The Duke of Cambridge has spoken of the “life-changing” moment he became a father after the trauma of his young life, saying having children was one of the “scariest” moments he has experienced.
The Duke, whose mother died when he was 15, said the emotions flooded back “in leaps and bounds” after the birth of his first baby, finding it overwhelming as he realised Diana, Princess of Wales, was not there to help him.
In a conversation with former Premier League footballer Marvin Sordell (pictured below), about mental health, he said he and the Duchess had to “learn and evolve” together after the arrival of Prince George, moving into a “very different phase of life”.
The pair spoke as part of a new BBC documentary about football and mental health, aimed at encouraging men in particular to open up about their emotions and wellbeing.
The programme will be broadcast while the Duke is in lockdown at Anmer Hall with the Duchess, where they have been undertaking royal engagements via video call and homeschooling Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Mr Sordell, a former England U21 player, talked candidly about his struggle with depression, raising the pressure he felt after becoming a father in 2017.
“It was the hardest time in my life,” he told the Duke. “You know I found it really tough. I grew up without my father…I really struggled with my emotions at that time”.
Asked how he had managed the leap into fatherhood, the Duke said he could relate to what Mr Sordell was saying.
“Having children is the biggest life changing moment, it really is,” he said. “I agree with you.
“I think when you’ve been through something traumatic in life – and that is like you say, your dad not being around, my mother dying when I was younger – the emotions come back in leaps and bounds.
“Because it’s a very different phase of life and there’s no-one there to kind of help you. I definitely found it very, at times, overwhelming.”
On how he had coped, he added: “Me and Catherine particularly, we support each other and we go through those moments together and we kind of evolve and learn together…
“Emotionally things come out of the blue that you don’t ever expect or that maybe you think you’ve dealt with. “I can completely relate to what you’re saying about children coming along. It’s one of the most amazing moments of life but it’s also one of the scariest.”
Reassuring the footballer that he would be a brilliant father, he promised: “Your dad would be very proud of you.”
“So would your mum,” said Mr Sordell, as the Duke smiled and replied: “I appreciate that.” The conversation forms part of a documentary, filmed by the BBC over the course of a year.
In it, a spokesman said, he “meets men from all walks of life from players, fans and managers from grassroots to the elite as part of his efforts to start the biggest ever conversation on mental health, through football”.
Mr Sordell spoke of a suicide attempt in 2013, saying he had been in a “really bad place” but that the attitude in football at the time meant “we don’t look at these things and tackle them and try and solve them, we just think we just wanna put that away, and just leave it”.
Last year, he retired at 28. He has a wife and two small children, and now owns a media production company. The Duke has previously spoken about how he ensures his late mother is still included in his family life, regularly telling Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis about “Granny Diana”.
Asked in a 2017 documentary about what she would be like as a grandmother, he joked: “She’d love the children to bits, but she’d be an absolute nightmare.
“She’d come and go and she’d come in probably at bath time, cause an amazing amount of scene, bubbles everywhere, bathwater all over the place and then leave.”
The new television programme was supposed to be a highlight of months of work for the Duke, with a series of engagements focusing closely on mental health and football pencilled in for this year. The Heads Up campaign, which was supposed to last for the 2019/20 season, launched at the Community Shield and was intended to culminate on Saturday, at the now-cancelled FA Cup Final.
Working with charities Mind, CALM, Sporting Chance and Heads Together, it saw grassroots clubs to professional footballers try to “break the stigma” around admitting to mental health difficulties.
As the coronavirus pandemic forced a last-minute change of plans, the Duke has swapped royal visits and face-to-face meetings at Kensington Palace for working from home in Norfolk during lockdown.
He and the Duchess have undertaken a range of engagements via videolink, from thanking frontline workers and hearing from struggling charities to fun-filled sessions of bingo with pensioners and admiring Easter bonnets made by schoolchildren.
Their three young children have also taken part in the “clap for our carers” movement, and have been out delivering home-made food to vulnerable locals.
The programme, Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health, will be broadcast on Thursday at 8.05pm on BBC One.