That was our first reaction when Kensington Palace released a lengthy statement on behalf of Prince Harry that most uncharacteristically confirmed his romantic interest in actress Meghan Markle.
While the official mouthpiece of the royal family (including Queen Elizabeth II, Harry and Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Andrew and so on) isn't like a normal celebrity PR machine, being that it never purposely steers inquiring minds in the wrong direction, it certainly isn't in the habit of sharing information about the royals' private lives aside from the moments that become major public happenings.
So there was that shock factor. But the content of the statement is what really shone a harsh light on the type of scrutiny Harry is exposed to as a public figure.
Sure, we all know about the endless speculation as to when and with whom the 32-year-old bachelor, arguably the most eligible man in Britain, will settle down.
And we're aware of the sizable stack of tabloids, both local and abroad, that enjoy obsessing over the royals' every move. We know about the gross invasions of privacy, from the News of the World hacking scandal to the shopping of topless photos of Kate Middleton.
Even more unforgettably, we know that Harry's mother, Princess Diana, was one of the most scrutinized women anywhere during her life, and the fascination continues to this day, 19 years after her death at the tragic age of 36.
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But while we're used to seeing the now age-old debate over just how relevant the royals even are anymore, it does come as a bit of a shock that the family—and particularly someone like Prince Harry, who an entire nation dotes upon like a concerned mum/sister/aunt/granny/girlfriend—can also be targets of the most base sort of criticism the Internet has to offer.
Harry is "aware that there is significant curiosity about his private life. He has never been comfortable with this, but he has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest that comes with it," read the Palace's statement. "He has rarely taken formal action on the very regular publication of fictional stories that are written about him and he has worked hard to develop a professional relationship with the media, focused on his work and the issues he cares about."
"But the past week has seen a line crossed. His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."
The statement goes on to describe various nefarious methods with which the media have tried to gain access to Markle and her friends and family.
But what in the bloody hell is the deal with the "outright sexism and racism"? Oh, now that we've heard, we don't doubt for a second that that's exactly what resulted after some concerned trolls of the world found out that Markle's mom is black and her dad is white. ("Found out," for lack of a better term, because obviously that wasn't a secret to find out, it's just that the media are doing 1,000 percent more reporting on the Suits actress now than ever before.)
Anyway, we believe it, because over and over again, an alarmingly big portion of those with Internet access are proving themselves unfit for polite social-media and article-commentary society.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but one day we woke up and people were just vile on Twitter and like-minded forums. The U.S. presidential election certainly brought out the worst in people and, lest we forget,the Brexit campaign didn't do Britain any favors when it came to its image as a diverse, tolerant society.
Whether the few's voices are getting louder and nastier or there are more nasty voices than our coddled, urbane selves previously thought and now they're just getting a platform... it's a shame.
So not only has Prince Harry's entire adulthood (and, really, all of his childhood too) been lived under a microscope, which despite all of his philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors has always been set on "love life—zoom 400x," but his first public statement about a relationship had to be a reminder to please not terrorize his girlfriend.
Ironically, media law experts in the U.K. have suggested that it's time for Harry to get on board with the unofficial rules of the game if he hopes to get a grip on his relationship narrative—which is already being dished out from points of view ranging from local protectionism and judgmental irony to across-the-pond envy.
Which means specially designated photo opportunities, public outings and other formal efforts that we guess Harry's ready for. It's unclear just when things escalated for the duo, who up until this morning were still a "rumored couple," pending any official information. According to the U.K.'s Sunday Express and Daily Star, they met in May while Harry was in Toronto and Markle started following him on his private social media at the end of June.
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But lo and behold, Kensington Palace called her "his girlfriend" and noted that they were "a few months into a relationship," so there you have it.
The royals had to break with tradition because the Internet can't control itself enough to be civil. You don't have to throw a party for Harry, people, but keep your most loathsome opinions about race, class and gender to yourself.
And while the royal reprimand also called out the media for its aggressive information-gathering tactics, sadly, that's nothing new. Especially in England, they will go through your trash, figuratively and literally. Kate Middleton, aka "Waity Katy" in her and William's off-and-on days, was subjected to the long, impertinent lens—but dating William in the mid-to-late 00s had nothing on the public-opinion hoops Meghan Markle may have to jump through as Harry's girlfriend.
Perhaps this unprecedented statement nipped the problem in the bud, shamed the damned, dirty lot of us before we get too involved in their courtship aside from the tacitly pre-agreed-upon need-to-know basis. But regardless, we now know that Prince Harry's dating troubles extend far beyond the issue of meeting the right girl.
"If this is the price someone has to pay for being Harry's girlfriend, why would they do it?" a source told the U.K.'s Telegraph. "He is not naive, he knows he is not waving a magic wand and he knows articles will still be written about her, but he is not prepared to accept a campaign to destroy her reputation."
And contrary to popular belief, a lifetime of that sort of scrutiny isn't for every woman, even if it seems a small price to pay for Prince Harry.