'He's treated me the way he was treated': Inside Prince Charles and Harry's very difficult relationship

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·Royal Correspondent
·7-min read
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Watch: Ben Shephard criticises new parent Harry's attack on his dad Charles

Prince Harry has said he wants to "break the cycle" of "suffering" inherited from his father as he parents his son Archie and his daughter, who is due this summer. 

The Duke of Sussex's stark comments on a podcast with US actor Dax Shepard have led to criticism of the royal - but Prince Charles has not always spoken in glowing terms about his own upbringing.

Prince Charles has heaped praise on his parents in recent years, but previously talked about his complicated childhood to his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby.

In the biography, approved by Charles by 1994, he accused the Queen of being physically and emotionally distant, and revealed Philip was "harsh" and "hectoring". 

He even accused his father of forcing him into his marriage with Diana and admitted he'd never loved her.

Gyles Brandreth, who wrote the Duke of Edinburgh's biography and was able to interview him on multiple occasions, wrote: "Once upon a time, Prince Charles was in the habit of complaining about his childhood – plaintively and to almost anyone who would listen.

"In the early 1990s, when he cooperated with the broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby to produce a documentary and a book about his life, the Prince of Wales made it clear to all the world that, as a boy, he had felt neglected at home and abandoned at school.

"His parents did not cherish him, or understand him, in the way that his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, did."

BRAEMAR, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 02:  Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales watch the 2017 Braemar Gathering at The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park on September 2, 2017 in Braemar, Scotland.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The Queen with Charles and Philip at the 2017 Braemar Gathering. Philip's relationship with his parents had its ups and down. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

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But pointing to the different way the duke had seen it, Brandreth said of Philip: "When I raised it with him, Prince Philip shrugged and pointed out that, at the time, he was serving in the Royal Navy and that servicemen and their families are often apart."

Philip too had a difficult childhood, having to flee his homeland of Greece as a toddler with his family when they were forced into exile.

By 10, his parents were separated, his mother was in an asylum and his father lived in France with a girlfriend.

It was at strict Scottish boarding school Gordonstoun, which Charles would go on to hate, that he found some of his stability. 

The Queen's childhood, by contrast, was relatively happy and stable, despite the war years. Her father, King George VI would refer to the family as "us four," and she was close to her sister, Princess Margaret. 

Watch: Prince Harry: I won't pass down my trauma to my kids

Read more: Prince Harry's outburst against Charles likely to deepen rift with William

Speaking to Shepard in California, Harry said: "There is no blame. 

"I don’t think we should be pointing the finger or blaming anybody, but certainly when it comes to parenting, if I’ve experienced some form of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father or my parents had suffered, I’m going to make sure I break that cycle so that I don’t pass it on, basically."

He cited his father's unhappy schooling and the impact it had on him, and talked about the way Charles had been treated by the Queen and Philip, adding, "I also know that is connected to his parents, so that means he’s treated me the way he was treated – so how can I change that for my own kids?"

Harry and Charles have certainly had a rocky relationship over the years. 

Following the release of the 2020 biography about Harry and Meghan, Finding Freedom, author Omid Scobie said: "The boys have, in the past, run hot and cold with their father.

"He's not just their father, he's also the future king and their boss - he's the purse-keeper.

"There are many political things here which can feed into a very up-and-down relationship, and it was felt by those at Clarence House that it was a headache to put together."

He also told True Royalty TV at the time that Charles offered lots of private, quiet support to the couple, but suggested they may have wanted more public backing. 

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 19:  Prince Harry looks at his bride, Meghan Markle, as she arrived accompanied by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales during their wedding in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Owen Humphreys - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Charles stepped in to walk Meghan down the aisle when her father could not make the wedding. (Owen Humphreys - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Perhaps one of their best known signs of support and affection for one another was in 2017, when Harry interviewed his father for BBC Radio 4, when he guest edited the Today programme.

Discussing Charles's lifelong passion for the environment, Harry said the two men would talk for "hours and hours" about it, with Charles acknowledging Harry's work on it with the comment: "You know, dear boy, if I may say so, the fact that you’re saying this gives me enormous optimism."

Earlier that year, Harry and William had talked about the death of their mother in a documentary, but hadn't mentioned their father.

Soon after, Harry said that he had been "there for us" and had tried to protect them. 

He said: "He was the one of the two left. He tried to do his best and to make sure that we were protected and looked after but he was going through the same grieving process as well."

It wasn't always easy growing up - footage from a polo match that Charles, Harry and William were at shows Harry brushing some boots clean, and being teased as he does it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22:  (L-R) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex gives a speech next to Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex as they attend The Prince of Wales' 70th Birthday Patronage Celebration held at Buckingham Palace on May 22, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Harry gave a warm speech for his father at The Prince of Wales' 70th Birthday Patronage Celebration held at Buckingham Palace in May 2018. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

In the clip, Harry makes a dig at Charles saying his father would "get someone else to do it for you". 

In 2018, soon after Charles had stepped into walk Meghan down the aisle to Harry, they celebrated the Prince of Wales 70th birthday, with Harry giving a speech in tribute to him.

He said: "It is your selfless drive to affect change, whether that is to improve the lives of those who are on the wrong path, to save an important piece of our national heritage or to protect a particular species under threat, which William and I draw inspiration from every day.

"So, Pa, while I know that you've asked that today not be about you, you must forgive me if I don’t listen to you – much like when I was younger – and instead, I ask everyone here to say a huge thank you to you, for your incredible work over nearly 50 years."

He noted that much of the work and interests that he and William had developed came from his father's work.

However it appears their relationship soured sometime around the end of 2019, as Harry began to look at what it could mean to step back from his role as a senior royal.

The Prince Of Wales, Prince William & Prince Harry Attend A Photocall In Klosters, Switzerland. . (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
Harry, Charles and William laugh during a photocall before their 2005 holiday in Klosters, Switzerland. (Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

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He and Meghan took Archie to Canada for an extended break and it was there that they began to formulate the plan for a scaled back role.

But Harry told Oprah Winfrey, in their explosive interview in March, that Charles had wanted the plan written down, and he had been reluctant to do so in case it was leaked. He went on to reveal that Charles stopped taking his phone calls.

Then, as they edged closer to the official last date of their public work, Harry claimed that Charles cut them off financially.

Harry spoke of wanting to restore his relationship with his father, though it's not known if the two men spoke when he was in the UK for the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Harry once said of his father "I don’t think people realise quite how kind he is".

Hopefully, there will be enough kindness remaining for Harry and Charles to build bridges.

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