Last week, journalist Bryony Gordon’s ground- breaking interview with Prince Harry hit headlines as he became the first royal to speak openly about his mental health. In doing so, Bryony asks, did he redefine what it means to be British?
I had no idea Harry was going to be so candid when we sat down to record our interview in Kensington Palace four weeks ago. It was just the two of us in a room and as soon as he started talking in a very normal, unvarnished way – swearing, and ribbing me a bit – I knew we were making something special. I had a palpable sense things were really changing in that room that day.
The podcast came about after I was invited to the launch of Heads Together, a mental health charity, last May. It meant I got talked into signing up for the 2017 London Marathon and kept bumping into the princes (patrons of the charity) at events. After one interview, I had a brief chat with Prince Harry about the marathon, touching on mental health too. At that time I was in the process of setting up my Mad World mental health podcast – so I called up Kensington Palace to ask whether he’d take part. Two weeks later, he agreed. I was so shocked and happy, I cried at my desk. The fact Harry chose to do the interview with me – somebody who has been very honest about not being perfect, my cocaine problem, my bulimia – said a lot. I felt incredibly honoured.
Harry – and now William – talking about mental health so openly feels like it’s redefining our British identity. That ‘stiff upper lip’ – often embodied by the royals – was a thing we used to aspire to, but Harry redefined what it means to be dignified and strong. When you think about it, that stiff upper lip has literally killed people. If you’re a man under the age of 45 in the UK, the thing most likely to kill you isn’t a gun, a car or your heart – it’s yourself. The stats aren’t great for women, either. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of young people in the UK. As somebody who has suffered from mental health issues for decades (I was in my thirties when I finally sought help), I know first-hand that ‘soldiering on’ doesn’t help. Suppressing your anxieties and problems, and maintaining that ‘Blitz spirit’ means those issues will only pop up somewhere else later down the line.
Harry was 12 when Diana died, and I remember – as a 16-year-old – watching the funeral on TV with a terrible sadness. Years earlier, I’d become really ill with OCD and nobody spoke about this stuff then; it was all swept under the rug. Seeing how much the world has changed since – and is still changing – is incredible. Since Harry’s interview, people I’ve known for years have opened up to me about all sorts of things related to mental health. It just proves that somebody like Harry – coming from an institution that’s traditionally very buttoned-up – can take this action, turning something negative into a positive way of helping others and truly impacting on us all.
But it’s important to realise that what’s happening – this shift from the ‘stiff upper lip to the wobbly bottom lip’ – isn’t society becoming ‘too emotional’ or becoming a nation of blubbers. We are who we are, and if you feel something, feel it (it’s like Harry said, ‘We’re not robots’). When we deny that, that’s where we start getting ourselves into trouble. This shift isn’t necessarily a radical change of Britishness, it’s just a way of redefining ourselves. And in years to come, I’m positive we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, that was really something.’ I’m so incredibly proud to have played a part in that.