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Princess Diana was proud of her two sons – one who is destined to be king and the other who has been coined “the spare” by the press.
Knowing that Prince William would receive a special kind of favoritism within the monarchy as second in line to the throne, she was determined to shield Prince Harry from the ‘spare’ label.
“I think she tried to control it as much as she could,” James Patterson told Fox News Digital. “I think she was troubled about it. That’s a standard thing for families. One of the kids who do better in school or become a better athlete seems to be a little more charming and lovable. How do you make the other kids feel that they’re just enough? It happens pretty much to all families. And in this case, the stakes are much higher because one is presumably going to be king someday.”
“I think she was very aware of the situation,” Patterson continued. “She had experienced how difficult it was to be in her role as a princess… She wanted to have her own life. And that was very hard for her. She didn’t want the boys to experience the same struggles she faced. She tried as much as she could to control it. She simply wanted them to be normal kids and understand that the real world doesn’t operate in the same way it worked within the palace. They shouldn’t see themselves as special or different.”
Patterson is among one of the bestselling authors in history and has written or co-written hundreds of books. The 75-year-old, who reliably turns out several books a year, now has his sights set on the late royal. His latest book, titled “Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother,” focuses on Diana’s fierce devotion to her sons before her sudden death in 1997 at age 36 from injuries she sustained in a Paris car crash.
Patterson said he researched numerous archives from England from over the years to paint an accurate portrait of Diana, who believed her greatest role in life was that of a mother.
“There have already been too many books about Diana as a princess,” he explained. “What I found interesting here, especially when we started looking at the UK press archives, which has a lot of material that was never really released to the states, was Diana as a mother. I think that’s as close to who she was and where she wanted her heart to be. I do think she liked some of the fantasy trappings of being a princess, especially early on. But ultimately, she was a mother who was at odds with the crown.”
As a parent, Diana defied tradition. She was a doting, hands-on mother who openly showed love and affection toward both of her sons. Not only did she hug them frequently, but she enjoyed taking them to school, as well as amusement parks and even fast-food restaurants where they could get a taste of life outside the palace.
“The queen didn’t get it,” said Patterson. “It was like, ‘Why would she do that?’ I think Diana always found herself on the outside looking in and was often at odds in terms of how the kids were brought up in that family. She once said that the first time she experienced real happiness was when she held William in her arms for the first time. It was the first time she felt complete as a person. Even today, the boys describe how she was the best mother in the world. I think that’s her true legacy.”
Diana, who was hounded by the press and would later be chased to her death by paparazzi, was aware that her sons would not be able to escape the glaring spotlight; therefore, she came up with creative ways for them to address the press.
“She wanted to shield them from some of the things that were troubling her within her role,” said Patterson. “William, as a little kid, hated the photographers. There’s one scene in the book where they’re having a little vacation and the press is everywhere. It was a constant click, click, click of cameras. At one point, they’re throwing water balloons at the press boats. Diana referred to herself as the chief loader. It was humorous, but also tragic.”
“The whole thing of being in the eye of the press and having to be a role model, even as a kid, was difficult,” said Patterson. “She didn’t want the kids to suffer through that. She wanted them to be as normal as they could be. She insisted on taking them to McDonald’s because that’s what kids did. Queen Elizabeth wound up going to McDonald’s, but she didn’t understand. She didn’t think the burgers were that good.”
“Diana tried to explain that it was about the Happy Meal and the toys that came with it. But she also took them to homeless shelters. She wanted them to see the other side. Not everyone drives around in fancy cars. A lot of people have no money… She also explained that not everybody likes them, which might be tough for a kid to swallow, but she insisted on them experiencing the real world.”
Like many moms, Diana had special nicknames for William and Harry, and Patterson admitted they were unique.
“She called William DDG – ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous,’” he said. “She probably didn’t know he was going to lose his hair so early. She called Harry GKH or ‘Good King Harry.’”
According to Patterson, William was “a handful” who did not like being told how to behave. William allegedly once responded, “I don’t want to be king.” When Harry quipped “Well, I’ll do the job instead of you then,” the nickname was born.
Following her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996, Diana was thinking about the future. She questioned her parenting skills and wondered if she was doing enough for her children. She was also determined to carve out a new life for herself, one where she could finally escape some of the royal trappings that had held her back during her doomed marriage. According to Patterson, Diana considered moving to California, where she felt Americans would embrace her with open arms.
“The whole situation during the last couple of years was overwhelming for her,” said Patterson. “She was trying to figure out where to go from there. She was getting involved more socially than she was in the past. But she was concerned.”
William was 15 and Harry was just 12 when their mother died. An estimated 2.5 billion people around the globe would tune in and watch the boys walk behind their mother’s coffin. Today, they lead separate lives as they carve out their own paths.
William, 40, has taken on more royal duties in support of his grandmother, 96, who has been suffering from mobility issues. As for Harry, the 37-year-old and his wife Meghan Markle stepped back as senior royals in 2020. They now reside in California with their two children – a place that Diana once considered for her future.
Patterson said he wondered what Diana would have thought of their relationship today, one that has been plagued with ongoing rumors of an alleged fallout.
“Growing up, the boys couldn’t have been closer,” said Patterson. “They were so tight and caring of one another. And when they lost their mother, they leaned on each other. Now one has committed to the crown and tradition. The other said, ‘I can’t take this. I have to have my own life.’”
Patterson hopes his book will show a different side to Diana, one that he said is often overlooked.
“People are still interested in Diana – I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” said Patterson. “But if you want to understand her, I think you need to look at the most important aspect of her life and the way she saw herself, which was a mother. She always knew it would be part of her role. But it was much more than duty for her. And I think her sons prove that today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.