All eyes were on Prince William and Prince Harry in the aftermath of their mother’s death. Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales, tragically died in a car accident in August of 1997, leaving behind her two sons, ages 15 and 12. Diana spent much of her public life with her boys, making it clear to the world how much she loved them. She really broke the rules of what a royal parent could do — she took William and Harry to theme parks, traveled closely with them, and did everything she could to make their lives as normal as possible.
The bond that Diana had with her sons made her death that much more tragic, for not only did the young princes have to grieve for their mother, but they watched as the world grieved with them. As the boys didn’t talk publicly about the matter, many people had to imagine just how impactful (and damaging) their experience was. With time, both William and Harry began to open up about Diana, and both revealed — in their own way — how her death altered their lives.
So prepare yourselves for a heavier read, because Prince William and Prince Harry were never the same after Diana’s death.
Prince William's relationship with his grandmother changed after Diana's death
A lot of kids are close with their grandparents, but what if your grandmother is the Queen of England? It doesn’t exactly seem like the normal protocols of life apply, and that was certainly the case for Prince William in the aftermath of his mother’s death.
The young prince was in close proximity to Queen Elizabeth growing up, but William revealed that his relationship with his grandmother changed after Diana’s death. “Having lost my mother at a young age, it’s been particularly important to me that I’ve had somebody like the queen to look up to and who’s been there and who has understood some of the more complex issues when you lose a loved one,” he said in a documentary about the Queen turning 90, noted by PopSugar. “She’s been incredibly supportive and I’ve really appreciated her guidance.”
Of course, William has been training to become king under his grandmother’s watchful eye since he was a teenager, leading to a “special closeness” between them. Robert Lacey, a historian and author of “Battle of Brothers,” told People that the Queen guided William through his royal education, which, if you ask us, sounds like a lot of pressure.
Prince William said he felt "numb" after Diana's death
Losing a parent — and in such a public, emotional way — is an experience that no child should ever have to go through. Both Prince William and Prince Harry put on brave faces when they were in the public eye after their mother died, but William revealed that when he learned about Diana’s death, he was numb. “I remember just feeling completely numb, disorientated, dizzy,” William said, as noted by ABC News. “You feel very, very confused. And you keep asking yourself, ‘Why me?’ All the time, ‘Why? What have I done? Why? Why has this happened to us?'”
Of course, the world watched as William and his younger brother walked behind their mother’s casket. Thousands of people — most likely some of whom had crowded the same streets for Diana’s wedding — watched as her two young sons followed her body. How did William feel about the experience? Not great. “It wasn’t an easy decision, and it was sort of a collective family decision to do that. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done,” he said, explaining that there was an “element of duty and responsibility.”
William and Harry felt this way about the outpouring of public support after Diana's death
What made Diana Spencer’s death feel even more drastic was the outpouring of grief from the British public and, really, the entire world. Flowers, cards, and tributes were left just about everywhere as people grieved, dedicated, and moved throughout their tributes in disbelief that she had actually died.
But how did the young princes, William and Harry, feel about the outpouring of public grief and support? Maybe not what you think. “I was very touched by it, but none of it sank in,” William said, as noted by ABC News. “All I cared about was, I’d lost my mother, and I didn’t want to be where I was.” Harry echoed the sentiment, saying that in hindsight, reading cards and looking at the tributes left for his mother was “the last thing [he] wanted to do.” “Yes, it was amazing. It was incredibly moving to know, but at that point, I wasn’t there. I was still in shock,” he said.
William explained that going out into the public in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death required him to put his “game face” on so he didn’t “utterly break down.”
Prince William and Prince Harry were impacted by the public's reaction to Diana's death
The immediate aftermath of Diana Spencer’s death was nothing less than chaotic, and the gravity of the tragedy was something that Queen Elizabeth keyed into fairly quickly. Prince William and Prince Harry revealed in a documentary for the BBC that their grandmother did everything she could to protect them from the exacerbating media coverage of their mother’s death, so much so that she got rid of news reports that were in reach of her two grandsons.
