Has Monaco’s runaway bride bolted for good? Princess Charlene’s ‘fairytale marriage’ to Prince Albert has been mired by secret love children and claims of misery – and now she’s staying in South Africa with a dramatic new look
- Charlene, 43, is in South Africa and has not been seen in Monaco since January
- Husband Albert remains with their six-year-old twins, Jacques and Gabriella
- After missing social landmarks in the principality and with split speculation at fever pitch, her return to Monaco has been put back to the end of October
- The ‘fairytale marriage’ has been mired by Albert’s string of alleged love children
There is a three-year-old thoroughbred bay filly racehorse named Follow Me who lives in stables in Randjesfontein – a small town between Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Stabled with Stuart Pettigrew, a well-known South African trainer, she’s raced four times this year with two wins.
Her owner? Her Serene Highness, Charlene of Monaco.
The purchase of the animal was conducted during the pandemic with minimal fanfare and, although the Grimaldi coat of arms is worn by the jockey on his silks, only a few people know of the connection.
How curious it seems that Princess Charlene, who could so easily pursue equestrian passions at home, should choose to buy and race a horse in South Africa some 12,000 miles away from the pink palace on the French Riviera.
But then, as she revealed in an unsettling and controversial video this week, the question of where she calls home is the subject of debate.
Charlene is the 43-year-old wife of Prince Albert of Monaco.
Her previously long blonde hair hacked brutally short, the Princess Charlene in the video bears little resemblance to the fairytale bride who exchanged vows with Europe’s most eligible bachelor in the throne room of Monaco Palace
A stunning, blonde, former South African Olympic swimmer, she married the balding, portly 63-year-old prince in 2011 – not before attracting a barrage of attention over an apparent bad dose of pre-wedding jitters which, reportedly, saw her seeking refuge in her country’s embassy and gaining the moniker ‘the Runaway Bride’.
But has she run away for good this time? She has been in South Africa since May this year, ostensibly on a ten-day holiday, but the weeks have stretched into months.
She has missed numerous social landmarks in Monaco, including the Grand Prix and, of course, family life with her six-year-old twins, Gabriella and Jacques.
She didn’t come home for her and Albert’s tenth wedding anniversary last month. Instead, he and the children paid a short visit to her in June.
Now, with speculation about a split from Albert at fever pitch, her planned return to Monaco has been put back to the end of October.
The reason? A sinus infection which she says is keeping her from flying home.
Her sister-in-law Chantell told the Mail this week Charlene is facing ‘a major upcoming operation expected to take at least five hours’.
It is understood that there is a problem following an earlier operation to lift her sinuses to make space for a dental bone implant.
She has been prone to repeated ear infections, owing to years of swimming in competitions, and insists that she’s been told she cannot fly home.
Whether she has considered other options for returning — by yacht, train or car — and whether she even wishes to return at all, is unclear.
For now, she is living in a huge, five-bedroom villa on a game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. Her brother Sean Wittstock has been with her, along with Chantell and their children Raigen and Aiva-Grace.
Speculation about the missing princess was fuelled further this week when an eight-minute video emerged, recorded at a South African game reserve for a local radio station.
Her previously long blonde hair hacked brutally short, the Princess Charlene in the video bears little resemblance to the fairytale bride who exchanged vows with Europe’s most eligible bachelor in the throne room of Monaco Palace.
Her face – perhaps distorted because the footage is filmed on a mobile phone – looks sadly changed.
It’s led to talk of ‘botched plastic surgery’ in the local papers in Monaco. She appears to stumble over her words at times and looks hollow-eyed and anxious.
Although she’s invited to talk about her husband, she barely mentions his name.
Nor does she even say she wishes they could be together – citing ‘protocol’ she quickly changes the subject. She doesn’t refer to Monaco either, the principality which he rules.
She does say, mercifully, that she misses her children and is looking forward to them coming out to visit her soon.
It emerged last December that Albert was facing a paternity suit centred around a woman who says she met the prince in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro in 2004 – when Charlene and Albert were supposedly dating
When it comes to Africa, though, she has a lot to say. ‘Africa will always be part of me. I was born in Rhodesia and raised in South Africa,’ she says.
‘I swam for and represented South Africa. Of course I am always going to come home and be of help and service whenever I can.’
She launched the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation in 2012 and has been lobbying on conservation issues.
She’s said to be knitting blankets for local families and buying cattle for local farmers.
She added: ‘South Africa means so much to me. I just can’t do some things because obviously I’m in a different position right now… but I am an African by heart and I’m proudly that.’
Asked about the video, her brother Sean said it was ‘released behind our backs’ and added: ‘We have nothing more to say.’
There have been persistent rumours, too, that Charlene is quietly house hunting, and also that she is going into business with local security tycoon and old friend Colleen Glaeser. Glaeser declined to comment this week.
As you can imagine, this is all going down like a lead croissant back in Monaco.
Madame Figaro magazine asks starkly: ‘Are Charlene and Albert II of Monaco on the verge of divorce?’ Another French glossy, Paris Match, is convinced this is true.
‘The couple are going through a new crisis,’ Match reads.
‘It has been six months since Charlene and Albert appeared together at a public event.’
Inside there is a long and ‘impeccably sourced’ essay about the couple’s alleged woes by Stephane Bern, a distinguished royal commentator.
