Prince Charles’ miserable years at a militant Scottish boarding school he called ‘Colditz with kilts’ is likely to be what Prince Harry believes is the source of his father’s sad childhood.
The heir to the throne was punched as he slept in Gordonstoun’s penal-style dormitories, was bullied mercilessly because of his ears and saw other new boys attacked with pliers until the flesh on their arms tore open.
But some have pointed out that by sending his children to Eton rather than Gordonstoun where Prince Philip insisted he went – Charles did try to ‘break the cycle’ that his youngest son claims forced him to emigrate to Los Angeles last year.
Harry yesterday launched another broadside at the Royal Family in which he appeared to suggest both his father and the Queen failed as parents. He dramatically claimed he had no choice but to leave to avoid ‘genetic pain and suffering’ for the sake of his own children and his mental health.
The Queen and Prince Philip’s decision to send Charles to Gordonstoun – and keep him there when he begged his mother to bring him home – is widely known to have scarred the Prince of Wales and featured heavily in Season 2 of The Crown.
‘A prison sentence,’ was how Charles later described it, as well as ‘Colditz with kilts.’ While William Boyd, the best-selling novelist and screenwriter and a Gordonstoun contemporary of Charles, called it ‘Like penal servitude’, adding: ‘I happen to know, from his own lips, that Prince Charles utterly detested it.’
1st April 1962: Prince Charles arrives with his former pupil father Prince Philip at Gordonstoun School in Scotland for his first term, and is shown around by Captain Iain Tennant, chairman of the board of governors. It would be a miserable experience for the heir to the throne that Harry hinted was the source of his unhappiness
Gordonstoun, pictured in the year Charles arrived, had a reputation for being one of the toughest public schools in the UK and so it proved for the Prince of Wales
(From left) Dax Shepard, his co-host Monica Padman and Prince Harry pose in a photograph for the Armchair Experts podcast, where the duke poured his heart out for 90 minutes
Charles had called it ‘Colditz with kilts’ and begged his mother to let him come home, but he was forced to stay where he was relentlessly bullied
‘A prison sentence’: Charles hated Gordonstoun and said he got hadly any sleep in his dormitory
Charles’ terrible experience at the school was central to Season 2 of The Crown (pictured)
Charles was plunged into the then demonic culture of Gordonstoun in the summer term of 1962, having come from his prep school, Cheam, in Hampshire, without the vaguest idea of what was about to hit him.
Upon arrival, he found himself cold-shouldered by fellow pupils in his house, Windmill Lodge, because the housemaster had warned any antagonistic behaviour towards the heir to the throne would result in immediate expulsion. As a result, recalled a fellow housemate, he was picked upon at once, ‘maliciously, cruelly, and without respite’.
At a glance: What did Harry say in the US mental health podcast?
- Harry compared living under scrutiny as a member of the Royal Family to the film The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as a man oblivious to the fact that his entire life is a TV show, and to being an animal in a zoo.
- Speaking about Prince Charles, Harry said: ‘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.
- The Duke said he met up with his future wife Meghan in a supermarket in the early days of their relationship and they pretended not to know each other.
- Harry told how he quit as a senior royal with Meghan last year to put his family and mental health ‘first’.
- The 36-year-old royal put ‘wild partying’ in his youth down to ‘childhood trauma’ – and started therapy after Meghan ‘saw he was angry’
- The Duke said he was born into extraordinary privilege but hinted that he believes this has changed since he quit with Meghan
- Harry revealed Meghan told him of her experience of royal life: ‘You don’t need to be a princess, you can create the life that will be better than any princess.’
Charles was writing home to the Queen: ‘I hardly get any sleep in the House because I snore and I get hit on the head all the time. It’s absolute hell.’
And after two years at the school, Charles was as much under pressure as the day he joined. ‘The people in my dormitory are foul,’ he wrote home. ‘They throw slippers all night long or hit me with pillows… Last night was hell, literal hell. I wish I could come home.’
Another insider said: ‘Charles was mocked relentlessly about his ears, which were larger than average and somewhat protruding. He had no defences available to him, save a stubborn refusal to complain either to the perpetrators or to his housemaster.’