William and Harry, in the days after Diana’s death, stayed with the Queen at the Balmoral estate — they were primarily kept away from the public so that they could grieve. “At the time, you know, my grandmother wanted to protect her two grandsons, and my father as well. Our grandmother deliberately removed the newspapers, and things like that, so there was nothing in the house at all. So we didn’t know what was going on,” William said, as noted by The Guardian.
That didn’t stop the public from leaving heaps of flowers at Kensington and Buckingham Palace — William and Harry couldn’t be kept from the public grief forever.
Prince Harry saw how difficult it was for his father, Prince Charles, to process Diana's death
Even if you don’t know much about the royal family, you more than likely know that Prince Charles and Diana Spencer had a pretty ugly divorce. Both Diana and Charles had accused the other of extramarital affairs. However, despite their bitter split, Charles still processed some serious emotions when Diana died, something that Prince Harry clued in on. “One of the hardest things for a parent to have to do is to tell your children that your other parent has died,” Harry said, as noted by ABC News. “How you deal with that? I don’t know. But you know, he was there for us. He was the one out of two left, and he tried to do his best and to make sure that we were protected and looked after.”
Harry said that while Charles was experiencing “the same grieving” as he was, he did everything he could to support his kids. Talk about life-altering.
Princes Harry and William's relationship with Prince Philip reportedly changed after Diana died
Showing emotion isn’t always the natural way of approaching situations for the British royal family, but in the aftermath of Diana Spencer’s death, the relationship that Prince Harry and Prince William had with their grandfather, Prince Philip, changed. As noted by Express, Philip reportedly made a “pledge” to his grandsons, telling them “I’ll walk if you walk,” in reference to their mother’s funeral. It was a gesture that was particularly telling, and Philip reportedly continued to advocate for the young princes after Diana’s death.
Anji Hunter, the United Kingdom’s former government relations director, revealed that during a conference after the Princess of Wales had died, Philip really stepped up. “We were all talking about how William and Harry should be involved and suddenly came Prince Philip’s voice,” he said. “We hadn’t heard from him before, but he was really anguished. ‘It’s about the boys,’ he cried, ‘They’ve lost their mother.'” It was a relationship that clearly stood the testament of time, because both William and Harry walked behind Philip’s casket at his funeral in April of 2021.
Kate Middleton reportedly "saved" Prince William, who was still dealing with Diana's death
Spouses and partners can have a huge impact on each other — particularly when it comes to matters of the heart — and from what we can tell, Kate Middleton entered Prince William’s life at just the right time. As noted by Woman & Home, some people close to the royals — including royal biographer Angela Levin — have claimed that Kate “saved” William, that although she had to endure a “steep learning curve” when she became a member of the royal family, she helped him through very difficult emotions.
It became evident that Diana Spencer’s legacy had impacted William’s relationship with Kate when the couple announced their engagement. As noted by Hello, William presented Kate with his mother’s iconic sapphire and diamond engagement ring, a beautiful tribute to the woman who couldn’t be there with them to celebrate. “It was such a poignant sight to see [the ring] gleaming on her wedding finger,” Hello’s editor-in-chief, Rosie Nixon, said. What a special moment for the couple.
Prince William dealt with resurfaced emotions regarding Diana when he had children of his own
Time can heal emotional wounds, but there are different instances in life that can make emotions bubble back up to the surface. For Prince William, his life was drastically changed when he welcomed children with Kate Middleton — who is working hard to protect their children – but he revealed that the experience was really difficult in regards to his late mother, Diana Spencer.
As noted by Today, William spoke in a BBC documentary about mental health and revealed that having his own kids brought back emotional experiences linked to his mom, especially to his experiences of losing her at such a young age. “Having children is the biggest life-changing moment. It really is,” William said. “When you’ve been through something traumatic in life … your emotions come back in leaps and bounds because it’s a very different phase of life, and there’s no one there to … help you.”
Kate is very close with her family, based on reports from The Sun, which may have helped William through some of his emotional journey. But we simply can’t imagine how his mother’s death must have drastically impacted his approach to parenting.
