As the publication of Prince Harry’s memoirs on 10 January 2023 fast approaches, Point of view From his archives comes an article from September 1998, published on the occasion of his arrival at Eton College. The opportunity to delve back into this pivotal period for the young prince, just a year after the death of his mother Diana.
He’s grown up, Harry. Gone is the little carrot hair that showed a sulky pout to photographers. It is a confident teenager who introduces himself this Wednesday, September 2, 1998, at the gates of Eton, as do his uncle, Earl Spencer and his cousin, Prince Michael of Kent. He knows all the press is waiting for him as he returns to the most famous college across the channel for around 140,000 francs a year. In his presence, three years earlier, William had undergone the same ordeal, in front of the cameras, but his older brother was then accompanied by his two parents. Harry arrives with Charles in a modest Vauxhall from Highgrove, driven by a police chauffeur. A car he preferred to his father’s very regal Bentley. He was also the one who had asked William to be absent so as not to be limited to the role of eternal little brother. Especially since he has been repeatedly compared to his brilliant elder academically, to his disadvantage.
More physical than William, this fan of Arsenal and the national team is passionate about football, which he followed the World Cup with his father. Even better, his risky escapades, at the “stolen” wheel of a Range Rover or an apprentice mountaineer, continue to terrify England. A profile that does not prevent him from successfully completing his studies, despite the gossip that claims he is dyslexic. However, after Ludgrove, Diana planned to educate him at Radley College, where education is said to be less difficult. But since the tragedy, everyone has thought it wiser not to separate him from William. And it seems the Queen is delighted to see him more often in Windsor, a stone’s throw from the college, on weekends that are too short. If Harry is less diligent than his eldest, he nevertheless immediately accepted his father’s choice. Last June, he took his entrance exams while Britain anxiously awaited the results. As for his admission, a person close to the palace confided: “Harry has always had character and elegance. He has just proved to those who doubted it that he also has a brain.”
Last week, in a pale green tweed jacket and gray flannel trousers, he was obviously prepared for the event. And delights the journalists with his most beautiful smile, not devoid of malice, before he briefly greets them with a wave of his hand. A few more seconds, and he rushes into the venerable institution, under the scrutinizing gaze of his future companions’ little sisters, delighted by the princely appearance. Dr. Andrew Gailey makes him visit his neighborhood, “Manor House”, this boarding school, where he will find his brother. The two princes live in the same room to ease issues related to their safety. And Charles rejoiced in the presence of Dr. Gailey and his wife Shauna, who had looked after William so well after Diana’s death. Harry is a bit drowned in his Etonic coat that he has just tried on and is already thinking about the posters that he is allowed to display in his room. The opportunity to also meet Elisabeth Heathcote, the matron of the Manor, responsible for the management of the students and whom everyone respectfully calls “ma’am”. She is the one who makes the beds, takes care of the laundry and carefully manages the teenagers’ pocket money.
A light rain falls on Eton as Harry crosses the Great Court, past the imposing statue of Henry VI, the college’s founder. For the past few weeks, the little prince has been attacking his brother with questions about his rights and the complex rituals of Eton. He knows that the highlight of this first day is the signing of the student book. A list in which the names of British aristocrats and future decision-makers of the realm are mixed up. Smiling, William told him how he had managed to get the slots wrong when, three years ago, he had registered his name under his mother’s moved gaze. Charles also remembers his elder’s mistake and wants to warn Harry “Make sure you log into the right place” he whispers to him. A remark that Harry does not appreciate. “Shut up,” he retorts firmly in front of John Lewis, the college principal. Times have certainly changed at the English court.
When applying he writes Harry Charles Albert David of Wales and his date of birth 15-9-84. In a few days he will celebrate his fourteenth birthday. His second birthday without Diana. Strange and painful year he just passed. Of those who transform you and take you away from childhood forever. When he had his face closed on September 6, 1997, when he followed the princess’s funeral procession. In shock, lost, Harry took refuge in a silence that troubled Charles. This one does not let go of his hand either, when the child discovers the messages addressed to his mother, deposited on thousands of disks. The Prince of Wales was not inclined to show affection, and in a last attempt to protect his son, he finally indulged in tender gestures. Because if Charles could talk to William at length, Harry was still too young to accept the tragedy. Little by little, and with his father’s help, he nevertheless overcomes the immense grief that overwhelms him.
Moreover, Charles does not leave him for a second and does not know how to deny him anything. He will even take his son on his official trip to South Africa last November. An attempt to make him forget for a moment his terrible grief and the possibility of an unforgettable safari in the Okavango Delta of Botswana in the company of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, his governess. The young woman, always complicit, plays the role of surrogate mother to him more than ever – with the Queen’s full consent – and Harry finds his smile for the first time. A fleeting happiness that culminates when he meets his idols, the Spice Girls, in Johannesburg. Facetious Harry can’t suppress a burst of laughter when the singers kiss his father, and he doesn’t fail to immortalize the child with the device Charles gave him. The Spice Girls, whom the prince finds at Easter, time for a tea at Highgrove.
In this house, which he has now made his own, Harry has a much more important meeting at the beginning of the summer. In July, the two young princes throw a “feast” in honor of their father at his retreat in Gloucestershire, inviting a hundred of his friends. Among them Camilla Parker Bowles, whom they have invited to the party by mutual agreement. In June, William discovered the woman Charles has loved for twenty-five years. Harry sees her for the first time. A few months ago, he would have felt unable to handle this situation. But he has definitely matured and feels ready. More impulsive than his elder, also more fragile, the young prince now wants to show that he is no longer a child. This is evident from the initiative he took and which his brother joined. Because on the eve of the start of the school year this year, he wants us to leave him alone. To him and to his mother, whose first anniversary of disappearance still causes so much ink to flow. Together with William, he decides that it is necessary to try to put an end to these vain comments, which prevent them from living like so many other children. Also, the two young princes – extremely rare – instruct a spokesman for a palace with a very personal statement to the public. All weekend they finalized the text that they wanted precise and direct. “Over the past year, Prince William and Prince Harry have been deeply encouraged by the expressions of sympathy and support they have received. (…). Once again, they would like to thank each. But they also believe that their mother would have liked people to turn the page now. Because constant references to her death can cause nothing but pain to those she leaves behind. So they really hope, may his memory now rest in peace.”