Prince Harry has broken with the royal tradition of maintaining silence about mental health issues by speaking candidly about his severe emotional problems following the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

The 32-year-old prince told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper in an interview published Monday that he had nearly suffered breakdowns since his mother's 1997 death in a car crash and had needed counselling in his late 20s.

It was by far the most frank interview of Harry's life, and gives the public its first glimpse of the inner turmoil he suffered growing up in the public eye after losing his mother when he was only 12.

He told the newspaper he "shut down all his emotions" for nearly 20 years and had been "very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions."

He describes a long, painful process of refusing to face his sense of loss that only came to an end when he was in his late 20s and sought professional counselling to cope with the pressures and unhappiness.

"My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?" he said of his teens and 20s, a period during which he embarked on a successful military career but also occasionally attracted unwanted headlines, notably for being photographed playing "strip billiards" in Las Vegas.

In the interview, Harry said he had at times felt "on the verge of punching someone" and had taken up boxing as an outlet for his aggression.

He said the long suppression of his grief eventually led to "two years of total chaos."

'A lot of stuff I need to deal with'

Harry says he was pretending that life was great until he started counselling and faced his problems head on.

"All of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with," he said.

Along with his brother, Prince William and sister-in-law Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Harry has worked with a charity that promotes mental health. They have argued that mental health problems must be given the same priority as other illnesses and should be spoken about openly and without stigma.

BRITAIN-ROYALS/DIANA

The late Diana, Princess of Wales, holds Prince Harry during a morning picture session at Marivent Palace in Mallorca, Spain, in August 1988. (Hugh Peralta/Reuters)

Harry has also worked extensively with wounded veterans and has organized the Invictus Games to foster international sporting competition for injured or ill service personnel and veterans.

Harry told interviewer Bryony Gordon, who has written extensively about her own struggles with depression and other issues, that he is in a "good place" now, and praised William for helping him seek help after many years of suffering in silence.

Harry has never before spoken publicly about his problems dealing with Diana's death. He and William have both been wary of press coverage, in part because of the way photographers shadowed their mother's every move.