By speaking so openly about his struggles with mental health following the death of his mother Diana, Prince Harry has achieved more in a couple of years than decades of campaigning ever could.
Those of us who work in this field owe him, his brother William and sister-in-law Kate an enormous debt for taking one of the least glamorous and most neglected health issues and making it ‘OK’ to admit to problems.
Their stance has inspired tens of thousands to seek help. So I am a devoted Harry fan.
However, when I watched the clip of him struggling to hold back tears at the WellChild Awards in London on Tuesday night, I felt uneasy. I think he got it wrong on this occasion.
Dr Max Pemberton argues Prince Harry’s (pictured being comforted by host Gaby Roslin) tears at the WellChild Awards in London on Tuesday night were out of place
These awards are about celebrating seriously ill children, their families and their carers, but his words were all about him.
Last year at the same awards, he revealed on Tuesday, he and his wife Meghan ‘knew we were expecting our first child . . . and I remember squeezing Meghan’s hand so tight during the awards, both of us thinking what it would be like to be parents one day, and more so, what it would be like to do everything we could to protect and help our child should they be born with immediate challenges or become unwell over time’.
He continued: ‘Now as parents, being here speaking to all of you, pulls at my heart strings in a way I could never have understood until I had a child of my own.’
By breaking down while talking about his own experiences as a new father, he ‘colonised’ the event — he made it about him, rather than the people in the audience.
Suddenly, the spotlight swung away from them and their day-to-day struggles to a man — a member of the Royal Family, no less — who was essentially shedding tears about his own worries.
Surely he could see that his anxieties pale into insignificance when compared with those of the families he was there to meet?
The NHS psychiatrist (pictured) who is a devoted Harry fan, recounts the Prince encouraging a young woman at an awards ceremony a few years ago
It was an uncharacteristic faux pas from someone who typically gets the mood music just right.
Prince Harry is a remarkable man who knows he is subject to intense scrutiny. And yet, on the whole, he manages this with grace and dignity. At least, that is my experience of him.
A few years ago, I was presenting at an awards ceremony for a mental health charity where he gave the keynote speech.
Later, he shared the stage with a young woman who had suffered with mental health problems and who had won an award. She was clearly nervous, and I saw him gently guide her towards the microphone. The Prince stood close and nodded encouragement as she made a spontaneous speech to the 1,000-strong audience.
She relaxed and seemed to grow in confidence, and it was entirely thanks to him and his empathy.
During a lull in the schedule, Harry remained at her side, laughing and joking with her as though they were old friends. It occurred to me then how remarkable it is to have been born into such privilege, but to be able to connect with people so intensely and instantly.
Dr Max Pemberton says if Prince Harry had used his words instead of tears, the focus would’ve remained on the people who really mattered
Prince Harry has an incredible skill in being able to put others at ease. He is a real credit to the Royal Family — able to muster just the right balance of grandeur and occasion. But the WellChild Awards were different. This was a celebration of sick children and their families, and a recognition of their achievements and fortitude.
As a former Army officer, Harry should have been able to master his feelings.
In my work as a psychiatrist, I spend my days encouraging people to talk openly, but public displays of emotion like this smack of attention-seeking. Crying is a form of communication, but it has its limits; far better to use words.
And then the people who really mattered that night would have remained the focus — which I am sure, deep down, is what Harry would have wanted anyway.
Nonsense . . . they showed he really cares
Author and campaigner Henrietta Spink is a carer for her two severely disabled sons.
When I saw footage of Prince Harry failing to contain his emotion at the WellChild Awards, my heart went out to him.
My sons Henry, 31, and Freddie, 27, both need round-the-clock care, and I was deeply moved by the empathy and compassion the Prince showed.
He clearly didn’t mean to break down, and the audience knew that. When he bowed his head, hands gripping the lectern as he tried to collect himself, they rightly broke into applause.
As parents and carers of sick children, they could see, as I could, that here was a man who, for all his privilege, seems to understand and care deeply about how difficult life can be for them. I didn’t think it was ‘inappropriate’ or that he should ‘get a grip’, as some critics have said. Quite the opposite. To me, the tears he was choking back showed he ‘got it’.
Henrietta Spink (pictured) who has looked after her two severely disabled sons for more than 30 years, says she was moved by Prince Harry’s compassion and empathy
Most parents of healthy children never give a moment’s thought to what life would be like if their son or daughter had been born with severe health problems, or became seriously ill in childhood.
They can’t imagine what it’s like to be more or less permanently exhausted and always desperate with worry.
My husband and I have looked after the boys for more than 30 years and I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep in all that time.
Our eldest, Henry, is nearly 6ft tall, has terrible epilepsy and doesn’t talk, walk or feed himself. Freddie is mobile and full of life, but falls easily and is autistic and very hyperactive.
I love them both dearly but life is hard, not only from looking after the boys but from fighting the system to get them the care they deserve. Often we feel abandoned, isolated from a world that doesn’t understand what we’re going through.
Prince Harry does understand, as he showed on Tuesday night. He was blessed with a healthy child, but his tears show he doesn’t take his good fortune for granted.
Talking to sick children and their parents and siblings, hearing of their pain, their struggles and the tremendous courage they show, is harrowing for anyone. But for Harry, who lost his mother when he was just 12 and is a new father himself . . . well, it’s no wonder he was briefly overcome.
I have encountered every type of human emotion towards my situation, from warm sympathy to unbelievably cold-hearted comments about my sons, such as ‘you should just get rid of them’.
For me, Harry was demonstrating nothing but his innate kindness. I only hope that some further good may come of it.