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'Like William and Harry, I lost a parent - we all need to talk about grief': Advice from a 13-year-old boy

Charlie Bolam is on a mission: to help people talk about their grief. Credit: ITV News
  • By Jamie Roberton and Natalia Jorquera

Charlie Bolam was just six years old when his mother interrupted a sleepover he was enjoying at a friend's house to tell him that his father Kevin had died from cancer.

With his pockets "stuffed full of tissues" and tears rapidly rolling down his cheeks, he and his mother Caroline hailed a taxi and made their way home to begin the long mourning process.

Thanks to the unwavering support of his mother, his friends, a therapist and his beloved dog, Scruff, Charlie navigated his way through the anguish.

Now a teenager - and a bright, articulate and endearing one at that - Charlie is on a mission: to help others talk about their grief.

"Some people like to keep it in but that doesn't help," the 13-year-old says. "It's better to be open because if you keep things in, you start to get really sad and angry."

"I just let everything out and that helped me."

Prince Harry wished he had done just that when his mother was killed in a car crash, 20 years ago today.

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In a series of candid interviews in recent months ahead of the anniversary of Princess Diana's death, Harry spoke of "shutting down his emotions" for almost two decades before eventually seeking help.

Charlie believes the prince's openness, along with his brother William's willingness to talk about their ordeal, is crucial in lifting the veil of taboo around death and bereavement.

"Even if no-one knows you or everyone knows you, we're all human beings so no matter how famous you are, we've all got to talk about our feelings.

"I think it's good that they are talking about it and it's good to hear they are saying it's good to talk about it. As they are princes in England, more people will do what they are saying instead of just some kid who lost their parent."

Princes William and Harry at their mother's funeral in 1997. Credit: PA Wire

His mother agrees.

"As a society, we still hold on to this British stiff upper lip," Caroline Bolam says. "It's vitally important what they are doing - especially the background they've come from as your archetypal British people."

Ms Bolam was adamant that she wanted Charlie to speak to a professional in the aftermath of her husband's death.

For months her young son was distracted, anxious and struggling to sleep; she feared not seeking professional help would merely "store up problems for him in later life".

"I was very conscious of the fact that him talking to me, he'd be thinking about me - my grief is different to his grief," she explains.

"So it was really important that he spoke to someone about how he felt without having to worry about how I felt.

"And it helped me to get some help for him because it has enabled us to talk better over the years. We do have a constant dialogue and we do still talk about Kevin - I think it's important he's a real person."

Charlie with his mother Caroline and 11-year-old dog, Scruff. Credit: ITV News

They regularly reminisce about Kevin's "cheeky sense of humour", his love of running and his tendency to steal all the cakes in the house.

In Charlie's words, his mother and others who knew him best are helping to "keep my dad alive in my heart and my head".

He continues to share memories of his dad with his friends and even uses a new app called Apart of Me, which is specifically designed to help families cope with life-limiting illnesses and grief, to process his emotions.

The teenager, who aspires to be either a fashion designer or a magician, now wants to encourage anyone who has lost a loved one to be as proactive about talking about their feelings as his mother urged him to be.

"Find someone you can trust who won't tell anyone else if you don't want anyone else to know and talk to them.

"Talk to them whenever you feel sad, upset, angry - it will help."