Charlene brings sports glamour to Monaco royals

2011-06-30 10:17

 A statuesque blue-eyed blonde, Wittstock inevitably draws comparisons with Albert’s mother, the late American movie star Grace Kelly, whose marriage 55 years earlier to Prince Ranier III was a global sensation.

Wittstock’s marriage in Monte Carlo’s millionaire’s playground – a July 1 civil ceremony and a religious service the following day – will mark the end of Albert’s status as one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors.

It will also cap Wittstock’s transformation from small-town African girl, to world-class athlete to an adornment of the European aristocracy.

She was born on January 25, 1978, in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo, a dusty town surrounded by cattle ranches and best known for its broad streets – designed for the covered wagons of Rhodesian settlers.

Her family stayed in Bulawayo for a decade after her birth, through the turbulent final days of colonial Rhodesia and into the equally tumultuous early years of Zimbabwe.

When she was 10, the Wittstocks moved to South Africa where they settled in the town of Benoni, in the outer reaches of Joburg’s suburbs.

She’d been in the pool since she was three, aided by her mother Lynette, a swimming coach and competitive diver.

But the sport soon took over her life as her prowess became clear in the late 1990s, claiming several national titles and competing for South Africa at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and again in 2002 in Manchester.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Wittstock was part of the women’s medley relay team that finished fifth in the final.

She moved from the sports pages to the front pages in 2006, when she and Albert made their relationship public by appearing together at the Turin Winter Olympics.

They first met in 2000, at a swimming meet in the principality where Wittstock won the 200m backstroke gold.

But the playboy prince had long been seen with a string of beautiful women, and has already fathered a girl and a boy.

A shoulder injury kept Wittstock out of the water and allowed her to spend more time with Albert as the relationship blossomed.

She says that sport is one of her interests in common with her future husband, himself a former Olympian who competed five times on his country’s bobsleigh team.

“Some of the interests that the prince and I share are sports, environmental and humanitarian causes,” she said.

After their engagement, Wittstock converted to Catholicism and has been brushing up on court etiquette. But she told her hometown newspaper in Benoni that she still misses South Africa despite the glamour of her new life.

“I am very happy about the wedding, Monaco is a beautiful country and I love everything about it,” she said.

“I miss my relatives, the friendly people and the Bunny Park,” a Benoni park overrun with rabbits, she said.

The prince has hailed his future wife’s “great sense of humour and insatiable curiosity” in a press interview.

“Charlene has a very strong personality and I have no doubt of her desire to get involved in things alongside me,” he said.

In a French newspaper interview published ahead of the wedding she said she hopes soon to have a baby, which would please Monaco’s constitutionalists hoping for an heir who must be born through marriage.

But Wittstock shies away from describing her life as a fairytale.

“If any woman can find someone who truly loves her and is lucky enough to marry him, then that is a fairytale to me.”

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