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I wanted out of Royal family ‘job’ in my 20s, says Prince Harry – it was like living in a zoo

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I wanted out of Royal family ‘job’ in my 20s, says Prince Harry – it was like living in a zoo

The Duke of Sussex has compared life in the Royal family to a mix between being on The Truman Show and being in a zoo.

He admitted that he realised in his 20s that he did not want the “job” or to be a part of that “operation”, having seen what it did to his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Prince Harry, 36, said it was when he started therapy, following a conversation with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, that “the bubble burst” and helped him “pluck his head out of the sand,” realising he needed to use his position of privilege to help others.

In a wide-ranging, 90-minute interview with American actor Dax Shepard for his Armchair Expert podcast, the Duke described how he was told he needed help as a child, his lack of self-awareness when he was “going wild” in his younger years and how the feeling of helplessness was his “achilles heel”.

He said he had “always felt different” and suggested he felt far more connected with people he had met in Africa and on other continents than those within the confines of the palace.

The Duke, who was promoting his new AppleTV series about mental health, The Me You Cannot See, appeared to criticise the way he had been raised by his father, revealing he had deliberately adopted a different parenting method to “break the cycle” of pain and suffering. 

a man wearing a suit and tie: Prince Harry - Victoria Jones/Getty Images Europe 

Privilege

The Duke acknowledged that he was born into a life of great privilege, which had given him “the most unbelievable front row seat” as he travelled around the world, seeing people who were suffering and developing empathy.

He said: “My education was not at school, my education was about meeting people across the Commonwealth.

“The reality is, you meet these kids and go into these communities all over the world and it just puts it into context and that’s why I feel more comfortable being able to discuss my own struggles now, because I do it to help other people.”

He said he did not consider it “complaining” but sharing his own vulnerabilities and experiences, because in doing so, he knew that it would have a positive impact on someone else’s life.

The Duke said he felt “way more connection” to those “emotionally free people and systemic free people” he had worked with in Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

“The privilege does give you blinkers,” he said. 

“Mine were never particularly on straight. I’ve always felt different.”

He credited his late mother for that feeling, saying the impact she had on him in the short time they had together was “huge” because all she wanted to do was to ensure they had as normal a life as possible.

The Duke suggested that the fairytale dream of princes and princesses was out of step with reality.

“My wife had the most amazing explanation to that: ‘You don't need to be a princess, you can create the life that will be better than any princess.’

“And that’s coming from her own lived experience. We got together and she was like 'wow, this is very different to what my friends at the beginning said it would be’.”

a man wearing a costume: Prince Harry parties in Vegas, Nevada, in 2012 - Splash

The ‘wild’ younger years

The Duke was asked about his infamous days in Las Vegas, when he was photographed cavorting naked with friends, noting that it was just weeks before he was deployed to Afghanistan.

“I certainly did not have the awareness when I was going wild,” he said. “In the moment, I did not think, ‘why am I doing this?’”

He said that without awareness you were simply “cruising around with your fingers in your ears going lalalala”.

But he said he had been there himself, when burnout happened and he realised it was not sustainable.

“To me it’s always so fascinating to hear about someone’s struggles and then being able to trace it back to not what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you?”

Describing how his mental health struggles were dealt with when he was a child, the Duke said: “(I was told) ‘You need help’.”

“As a case of, not weakness but 'I don't know how to deal with this. You're unhinged, you're not very well, go and seek help’.”

The Duke admitted that such attitudes had caused him to “object and run away”, adding: “Everyone of us will try to find some way to mask the actual feeling and try to feel different than how we actually feel.”

He said as a child he had “rejected” the feelings, saying he had pretended he felt “fine”.

His 20s

The Duke said that he had been forced to just get on with the job in his 20s, to “grin and bear it”.

But he admitted: “I was in the space of, ‘I don't want this job, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be doing this.’

“Look what it did to my mum. How am I ever going to settle down, have a wife and a family, when I know it’s going to happen again.

“I've seen behind the curtain, I’ve seen the business model, I know how this operation runs and how it works. I don’t want to be part of this.”

Mr Shepard suggested the Duke had been “cast into a movie without being asked” to which he replied: “It’s a mix of being in the Truman Show and being in the zoo.”

He said the biggest issue for him was that he had “inherited” all of the risk without having any choice in the matter, while the media felt “ownership” of him.

