Inside Prince Harry’s Early Life That Shaped His Future

Prince Harry’s name seems to be everywhere these days. As he and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex made the shocking decision to step back from the royal family and its official duties, they appeared to get even more public scrutiny, the last thing Prince Harry’s mental health needed.

Following the “Megxit,” as their leaving was dubbed, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have settled into a new life. That includes welcoming a new daughter and moving to California to raise their family. 

Harry’s frank interviews and discussions of his time growing up in the royal spotlight have left many people reflecting back on his early days. It turns out that his nickname was set from the very beginning. 

Prince Harry was born on a different path than his brother

When Prince Harry was born in 1984, it was already known that he would likely never sit on the throne. That honor was always assumed to go to his big brother, Prince William. As William’s own family grew following his marriage to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the line of succession got even deeper, pushing Harry further and further down the list. 

With this understanding in mind, Harry has always been on a different path from William. In some ways, this meant that Harry got a bit more freedom and fewer expectations placed upon him. In other ways, it meant he got less attention and fewer resources. This kind of runner-up status and his mother’s tragic untimely death are thought to have contributed to Harry’s young adult years, which were full of excessive partying. 

What is Prince Harry’s full name?

Smiling Prince Harry mental health advocate in front of a blurred background
Prince Harry | Hannah McKay/Getty Images

Harry’s given name is actually Henry Charles Albert David (his two kids use the Mountbatten Windsor last name). While that name is quite a mouthful, his parents made it clear from the beginning that he would be known as Harry, giving him a cute nickname that seemed perfectly matched for his friendly, outgoing demeanor. 

Harry’s early days were well-documented, as his mother and father’s relationship grabbed plenty of headlines. Once fodder for gossip columnists all across the globe, Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ separation and divorce captivated fans and critics of the royal family alike. 

Caught in the middle of the whirlwind were the two little boys. While the couple did not separate until 1992 and went on to remain officially married until 1996, it is now widely understood that their marriage was essentially over by the time that Harry was born, with Charles deeply embedded in an affair with his now-wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

What did Harry inherit from Diana?

Harry’s relationship with his mother has gotten particularly close coverage in recent months. It’s widely speculated that Diana worried about her son’s reduced status within the royal family and wanted to make sure that he had a cushion of support if he should ever need it. 

Many have even credited the inheritance that Diana set aside for her youngest son as the ticket to his escape from royal duties. The couple invested a considerable amount into a new home in California, and they also paid back about $3 million that had been spent renovating Frogmore Cottage — their home before they stepped away from their royal roles. 

That inheritance may have acted as a lifeboat that let the two escape a life that they both say was destroying their mental health, but they’re now working to create a foundation of their own. With lucrative deals with Spotify and Netflix in the works, the pair are set to leverage their fame and passions into a meaningful career that will provide them the means they need to sustain their lifestyle on their own. 

Harry’s explosive revelations about his childhood inside the royal family have gotten people on both sides of the Atlantic talking — and wringing their hands. Some have called Harry and his wife Meghan hypocrites for stepping away from their royal duties in order to have privacy and then spilling private details in high-profile interviews and podcasts. 

On the other hand, many see Harry’s decision to remove himself from the apparent toxicity of the institution of the royal family as a much-needed reality check. It’s a sign, they believe, that Harry is finally healing from the childhood trauma of losing his mother and starting to live life on healthier, more intentional terms. 

Prince Harry lost his mother when he was only 12

Prince Harry is the secondborn child of Princess Diana, pictured here.
Princess Diana | Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The death of Diana was a worldwide spectacle. It consumed headlines across tabloids and filled TV news airwaves. It sparked conversations across the globe.

Conspiracy theories that Charles — who had been unfaithful to Diana in their marriage — had arranged the “accident” to get rid of his problematic ex popped up. More importantly, it opened up an international conversation about the role of the paparazzi and what responsibility they have to treat the targets of their work with respect and dignity. 

The tragedy occurred when the young princes were just 12 and 15 years old, and losing their mother at such a tender age had a tremendous impact on them. Their images, too, were splashed across magazine covers, and sympathy for the little boys was palpable, but perhaps not actionable. From afar, fans and critics of the royal family alike felt sorry for the young royals who lost their mother, but few really understood the toll that it took — especially on Harry. 

