There is a moment in the controversial stage play, King Charles III, when Prince Harry renounces his Royal life to become a commoner.
It proves to be a brief departure, and the fictional Harry soon resumes his proper role. Yet there is more than a grain of truth in the drama, which was adapted for TV this year.
Because Harry’s search for a role has been long and fraught, and there was indeed a period, however brief, when the young Prince did consider trying to make his mark outside the Royal Family– or ‘The Firm’ – as he told me frankly when we met: ‘There was a time when… I wanted out.’
Prince Harry, pictured speaking in May 2016, is guilty of no more than thoughtfulness and honesty – about an emotional past that binds the younger Royals together
Harry’s battle for a role was at the heart of my Newsweek interview with the Prince last week, when he made the seemingly unguarded suggestion that no one in the Royal Family would wish to accept the crown, given free choice.
Criticism rained down as he was accused of being a whinger, of failing to give due respect to the institution which has brought him so much privilege.
But I believe he was guilty of no more than thoughtfulness and honesty – about an emotional past that binds the younger Royals together.
After two meetings at Kensington Palace, and having accompanied the Prince to a series of engagements, I know that the true measure of Prince Harry lies in something else he told me. I suspect it goes to the heart of his brother William, too.
Halfway through our first meeting, Harry stopped, looked me in the eyes and, out of the blue, said: ‘William and I were 14 and 12 when our mother 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.
‘I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. It certainly wouldn’t happen today.’
It was a burst of openness and maturity that belies his reputation of the past. For I believe him to be not a ‘clown Prince’ or a moaner, but a wounded Prince.
And who would not be scarred to lose a mother at such a young age?
Harry, 32, has reached an age where he understands this too. Indeed, it is this empathy for those in trouble which makes him such an inspiring figure – finally giving him the role he longs for.
In our time together, he was full of self-recognition: laughing at his impatience and admitting how difficult the past had been. At Eton, he said, he just wanted to be a ‘bad boy’.
And most tellingly, he summed up those lost years when his beloved career in the Army was taken from him. ‘I spent many years kicking my heels,’ he said. ‘And I didn’t want to grow up.’
We first met earlier this year in a smart sitting room in Kensington Palace, home not just to Harry but to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Wearing an open-necked, immaculately pressed ice-blue shirt and brown chinos, he leapt out of one of the pale peach armchairs and strode towards me, smiling and with a hand outstretched.
‘I’ve seen you following me about,’ he said, ‘and wondered if you’d like to ask me any questions. But first have you seen The Crown? [the Netflix drama about the House of Windsor].
‘It’s great but I wish they’d stopped at the end of the first series. They absolutely must not move on to the younger generation.’
There would be plenty to go on if they did – as would become clear in the course of our interview.
Certainly, he was happy to acknowledge his own weaknesses.
‘I can do most things with my hands. My next challenge is to learn to play the guitar. But I get very agitated if I am stuck in front of a computer for long.
‘The passion in me, I can give some of that to other people… well, anyone I am with – but I can sometimes get too impatient.
‘I love to see people excel and succeed. If you give care and consideration to younger people they will flourish. Anyone can do anything if you put your mind to it. You just need passion and belief.
‘If you want to be a success you have to be a team player. No one can do anything by themselves. I was taught that in the Army.’
He had loved his military career and felt its loss keenly. Harry found himself directionless. ‘I spent many years kicking my heels and I didn’t want to grow up,’ he admits.
But that was to change. He sought counselling. And determined to be more constructive, he began to think more widely.
‘There was a time I felt I wanted out,’ he says. ‘But then I decided to stay in [The Firm] and work out a role for myself.’ More than anything else, he says, that he was motivated to do something to help his grandmother, the Queen, and charity work came to his rescue.
‘We are incredibly passionate with our charities and they have been chosen because they are on the path shown to me by our mother,’ he says. ‘I love charity stuff and meeting people.’
Harry particularly dislikes ‘feeling I live in a goldfish bowl’, saying: ‘I am determined to have a relatively normal life and if I am lucky enough to have children they can have one too. We don’t want to be just a bunch of celebrities but instead use our role for good.’
Much attention has been drawn to his comment: ‘Is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be King or Queen? I don’t think so but we will carry out our duties at the right time.’
Yet the truth is that Harry is surprisingly thoughtful about the future of the Monarchy, saying that he and William would like to pull it into the 21st Century.
