Wearing a sleek black Speedo suit, her long blond hair tucked into an orange cap, Charlene Wittstock strode out of the water in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, on Feb. 12, looking more like the competitive swimmer she used to be than the royal bride she is. She’d just completed the Midmar Mile, a massive open-water swim, and helped raise $80,000 for the Special Olympics. In July, the statuesque South African beauty marries Monaco’s reigning prince, Albert II, and becomes his princess consort. Monaco hasn’t had a princess consort in almost 20 years, since Albert’s mother, Princess Grace, died in 1982. Like Grace, an American who gave up an Oscar-winning acting career upon her marriage to Prince Rainier, Wittstock, 33, is an English-speaking outsider to the tiny, ultra-exclusive Mediterranean playground for the rich and famous.
She’s also scandal-free, something that certainly does not apply to her 52-year-old groom or his sisters Caroline and Stephanie. For decades the Grimaldi family has hit the headlines with trashy tales of wildly unsuitable lovers, broken marriages and brawls. Indeed, illegitimacy and shotgun weddings are almost de rigueur: of the three siblings’ nine children, five were born out of wedlock while two others arrived less than nine months after their parents’ nuptials. Their shenanigans make those of Queen Elizabeth II’s four children look positively tame: while three first marriages of the Windsor kids broke down spectacularly, currently Charles and Anne have second spouses and Edward is still with his original wife, while Andrew never remarried. And certainly no illegitimate children have appeared.
In contrast, Albert, a lifelong bachelor, confessed, mere weeks after his father died in 2005 and he’d assumed power, that he’d fathered a boy, Alexandre, then three, with a Togolese flight attendant. The revelation at least put to rest the rumours that he was gay, which had dogged him for years. He hinted on French TV that there were other progeny. “I know there are other people who are in more or less the same situation. We will give them an answer at the appropriate time.” Then, in 2006, he acknowledged his 14-year-old daughter, Jazmin Grace, the result of a vacation fling in 1991 with a married Californian, Tamara Rotolo. Neither illegitimate child can inherit the throne. The revelations only put Albert on par with his headline-grabbing sisters.
Caroline, the oldest, hit the scandal sheets first when she wed philandering playboy Philippe Junot at 21. The marriage soon crumbled. Her second, to Italian heir Stefano Casiraghi, was hastily organized just before their son, Andrea, was born. Two more children followed before her husband died in a speedboat accident. A few years later Caroline took up with a married German prince, Ernst of Hanover. Soon his wife, unable to tolerate such blatant inﬁdelity, was gone. Daughter Alexandra arrived six months after their 1999 nuptials. The marriage hasn’t been idyllic. Ernst was photographed urinating at the Hanover Expo—he tried to diffuse the diplomatic scandal with a jaw-dropping apology: “I did indeed relieve myself during my visit to Expo 2000, but neither against the wall of the Turkish pavilion nor on the soil of the Turkish state”—and has spent an inordinate amount of time in courts for fighting and assault charges. Last year he was fined $260,000 after being found guilty of grievous bodily harm for hitting a fellow German at a Kenyan resort.
While Caroline could live with those incidents, she couldn’t ignore his wandering eye. As billionaire philanderer James Goldsmith famously said, “When you marry your mistress, you create a job vacancy.” Tabloids have delighted in splashing pictures of Ernst and his paramours, including recent snaps of the prince with Simona, a Romanian dancer who also models for a chain of Austrian brothels. Though there’s been no official separation or divorce, Caroline, 54, and Alexandra have quietly moved back to Monaco. Claire Lathbury, a Monaco-based writer for the Riviera Times, credits her with being a “fantastic mother.” Indeed, her children, three of whom are grown up, have avoided the nasty headlines that plagued Caroline.
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