Joy in Monaco over arrival of royal twins

By admin
11 December 2014

Residents of the tiny principality of Monaco on Thursday flocked to the royal palace to congratulate Prince Albert II and his wife Charlene on the birth of crown prince Jacques and his twin sister Gabriella.

Albert officially announced the birth of the twins in a video message to the nation, as well-wishers crowded the entrance of the palace where two framed documents proclaiming their arrival in French and English went up at midday.

"It is with great joy that I have the pleasure of announcing that Princess Charlene gave birth... to a boy and a girl named Jacques Honore Rainier, who will bear the title of crown prince, and Gabriella Therese Marie, princess and second in the line of succession," a beaming Albert said.

Red and white flags fluttered and the sky was filled with the sound of canon and boat horns on Wednesday night as the Mediterranean principality welcomed the next head of the 700-year-old House of Grimaldi and his sister.

Gabriella Therese Marie was born at 5:04 pm (1604 GMT) followed by Jacques Honore Rainier at 5:06 pm.

Claude Gauthier (76) and his 73-year-old wife Josette were among the first to arrive at the palace on Thursday morning to sign a book of congratulations.

"We are happy and proud that our sovereigns have given life and ensured the continuity of the dynasty," Claude wrote out painstakingly with a black quill.

The couple declared themselves ardent fans of the royal family.

"We were teenagers in 1956 when Grace Kelly got married, she was a marvellous woman," Josette said of Albert's glamorous Hollywood actress mother.

The babies replace Albert's sister Caroline as heirs to the throne, and will likely draw a line under rumours of the royal couple's supposedly rocky relationship.

The prince's late father, Rainier III, had rewritten the constitution when he became ill in 2002 so one of his daughters could inherit if his son -- who had fathered two children out of wedlock -- failed to produce a legitimate heir.

But Albert (56) finally married former Olympic swimmer Charlene (36) in 2011 -- 11 years after the pair first met.

The birth of the twins at the hospital named after their grandmother Princess Grace was celebrated with 42 cannon shots, 21 for each child, fired from an old fort overlooking the sea.

The gender of the twins had been kept a secret during Charlene's pregnancy, even from their father who said he wanted to be surprised.

Residents have also been encouraged to fly the principality's red-and-white flag from their homes until the day the royal couple formally presents the twins to the nation from the palace balcony, an event due before Christmas.

Albert, who was once considered one of the world's most eligible bachelors, succeeded his father Prince Rainier in 2005 at the age of 47.

He already had a daughter, Jazmin, 22, after a fling with former waitress Tamara Rotolo. He denied being her father for years before DNA tests proved otherwise when she was already teenager.

The prince also has a younger son, Alexandre Coste, 11, from an affair with Nicole Coste, a Togolese former Air France hostess.

Under Monaco's inheritance laws, neither of them have any claim to royal titles or to be considered as heirs to Albert because they were born outside of marriage.

They do however have legal rights to a share of his huge personal fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine to exceed $1 billion (800 million euros).

Monaco -- the world's second smallest independent state -- has been under Grimaldi rule since Francois Grimaldi seized the castle while dressed as a monk in 1297.

It has 37,000 inhabitants with over 120 nationalities. Only about 8,000 who have proved their Monacan credentials are considered Prince Albert's subjects.

Zimbabwe-born Charlene tied the knot with Albert three years ago despite rumours that their relationship was on the verge of collapse.

Media reports suggested she had attempted to flee Monaco just days before their wedding.

It was also widely reported that the couple spent at least part of their honeymoon in separate hotels. A steady stream of pictures of the princess looking gloomy continued to fuel reports she was depressed.

Charlene hails from a middle-class Zimbabwean family with German roots who relocated to South Africa when she was 11.

She swam for her adopted country in the 4 x 100m medley relay team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Crown Prince Jacques will receive the title of Marquis of Baux, while his sister, second in line to the throne, will be the Countess of Carlades.

- Catherine Marciano

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