Among them, Harry explains how as a child, he and his brother were immersed in a terrifying military exercise to prepare him for being taken hostage.
The ‘killing house ’is an SAS training building set up like an ordinary home, with furniture, pictures, toilets and other features. Soldiers still use it today for close quarter battle training and practicing the difficult and dangerous art of hostage removal.
Remembering a visit to the Herefordshire location in the nineties, Harry told how he, his brother and mother were put in a room and told to keep still. Then the room went dark.
‘A squad kicked down the door, he recalls in his book. ‘They threw flash bangs, scared the devil out of us, which was their aim. They wanted to teach us how to respond “if ever” our lives were in danger.’
These exercises were always kept quiet from the press, Harry writes. ‘The military preferred it that way, and God knows the royals did too.’
Former SAS fighter Robin Horsfall practiced such drills in the Herefordshire building many times over the years.
‘Essentially, the killing house is a series of rooms with a special fabric around the walls which stops ricochets,’ he explains. ‘You can adjust the light, adjust the furniture, and you go in there with live ammunition and practice your drills with live members of your own team to use as hostages.
Horsfall, who joined the SAS at just 21 in 1979, tells Metro.co.uk that as part of the drills soldiers storm the building armed with an MP5 submachine gun, a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol and ‘surprise, aggression and speed’.
Smoke and pyrotechnics would also be used to create an intense training situation, so that when the fighters come up against real hostage scenarios, they can approach them with confidence, staying calm, focussed and clear-headed.
The Royal Marines sniper marksman, adds: ‘You have to train with live ammunition because you’re working in very close proximity in confined and difficult areas, with low lights, and you have to be able to trust the people around you.
‘We used to sit people in chairs and put targets very close to them and be expected to go in and engage [hit] those targets with live ammunition and take the practice hostage from the room.
‘The standard that was expected up to a range of five metres would be that you put all your shots into a four inch square in a [target] person’s face. That’s how accurate you had to be.
‘You’re not there to make arrests. You’re there to kill the terrorists and rescue the hostages. And the best way to rescue a hostage is to make sure you have removed the terrorists from the equation.’
Horsfall and his team would fire as many as 400 rounds a day in the killing house. ‘We became very, very good at it,’ he remembers.
Soldiers were expected to hit their target using only the light on their weapons, or while wearing gas marks or night vision goggles.
His training paid dividends when Horsfall attended the siege of the Iranian embassy in London in 1980.
‘I shot one of the terrorists from about five metres away with a three round burst across the room in a smoke-filled environment and hit him three times in the body,’ he remembers. ‘It was absolutely like the drills that we practised for so long and so hard.’
Killing house training was intense, dangerous and frightening work. On one tragic occasion a soldier shot dead another when his weapon misfired on entry to the building, Horsfall remembers.
Working often in such a high-pressured environment meant that the soldiers were not phased by high profile visitors like the royals.
‘We had VIP visitors who would come and be put in a safe area in the room,’ recalls Horsfall. ‘In my day it would be people like Prince Charles and Princess Diana and senior members of foreign armies. You put them in a safe area in the room and then come in and carry out what would have been a relatively simple drill – but it would have been extraordinarily frightening for them.
‘We put VIPS behind a barrier in the room. They didn’t know what’s going to happen. Their safety is paramount. But we were so good that we could charge into a room, go towards a target with live people in a room, guarantee that we would only hit live targets, and get the person out there in seconds.’
Horsfall has fond memories of Princess Diana, who was very nearly injured during one training exercise in 1982.
He remembers: ‘She helped us with a drill outdoors. She was going to drive a vehicle up to the building for us, and we were going to assault the building. This was with blank ammunition. She wound the window down to get some fresh air and one of the pyrotechnics set light to her hair.
‘Me and one of the other guys put the smouldering hair out by patting it and hitting her around the head. It was fine but she had to go and get another hairdo. She took it very well. She was adorable – really lovely. Charles was a little bit bewildered at the time. But, she was okay; her skin wasn’t burned and the guys reacted very quickly.
‘The following day, she had this pageboy haircut with the sides trimmed down,’ adds Horsfall. ‘Diana’s new hairstyle was all over the national press – how amazing it was – and women all over the world went and copied it. Nobody told them it was courtesy of the SAS!’
As frightening as these drills might sound, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Rachel Melville-Thomas says that the experience would probably have been more exciting than scary for the young princes.
‘Pre-teen and early teenage boys are hugely influenced by the family culture and also the parts of the brain that are thrill-seeking and risk taking,’ she explains.
‘It’s hard to see that SAS training would be anything other than pleasantly terrifying to these boys. Especially when the family culture involves military practices and role models, and that game shooting with guns is part of recreational life.’
Melville-Thomas, who also works as a spokesperson for the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), explains that although a young person might feel slightly more anxious about public activities if they’re repeatedly told their safety is potentially at risk because of their identity, ‘it is far more likely that it would feel a bit unreal to a child, so that they protect themselves by not quite believing it,’ she says.
‘The biggest trauma to the young princes would have been the loss of their mum, who was their protector above all else,’ adds Melville-Thomas. ‘The person who listens, tries to understand, comforts and shares the difficulties of the goldfish-bowl life.
‘For these boys, that would have been the biggest trauma – far beyond the pressures of public appearance or SAS training.’
Robin Horsfall is an inspirational teacher and speaker and author of Fighting Scared.
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