Prince Harry says his mother’s death caused him to ‘shut down’

Grieving the loss of a parent — especially when you’re so young — is never easy, but for William and Harry, it came alongside upholding the expectations and duties of their positions. William was always on a more formal path than his little brother. As the expected heir to the throne, his training and coaching were always given with that end goal in mind. Harry, on the other hand, was often left out, and his mother’s death may have compounded this feeling of loneliness. 

Harry himself has admitted to holding onto a lot of anger about his mother’s death. He’s talked about playing their last conversation — a rushed phone call because he wanted to go play — over and over in his mind. He has lashed out about the media’s role in his mother’s untimely death, and many believe his efforts to protect his own family are rooted in that tragedy. 

Harry has also opened up about how his mother’s death affected him both personally and professionally. As BBC reports, Harry explained, “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.” 

Prince Harry is now working on his own terms

Since moving to California, Harry and Meghan have been setting up a different kind of life — one that works on their own terms. Recently, they’ve welcomed a new baby girl, and that has certainly kept them busy. 

Their professional lives, though, are also taking shape in a way that suggests they’re moving beyond the scandal over their royal roles and hoping to take on a more intentional position in media and entertainment. They’ve got lucrative deals in the works with Spotify and Netflix, and Harry has taken on the role as Chief Impact Officer for a Silicon Valley company focused on mental health. 

Harry is being open and honest about his own mental health struggles, and while they may have been a barrier to his professional growth in the past, it appears that he’s making mental health a foundation to his career going forward. 

One of the many perks of living life as a member of the royal family is that you can be assured you’ll get a top-notch education. Whether it includes some time being educated at home or attending the most prestigious boarding schools, royals are being groomed for a life in the public eye, and that includes getting an education that fits their status and lofty expectations. 

Harry’s educational path included a “gap year,” and it turns out that experience may have been more influential to him than his more formal education! 

Prince Harry and Prince William’s education

Prince Harry and Prince William had different upbringings. With the elder prince destined for the throne, he had more expectations placed upon him, but he also received more attention and resources to achieve them. Harry reportedly felt left out often. Apparently, that disconnect extended into the social scene at school

Though the brothers attended the same schools — Jane Mynors’ nursery school, Wetherby School, Ludgrove School, and Eton College — they had very different experiences. Their differences were particularly pronounced by the time they were attending Eton College as teenagers. William was reportedly a “homecoming king” type while Harry had a harder time finding his footing socially. 

After Eton College, the princes’ educational paths split. William continued to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Harry, however, took some time off. 

Prince Harry had a gap year in his education

A “gap year” is an intentional break — typically taken right before attending university — in which a young person takes on some experiences that may be harder to do when they’re older and have more family and career obligations. Many spend this time traveling, volunteering, and having adventurous experiences. Prince Harry used his gap year, according to the BBC, to work “on a sheep farm in Australia” and “with Aids orphans in Lesotho.” 

This latter experience, in particular, would have a big impact on Harry and his future charity endeavors. When Harry and Meghan went to Africa, their trip was widely covered and became the topic of a documentary that was pivotal to the couple’s public image. During the trip, the couple recommitted their energies to working against the AIDS epidemic, important work that Harry’s mother, Diana, had been doing before her death. 

In fact, Harry founded the charitable organization Sentebale with the help of Prince Seeiso of Lesotho in 2006. This organization, which is still in operation, is a direct result of Harry’s gap year experience in the country. As the Sentebale organization’s website explains, it works to “help the most vulnerable children in Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi get the support they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Sentebale works with local grassroots organisations to help these children – the victims of extreme poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

Charity work has helped define Prince Harry’s identity

Harry may have the least formal education out of the queen’s adult grandchildren, but he has made sure to get lots of hands-on experience in the charities that matter most to him. In addition to Sentebale, which can be linked directly to his gap year experience, Harry has spent his time in a variety of other charitable endeavors. 

Perhaps his most notable charity work is founding and chairing the Invictus Games. The organization is a Paralympic-style event for former service members who have been injured. Harry — himself a former service member — cares deeply about veterans and their mental health. He has also demonstrated this commitment by supporting Walking with the Wounded, a charity focused on injured veterans. 

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