Prince Harry turns 37 Wednesday, and while it’s not a milestone birthday – his wife Duchess Meghan just turned 40 – it does come after a breakthrough year for the prince, which focused on building a not-so-royal life with his family in California and touting the benefits of making mental health a priority.
His big day is kicking off with a major recognition – he made the list of Time’s most 100 influential people of 2021 alongside Meghan. The two appear together for one of the outlet’s worldwide covers, marking the first time the couple has formally posed together for a magazine cover shoot.
In a feature story about the pair, José Andrés, Founder of World Central Kitchen, praises the couple for not staying silent and showing compassion for strangers.
Harry’s royal counterparts also recognized him on his birthday, despite a strain on the relationships with his family.
Prince William and Duchess Kate posted a short “Happy Birthday” message Wednesday morning on Twitter, while the official @RoyalFamily account shared a series of photos of the prince (including one of him and Meghan).
“Wishing The Duke of Sussex a happy birthday today!” the post read, with a balloon emoji added.
In the Duke of Sussex’s 36th trip around the sun, he spilled his guts to Oprah Winfrey and Dax Shepard in bombshell interviews, said goodbye to his grandfather Prince Philip, celebrated three years of marriage, launched a mental health series, became a dad of two, stood by his brother Prince William to unveil a statue of his late mother Princess Diana and announced several new projects including an intimate memoir and Netflix series.
It’s been an eventful year for Prince Harry, who alongside Duchess Meghan, stepped away from full-time royal life in early 2020, a departure agreement that was finalized in February 2021.
Free from the royal reins, the duke is also feeling free to to speak up – and he’s not holding back. Here are some of the biggest moments from Prince Harry’s past year and what’s in store for year 37.
Royal hardships exposed in explosive interviews
Less than a month after their royal departure became official, the couple revealed damning details about royal life in an explosive two-hour TV special with Winfrey. Among the many revelations, the Sussexes said someone in the royal family (neither the queen nor Prince Philip) raised concerns about “how dark” Archie’s skin might be at birth. Meghan also revealed she became suicidal and couldn’t get any help from “the institution” of the monarchy, because she wasn’t an employee, she was told.
Backing his wife, Harry said they were refused support after asking for help, and because of a constant “barrage” of media criticism. He said he was afraid of “history repeating itself,” a reference to the experiences of his late mother.
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In a May interview on Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast, Harry compared his life under the watchful eye of the public as feeling like “The Truman Show.”
“It’s the job right? Grin and bear it. Get on with it. I was in my early twenties and I was thinking I don’t want this job, I don’t want to be here,” Prince Harry said. “I don’t want to be doing this. Look what it did to my mom, how am I ever going to settle down and have a wife and family when I know that it’s going to happen again?”
A rift between brothers and reunions
It was also during the conversation with Winfrey that Harry admitted to a fractured relationship with his brother.
“I love him to bits, we’ve been through hell together, we had a shared experience, but we’re on different paths,” Harry said, but later conceded: “The relationship is spaced at the moment.”
The first time the two reunited in public was at the funeral for their grandfather Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who died April 9. The funeral was roughly one month after the Winfrey interview, which seemingly upset Prince William, especially in regards to claims the royal family is racist.
“We’re very much not a racist family,” he told reporters days after the interview.
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During Prince Philip’s services, the brothers remained mostly separated (COVID-19 restrictions helped) – but later left the church shoulder to shoulder in conversation.
They also came together in July for the unveiling of Princess Diana’s new statue on what would have been their late mother’s 60th birthday. They smiled for photographs and released a joint statement ahead of the unveiling honoring their mom.
“We remember her love, strength and character – qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better,” they said.
The brothers are currently living on different continents. Prince William continues to carry out royal duties alongside his wife, Duchess Kate.
Three years of marriage and a baby girl
Two more major milestones were met for Harry in his 36th year including celebrating his third wedding anniversary with the former Meghan Markle and welcoming their second child, a baby girl named Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.
Their daughter is named after Queen Elizabeth II, whose nickname among family is “Lilibet,” and Princess Diana. Born at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Lilibet is an American citizen.
Both moments were marked very differently for the duo, who are reinventing themselves and breaking from royal tradition.
Anniversaries typically bring the release of new portraits and new babies are usually announced under strict media planning. For the births of all three of Will and Kate’s children, the couple emerged from St. Mary’s Hospital in London within hours to face a crowd of well-wishers and media and to pose briefly with the baby.
But, Harry and Meghan are doing their own thing, which often involves the announcement of a charitable act through their Archewell Foundation.
On their third anniversary, they announced they were working with World Central Kitchen to build a new community relief center in Mumbai, India, which is dealing with the devastating effects of COVID-19.
When Lilibet was born, in lieu of gifts, the couple asked well-wishers to support organizations working for women and girls including Girls Inc., Harvest Home, CAMFED or the Myna Mahila Foundation.
The same goes for birthdays. For Meghan’s 40th, she launched “40×40,” an initiative aimed at pushing for people around the world to dedicate 40 minutes to support women’s return to the workforce, many whom have lost their jobs amid the pandemic.
Duchess Meghan turns 40:Prince Harry cameos in sweet birthday video, along with Melissa McCarthy
A focus on mental health
Harry joined forces with multi-hyphenate TV host Winfrey for a mental health series called “The Me You Can’t See,” which debuted in May on Apple TV+.
In the five-part series, he reveals he is triggered by London, where his mother Princess Diana lived, and used EMDR therapy to address the trauma. He also admits that in the past he’s leaned on drugs and alcohol to cope.
“I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs, I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling,” he says in an episode.
Beyond the TV series, Harry even has new gig focused on mental health. In March, BetterUp, Inc. announced the Duke of Sussex would join its team as the first chief impact officer.
“My hope is to help people develop their inner strength, resilience, and confidence,” Harry wrote in a blog posted to the company’s site. “I firmly believe that focusing on and prioritising our mental fitness unlocks potential and opportunity that we never knew we had inside of us. As the Royal Marine Commandos say, ‘It’s a state of mind.’ We all have it in us.”
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A memoir, Netflix and Spotify deals
So what’s the next year going to bring for the prince?
Harry is working on a memoir, currently untitled and expected to come out late in 2022, where he is set to share “the definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses, and life lessons that have helped shape him,” Random House announced in July.
The couple also has deals with Spotify and Netflix.
In December, they announced an exclusive partnership with audio streaming giant Spotify to create podcasts sharing uplifting stories, hosted by the couple. Their first episode aired in December, a holiday special reflecting on a difficult 2020. It included an adorable Archie cameo: his first recorded words. They planned to roll out more podcasts in 2021, but none have surfaced so far.
The couple also signed a multiyear deal with Netflix to produce scripted series, docu-series, documentaries, features and children’s programming.
They have already announced two projects: a docu-series called “Heart of Invictus” which follows competitors journeying to the Invictus Games, an event founded by Harry, and an animated series called “Pearl,” helmed by Duchess Meghan.
Contributing: Maria Puente, Rasha Ali, Erin Jensen, Hannah Yasharoff