Prince Albert of Monaco is engaged to marry Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer for South Africa, a union that will give this wealthy Mediterranean principality its first crown princess since American Grace Kelly died in 1982.
The palace announced the engagement of “His Serene Highness”, 52, and Wittstock, 32, who also worked as a school teacher before moving to Monaco. The statement Wednesday did not indicate a planned wedding date, but put to rest months of speculation that the two longtime companions would tie the knot.
It will be the first marriage of a reigning prince since Hollywood actress Grace Kelly married Albert’s father, Prince Rainier III, to massive hoopla in 1956. Princess Grace died in a car accident in1982, casting a pall of tragedy over the family, but remains a style icon to this day.
Albert met the willowy Wittstock in 2000 when she came to Monaco for a swimming competition. Since 2006, she has lived in the principality, said Laetitia Pierrat, a palace spokeswoman.
Asked by The Associated Press whether Wittstock might be pregnant, Pierrat said: “Honestly, I don’t think so.” She added she wasn’t privy to such private matters, but if Wittstock were, a formal announcement would probably have been made.
According to protocol, royal couples must wait at least six months between the announcement of the engagement and the wedding day, she said.
Royal watchers reveled at the announcement.
“It’s been 30 years since Grace died, 30 years they’ve been waiting for a first lady, a princess, a dream beauty, glam. And voila!” said Colombe Pringle, executive editor of the French celebrity magazine “Point de Vue,” which often covers Prince Albert’s private life.
Albert took the throne in July 2005 after the death of his straight-laced father, who built the sleepy Mediterranean port into a tax haven for the rich and a glittering financial center.
That same year, Albert acknowledged that he had fathered a boy, Alexandre, out of wedlock by a former flight attendant. The following year, he acknowledged an American daughter, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, now a teenager, born to a California woman. Neither can assume the throne because they were born out of wedlock.
While his father’s reign was defined by his marriage to Princess Grace, Albert was known for being a longtime bachelor — so much so that Parliament in 2002 changed the constitution to allow one of his sisters’ sons to take the throne if he never produces an heir.
Pringle suggested that Albert’s advancing age, and the long time since his mother’s passing, meant that the time wasright for him to give up bachelorhood.
“He’s 50-something. It’s time,” she said.
She said Wittstock has spent their years together preparing for this.
“She has learned a lot, she has done a good personal job to fit with her job, there are many years of learning there behind her,” Pringle said. “Now it’s a question of involvement and engagement in her new role. We’ll see how she does.”