The royal brothers are leading the conversation about breaking down the "stiff upper lip"

By Simon Perry
October 10, 2017 10:52 AM
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Just call him the Royal Dog Whisperer.

On Tuesday, Prince Harry met an old four-legged friend when he came face-to-face with service dog Cooper, 2 who helps his owner, former Marine Phil Eaglesham, break the ice when meeting people and assist with practical tasks like opening doors and loading a washing machine.

The Labrador-Retriever mix “recognizes Harry straight away and gets so over-excited. Dogs are a very good judge of character — they can smell when something’s wrong,” says Eaglesham, who joined Harry at St. James’s Palace to mark World Mental Health Day. “We all look up to him for doing this. He’s young and been in war zones and has experienced being in the same sort of areas. And that means a lot to veterans who may be struggling. He knows what people are going through.”

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Harry joined his brother Prince William in marking World Health Day on Tuesday. Along with William’s wife Kate Middleton, the royal trio has spearheaded Heads Together, an umbrella group of several charities aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health issues.

In a speech at Tuesday’s event, William thanked everyone for what they’d done and said it was Kate “who first realized that all three of us were working on mental health in our individual areas of focus. She had seen that at the core of adult issues like addiction and family breakdown, unresolved childhood mental health issues were often part of the problem.”

Harry said it was time to take the awareness to the next stage and take it into “new partnerships to support better conversations in schools and workplaces.”

Former spokesman for ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair Alastair Campbell, who appears in one of the organization’s “OK To Say” videos talking about his depression, tells PEOPLE the royals’ involvement has “been a massive boost to the broader campaign to try and raise awareness of mental health and mental illness. I’ve seen the impact that they can have in terms of pushing the debate in the right direction.

“They’re clearly in this for the right reasons and for the long term,” he adds. “This is not something they’re going to dip into and dip out of.”

Campbell interviewed William for GQ and notes, “One of the reasons I was really interested to do the interview was to get my own sense and test whether it was coming from somewhere and going somewhere. And by the end I was convinced there’s no doubt about [his commitment].

“He said, ‘It’s taken me 20 years but I’ve finally started to be able to talk about my mother’s death’ . . . He liked the fact that he was able to — as he put it — introduce his mother to a whole new generation.

“A lot if it’s about grief. I’ve got the feeling that the two of them — Harry with veterans and William having had that experience but less frontline — they’ve got this genuine understanding of the issues based upon people that they know.”

“One of the most interesting parts of the interview was when he [talked about] landing in the [air ambulance], and it was a case of suicide and he had to help deal with the family.”

Royal protocol dictates that William is not allowed to campaign politically, but Campbell believes that he can make a difference on services. “He says he can say things like, ‘There’s not enough investment,’ but can’t criticize a government’s policy. If he has people coming to him he will push them in the right direction to see ministers. He understands that this is a very important issue then there has to be change.”

Writer and activist Fiona Millar, Campbell’s partner, notes that William touched upon shifting attitudes among younger generations on the subject of mental health.

“He was saying about people in the Great War not wanting to talk about their emotional experiences, and then passing it on to their children — the stiff upper lip, ‘Don’t talk about how we feel,’ ” says Millar. “To be perfectly honest, that is a bit of a trademark of the royal family. And it obviously has its place. But the fact that they came out and did talk so openly about their feelings was a real shock to a lot of people. They don’t expect the royals to do that.”

Philippa Creasy, who lost her husband Terry to suicide five years ago, says the royals “undoubtedly” can take the issue of mental health forward: “They’re the only three who can do it. No one could change the conversation like they’ve done.”

Jo Irwin, who made an OK to Say video about her anxiety, has noted “definite change” since the video was released. “Strangers in the pub even come up and say thank you for doing it. Everyone’s saying I had that, or I’ve been suffering with ‘x.’ ”

She says of the royal trio, “They understand the gravity of the problem more than people may have done before. And there’s a personal element there — of things that may have gone on with the boys and Kate after having the children. Not to a great deal but I think they’ve spotted things in themselves something that’s happened. More importantly, they understand the gravity of the issue around the country and they definitely want to make a change for that.”

Later on Tuesday, Kate is expected to join William and Harry to host a reception at Buckingham Palace for those who work in the area of mental health across the U.K. It will be Kate’s first public outing since she announced her pregnancy on September 4. She has been suffering from severe pregnancy sickness, Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and has had to cancel other planned appearances.