23 June 2010

Charlene Wittstock, Princess of Monaco

The oldest living playboy prince has at last been put to pasture. After decades of speculation about his sexual orientation, at least two illegitimate children and what seemed like hundreds of supermodel girlfriends, the late Princess Grace's son, Prince Albert has finally announced his engagement to Charlene Wittstock. He is 52; she is 20 years younger.

Charlene Lynette Woodstock was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and so will be the first African-born woman to marry a major European prince. (Apologies to Prince Harry's Zimbabwe-born girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, but it looks like Charlene will beat you to the altar. Of course, rumors are rampant that Chelsy and Harry have split up again.) The daughter of swim coach, Charlene started young as a competitive swimmer. She earned South Africa's championship in the women's 50-meter backstroke and swam on the country's Olympic team in 2000 in Sydney, where she earned a highly respectable fifth-place finish.

Prince Albert of Monaco poses with Charlene Wittstock in Monaco in this June 23, 2010 handout photo released by the palace. Prince Albert II of Monaco, son of the late Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, is to marry former South African Olympic swimmer and model Wittstock, the prince's office said in a statement on Wednesday. REUTERS/Amedeo M.Turello/Palais Princier/Handout (MONACO - Tags: ROYALS SPORT SWIMMING) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

The couple reportedly met during a swimming event in Monaco and she quickly became his constant companion. Speculation about their relationship first arose when they were seen together at the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Olympic Winter games. (The prince is also an Olympian, having competed in bobsled for his country, and he has served on the International Olympic Committee for 25 years.) In the last four years, they have attended numerous public events together including many casual athletic outings. More importantly, Charlene has accompanied him to official events in Monaco, like the annual Rose Ball and the Princess Grace Awards Gala, and to royal events, like last weekend's royal wedding in Sweden, where she was seated behind him.

Charlene will be the first princess consort of Monaco since Princess Grace's tragic death in 1982. Any children she has with Albert will supplant her sister-in-law, Princess Caroline, in the line of succession. Albert's father, Prince Rainier III, changed the laws of succession in 2002--because of concerns that Albert would never have a legitimate child--making it possible for siblings, not just children, to succeed the reigning prince. Therefore, Caroline has been Hereditary Princess of Monaco since Albert succeeded in 2005. She will lose this title the moment he has a legitimate child. She briefly held the title as an infant and lost it when Albert was born and he became the Hereditary Prince.

Despite the possible change in her position, Caroline seems not to mind. Both she and her sister Princess Stephanie have reportedly coached Charlene for her new role.

No wedding date has been announced, but protocol reportedly calls for at least six months of engagement. A winter wedding perhaps? In the meantime, she can use those breaststroke muscles to support the weight of her massive engagement ring.

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