Prince Harry's long journey from fun uncle to a doting dad
Having witnessed his love for children and his enthusiasm for parenthood at first hand, I know the prince will be an amazing father, writes his royal biographer Angela Levin
'It just so happens that I'm very good at hugs," Prince Harry told me as we chatted at Kensington Palace a while back, which he was sure would have made his mother "smile with pride". Hugs are, of course, just what babies need to blossom.
Harry has ached to have children for a long time. Now that the moment has come, the question everyone is asking is what sort of father will he make.
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I had the good fortune to accompany him on his royal engagements for over a year for my biography 'Harry: Conversations with the Prince', and saw for myself the daredevil, rebellious action man has a soft paternal side. It is most apparent when children are around, and I believe his warmth, exuberance and tenderness make him a superdad.
The public was first aware of his extraordinary empathy with children in 2004 when the rather disturbed 19-year-old prince spent eight weeks in Lesotho, southern Africa, to work at Sentebale, an orphanage for children and young people affected by HIV.
Small children have a sixth sense that tells them if an adult is genuine or is someone to be wary of. Harry was not only instantly accepted but felt equally comfortable in their presence. "Children don't judge me," he explained. "They just see me as someone who likes to have fun."
He had no qualms about quietly cradling ailing babies, gently holding their tiny heads in his large hands. While at Sentebale he struck up a particularly close bond with orphaned four-year-old Mutsu Potsane, who followed him everywhere and helped him to plant a tree. When Harry returned to Sentebale for another visit he bought Mutsu a pair of blue Wellington boots, which he refused to take off for weeks, even at bedtime. Theirs has been an ongoing relationship: last year Harry paid for him to fly over to Windsor for his wedding.
Other children are equally mesmerised by him. On royal walkabouts he regularly zooms in to talk to a child especially if they are disabled or have ginger hair, and he easily makes them laugh. When Harry visited Nottingham two years ago one little girl jumped up and down in excitement as she told me she couldn't wait to see him.
"You know he's a real live prince," she told me. Harry is also patron of WellChild, a charity that provides care for seriously ill children and young people. The tenderness he shows these terminally ill or handicapped children is often overwhelmingly moving to watch.
His ability to relate to children is undoubtedly inherited from his mother, and he is likely to copy some of her child-rearing methods. "I instinctively know what my mother would like me to do," he told me and described Princess Diana as "a total kid through and through", whose motto for him was, "You can be as naughty as you want, just don't get caught."
She rejected the unwritten rule that royal child-rearing should be distant and uninvolved. She wanted her young sons never to doubt they were loved, and even publicly showered them with hugs and kisses.
Diana also wanted them to have as broad an experience of life as possible and made sure they saw how others less fortunate than themselves lived. Nor did she want them to miss out on what other children did, like going to see Father Christmas, pantomimes and the cinema. She enjoyed taking them on rollercoaster rides, even to the extent of getting soaked whizzing down a water slide in fits of laughter.
But he will almost certainly keep his baby out of the spotlight as he has long wished to escape "the goldfish bowl of royal life". If he and Meghan make a temporary move to Africa as has been rumoured, this will be his opportunity. I'm also sure he will put his child's needs first. We had been talking for a while when he suddenly paused and said: "William and I were 15 and 12 when our mother died and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin.
"No child should lose their mother at such a young age and then have his grief observed by thousands of people watching me, while millions more round the world did on television. I don't think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances."
Harry's childhood experiences were inevitably tarnished by the toxic atmosphere between his parents and by their subsequent divorce. In a 2017 TV interview Harry talked openly about his and William's plight: "The two of us were bouncing between the two of them and we never saw our mother enough or we never saw our father enough...
"As a kid I never enjoyed speaking to my parents on the phone. We spent far too much time speaking on the phone rather than speaking to each of them."
The sudden death of his mother when he was only 12 has inevitably left deep scars. They are powerful reasons why he will make it a priority to give his child a loving happy family life. But aside from looking to the footprint of his childhood for leads, he's had the useful experience of being a loving uncle to William and Kate's three young children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Whether or not the rumours of a royal rift between the brothers are true, from the beginning Prince Harry has always relished his role as uncle.
When asked a few days after the birth of Prince George whether he had seen his first nephew he said he had been "crying his eyes out" when they met but that he had cuddled the baby prince.
Of course Meghan may have different views on child-rearing and this can certainly be a challenging time for any couple, royal or not. She has already voiced a couple of ambitions for their new arrival. In March, during a panel discussion to celebrate International Women's Day, she said she hopes her baby will be a feminist. She has also reportedly asked Elton John to teach the baby the piano when he or she is old enough to learn.
Harry, however, has more emotional leanings. "I have an incredibly large heart," he told me. "There is so much passion inside of me that I can also give to other people." His baby will undoubtedly be top of that list. (© Daily Telegraph, London)