Meghan Markle and a boy sitting on a table: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex hold their baby son Archie in 2019 - Henk Kruger/AFP

Parenting

Asked if he was consciously trying to “parent” his son, Archie, in a different way to his own upbringing, he said: “Yeah... Isn’t life about breaking the cycle? There’s no blame. But certainly when it comes to parenting, if I have experienced some kind of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father, or my parents had suffered, I’m going to make sure I break that cycle so I don’t pass it on.

“As parents we should be doing the most we can to say, you know what, that happened to me, I’m going to make sure it won’t happen to you.”

The Duke appeared to be speaking about his father, the Prince of Wales, when he said it all came down to awareness.

“Suddenly I started to piece it all together, and go: OK so this is where he went to school, this is what happened, I know this bit about his life, I also know that’s connected to his parents. So that means he’s treating me to the way that he was treated which means… how can I change that for my own kids?

“And now here I am. I have moved my whole family to the US. That wasn’t the plan! But sometimes you have to make decisions and put mental health first.”

Therapy

The Duke said the moment that led to therapy was a conversation he had with his now wife, Meghan, who “saw it straight away”.

He explained: “She could tell that I was hurting and that some of the stuff that was out of my control would make me really angry, it would make my blood boil.”

He revealed that his favoured way of letting out aggression had always been through boxing but that before meeting the Duchess, he felt real anger that life was “unjust”.

Prince Harry said that “helplessness” was his achilles heel, going on to describe three major times in his life when it had felt utterly helpless.

The first, he said, was when he was in the back of a car with his mother being chased by paparazzi, the second was when flying an Apache helicopter in Afghanistan and the third, was with his wife.

“Feeling helpless hurts,” he said. “It really hurts.”

a person talking on a cell phone: The Duke of Sussex and the Duchess of Sussex leave the Youth Employment Services Hub in Tembisa township, Johannesburg, 2021 - Michele Spatari/AFP

Those moments made him realise that despite his privilege, platform and influence, he was unable to do anything about them, which in turn led to self-criticism.

It was therapy, the Duke said, that meant that “suddenly, the bubble burst” and he realised he was in a position of privilege, should stop complaining that he wanted something different and instead, make a change.

“You can’t get out, so how are you going to do this differently? How are you going to make your mum proud? How are you going to use this platform to really affect change and give people that confidence to change their own lives?”

The Duke said that looking back, he had little, if any, self awareness but has since realised that helping others had helped him.

Describing the incredible impact the Invictus Games had on wounded servicemen and women, he added: “I realised ‘wow, healing other people, heals me.’

“When you have suffered, you don’t want others to suffer. If helping other people helps you get the fix that you need, then happy days.”

The Duke said that everyone dealt with trauma in different ways and that it was critical to understand how to release it.

“You may think that mentally, ‘I’m fine’ but your body is holding on to that,” he said.

Prince Harry revealed that for the last five years, in therapy, he had been saying that he did not want to lose a feeling that made him feel so connected to his mother.

“Little did I know, it’s adrenaline,” he said.

The future

“The good thing is the course is being altered now,” he said.

“The best thing is to be aware enough to go, 'I reject this, I’m going to push this out of my life, I’m not going to share it with anybody else.'

“Why would I share something I hate with somebody else? I’m going to share the good stuff.”

The Duke laughed at himself getting “a little bit deep” as he added: “Then, compassion, love and empathy become the driving force, rather than hate.”

a man sitting in a tree: Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, released this photo to announce they are expecting another child - Misan Harriman/Twitter

He said that both he and the Duchess had noticed an improvement in their mental health since relocating.

“Living here now I can actually lift my head,” he said. “And actually I feel different, my shoulders have dropped, so have hers, you can walk around feeling a little bit more free.

“I can take Archie on the back of my bicycle. I never had the chance to do that.”

Privacy

The Duke likened life in Los Angeles, where he and the Duchess lived together before buying their home in Montecito, to “a feeding frenzy” of paparazzi which he said was “really, really sad”.

He accused the media of trying to redefine what privacy meant, for its own ends.

The Duke also said there was “so much he wanted to say” about the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, religion and the press, which he did not yet fully describe but which he said was “bonkers”.

Recalling the lengths he and the Duchess went to when she first traveled to London in the early days of their relationship, he laughed as he said they had met up in a supermarket and pretended not to know each other as they shopped.

“I texted her saying 'is this the right one', and she said 'no you want parchment paper', and 'I'm like where's the parchment paper?!’”

Reference: The Telegraph: Victoria Ward 

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