The Duke of Edinburgh had had a happy time at the school in the Thirties, and he wrote his son bracing letters of admonition urging him to be strong and resourceful.
‘He was bullied,’ recalled Ross Benson, the late Daily Mail correspondent who was also a contemporary. ‘He was crushingly lonely for most of his time there. The wonder is that he survived with his sanity intact.’
When he had his own children, Charles chose not to force them to suffer in the same way and sent them to Eton instead.
But yesterday Harry blasted Prince Charles’ parenting as he poured his heart out to a US mental health podcast and said he moved to California with his family to ‘break the cycle’ of ‘pain’ he suffered as a member of the Royal Family – and needed to ‘change that for my own kids’.
In an explosive interview, Harry spoke of his years of therapy, revealed he wanted to walk away from the monarchy in his 20s, and even touched on his ‘wild days’ of partying and the infamous naked photographs of himself in Las Vegas.
Vowing to bring up his own children differently from how Prince Charles raised him (in turn based on his upbringing by the Queen and Prince Philip), the Duke of Sussex said: ‘He’s treated me the way he was treated, so how can I change that for my own kids?’
Harry described his life as a cross between the film The Truman Show – in which a man discovers he is living in a reality TV programme – and a zoo.
The prince made his comments in the Armchair Expert podcast with US media personality Dax Shepard, who has had his own well-publicised battle with drink and drugs.
Charles will not response publicly to his son’s comments, but they are likely to have caused him great pain
Pupils at Gordonstoun School doing physical training on an obstacle course, a daily occurrence at the school
The duke said he was now ‘more comfortable being able to talk about my own struggle because I do it to help other people’. ‘I don’t see it as complaining,’ he added. Talking about his life and his family ‘comes from a place of courage rather than weakness,’ Harry insisted.
While the hour-and-a-half-long conversation was ostensibly about mental health, it was littered with Harry’s gripes about being born a royal, coping with the goldfish bowl of public life and why he wanted to leave.
Although he made a point of saying he didn’t want to ‘point the finger of blame at anybody’, Harry’s clear suggestion that Charles played a role in his childhood unhappiness will do nothing to repair their fractured relationship.
His mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was by contrast painted in glowing terms.
It will also be seen by many as implicit criticism of his grandparents, the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh, for the way they brought up their own children.
Harry, 36, who has a son Archie, two, and is expecting a daughter with Meghan, said: ‘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.’
Referring to his father’s often distant relationship with his own parents and Prince Philip’s insistence on sending his sensitive son to Gordonstoun School in Scotland – later described by a miserable Charles as ‘Colditz in kilts’ – the prince added: ‘It’s hard to do but for me it comes down to awareness.
‘I never saw it, I never knew about it, and then suddenly I started to piece it together and go, “OK, so this is where he went to school, this is what happened, I know this about his life, 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’s implicit criticism of the way he was brought up is likely to re-open wounds already inflicted by his and Meghan’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in March.
In it the couple made a series of highly damaging allegations about family members, with Harry accusing Charles, 72, of cutting him off financially and saying: ‘I feel really let down by my father.’
Neither Buckingham Palace nor Clarence House were commenting last night.
But it is clear they feel frustrated Harry is continuing to talk publicly about deeply personal family relationships. ‘They appear to be making careers of talking about their previous ones,’ a source said. ‘It is not helpful.’
Sources also noted that ‘nothing ever appears to be their own fault’.
The podcast was littered with references to other commercial ventures, such as the prince’s new series on mental health with Miss Winfrey with Apple TV+.
Harry, who recently took a job as ‘chief impact officer’ at a Silicon Valley mental health and life-coaching start-up company, also talked about how he wants to continue with therapy even though he does not believe he needs it.
Meanwhile, the podcast’s host plugged the fact he is moving to Spotify, the streaming firm Harry and Meghan have also done a lucrative deal with.
It came as senior royals in the UK had a busy day of official engagements. Charles was visiting a cancer care charity, while William and Kate were in Wolverhampton to highlight community initiatives as part of mental health awareness week.