Diana's memory impacted Prince Harry when he got engaged to Meghan Markle
Just as Kate Middleton impacted Prince William’s life and emotional remembrance of his late mother, Diana Spencer, Meghan Markle played a huge role in Prince Harry’s life and relationship to his mom. As noted by Hello, Harry proposed to Meghan with a gorgeous engagement ring, featuring a central diamond and smaller diamonds on either side — the jewels held significant importance. “The main stone itself I sourced from Botswana and the little diamonds [on] either side are from my mother’s [jewelry] collection to make sure that she’s with us on this crazy journey together,” Harry said. Cue the tears.
He was later asked if he thought his mother and Meghan would have gotten along, and he said that they would have been “thick as thieves, without question.” “I think she would be over the moon, jumping up and down, you know so excited for me,” he said. “But then, as I said, [they] would have probably been best friends.” It’s truly eye opening to think just how much Harry’s life changed the day his mom died, as well as the experiences he’s had to endure without her.
Prince Harry said he felt a "huge hole inside" after his mom, Diana, died
With time, Prince Harry has opened up about Diana Spencer’s death and how much it impacted him, which sounds like no easy feat. But Harry has been surprisingly forthcoming about his experience, and he wrote about the aftermath of his mother’s death in a book entitled “Hospital by the Hill,” published in March 2021 to honor those who lost their lives to COVID-19.
As noted by Town & Country, Harry revealed that his mother’s death “left a huge hole inside of [him],” that was not easily repaired. “I know how you feel, and I want to assure you that over time that hole will be filled with so much love and support,” he wrote. Harry also revealed in his foreword within the book that after his mother died, he was told that though his mother may not be with him anymore physically, her “spirit,” “love,” and “memories” would live on with him, a message that is as enduring as it is heartbreaking. “They are always with you and you can hold onto them forever,” he wrote, so don’t mind us if we go and sob.
Prince Harry spoke about what experiences still trigger him following Diana's passing
It’s hard to say exactly when a person heals from a traumatic experience — if they ever fully heal at all — and it seems as though Prince Harry has had to deal with some triggering circumstances since Diana’s death. As noted by Today, Harry shared that the environment in which his mother died — she was being chased by paparazzi — is a “wound that festers” and an aspect of her death that has greatly impacted him.
While Harry and Meghan Markle were on a royal tour of Africa, their experience was documented and turned into “Harry and Meghan: An African Journey.” It was through the filming process that Harry shared what experiences in his own life cause flashbacks to his mother’s life as not only a royal, but one of the most high-profile figures in the world. “I think being part of this family, in this role, in this job, every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back,” he shared. “So, in that respect, it’s the worst reminder of her life.”
Diana's legacy has greatly impacted Prince Harry's marriage to Meghan Markle
Diana Spencer was one of the most followed and photographed people — since the very early days of her involvement with Prince Charles, it seemed as though cameras followed her everywhere, and it was a reality of her life that ultimately led to her death. The consistent cameras and attention in his mother’s life greatly impacted Prince Harry, and Diana’s experience prompted him to protect his own wife, Meghan Markle, from the same reality.
As noted by BBC News, Harry shared in the infamous sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey in March of 2021 that he was scared of history “repeating itself” when it came to Meghan, who was experiencing harrowing press coverage in Britain. He spoke about it earlier in 2019, as noted by Today, sharing that he had seen “what happens when someone [he] love[s] is [commoditized].”
Harry described what this feels like from his perspective. “They are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” he shared. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Prince William and Prince Harry commissioned a statue in honor of Diana's 60th birthday
In the years following Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle, his relationship with the royal family — specifically his bond with Prince William — has gone downhill. The two brothers publicly feuded for quite some time, and historian Robert Lacey told Elle that the bond between them would “never be the same.” Despite the tension and the history of bad blood, Harry and William are set to reunite in July of 2021 (approximately three months from this publication) for what would’ve been their mother’s 60th birthday.
As noted by BBC News, William and Harry commissioned a statue of Diana Spencer from artist Ian Rank-Broadley and will come together to honor her. “Our mother touched so many lives,” the brothers wrote in an official statement, as noted by Hello. “We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and her legacy.” Time will tell if Diana’s legacy and the ways in which the princes’ lives were impacted by her death will ever bring them back together.
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