Grimaldi Family

Princess Charlène of Monaco: a shining star of the princely Monegasque sky

Sport has given me drive and discipline and it also taught me to remain humble”, is used to say H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco. These words represent the pure essence of a First Lady who is showing the best side of the Principality throughout the world. At the gates of Her birthday anniversary, HelloMonaco has the pleasure to retrace some of the highlights of the Monegasque Princess. 

Everything began on the 25th January 1978 when Lynette Wittstock, swimming acrobat and instructor, gave birth to her first beloved daughter Charlene Lynette Wittstock in Bulawayo, currently part of Zinbabwe (former Rhodesia), where she was living at that time with her husband, Michael Kenneth, printer and then IT service provider. Their daughter had begun to show a great interest in swimming since the age of three. 

In 1989, the Wittstock family, with German-Irish origins, moved to South Africa, including Gareth and Sean, two further sons, recently born. Charlene grew up surrounded by her family’s warmth in the industrial district of Benoni, South-East side of Johannesburg, as the actress and model Charlize Theron. “We are a very close family; my brothers, Gareth, Sean and I were educated to same values from sport”, she underlined as reported by Philippe Delorme, journalist and historian – “that brought us a great deal of balance; sport is a family legacy”, she added. 

Princess Charlène of Monaco
H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco beside H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, attending the 2019 National Day solemn Mass at the Cathedral (Monaco Cathedral, 19th November 2019).© Eric Mathon / Palais Princier

In 1996, at the age of 18, she reached the podium at the South African Championship. Her great passion was becoming something primary in her life with the full support of her father. Therefore, she decided to quit studies and devote herself entirely to swim. Soon after her family moved to Durban where she started being guided by the internationally renowned coach, Graham Hill

She had been following an iron discipline for a long time, training six hours a day. “Outside the swimming pool, I didn’t have a personal life: eating, sleeping, swimming, doing gymnastics, that was more or less my timetable”, she revealed to the Sports Illustrated magazine. Furthermore, her little spare time was spent to support deprived kids through the techniques of swimming

In 2000, she represented South Africa at the Sydney Olympic Games achieving promising results within her team, placed fifth. Her sacrifices gave early fruit. That same year, at the Monegasque Mare Nostrum international swimming competition she was awarded the gold medal for the 200m backstroke by H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, with whom she exchanged a few words. In 2002, she received other three gold medals at the World Cup and a silver medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games

Princess Charlène of Monaco
H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco beside Crown Prince Jacques, H.S.H. Princess Gabriella, the Sovereign Prince and the whole Grimaldi Family depicted at the ‘Salle des Gardes’ within the National Day celebrations (Palais Princier, 19 November 2019).© Eric Mathon / Palais Princier

In 2007, just after qualifying at the Beijing Olympics, she ended to swim professionally but she never quit practicing it together with surfing and mountain hiking, being deeply inspired by the highest sporting values. Not by chance, on May the 27th 2011, she was acknowledged as Global Ambassador of Special Olympics while in June 2012 she was nominated patron of AS Rugby Monaco, considered as one of the best sporting activities to convey sound values. 

In 2006, she began to accompany the Sovereign Prince officially at the Olympic Games at Sestrière (famous ski resort not far from Turin), and in further relevant missions. Shortly afterwards, she was invited by the Sovereign Prince to a romantic night in Monaco when the Prince showed all his interest in sport and swimming, acting as a true gentleman. A period of mutual knowledge started with frequent visit to Monaco, being gradually included in the Grimaldi Family with discretion. In March 2008, she first attended the prestigious Bal de la Rose in a midnight blue understated dress, perfectly worn as a result of her fashion model parallel career. In November 2008, she took part in the Panda Ball in Singapore to raise funds for WWF. That seems to suggest a happy ending in a short time. 

In June 2010, just after participating in Victoria of Sweden royal wedding, their engagement was made official quietly and in early July 2011 Miss Wittstock and the Sovereign Prince got married in two subsequent steps. The civil ceremony held in the Palace of Monaco Throne Room, as tradition, and the religious wedding that was celebrated open-air by H.E. Bernard Barsi, Archbishop of Monaco, the following day at the Princely Cour d’Honneur, in the presence of a thousand of so noble guests

The Crown Prince Jacques and H.S.H. Princess Gabriella posing for 2020 Season’s Greetings card. © Eric Mathon / Palais Princier

The event captured the imagination of International Media and the entire Monegasque population. From that moment on, she has taken the title of H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco together with all noble titles acknowledged to Prince Albert II. And it was only the beginning of a fairy adventure. 

On the 10th December 2014, Princess Charlene’s dream of becoming a mother came true, twice. Crown Prince Jacques and H.S.H. Princess Gabriella were born, for the joy of the entire Principality. Their relaxed attitude kept in every princely shot shows how they enjoy their mother’s loving care. And the thing is mutual. In recent declarations, Princess Charlene expressed her inspirational delight to follow their evolution in building a point of view on different things. 

