The life of Prince Harry: From ‘spare to the heir’ to beleaguered Duke of Sussex

The Duke of Sussex is fifth in line to the throne

Ellie Muir
Saturday 06 May 2023 08:52 BST
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Prince Harry to attend King Charles' coronation while Meghan will stay in California

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The Duke of Sussex is fifth in line to the throne and the youngest son of King Charles III and the late Princess Diana.

In 2020, he made the decision to step back from his royal duties but still retains his Duke of Sussex title. He now lives in California with his wife Meghan Markle and two children, Prince Archie and Princess Lilbet.

After months of speculation over whether the duke will attend his father’s coronation on 6 May, Buckingham Palace confirmed in April that he would be attending the coronation, but without his wife Meghan. The coronation will mark the first time Prince Harry will appear in public with senior members of the royal family since the release of his tell-all memoir Spare.

Here is a timeline of Prince Harry’s life ahead of the coronation:

Dealing with his mother’s death

His parents divorced in 1996, and the following year he was hit with the news that his mother died in a car crash in Paris. At Diana’s funeral, aged 12, he walked behind her hearse in the funeral procession.

In his memoir Spare, Harry wrote of the moment he learnt of Diana’s death. He also revealed that, in 2007, he drove through the tunnel that his mother died in, as a way to gain “closure” over the loss.

The duke claimed his father did not hug him and he later “felt like a politician” as he greeted members of the public in the wake of her death.

Prince Harry was 12 years old when Princess Diana died
Prince Harry was 12 years old when Princess Diana died (1987 AP)

Harry was subjected to close media attention in his youth that he would later decry.

Harry’s blunders are published

In January 2005, the Duke of Sussex attended a friend’s fancy dress-themed birthday party in a Nazi uniform, wearing a swastika armband.

The royal, who was 20 at the time, later apologised, saying that he was “very sorry if I caused any offence or embarrassment to anyone”, adding: “It was a poor choice of costume and I apologise.”

In his book Spare, released in January, Harry claimed that William and his then-girlfriend Kate Middleton had encouraged him to wear the costume and “howled” with laughter at the suggestion.

Harry has since said that wearing the costume was “probably one of the biggest mistakes” of his life. He also said in his memoir that he was “probably a bigot” before his met his wife Meghan.

Continuing his mother’s legacy

Harry has taken part in a number of philanthropic campaigns that channel the interests of his late mother Diana.

In 2016, Harry underwent a public HIV test at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital to raise awareness and promote how easy it is to get tested, as part of his on-going efforts to eradicate stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS. Diana famously shook the hands of HIV patients in the Nineties when many still believed the virus could be passed on by physical contact.

Harry also spearheaded the Heads Together mental health campaign with his brother William, leading a coalition of eight mental health charities with the aim of changing the conversation on mental health.

Harry’s military service

He spent a decade working in the Armed Forces, ending his operation duties in 2015. During his service, he conducted two tours of duty to Afghanistan with the British Army.

The prince at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan
The prince at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan (Getty Images)

After leaving the British Army in 2015, the duke spent three months working on a number of such projects in Nambia, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana.

He later founded the Invictus Games, an international multi-sport event for wounded, sick and injured servicemen and women who are in active service or veterans.

Harry meets Meghan Markle

Harry met Suits actor Meghan Markle on a blind date at Soho House in London after being set up by a mutual friend, Violet von Westenholz.

They instantly hit it off. Despite the distance between them (with Meghan living in the US and Harry in the UK), they continued to see each other. For their third date, Harry whisked Meghan away to Botswana, where the pair camped under the stars.

Harry and Meghan met on a blind date in 2016
Harry and Meghan met on a blind date in 2016 (Jeremy Selwyn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The couple later returned to Botswana for Meghan’s birthday the following year.

Their relationship was made public in November of that year when Harry made an appeal to the media on behalf of Meghan. In the rare statement, he noted that Meghan had received “sexism and racism” and asked for privacy.

