Prince William speaks of the 'pain like no other pain' of bereavement, and the British stiff upper lip

Hannah Furness

The British public should rethink the default emotional response of a “stiff upper lip”, the Duke of Cambridge has suggested, as he says: “We are not robots.”

The Duke, who reflects on the “pain like no other pain” he experienced following the death of his mother, said the stiff upper lip had its place, but not at the expense of talking cathartically about emotions.

Speaking in BBC documentary A Royal Team Talk, the Duke disclosed how his job as an air ambulance pilot, which saw him see families given “the worst news they could ever possibly have” and time in the military had shaped his views.

The Duke said the death of his mother, who died in 1997 in a Paris car crash, meant he could relate to others who had suffered a bereavement.

He said: "I've thought about this a lot, and I'm trying to understand why I feel like I do, but I think when you are bereaved at a very young age, any time really, but particularly at a young age, I can resonate closely to that, you feel pain like no other pain.

The Duke of Cambridge (centre) with; (left to right) Jermaine Jenas, Gareth Southgate, Peter Crouch, Thierry Henry and Darren Bent, taken for the BBC One documentary a A Royal Team Talk Credit: BBC

"And you know that in your life it's going to be very difficult to come across something that's going to be even worse pain than that.

"But it also brings you so close to all those other people out there who have been bereaved."

In recent years both Prince William and Prince Harry have talked extensively about how they dealt with their mother's death, as they promoted their Heads Together mental health campaign which encouraged people to talk about their problems or listen to others facing issues.

Prince William and Peter Crouch in the BBC programme Credit: Guy Levy/BBC

Talking about national traits, the Duke added: "The British stiff upper lip thing, that's great and we need to have that occasionally when times are really hard. There has to be a moment for that.

"But otherwise we've got to relax a little bit and be able to talk about our emotions because we're not robots."

Of his time in military service, he said: “I've seen plenty of guys who've left the army, having done some serious tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and places like that, who it only hits them once they’ve left, because they just had to move on.

“They just keep moving on, moving on, and eventually they break at the end of it.

“They sort of fall out of the bus, on their face and the bus drives off and they're just left on the side of the road. And they've got to pick themselves up, they've got to sort themselves out.”

In the BBC programme, Prince William teamed up with Peter Crouch, Thierry Henry, Danny Rose, Jermaine Jenas and England manager Gareth Southgate as they shared issues they have struggled with in their careers in a discussion about the importance of mental fitness.

Prince William with the East Anglian Air Ambulance crew Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

 The conversation was filmed earlier this month at the grounds of Cambridge United Football Club, which is pioneering what it means to be a mentally healthy football club.

The duke said he found the emotional side of being an East Anglian Air Ambulance pilot "very difficult".

"To then go in to the ambulance world, which is a much more open and actually, in some cases, very raw, emotional day-to-day stuff, where you're dealing with families who are having the worst news they could ever possibly have on a day-to-day basis, it leaves you with a very depressing, very negative feeling, where you think death is just around the door everywhere I go,” he said.

Princess Diana carrying Prince William at Highgrove

"And that's quite a burden to carry and feel.

"And I felt that with a few jobs that I did, where there were particular personal resonations with the families that I was dealing with.

"That raw emotion, I just thought listen, I can't - I could feel it brewing up inside me and I could feel it was going to take its toll and be a real problem. I had to speak about it."

A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health is part of the BBC's wider mental health season, and is screened on BBC One on Sunday at 10.30pm.