It is exactly 25 years ago that the two young princes, William and Harry, were at Balmoral Castle in Scotland with the Queen when they learned of the death of their mother Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris.
For the two men, the pilgrimage to the historic castle this week, as they learned Queen Elizabeth was gravely ill, is infused with childhood memories and tragedy.
Prince William, who was just 15 when his mother died, stayed on at Balmoral Castle with his grandmother after his mother’s death.
“In short, Scotland is the source of some of my happiest memories. But also, my saddest,” Prince William said last year.
“I was in Balmoral when I was told that my mother had died. Still in shock, I found sanctuary in the service at Crathie Kirk that very morning. And in the dark days of grief that followed, I found comfort and solace in the Scottish outdoors. As a result, the connection I feel to Scotland will forever run deep.
“And yet alongside this painful memory, is one of great joy. Because it was here in Scotland – twenty years ago this year — that I first met Catherine, ”he said of his wife de ella, whom he met while they were both studying at St Andrews.
The royal family surprised some in 1997 by still attending church in Scotland on the day Princess Diana died. The estate has been owned by the royal family since the 1800s.
But according to a Channel 5 documentary Diana: 7 Days that Shook the Windsors, the Queen was so worried about the princes hearing the disturbing details on the news that she ordered her staff to move or hide all of the TVs and radios in Balmoral as an extra precaution.
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” Prince William recalled as an adult.
“There really isn’t. It’s like an earthquake has just run through the house and through your life and everything. Your mind is completely split. And it took me a while for it to actually sink in.”
Initially, Prince Charles wanted to take the royal aircraft to Paris to claim Diana’s body.
It was later reported that Harry wanted to go with him, but his father didn’t think it a good idea for the 12-year-old.
“One of the hardest things for a parent to have to do is tell your children that your other parent has died. How you deal with that, I don’t know,” Prince Harry said.
Just a few days after their mother’s death, on September 6, Prince William and Harry walked with their mother’s coffin as the nation reeled in grief – and anger – over how the royal family handled the death of the woman who was estranged from Prince Charles and his now wife Camilla.
“My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television,” Prince Harry later recalled.
“I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
In 2017, Prince Harry spoke to the HBO documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy about the impact of those days on his life.
He revealed his last interaction with his mother was in a nightly phone call.
“I can’t really, necessarily, remember what I said,” Prince Harry said in Diana, Our Mother.
“But all I do remember is probably, you know, regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was. And if I’d known that it was the last time I was going to speak to my mother de ella — the things I would have said to her.
This week, Prince Harry held his head in his hand as he traveled to Balmoral, arriving an hour after the Queen’s death was announced to the world.
Wearing a black suit and tie, Harry left Aberdeen Airport, making the journey to Balmoral by car.
For her part, his late mother Princess Diana was reportedly not a fan of Balmoral Castle.
According to her biographer Andrew Morton, she described the atmosphere at the castle as “negative”.
“I panic a lot when I go up to Balmoral. It’s my worst time, and I think: ‘How the hell am I going to get out of this?”’ she said.
“There are so many negative atmospheres. That house sucks one dry.”
Prince William, however, has reflected on how much his grandmother Queen Elizabeth helped in the aftermath of his mother’s death.
“Having lost my mother at a young age, it’s been particularly important to me that I’ve had somebody like the Queen to look up to and who’s been there and who has understood some of the more complex issues when you lose a loved one, ” he said in the Sky News documentary, The Queen at 90.
“She’s been incredibly supportive and I’ve really appreciated her guidance.”
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