It’s not exactly a fairytale.
Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the marriage of Princess Charlene and Prince Albert, the sovereign ruler of Monaco. But this royal couple was separated by thousands of kilometres, as Charlene is holed up in her native South Africa. The palace says she’s suffering from a serious ear, nose and throat infection and needing multiple “procedures” that will keep her there “indefinitely.”
But some in Monaco — a gossipy, postage-stamp principality smaller than Central Park — wonder if history is repeating itself.
A decade ago, Princess Charlene reportedly tried to bolt Monaco right before her splashy, $75 million two-day wedding, possibly because of her prince fathering yet another illegitimate child.
Now the runaway bride seems to have become the runaway wife.
She hasn’t been seen in Monaco — which lies just west of the Italian border and east of Nice — since January, leaving her husband and their 6-year-old twins, Gabriella and Jacques, to carry on at public events like the Monaco Grand Prix without her.
Rumours are flying that it’s because of new claims that Albert fathered an illegitimate child — his third. Last December, word got out that he had been hit with a new paternity suit, from a Brazilian woman who said he fathered her 15-year-old daughter while Albert and Charlene were dating.
Soon after, Princess Charlene turned up in public with a shocking new punk buzzcut and heavy black eyeliner.
“She cut her hair the day she found out,” a longtime resident of Monaco who is close to the palace told The Post. “It was a radical move designed to show him and all of us how bad she felt and what terrible news this was — at least to her.”
Not that the subjects of Monaco have much sympathy.
Charlene, 43, is viewed by some residents as a dull, vapid version of the vibrant, cultured Princess Grace, Albert’s mother, who won an Oscar as Grace Kelly before marrying Prince Rainier in 1956. Charlene rarely smiles in public and has been dubbed the “sad princess.” People have even criticised her name, saying she should be called “Charlotte” rather than the downscale “Charlene,” and accusing her of having had too much plastic surgery.
“Have you tried to talk to her?” another longtime Monaco resident said to The Post. “She can’t move anything at all, can’t smile, can’t show any expression, cold as ice all the way around. Compared to Kate [Middleton] she’s not even human.”
Charlene Wittstock was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in 1978 to Michael Wittstock, a photocopier salesman, and his wife Lynette, a former competitive diver and coach. The family moved to South Africa in 1989. A longtime competitive swimmer, Charlene was on a South African women’s medley team that came in fifth at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
That same year, she met Prince Albert, now 63, but the two didn’t go public as a couple until six years later — during a tumultuous period in Albert’s life.
In 2005, his father, Prince Rainier, died and Albert was enthroned as the new ruler of Monaco. But less than a week before, Albert had been forced to admit that he had fathered an illegitimate son, Alexandre, with Nicole Coste, a flight attendant from Tongo whom he had met on an Air France jet.
While this was going on, Tamara Rotolo — a former waitress from California who met the prince on a vacation to the Riviera — was fighting to prove that Albert was the father of her daughter, Jazmin Grace, born in 1992. Following a DNA test, Albert recognised Jazmin as his daughter in 2006.
Both Jazmin, now 29, and Alexandre, 17, are supported by their father and use his Grimaldi surname, but neither is in succession for the throne.
In 2011, reports that Charlene had tried to escape the palace before her wedding involved rumours about Prince Albert and how he had either had a third child out of wedlock or that he was still seeing Nicole Coste behind Charlene’s back.
“We think it was both,” a Monaco insider told The Post. “But it was mainly that we think that Charlene found out Albert was still dipping his stick in Nicole Coste’s cookie.”
Charlene reportedly tried to break free three times: once seeking refuge at the South African Embassy while in France for a dress fitting, then trying to slip away during the Monaco Grand Prix and, finally, booking a one-way ticket to her home country — only to be stopped at the airport.
Though Monaco palace officials strenuously denied allegations at the time, France’s respected L’Express magazine reported several days before the wedding that Wittstock had tried to escape Monaco after learning something “troubling” about Prince Albert but was “intercepted” at Nice International Airport and “persuaded” to return to the principality.
Many noted that Charlene looked sad and cried at times during her wedding but she later said they were tears of joy.
Thierry Lacoste, Albert’s lawyer and the son of Nadia Lacoste, Princess Grace’s longtime spokeswoman, threatened to sue L’Express at the time and get them to retract the report, but never did.
In Monaco, Charlene’s visibility on her anniversary has been limited to highly-produced romantic videos commemorating her love story with her husband. The series began rolling out last week on her Instagram account.
“Happy anniversary, Albert,” she wrote. “Thank you for the blessing of our children.”
Though the official word is that she’s only been in South Africa for a month, many believe she’s been there at least since March, when she showed up at the funeral of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, a close friend, at the KwaKhethomthandayo Royal Palace in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal.
Though often scorned in Monaco, Charlene is beloved in her homeland where she’s close friends with some of the country’s most powerful black elite, including multi-millionaire entrepreneur Bridgette Radebe, who assisted at her wedding.
Charlene reportedly contracted an infection while on a wildlife conservation mission to help the endangered rhinos of South Africa in May.
Her spokesperson said she’s already had at least one procedure and will have to have more. But the locals in Monaco, who have never warmed to Charlene, don’t necessarily believe the official story.
They say even if she really is sick she has other reasons to stay away — and stick it to her less-than-charming prince.
In December 2020 the Daily Mail reported that a 34-year-old woman claimed she had had a “passionate affair” with Albert, leading to the birth of a daughter on July 4, 2005.
The girl wrote to Albert in September 2020 saying, “I don’t understand why I grew up without a father and now that I have found you, you don’t want to see me.”
But Charlene appeared to be standing by her man — at least in her choice of words. She told Point of Vue magazine in late January: “When my husband has problems, he tells me about it. I often tell him, ‘No matter what, I’m a thousand per cent behind you. I’ll stand by you whatever you do, in good times or bad.”
The claimant’s Italian lawyer, Erich Grimaldi (no relation to the princely family) told The Post that a hearing is set for a Rome court in September to determine whether the prince should have immunity from having to take a DNA test, although he has for other cases in the past.
“I no understand why the prince no take a test. What’s the matter?” Erich Grimaldi told The Post on the phone from his office in Naples. “He says he is a sovereign so he doesn’t have to take the test. The court in Rome will decide that.”
“The claim is totally false,” Thierry Lacoste told The Post. “It’s based only on lies and is akin to blackmail.”
Lacoste did not explain, however, why the prince has so far refused to take the test.
Meanwhile, one Charlene supporter in Monaco said that, in fact, her dramatic haircut and prolonged absence actually show in fact how much she cares about Albert — and that she is not as cold and unemotional as portrayed.
“If she wasn’t into him, she wouldn’t have this reaction,” the supporter said. “She’d just go down to Chopard, buy another necklace and consider it an even deal. There’s much more to Charlene than meets the eye.”
“She’s really a mystery,” the palace insider agreed. “But whatever is really going on with her, I don’t think she will stay away from Monaco forever. I think she loves her kids and her prince — and she’ll be back.”
This article originally appeared in Page Six and was reproduced with permission.
Originally published as Monaco’s Princess ‘MIA’ as rumours swirl