The couple made their official debut in 2017 at the royal’s Invictus Games, which were held in Toronto, Canada. In November of that year, they announced their engagement after months of speculation.

Harry said at the time that he proposed at home over a roast chicken dinner. Harry went on to say that Meghan and his late mother would have been “thick as thieves”.

In May 2018, Harry and Meghan wed at St George’s chapel as the new royal wore a satin boat neck gown designer by Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy, with Queen Mary’s Diamond Bandeau tiara.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on the Long Walk as they head back towards Windsor Castle in Windsor, on May 19, 2018
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on the Long Walk as they head back towards Windsor Castle in Windsor, on May 19, 2018 (AFP via Getty Images)

In May 2019, they welcomed their first child Prince Archie. Their second child, Princess Lilbet Diana was born in June 2021.

Harry’s comments about the press

Prince Harry has been vocal about his dislike of the tabloid press’s interest in his personal life and has often criticised how the press treated him, Meghan and his late mother, Princess Diana.

The Sussexes have publicly struggled with media coverage of their relationship, with the duchess launching privacy action against the Mail on Sunday while Harry pursued the owners of The Sun and The Daily Mirror over alleged phone-hacking.

“At no point did I have a girlfriend or a relationship with anyone without the tabloids getting involved and ultimately ruining it, or trying to ruin it, using whatever unlawful means at their disposal,” the prince’s witness statement said in the recent phone-hacking court trial.

Harry steps back from royal duties, 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced in January 2020 that they were to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family”.

The couple said they wanted to become financially independent and would split their time between North America and the UK.

In the statement, Harry and Meghan said: ”After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.

The Queen was ‘very clear’ that she wanted both grandsons to go to war, a former head of the military has said
The Queen was ‘very clear’ that she wanted both grandsons to go to war, a former head of the military has said (Paul Grover - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.

“It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment.”

Harry and Meghan opened their own production company Archewell Productions and worked with Netflix to create their documentary titled Harry & Meghan, which released in January 2023. In it, they made several claims about the way they were treated by members of the royal family throughout their relationship.

Relations between Harry and senior members of the royal family became fraught following the decision to step back.

Despite this, Harry was present at the Queen’s platinum jubilee in June 2022, but did not appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace since he is no longer a working royal.

When Queen Elizabeth II died in September, Harry flew to London with his wife Meghan to attend the funeral.

Harry releases his tell-all memoir ‘Spare’, January 2023

In January of this year, Harry released his tell-all memoir Spare, in which he made several allegations about his family.

He revealed personal details about his own life, including the story of how he lost his virginity. He also detailed his drug use as a young adult, how many people he killed while on military tour in Afghanistan and said he wanted further investigation into his mother’s death.

At the time, clips of the audiobook version of Harry’s memoir went viral as they circulated on the internet, with the book becoming the fastest-selling non-fiction book ever, recording figures of 400,000 sold on its first day of publication.

One of the strongest statements made by Harry in the book was perhaps the claim that his brother William physically attacked him.

Harry wrote: “(William) called me another name, then came at me. It all happened so fast. So very fast. He grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace, and he knocked me to the floor.

“I landed on the dog’s bowl, which cracked under my back, the pieces cutting into me. I lay there for a moment, dazed, then got to my feet and told him to get out.”

William and Harry arriving for the unveiling of a statue they commissioned of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, London (Yui Mok/PA)
William and Harry arriving for the unveiling of a statue they commissioned of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, London (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

Harry later spoke of a “red mist” that came over his brother during this altercation.

Harry later told ITV’s Tom Bradby: “What was different here was the level of frustration, and I talk about the red mist that I had for so many years, and I saw this red mist in him.”

The Duke claims William urged him to hit back, citing fights they had as children, but Harry refused and his brother left before returning, looking regretful and apologising.

Harry’s attendance at his father’s coronation on 6 May will mark the first time he will see senior members of the royal family since Spare’s release.

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