He grew up in the absence of his beloved mother from a tender age, but the profound influence that Diana, Princess of Wales, continues to have on her youngest son is unmistakable. From his humanitarian efforts around the globe – including trips to Africa, which held a special place in his mother’s heart – Prince Harry is following closely in his mother's footsteps to become the People's Prince, and a son that the philanthropic-minded Diana would be immeasurably proud of today.
But it hasn't been an easy journey. The young prince was just two weeks shy of his 13th birthday when his life – and that of his 15-year-old brother, Prince William – was changed forever by the sudden death of their mother on Aug 31, 1997, following a car crash in Paris. Harry, 32, has since spoken out about how ill-equipped he was to cope with the tragic loss. "I never really dealt with what had happened," he explained. "It was a lot of buried emotion. For a huge part of my life I didn't really want to think about it."
Throughout his life, Harry has taken up the charitable causes that were close to his mother's heart, as a way to keep her spirit close and carry on her legacy of helping others. "I now view life very differently from what it used to be," he said. Even in death, Diana's light has continued to guide her sons. From her, they learned to use their privileged position in society to become advocates for the less fortunate.
"My mother died when I was very, very young, and I [didn't] want to be in this position. Now I'm so energised, fired up, to be lucky enough to be in a position to make a difference," Harry said in a documentary to mark the 10th anniversary of his charity, Sentebale, founded in 2006 to help children living with HIV/AIDS in Lesotho. Harry first visited the African country in his 2004 gap year, when he got involved in various charitable missions hoping to find something that would "make my mother proud." He found it in Lesotho: Sentebale, which means "forget me not," was named for Diana, and removing the stigma of AIDS/HIV was a cause célèbre for the late princess, who famously held the hand of an AIDS patient in the 1980s, when there was widespread fear and misunderstanding of the disease.
Harry recently stopped by an HIV support centre in Leicester – one that Diana had visited in 1991 in her effort to bring awareness to the illness. "She was very good at breaking the ice," said the prince of his mother, to which Teresa Jacques, a former cook and receptionist, replied: "If I may say so, sir, so are you." Volunteer Betty Walker, who delighted Harry by showing him a photo of herself meeting the late princess, remarked: "He’s got a good heart, just like his mum."
The mother and son duo are both dedicated to the well-being of children
In his mother's footsteps
As William’s younger brother, or the "spare heir," Harry had to work just a little harder to be taken seriously and shake the reputation of "Party Prince". But Diana’s altruistic streak was always within him. Enlisted with the British army for 10 years – a job he loved – the prince channelled that passion into charitable endeavours for injured war veterans – notably the Invictus Games, which will come to Toronto in September.
In 2010, the prince championed another cause close to Diana’s heart when he travelled to Mozambique to meet young amputees who were casualties of landmines. Harry, like Diana before him, walked through the minefields and, after training, attached a detonator to a live mine before carrying out a controlled explosion.
Three years later, he literally followed in his mother's footsteps in Angola for the HALO Trust charity, which works to eradicate landmines from rural areas. The poignant trip – which saw Harry acting as a new patron for the HALO Trust’s 25th Anniversary Appeal – took place 16 years after Diana’s memorable visit, when she bravely walked through a recently cleared minefield wearing protective equipment (see story, pg. 54), just months before her death.
"His mother was brilliant at getting the profile of the risk of mines globally recognised," said Guy Willoughby, founder and chief executive of HALO. "Prince Harry clearly wishes to follow her magnificent example." The prince will once again honour his famous mother’s legacy as he steps out on April 4 to attend a reception on International Day for Mine Awareness.
It comes naturally to Harry to support his mother’s causes with the same depth of heart and generosity of spirit. "I want them to have an understanding of people’s emotions, people’s insecurities, people’s distress, and of their hopes and dreams," Diana once said.
And it’s clear that Harry has his mother’s natural ability to put people around him at ease. He has even taken it upon himself to act as a mentor to the young people he meets with all over the world and serve as an example of hope and healing from their pain. "If anybody around me ever has any grief, especially close family, you feel as though you can help because you’ve got the experience, and that’s what mentoring is all about," he has said.
Now, in the 20th anniversary year of his mother’s death, Harry will continue to honour her memory. The prince and his brother have commissioned a statue of Diana to be erected in the grounds of Kensington Palace later this year. "We want to make sure there’s something that she’s remembered by," Harry told HELLO! last year. "Lots of people still talk about her. Every single day we still think about her, so it would be very fitting on the 20th anniversary to have something that is going to last forever and is actually a proper recognition of what she did when she was alive."