After 30 years as Europe's most eligible bachelor Prince Albert finally gets engaged (photos, video)
Well, it's about time!
You can't say Prince Albert of Monaco, newly engaged Wednesday at age 52 to former South African swimming champ Charlene Wittstock, 32, didn't get to enjoy a reign as Europe's most eligible royal bachelor. But that was, er, a quarter-century ago.
It was the 1980s, and the miniature Mediterranean principality with a glamorous ruling family was back on the world's radar, following the death of his movie-star mom Princess Grace in a tragic car crash. England's Prince Charles had just recently been taken off the market, so royal wedding watchers focused all their energies on Albert. If his princess sisters Caroline and Stephanie looked like models, he was, well, nice-looking. Amherst grad. Slightly balding. Hobbies: fencing, bobsledding, marine biology. And one day, all of that -- a kingdom smaller than Central Park but rich in casinos and tax-sheltering millionaires -- would be his.
So the speculation carried out in the tabloids -- he was going to marry Brooke Shields, or some Ivy League goddess, or a princess from a nation-speck more obscure than his own. Later, linkages grew more glam -- Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Minogue. But none of those got much traction, either.
Then Prince Albert just kept not getting married. Much was at stake: The Grimaldi family would lose the crown if he did not produce an heir. The tabloid speculation ran wild: Was he gay? Was he just boring?
Monaco changed its constitution so Caroline's kids (by her second and third husbands) could inherit the throne, and the world stopped paying such close attention to the middle-age prince, who inherited the throne from his late father, Prince Rainier, in 2005. And that's exactly when we learned that he was neither gay nor boring: That same year, he acknowledged having fathered a son by a flight attendant from Togo; the following year, he confessed that a teenage girl in Southern California was his, too. (Born out of wedlock, neither is eligible for the throne.)
So the engagement announcement brought an unexpected new buzz. The striking blonde, whom he met at a 2000 swimming competition, has been no secret in his life. After ending her athletic career and teaching school, she moved to Monaco in 2006 and has been his regular escort at the endless array of photo-ops that make up the life of a prince -- award shows, galas, the Olympics, last week's wedding of Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria.
Why now? The Associated Press cited Monacan speculation that Albert is desperate to boost tourism, or to distract from controversial economic proposals, or to get himself an heir. Um, is Wittstock pregnant? "Honestly, I don't think so," palace spokeswoman Laetitia Pierrat told the AP, adding that they'd probably have mentioned it if she were. Maybe he's just finally found someone he likes.
The Reliable Source
June 24, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
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