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Monaco

Princess Charlene celebrates her 44th birthday away from her family as absence continues


Monaco’s Princess Charlene is celebrating her 44th birthday today privately while in treatment for an undisclosed illness outside Monaco.

The Princely Palace said around Christmas that her recovery would take a few months but that she things were going “encouragingly.”

She was also able to spend time with her seven-year-old twins, Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques, around the holiday when her husband, Prince Albert, brought them to visit her.

As the Princess of Monaco is still undergoing treatment, we look at her life – from her upbringing in Africa to the walls of the Princely Palace.

Charlene Lynette Wittstock was born Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) on 25 January 1978 to Michael and Lynette Wittstock as their eldest child. Charlene has two younger brothers, Gareth and Sean. The family moved to South Africa when Charlene was 12, settling near Johannesburg in Benoni.

Charlene followed in her mother’s footsteps and swam competitively from a young age. She had success representing South Africa at the Commonwealth Games and the 2000 Summer Olympics Games in Sydney, Australia. The future royal won several national titles, three gold medals and a silver at the 1999 All-Africa Games and a silver medal in the 4 × 100 m medley relay at the 2000 Commonwealth Games. Her relay team at the Summer Olympics finished fifth.

Charlene intended to conclude her competitive swimming career at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing but did not qualify after having to rest from swimming for 18 months due to a shoulder injury.

During the Monaco Mare Nostrum swimming meet in 2002, she met Prince Albert, who was the heir to the throne at the time, with his father, Rainier, on the throne. They would not go public with their relationship for six years, making their first public appearance together at the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006 (the year after Albert ascended the throne). They moved in together that same year.

The Princely Palace of Monaco announced their engagement on 23 June 2010. The wedding had been planned for 8 and 9 July 2011, but the dates had to be changed because of a conflict with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Durban from 5–9 July. Members of the IOC were invited to the wedding, so the dates were moved forward to allow them to attend.

Rumours plagued the wedding that Charlene had cold feet and had attempted to leave the principality. The palace denied what they called “ugly rumours” out of jealousy.

They wed in a civil ceremony on 1 July 2011 in the Throne Room of the Princely Palace, with Charlene converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism before her wedding. Their religious service took place the following day in the palace’s courtyard.

The announcement Monaco had been waiting on came on 30 May 2014 when the Princely Palace announced that Charlene was pregnant. The palace later confirmed in October that she was expecting twins by the end of 2014.

VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

She gave birth on 10 December 2014 at the Princess Grace Hospital Centre, first to a daughter (Princess Gabriella Thérèse Marie) and then a son (Prince Jacques Honoré Rainier) two minutes later. Due to the laws of succession in Monaco, Jacques is the heir apparent instead of his older sister.

The Princess of Monaco is also the stepmother to Prince Albert’s two children from previous relationships: Jazmin Grace Grimaldi (b. 1992) and Alexandre Grimaldi-Coste (b. 2003).

She became a global ambassador to the Special Olympics in 2011 and created her namesake foundation, “The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation” in 2012. Her Serene Highness is also involved with the asfAR, Ladies Lunch Monte-Carlo, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Monaco Against Autism, and The Giving Organisation. She also serves as the patron to the South African Red Cross Society and AS Rugby Monaco.

Rumours and illness plagued Charlene in 2021 as she travelled home to South Africa for a conservation trip. She fell ill with an ear, nose and throat infection and required several surgeries. The Princess was unable to return to Monaco for six months, and soon after, she left the country again for treatment at an undisclosed location in November.

As she marks her 44th birthday, the Princess of Monaco is still unable to return to the small principality, and it’s unknown when she will make a full recovery.

About author

Brittani is from Tennessee, USA. She is a political scientist and historian after graduating with a degree in the topics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in December 2014. She also holds a master's degree from Northeastern University. She enjoys reading and researching all things regarding the royals of the world. Her love of royals began in middle school, and she's been researching, reading, and writing on royalty for over a decade. She became Europe Editor in October 2016, and then Deputy Editor in January 2019, and has been featured on several podcasts, radio shows, news broadcasts and websites including Global News Canada, ABC News Australia, WION India and BBC World News.