‘We want to make sure the Monarchy lasts and are passionate about what it stands for,’ he explains. ‘We feel that the British public and the whole world needs institutions like this – but it can’t go on as it has done under the Queen.
‘There will be changes and pressure to get them right. Things are moving so fast, especially because of social media, so we are involved in modernising the Monarchy.
‘We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people and the Monarchy we represent. There is so much negative in the world – we as a family try to bring something positive.’
Does he mind dropping from third to fifth in line to the throne after William and Kate’s children, George and Charlotte?
‘The reason I am now fifth is because of my nephew and niece and I could never wish them away,’ he says. ‘They are the most amazing things ever.’
In addition to these formal interviews, I spent about a year accompanying Harry on engagements around the country. He is a remarkable operator.
There were a few techniques he used. One was to leap from the official car, rush towards whoever is in charge and firmly shake their hand.
It gives the genuine impression that he couldn’t wait to get there and is delighted to see them.
Another is to completely focus on the individual he talks to – them and only them. He doesn’t look around, or over their shoulder, and instead engages them totally, and listens carefully to what they say.
Harry readily admits he is not academic, but instead is exceptionally good at connecting with people of all types and ages.
He is reassuring, encouraging and knows what to say, how to say it and when. He has a knack of making people feel good about themselves in both significant and small ways.
He particularly excels with former soldiers who have been affected by injuries sustained in battle. It was obvious that by helping others he was also helping himself.
‘I see a lot of myself in these guys,’ he said. ‘They want an opportunity to prove themselves and be someone,’ he said.
We went to the Help For Heroes recovery centre at Tedworth House, Wiltshire, where ex-soldiers who had been seriously wounded in battle and suffer psychological wounds come for help with depression, stress, anger, anxiety and problems with alcohol.
Harry was both compassionate and jokey, confessing that he missed the black humour and camaraderie of Army life.
The effect was extraordinary, almost as if he had given them an injection of hope and confidence.
Jokes and slaps on the back are essential part of his repertoire. He asks direct questions without seeming intrusive.
For example, his first question to Mike ‘Doris’ Day, 34, formerly a sniper section commander in the 4 Rifles, who was hit by a grenade in Afghanistan in 2009 and whose injuries included a broken back and shrapnel in his head and body, went right to the core: ‘So what has been the biggest effect on you?’ he asked. Day thought for just a moment. ‘I am no longer me,’ he replied quietly.
Harry nodded sympathetically. ‘One of your biggest struggles must be living rather than just existing,’ he continued.
Certainly, he would be happy talking to veterans all day. There was less interest in formal meetings. He would sit politely, but occasionally one of his legs would tap up and down and a shadow would pass across his face.
Harry similarly disliked the formality of Eton and told me that during his time there he had only wanted to be a ‘bad boy’.
Instead, he was in his element during his decade-long stint in the Army and was devastated when in 2007, after ten weeks working in Afghanistan, guiding fighters to suspected Taliban targets, his position was leaked and he was withdrawn for security reasons.
‘I felt very resentful,’ he told me. ‘Being in the Army was the best escape I’ve ever had. I felt I was really achieving something.
‘I have a deep understanding for all sorts of people from different backgrounds and felt I was part of a team… I also wasn’t a Prince, I was just Harry.’
Yet this brings me back to 1997, and that image he evoked of a young boy walking in the glare of millions, part of his mother’s cortege.
The loss has gnawed at him and it is little wonder it has taken so long for him to deal with it.
‘My search began when I was in my mid-20s,’ Harry said. ‘I needed to fix the mistakes I was making and what was going on with me.’
In April he revealed that bottling up his grief had affected every area of his life, bringing him close to a breakdown several times.
For years he seemed lost. He partied with a dubious set of rich friends, and drank and smoked heavily.
But it didn’t help him drown his feelings. ‘Instead of dealing with it I buried my head in the sand and let everything around me tear me to pieces,’ he said.
Eventually, when he was 28, on William’s advice, he sought professional help.
But asked whether she advised him on mental health issues, as some have suggested, there was an answer, sharp and clear: ‘Absolutely she did not.’ The decision has been his, showing a different sort of strength to the courage required in Afghanistan.
Over the last three years he has faced his demons, worked hard to overcome them and grown into an extraordinary young man who has kept some Royal magic, is charming, energetic, sincere and longs to help those who are damaged by war, by accident – or by dysfunctional families.
There is still some way for him to go, but by helping them, this wounded warrior is helping himself – in the best way possible.