Prince Harry on Invictus Games, military service, and healing from loss
Published Friday, June 16, 2017 10:00PM EDT
Being born into royalty comes with obvious perks: wealth, stardom, a devoted team of royal chefs and footmen.
But the glare of the spotlight can leave little room to be yourself. That’s part of the reason why, at the age of 20, Prince Harry joined Britain’s Royal Military Academy as an officer cadet and spent the next decade serving on behalf of his country.
In an exclusive interview with CTV News, Prince Harry recalls how those years in the army provided “a huge sense of freedom.”
“For a large part of that time -- if not all of it -- I was one of the lads,” he said. “I was one of them. Prince Harry was sort of pushed aside, mainly by me, but also by them. And when you wear that uniform, you're part of that team.”
Chief Anchor and Senior Editor of CTV National News Lisa LaFlamme sat down with Prince Harry at Kensington Palace in London for a one-on-one conversation, airing in an hour-long special Friday.
The candid interview touches on the prince’s childhood, the 20-year anniversary of the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and how being part of a team on the battlefield inspired him to create the Invictus Games, a competition for injured soldiers from across the world to come together in the spirit of sport.
The Invictus Games will come to Canada this fall when 550 competitors from 17 nations arrive in Toronto in September. Troops who suffered both physical and psychological injuries will participate in a variety of sports, including archery, cycling, wheelchair rugby and sitting volleyball.
“They want to prove to the rest of the world that you know what, if I've lost a leg, two legs and arm, or if I've been suffering from depression or anxiety for many, many years, no matter who you are, you can fight back from that,” Prince Harry said.
“And I think that is the key message for everybody to take away from Invictus … if you have a second chance in life, to make the absolute most of it.”
‘Taking your cloak of invincibility off’
Reflecting on his own military career, Prince Harry discussed the culture of military life. He served two tours in Afghanistan. His first, in 2008, was cut short after 77 days when news leaked online that he was on the ground. He returned to Afghanistan in 2012 as the pilot of an apache attack helicopter.
The experience, he says, taught him that every soldier is equal.
“In order to do that role, I had to go through the same training as everybody else and try and get to the top and try and be the best pilot,” he said.
Transitioning from royal life to the military had its challenges. But Prince Harry said that hanging up his uniform in 2015 was one of the toughest moments of the career.
“You are taking your cloak of invincibility off. And for so many years, for so long, you've only ever known to think like you are invincible. And then all of a sudden, there's a chink in your armor and people are scared. People freak out. But it's okay. While you're wearing that uniform, that's okay.”
‘It is a sign of bravery to ask for help’
This summer will mark a tragic anniversary for the Royal Family. Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997 after sustaining fatal injuries in a car accident in Paris.
Princess Diana was 36 when she died – just four years older than Harry is now.
Harry has spoken openly about his need to undergo counselling in his late 20s to deal with bottled-up grief. His suppressed emotions led to a period that he has described as “total chaos” and “very close to a complete breakdown,” when revealing photos of Prince Harry in a Las Vegas hotel were published online.
“You know, I lost my mum when I was 12, so emotions were locked away very, very early on,” he said.
“But then, during the military, you're trained to be the very best, you're trained to be invincible. If you have emotion on the battlefield when you're having to make pretty tough decisions or when you're having to help your buddies or whether you're trying to hide or run away, you can't let emotion take control of you. You have to let training kick in.”
Mental health has become an important cause for Prince Harry. Through their charity “Heads Together,” Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made it their mission to get people talking about mental health.
“What we've tried to get across is the fact that everybody struggles, you know. Whether it's daily stress, post-traumatic stress, whether it's depression anxiety, alcoholism, whatever it is, it's okay to struggle,” he said.
“It is a sign of strength, it is a sign of bravery to ask for help. And we hope to create a foundation or create a culture in which it's totally acceptable to go, ‘Actually, you know what? I've had a really, really tough week. Can I just sit down and talk about it?’ Because in some cases, that's all that's needed.”
‘Invictus teaches us that we can’
During the interview, Prince Harry took time to sit down with some athletes competing in the Invictus Games. Sergeant Michelle Turner told Prince Harry about her challenges simply going outside because of fears about her heart condition.
“I was just too scared to leave the house and I didn't. And that's not a good mummy. That's not a good role model,” she said.
But the Invictus games, where Turner will compete as a swimmer, has allowed her to regain a sense of confidence.
“Invictus teaches us that we can,” she said. “You can't see my injury, it's inside. So you think, oh I should be here, I really shouldn't. And they teach you then yeah, you absolutely should.”
Prince Harry said that’s an important message of the Invictus Games: mental health may be invisible, but it’s no less challenging than a physical injury.
“People start comparing each other going, I don't deserve to be here,” he said. “The psychological injuries are, can be, a lot harder for people to come to terms with, and harder to be able to explain.”
The Invictus Games are more than a competition for veterans, Harry says. They’re a platform for soldiers and their families to come together to share their experiences and send a clear message to each other that “they are not alone.”
“And that's what these guys and girls are linked by,” he said. “We've been on the battlefield together. We fought together. We're now recovering together. And that's what it's all about.”
That’s not to suggest that the Invictus Games aren’t competitive, Prince Harry says.
“It is war in the battlefield, but I promise you, these guys, they'll knock each other out, or they'll knock each other over in wheelchair rugby or wheelchair basketball. But the person who knocked them out will probably be the first person to pick them up,” he said.
Prince Harry has visited Canada a handful of times since his childhood, both in official visits and low-key trips. Some of those visits have reportedly been to Toronto, where Prince Harry’s girlfriend, actress Meghan Markle, lives.
“I remember the public ones, but also remember the private ones as well and there was amazing experiences I've had in Canada. And I've never even had a chance to properly explore it,” he said. “When you do these official tours, it is all work suit, ties, barriers and all that kind of stuff. I do remember lots and lots of screaming, screaming young people let's say.”
As Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial, Prince Harry says the Invictus Games are a fitting way to celebrate.
“In Canada's 150th birthday year and the centenary of Vimy as well, the timing is right. So I would urge people to take this opportunity to bring your family, bring your friends, bring your kids. And come and be part of something really, really special,” he said.
With a report from Chief Anchor and Senior Editor of CTV National News Lisa LaFlamme