William, who was only 15 when Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash in 1997, has spoken perhaps more candidly than before about his feelings in an effort to persuade men to talk about their emotions. In a discussion with five famous footballers recorded in a changing room for a BBC One television programme to be screened tomorrow night, the future King sought to use the power of football to bring about a sea-change in male attitudes towards mental health. At the heart of his concern is the suicide rate, the biggest killer of men aged under 45. Men account for 75 per cent of suicides in Britain.
When television presenter Dan Walker asked him about discussing emotions William, 36, talked about his experience of losing his mother.
He said: “You feel pain like no other pain. And you know that in your life it’s going to be very difficult to come across something that’s going to be even worse pain than that. But it also brings you so close to all those other people out there who have been bereaved.
“So you instantly, when you talk to someone else, you can almost see it in their eyes sometimes and it’s a weird thing to say but when someone’s desperate to talk about bereavement, you can kind of pick up on it quite quick.
“They want to talk about it, but they want you to go first, they want you say it’s OK, they want to have your permission that in that particular conversation, one on one, it’s OK to talk about bereavement.
“I think particularly in Britain as well, we are nervous about our emotions, we’re a bit embarrassed sometimes. The British stiff upper lip thing, that’s great and we need to have that occasionally when times are really hard. There has to be a moment for that. But otherwise we’ve got to relax a little bit and be able to talk about our emotions because we’re not robots.”
The second in line to the throne was filmed in conversation with England manager Gareth Southgate and footballers Thierry Henry, Peter Crouch, Danny Rose and Jermaine Jenas for the BBC One documentary A Royal Team Talk.
Prince William with mum Princess Diana (Image: Mirrorpix)
Prince William has spoken about his feelings (Image: Mirrorpix)
He has teamed up with the Football Association, of which he is president, to launch a season-long Heads Up campaign to build on the success of the Royal Foundation’s earlier Heads Together campaign that got young people taking part in a national conversation about mental health.
Beginning at the Community Shield match in August and ending at next season’s FA Cup Final, it will involve football clubs at all levels. Royal sources say it will lead to new services to give practical help to men experiencing emotional difficulties.
The conversation with the footballers was filmed at Cambridge United’s ground.
William told the footballers he had found the emotional side of working as an air ambulance pilot in East Anglia between March 2015 and July 2017 very difficult even though he was used to being in the spotlight.
“I’ve lived in this for all my life, so I only know this way,” he said. “So it’s important if you only know one way, to go out and look for other opinions and other ideas to broaden that and understand and work out that what I think is – is that what everyone else thinks? How do other people cope with that? How do other people do stuff differently? And it’s important to have lots of different opinions and different advice and people to steer you.”
He said he had come from the military where feelings were put to one side and he had seen men struggle with the experience of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan once they had left the forces.
William with mother Princess Diana and brother Prince Harry at Thorpe Park in 1993 (Image: Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
William added: “To then go into the ambulance world, which is a much more open and in some cases, very raw, emotional day-to-day stuff, where you’re dealing with families who are having the worst news they could ever possibly have on a day-to-day basis, it leaves you with a very depressing, very negative feeling, where you think death is just around the door everywhere I go.
“And that’s quite a burden to carry and feel.
“And I felt that with a few jobs that I did, where there were particular personal resonations with the families that I was dealing with. That raw emotion, I just thought listen, I can’t – I could feel it brewing up inside me and I could feel it was going to take its toll. I had to speak about it.”
William was only 15 when Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash in 1997 (Image: Stuart C. Wilson – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
When the programme was announced, the Duke said: “Men are the hardest to reach audience on the subject of mental health. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men under the age of 45, and that’s an appalling statistic. There needs to be a turning point where we can pass the message onto men everywhere that it’s OK to talk about mental health. We have to normalise the whole conversation.”
He was supported by Southgate, who said: “We’ve got to try to help and support each other. Football generally has had a culture of maybe not opening up about anything in your life, without being seen as being weak for doing that. I think it’s key that that isn’t a weakness, it’s actually a strength that you’re confident enough to talk about those things openly.”
Former England international Jenas, now a TV pundit, said: “My biggest hope for this is that a conversation will be had,” he said. The rate of male suicide has gone through the roof, so it’s great that we’re having this chat.”
A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health is on BBC One tomorrow at 10.30pm.