The Crown Prince Jacques and H.S.H. Princess Gabriella posing for 2020 Season’s Greetings card. © Eric Mathon / Palais Princier

But Princess Charlène has never wanted to be an inactive Lady. “I want to be present and actively involved; it is a life with a purpose”, she highlighted. Her African roots have been pushing her to be particularly sensitive to any difficulty in childhood. Thus, at the early stage of her career, she started giving swimming lessons to children in need and, once she has become Princess, she completely endorsed His Serene Highness in promoting charitable actions, worldwide. Since then, she has been attending major fund-raising events, associating to pivotal institutions like the Nelson Mandela Foundation she joined in 2010, the AMFAR AIDS Foundation, the Monaco Liver Disorder to care serious infantile diseases and the MONAA (Monaco Against Autism) Association, where she was appointed as Honorary President respectively in June and in November 2012. 

Princess Charlène of Monaco
Visit of H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco and the Sovereign Prince to Burkina Faso in the presence of the President, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, and the first Lady, Sika Kaboré (11th and 12th January 2018).© Manu Vitali / Palais Princier

On the 8th July 2011, she was named co-patron of the Giving Organisation Trust, a South-African charity union focused on AIDS prevention among underprivileged children and environmental issues. In addition to all this, since 2018 the Princess of Monaco has been committing herself in boosting a proper drive conduct in low-income and intermediary Countries, playing as a member of the “High Level Panel for Road Safety“. 

Her deep belief in sport ability to improve living conditions and giving hope, pushed her to create her own Foundation on 14th December 2012. This praiseworthy reality is strongly committed to transmit the best side of sport to new generations of athletes with special focus on reinforcing their water self-confidence against any drowning epidemic.

Princess Charlène of Monaco
H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco and the Sovereign Prince assisting to a first aid demonstration at the Red Cross Multi-functional Training Centre at Loumbila (Burkina Faso, 12th January 2018).© Manu Vitali / Palais Princier

A true therapeutic function via water safety techniques. On 22nd September 2014, she officially presented her Foundation at the 10th Annual Clinton Initiative Meeting set in New York, warmly greeted by the former United States President Bill Clinton and his family who took to heart the cause. In 2014, she was appointed by the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, the highest honorific Italian distinction as “Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic”, for her philanthropic and humanitarian commitment. The prestigious acknowledgment was conferred by H.E. Antonio Morabito, former Ambassador of Italy in Monaco, within a solemn ceremony held at the Italian Embassy on the 28th July 2014, in the presence of the Sovereign Prince and other distinguished guests. 

On November the 21st 2015, Princess Charlène of Monaco spoke her message of friendship at the 30th Annual Conference for Healthcare Workers at the Vatican City in Rome about her personal engagement in raising awareness about the dangers of water through her Foundation international action plan addressed to every individual, family and community. “We will succeed in saving lives through more international cooperation in fighting death by drowning, this terrible, yet silent, killer”, she said. 

Princess Charlène of Monaco
H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco attending in Monaco the ‘Water Safety Day’ addressed to swimming risks prevention.© Eric Mathon / Palais Princier

Since its creation, Princess Charlène of Monaco Foundation has involved over 300,000 people in 30 countries to learn how better deal with water, learning how to swim and benefit from practicing sport to better life. ‘Learn to Swim’ and ‘Water Safety’ are key programmes directly inspired by the World Health Organisation 2017 guidance, ‘Preventing drowning: an implementation guide’. Furthermore, the ‘Sport & Education’ training scheme makes sport a valuable tool to encourage the full development of children and their well-being as well as to allow talented athletes to become future champions. 

Princess Charlène of Monaco
H.S.H. Princess Charlène of Monaco, the Monegasque F1 driver Charles Leclerc, Ambassador of Her Foundation and Jean Todt, road safety Special Envoy for UN Secretary-General showing the new poster of the awareness campaign #3500LIVES, designed by FIA: « Soyez attentifs aux piétons » – ‘Please be aware of the Pedestrians’ (Grand Prix de F1, 2019 edition).© Eric Mathon / Palais Princier

Since her appointment, Princess Charlène charisma has been making a good point in building a better future, always transmitting good vibes. “I am an open and positive person; whenever I can, I try to meet people of every race, religion, colour to be comfortable with”, she remarked to Isabelle Léouffre, journalist at Paris Match on March 2006 – “we live in a world that can be amazing, where people have the means to appreciate the little things in life, those that are able to change the course of a day in a variety of moments of Happiness”, she concluded. A relevant number of world champions are following her in pursuing her Foundation’s mission, not casually. Among them the F1 Monegasque Ferrari’s driver, Charles Leclerc, the tennis champion, Novak Djokovic, the Monegasque record free-diver, Pierre Frolla, and many others.  

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