June 2017 the indications were already there that Harry wanted to carve out his own path.
Prince Harry and Meghan in Düsseldorf ahead of the Invictus Games in September 2022. He spoke of wanting to leave the Royal Family even before the couple were married
‘I am determined to have a relatively normal life and if I am lucky enough to have children they can have one too,’ he insisted.
‘We don’t want to be just a bunch of celebrities, but instead use our role for good.’
Any change, he insisted, was for the ‘greater good’ of the monarchy.
‘We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people and the monarchy we represent.
‘There is so much negative in the world – we as a family try to bring something positive.’