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Diana's children face terrible loss

Princes Charles, Harry and William

Eyes of world focus on young princes

In this report:

September 1, 1997
Web posted at: 8:57 p.m. EDT (0057 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- It was only a year ago that Prince William, 15, and his brother Harry, 12, went through their parents' very public and rather testy divorce.

vxtreme CNN's Donna Kelly reports on the royal family, the children, and their grief

Working through such an experience can be difficult enough, but now they must contend with something far more difficult: the loss of an adored mother. And they must do so while suffering the relentless spotlight of public attention as scions of the British royal family.

Princess Diana's traumatic death in a high-speed chase through the streets of Paris shocked and saddened the world, and there has been no little concern for her sons.

Leading child and adolescence psychiatrist Dora Black, a former director of The Traumatic Distress Clinic in London, says a mother's death is difficult for any child. For William and Harry, the glare of publicity may make it even more difficult.

"It could make it much more difficult to express their feelings," Black says. "Presumably there will be cameras upon them, but they have been brought up to cope with it in a way that Princess Diana wasn't."

Children over 10 cope better

Only hours after learning of their mother's death, the princes attended church with their father, Prince Charles, in Scotland. And although appearing a trifle pale, they appeared to be composed.

"They were very good, indeed, despite what must have been going through their minds and their hearts in the last six hours," the Rev. Robert Sloan told The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Although adolescence is a difficult age, studies have shown that children over 10 cope better with the sudden death of a parent and experience less lasting psychological damage.

"Any traumatic bereavement is likely to produce problems for children, but adolescents are no more vulnerable to lasting problems than adults," says Black.

The princes lived in palaces, but their mother went out of her way to show them life outside. She took them on trips to Disneyland and other amusement parks, as well as to hamburger restaurants and local cinemas. She also introduced them to homeless people and AIDS victims in an attempt to make their lives as "normal" as she could.

William 'serious and bright'

Novelist Lord Geoffrey Archer told CNN that the princess described William, who has already been hailed as a future star of the royal family, as "serious and bright."

Prince William

William, a lanky 6-foot-1, is about to begin his third year at Eton College, a venerable boarding school that has educated the sons of Britain's elite for more than 500 years. Despite his youth, he is quite popular in England, and something of a heartthrob as well.

The princess described Harry, who turns 13 on September 15, as "mischievous, fun and adorable." He is also something of an athlete, and enters his final year at the Ludgrove school in Berkshire.

William was particularly close to his mother, who was barely out of her teens when she gave birth to him, and even advised her during the divorce proceedings.

Diana made no secret that she hoped he -- not his father -- would be Britain's next king, a sentiment shared by many. And yet, says Archer, she told him that Prince Charles was "an outstanding father, and a very good influence on the children. She actually made a point of saying it."

Richard Kay, the Daily Mail's royal correspondent and a close friend of Diana's, said she called him six hours before she died, and said she was troubled by a call from William.

Future king despises the media

He was being required by Buckingham Palace to "perform," Kay said. "They wanted him to carry out a photo call at Eton."

What troubled Diana and William was that Harry was not included.

"She was very conscious that both of them had a role to play," said Rosa Monckton, president of Tiffany and Co., and a friend of Diana's. "She was grooming Harry to be of support to his brother."

As a future king, William must cope with the media he already despises and which have been accused of playing a role in his mother's death. His antipathy for the media is so well-known that some commentators are worried.

"If it turns out that the hated cameras played some part in his mother's death, few would blame him for turning his back on them forever," wrote Robert Hardman in The Daily Telegraph, a conservative daily newspaper. "For a future king to harbor such a loathing for the public eye, however, could damage the monarchy."

Princes need space and time

Such concerns are for the future, however. At the moment, there are more immediate concerns. There is still their enormous sense of loss and grief, the funeral Saturday in Westminster Abbey to contend with and a burial near Diana's family home in Northamptonshire.

Tony Carr, a clinical psychologist and bereavement counselor, said research shows that a sudden death away from home is the hardest for relatives to deal with, and Black suggests that it would help the princes to see their mother's body one last time.

She said that grieving and attending the funeral would also help, as would being able to talk about their grief with someone with whom they feel comfortable.

Said Black, "They will need space and time to come to terms with their loss."

Correspondent Donna Kelley, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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