Many of us have lost a loved one; however, few of us have lost a loved one in as profoundly public a way as Prince William and Prince Harry.
The image of the two boys walking behind their mother’s coffin through London at her funeral in September 1997 is etched into our collective memory. It was an experience of shared grief that is, for most of us, unthinkable.
Perhaps it’s no wonder then that, until now, Diana’s sons have rarely spoken about her publicly. Her pursuit by the press, both during her lifetime and in the moments leading up to her death, has made talking about her even more complex.
So, it was an extraordinary responsibility to be given the opportunity to make the first film about Princess Diana in which the people who loved her most – her sons – could talk about her personally and at length for the first time.
“She was our mum,” says Prince Harry, “and she was the best mum in the world.”
Diana, Our Mother didn’t come out of the blue, though. I first met Princes William and Harry in 2016, when I filmed them for ITV’s Our Queen at Ninety. I watched Prince Harry inspire a class of South African schoolchildren, chatting and joking with them on beanbags in a classroom in Soweto. A few weeks later, on a cold, foggy morning, it was Prince William’s turn, as he towed his air ambulance helicopter out onto an airfield in Cambridgeshire.
Earlier this year, my colleague Nick Kent and I sat down with the princes at Kensington Palace to discuss making this new film. It was clear that two decades hadn’t eased the pain of losing their mother. This made their determination to speak openly about her all the more remarkable.
The word I’d use to describe the interviews that followed is bitter- sweet. The pair talked about Diana’s sense of fun, her love of practical jokes, her teasing, her hugs, her determination to show them the real world that existed outside the palace walls, and, above all, the love that she lavished on them.
Many of the stories they told about Diana – her naughtiness, her silliness and her sensitivity – were echoed by her most intimate friends, Harry Herbert, William Van Straubenzee and Lady Carolyn Warren, none of whom had spoken about her publicly before.
The princes also shared some of their most precious and painful memories, including the last conversations they had with her. Prince Harry described the shattering sense of dislocation that followed her death, and the slow process by which he and his brother have rebuilt their lives.
“Losing someone so close, at that age, is utterly devastating,” says Prince William. I had the feeling that many of these memories had lain half-hidden for many years. Prince Harry confirmed this – his way of dealing with the pain of his mother’s loss, he said, had been to block it out.
So, why had they wanted to embark on this personal but rather painful journey after all this time, I wondered? The answer was that, until now, the grief had been too raw.