Nothing about Prince Harry’s upbringing could be considered “private.” The royal was raised very much in the public eye, even more so after his mom, Princess Diana, died in a car crash when he was just 12 years old.
Every one of his relationships has been played out in the media, with his recent engagement to American actress Meghan Markle dominating the news cycle both in the U.K. and abroad. His scandals have made global headlines too. Who could forget Harry’s nude Vegas photos, or his Nazi costume, complete with a Swastika on his arm? Prince Harry, it seemed, had his most private, secret moments—good or bad—broadcast across the globe.
Which is why it’s so astounding that royal expert Katie Nicholl has managed to surprise us. Her new biography, Harry: Life, Loss, and Love, out Tuesday, dives into those very public moments and reveals some truths that the masses will be surprised to learn about the beloved prince. But as you’d expect, it wasn’t an easy feat.
“Prince Harry has a very tight and protective and loyal circle of friends, some of whom I know. Some of whom I’ve known for many, many years. And it’s really based on trust,” Nicholl told InStyle of getting material for the book. “People will only talk to you if they trust you, if they think that your agenda is largely positive—which mine was—and I think if they know that you’re going to handle the material responsibly and sensibly and sensitively.”
Nicholl, an expert on Prince Harry, admits that some of the details she found out while reporting were surprising even to her. “I was very surprised and really hugely impressed actually to learn what I learned about Harry’s time in Afghanistan, particularly on his first tour. I’d never realized how much danger, maybe that was naïve of me, but I don’t think many people realize how much very real danger was actually in,” she told InStyle.
In the book, Nicholl interviews Harry's Captain Dickon Leigh-Wood, who reveals that the prince was "inches from death" after his tank just missed driving over an explosive device. "We were driving to another village when we almost drove over an IED. It was a much closer shave than the first time. One of the vehicles in the column suddenly noticed something flick underneath the tank in front and everyone was ordered to stop," he told Nicholl. "We discovered that the pressure plate of an IED that the previous vehicles, including Harry's, had missed by about six inches. If any of the tanks had gone over it, it would have been game over for Harry, for any one of us."
“This is a young man who has always been shadowed by protection officers, and he didn’t have any protection when he was out in the field of Afghanistan and fighting on the front line. It was him and his men. And I was completely bowled over really by the accounts that I was given by people who had served on the front line with him,” Nicholl said and added that she hopes people will realize what a “huge risk” Harry took with his military service.
In fact, the prince’s time in the army takes up a lot of real estate in the biography, particularly how reluctant he was to leave it. In March 2015, he made the official announcement via Kensington Palace that he was leaving the military to take on more of a royal role.
The news was surprising considering that his brother and the second in line to the throne, Prince William, balanced his royal duties with a day job as an air ambulance pilot until he resigned in 2017. But behind the scenes, it seems that there was more to Harry’s resignation than meets the eye, as a mixture of security fears, millions of tax dollars, and long-distance relationships were all factors throughout his military career.
Speaking of relationships, Nicholl also dove deep into his relationships with Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, trying to figure out where exactly they went wrong. “I was very curious to try and get to the bottom of why his relationships with Chelsy and Cressida really didn’t end in engagements,” she told InStyle. “So I think those are very interesting accounts by close friends of where the relationships came unstuck.”
As a reader, I was struck by the fact that in both cases, years after the relationships officially ended, Harry was still trying to make them work—particularly with Chelsy. He had “one last hurrah” with his ex in Africa in 2015, years after they broke up. In the biography, one of Nicholl's sources says they “both hoped there might be a chance of a reconciliation,” and they spent time together that summer without the press finding out—no small feat for the prince.
“You sort of get the feeling that neither of them were quite ever willing to completely let go of that love affair. They’d carved their names into one of the tree trunks on the family estate. It was such a love affair, it really was,” Nicholl told InStyle. “Right up until 2015 they were trying to give it another chance. I was quite struck by that and I think everyone that’s been in love, you know, you never forget your first love, and in that respect I think Prince Harry was no different.”
“And I think what’s so lovely is he still manages to have a friendship with Chelsy, and there’s that amazing respect between the two of them. Neither of them have spoken about their relationship and I think you have to respect and admire them for that.”
In the end, it didn’t work out because Chelsy didn’t want the life of a royal. Enter: Meghan Markle. Harry met Meghan in the summer of 2016 through a mutual friend later revealed to be Violet von Westenholz, a childhood friend of Prince Harry. Violet worked in public relations for Ralph Lauren, where she met the Suits star who would later become Harry’s fiancée.
“According to one source, Violet, who knows both Harry and Meghan well, thought they could be well matched and I was told by a source close to Violet that she gave Harry Meghan’s number,” Nicholl writes in Harry.
If you’ve been following the endless news stories surrounding Markle, not too many details in the book will be surprising, though there were a few that struck me. Before Harry met Meghan, she had just recently split from a boyfriend, Canadian chef Cory Vitiello. She was traveling around Europe with her friends Lindsay Roth and fashion designer Misha Nonoo after the split, and was introduced to the prince soon after.
While Meghan was known for her role in Suits, her first acting part was actually in General Hospital, and she played a maid on CSI: NY before landing her seven-year part. And while she said she didn’t know much about Harry before meeting him, a friend revealed to Nicholl that she was fascinated with royalty as a kid and even had a copy of Diana: Her True Story on her bookshelf growing up.
As for her relationship with Prince Harry, the couple managed to take several secret trips that weren’t leaked to the press until after they’d returned, including one visit to Norway to see the northern lights in early 2017. According to Nicholl, the couple spent several nights staying in a glass-topped luxury teepee in the middle of the wilderness so they fell asleep under the stars.
That was just one instance of the two escaping the press and paparazzi. In the biography, Nicholl details the extraordinary lengths they've gone through to hide from the paparazzi, including hiding out at friends' houses and leaking stories about fake flights. When news of their relationship first broke in October 2016, Harry happened to be visiting Meghan in Toronto. "A story was leaked that Harry had canceled a flight to Toronto to try and make it look like he was in the U.K., but photographers and reporters descended on Meghan’s home regardless," Nicholl wrote, adding that the two went to hide out in her friend Jessica Mulroney's house instead.
Considering how good they are at staying under the radar, there’s no telling how many more romantic trips they’ve taken that the world will never know about. But most of the time, they really are at home at Nottingham Cottage, cooking dinner and watching TV. And yes, they do watch The Crown.
"An accomplished cook, Meghan loved to make extravagant dinners for Harry, and they enjoyed staying in and eating her delicious homemade meals and watching films and TV shows like The Crown on Netflix," Nicholl wrote. "She had certainly transformed Nottingham Cottage, tastefully adding some feminine touches to the bachelor décor, including fresh flowers, organic cookbooks and her favorite Le Labo Santal 26 scented candles."