Charlene's marriage to Albert of Monaco, 10 years ago - how she almost became a 'runaway bride'
It's been ten years already since Charlene Wittstock and Prince Albert of Monaco celebrated one of the most anticipated weddings among European royalty. It also became one of the most speculated events in the royalty press, because Charlene seemed unhappy with the marriage. What the story of this couple, their famous wedding, and Charlene's tears?
2011 was a year of big royal weddings. In April, a bit over two months before Charlene and Albert's ceremony, Prince William and Kate Middleton had tied the knot in one of the most watched events ever. Albert and Charlene did not stay much behind the British prince and his wife, as they spent fortunes on their fabulous wedding on July 2, 2011.
The three-day wedding between the Monegasque prince (53) and his bride (33) cost an estimated $55 million. July 1 and 2 were declared national holidays, and on the night before their civil marriage the couple held a party with 15,000 guests and the band 'The Eagles'.
Kings, queens, princes and princesses from all over Europe attended the event. And then there were some of the celebrity friends of the Monegasque family, like the late designer Karl Lagerfeld (in this photo).
Charlene's breath-taking gown was designed by Giorgio Armani. It contained 40,000 Swarovski crystals and 20,000 mother-of-pearl teardrops, Vogue reported at the time.
On July 1, 2011, the South African swim champion and Monegasque prince had married before the law. At the civil ceremony, Charlene wore a silk blue jacket with ankle-length trousers designed by Chanel. She received the formal title of 'Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco.'
Both the religious and the civil ceremony gave us many images of big smiles, hugs, and kisses.
But there were also moments when Charlene cried. What was the reason of her tears? Was she overcome with joy, or was there more going on with the South African athlete who'd suddenly become a Monegasque princess?
As they left the chapel on the Monegasque palace courtyard, Charlene was dabbing her tears while - according to Vanity Fair - Albert reportedly said: "Don't cry, don't cry." The outlet suggested that Charlene regretted her marriage with Albert and had tried to flee Monaco to get out of it.
What's the backstory of the Prince of Monaco's union with a swim champion twenty years younger in age? And why did she almost become a runaway bride?
Here's the story of a princess unaccustomed to court life and an aristocratic husband with a few skeletons in his closet. It's a happy tale - though with a few sharp edges.
Several media have reported that Prince Albert of Monaco met the South African athlete Charlene Wittstock in 2000 during a swimming competition in Monte Carlo. He was 42 years old, she was 22. Charlene had participated in the Sydney Olympics that same year.
The two began dating in 2000 but kept the relationship largely under the radar. It wasn't until 2006 that Charlene Wittstock began to appear at official events as "a guest of Prince Albert."
Over time, the public appearances became more regular and the relationship seemed to become serious. It was quite a long courtship. Having met in 2000, the Prince would not propose to Charlene until 2010!
The long run-up to marriage between the athlete and the prince may have had to do with the age gap and their completely different lifestyles. Although Prince Albert had competed in Bobsleigh in his younger years, he was now living the life of a monarch with all its protocols and stately events. It was not the active outdoorsy lifestyle that twentysomething Charlene was used to.
Sometimes, however, Charlene managed to get Albert out of the palace and even into the cold waters of Monaco's annual Christmas swim!
The South African beauty went chique royal events with her prince to see if she would be able to fit into the Monaco lifestyle. Charlene always kept her own style, though, like this evening at the 2009 Rose Ball where she sported a punkish short hairdo.
It wasn't just the age and lifestyle difference that made their courtship rocky though. Prince Albert had been a busy and popular bachelor for decades. He had a special taste for supermodels, like Claudia Schiffer on this photo. The prince also allegedly dated Naomi Campbell and Janice Dickinson.
The prince even fathered two children out of wedlock before he met Charlene. Here we see his daughter Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, whom he did not officially recognize until she was 14.
Charlene Wittstock is a very religious woman. To her, a fortysomething guy with no history of serious relationships nor marriage and two 'illegitimate' children may have been big question mark or even a hard 'no.' Moreover, media like the New York Post suggested that Albert continued to fool around after the beginnings of their relationship in the 2000s.
Over the years, however, the Prince of Monaco must have won her over. Albert and Charlene got closer and closer until they finally announced their engagement in 2010.
This is the couple's engagement photo with which they finally confirmed the seriousness of their relationship to the world. A big wedding was planned for the summer of 2011.
Various media have reported that Charlene had regrets about her commitment to Prince Albert, especially because of his affairs and 'illegitimate' children. They even suggested that the future princess had tried to flee the Monegasque palace several times.
The French weekly L’Express claimed that Charlene had tried to seek "refuge in the South African Embassy in May while in France for a bridal-gown fitting," as translated by Vanity Fair. She also allegedly tried to escape during the Grand Prix of Monaco.
In a third attempt to run away from the marriage, Charlene reportedly "booked a one-way ticket to South Africa and nearly made it to the nearby airport in Nice, France, before being intercepted and stripped of her passport so that, according to a senior detective in Monaco, 'the prince’s entourage could persuade her to stay,'" Vanity Fair claims.
In the end, however, Charlene stayed and the wedding went through. As we all know, the couple got married, had the twins Gabrielle and Jacques in 2014, and are now celebrating their tenth anniversary.
Overall, Charlene appears to be happy with the prince and their children. Sometimes though, journalists wonder if, deep down, she is really feeling well in the marriage. The princess rarely smiles during public events, which earned her the nickname of 'sad princess.'
In 2021, Charlene looked back at the happy wedding days in a 2021 Instagram post. "Happy anniversary Albert," she wrote. "Thank you for the blessing of our beautiful children." It's a sec message that can be interpreted in multiple ways - and royalty reporters will surely continue to do so.