Bern is an establishment figure who holds an Order of Grimaldi and an OBE. He likens Charlene to a ‘wounded animal’ and claims she and the prince lead completely separate lives.
Bern writes that at the end of January this year, Prince Albert arrived alone on a visit to French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte.
‘The princess had contracted a sudden gastroenteritis,’ he says.
‘The Palace has had to invoke a suffering princess so often that the Monegasques today find it hard to believe. By crying wolf, the mother of Jacques and Gabriella has discredited and isolated herself.’
Charlene drew gasps when she had her elegant bob cut into an extraordinary punkish ‘half-hawk’ just before Christmas, something that came as a complete surprise to her husband, apparently
He adds: ‘In Monaco, since the departure of Charlene, tongues have loosened. In the whirlwind of a hard-nosed court, her fine shine is rubbing off.
‘Disappointed Monegasques talk about her anger, her whimsical moods, which are as changeable as her hair.’
Ah, yes… the hair. Charlene drew gasps when she had her elegant bob cut into an extraordinary punkish ‘half-hawk’ just before Christmas, something that came as a complete surprise to her husband, apparently.
In an interview with a French magazine in January this year, she said: ‘After the initial surprise wore off, the prince understood and likes it now too.
‘This haircut was my decision. It seems that it has provoked all kinds of comments. But I wanted it for a long time. The style pleases me. That’s all.’
Many speculated that the haircut was a response — consciously or not — to the latest scandal that is engulfing Albert.
It emerged last December that he was facing a paternity suit centred around a woman who says she met the prince in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro in 2004 — when Charlene and Albert were supposedly dating.
Her daughter, a 15-year-old Brazilian schoolgirl, sent a handwritten note in Portuguese to Prince Albert at the Royal Palace last September.
Albert’s legal team call the allegations ‘a hoax’ and the legal team of the woman concerned declined to comment.
It was due to come to court in Milan in February but never commenced. Some believe the matter has been settled.
But of course, this wasn’t Albert’s first indiscretion. Not by a long way.
Two previous love children have been declared his: Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, born in March 1992, is the offspring of the prince and Tamara Rotolo, an American estate agent.
Then there’s Alexandre, born in August 2003 to Togolese air hostess Nicole Coste — again three years after Charlene and Albert supposedly fell in love.
The children and their mothers received huge financial settlements and neither are in Monaco’s line of succession. Charlene has directly attempted to address the talk about a third possible love child.
She told Point de Vue magazine in January: ‘When my husband has problems, he tells me about it. I often tell him, “No matter what, I’m a thousand percent behind you. I’ll stand by you whatever you do, in good times or in bad.”’
Illegitimate love children aside, it’s fair to say royal life in Monaco must have come as a complete culture shock to the former Charlene Wittstock.
The daughter of a swimming instructor and photocopier salesman, she grew up in crime-ridden Benoni, near Johannesburg.
As a child, she developed a passion for swimming and, in 1996, won her first South African Championship at the age of 18.
Four years later, she qualified for the 2000 Olympic Games as a member of the South Africa 4 x 100m medley relay team – which was placed fifth.
Charlene met Prince Albert at the Mare Nostrum swimming competition in Monte Carlo in 2000 when she was 22.
The pair took their relationship public in 2006 at the Winter Olympic Games and announced their engagement in 2010.
Yet in the run up to the wedding, rumours began to circulate about Charlene’s unhappiness and homesickness.
There were claims that Charlene had tried to flee back to Africa three times before the marriage, and at one stage ‘took refuge’ in her country’s embassy, leading to the ‘Runaway Bride’ headlines.
Charlene denied all of the stories as ‘utter fabrications’ but wept throughout their wedding.
She explained later: ‘Everything was just so overwhelming and there were all the mixed emotions because of the rumours, and obviously all this tension built up and I burst into tears.
‘And then I burst into tears some more because I was thinking, “Oh no, now the whole world has seen me cry.”’
The topic of her unhappiness is now at the forefront once again.
When asked if she was happy in the Point de Vue interview, she said: ‘There are times which are more or less easy. That is the case for everyone. But I’m happy as I am, fulfilled by what I’m going through. I know I’m very privileged.’
More recently, she said: ‘My mum is my best friend. I miss her all the time. I have the privilege of having this life, but I miss my family and my friends in South Africa and I’m often sad because I cannot always be there for them.’
There are obvious parallels between unhappy, homesick former Hollywood star Grace Kelly — who was married to Albert’s father Prince Rainier — and unhappy, homesick Charlene. The two women appear to be on parallel paths in which duty is embraced with gritted teeth, ambitions are put aside and miseries are endured.
As Prince Albert’s father Rainier said: ‘She [Grace] was very homesick for a long time… I think her horizon has restricted itself now to Monaco and her family. I think she may enjoy some parts of it.’
The Royal Palace in Monaco would not comment on when Charlene might be back, with an aide saying they are currently ‘monitoring health, safety and political concerns’ in South Africa to see when the prince and their children might pay Mummy another short visit.
The question remains whether she will be content to shrink her horizons to the 0.8 square miles of Monaco, particularly as the twins get older and are expected to be sent to boarding school.
Perhaps by then she will have established herself far away in Africa with her family, her friends, her heritage and her racehorse.
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