Charlene, Princess of Monaco (born 25 January 1978), is the wife of Albert II, Prince of Monaco. She is also a former South African Olympic swimmer.
Charlene is the daughter of Michael and Lynette Wittstock. She was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to a family of German, English and Irish descent. Her family relocated to the Transvaal, South Africa, in 1989. She represented South Africa at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with her team finishing fifth in the Women’s 4×100 m Medley. She retired from competitive swimming in 2007.
Charlene met Prince Albert in 2000 at a swimming event in Monaco. They were first seen together in 2006, and she has accompanied Prince Albert on many of his official duties since then. They announced their engagement in June 2010 and were married on 1 July 2011.
Charlene was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She is the daughter of Michael Kenneth Wittstock (born 1946), a sales manager, and Lynette Wittstock (née Humberstone, born 1957), a former competitive diver and swimming coach. Charlene has two younger brothers: Gareth (born 1980), a computer technician, and Sean (born 1983), a sales representative. Her family relocated to South Africa in 1989 when she was 11 years old. Charlene attended Tom Newby Primary school in Benoni, near Johannesburg, from 1988 to 1991.
The Wittstock family is of German origin; Charlene’s great-great-grandparents Martin Gottlieb Wittstock and Louise Wittstock emigrated to South Africa from the Pomeranian village of Zerrenthin in northern Germany in 1861 to escape hardship. In South Africa the Wittstocks worked as handymen and unsuccessfully hunted for diamonds. Gottlieb’s son Heinrich Carl Wittstock would marry Olive Florence Caldwell, of English origin. Their son Dudley Kenneth Wittstock, Charlene’s paternal grandfather, married Sylvia Fagan Nicolson, also of English origin.
Michael Wittstock said in April 2011 that he was considering moving the family from Benoni to Monaco because of South Africa’s crime rate.
Charlene met Albert II, Prince of Monaco, in 2000 at the Mare Nostrum swimming meet in Monaco. They were first seen together at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Charlene moved in with Albert in 2006. She accompanied him to the weddings of Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, in 2010, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in 2011.
On 23 June 2010, the palace announced the engagement of Charlene and the Prince. Charlene, who was raised a Protestant, converted to Roman Catholicism, even though this is not a requirement of the Constitution of Monaco. The future princess was also instructed in the French language and the Monégasque dialect, and became familiar with European court protocol.
The wedding was originally scheduled for 8 and 9 July 2011 but was moved forward to prevent a conflict with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Durban on 5–9 July. The couple had invited members of the IOC, including president Jacques Rogge, to their wedding. The couple plan to attend the IOC meeting; hence Charlene’s first foreign visit as Princess will be to her childhood home, South Africa.
During the week before the wedding, the palace was forced to deny reports that Charlene had been getting cold feet. French weekly L’Express reported that Charlene tried to leave Monaco on Tuesday, 28 June, after rumours surfaced that Albert had fathered a third illegitimate child. The report claimed Monaco police intercepted her at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport and confiscated her passport, and that it took “intense convincing” by Albert and palace officials for her to stay. The palace called the stories “ugly rumours” born out of jealousy.
The couple were married in a civil ceremony on 1 July 2011 at the Throne Room in the Prince’s Palace. The Nuptial Mass on 2 July was a lavish affair. Only days after the beginning of the couple’s honeymoon in South Africa, several newspapers from Spain, Britain and elsewhere reported that Charlene and Albert were not staying at the same hotel, but were in fact booked in different hotels several miles apart. These reports fueled rumours about the couple’s marital crisis that was sparked off even before their wedding.