Skip to content

The Grimaldi generations… Monaco’s heirs and graces

by ZwemZa on January 25th, 2015
The Grimaldi generations: Chalene and Albert show off their children Jacques and Gabrilla from a balcony.

The Grimaldi generations: Chalene and Albert show off their children Jacques and Gabrilla from a balcony.

The first official appearance of Monaco royals Charlene and Albert with their newborn twins was always going to be a heady affair. Speculation over the state of the marriage, the difficulties of conception and the happiness – or not – of the princess, together with the long-time unease of Monaco society around the lack of a direct, legitimate heir, made sure of that.

In fact, the first photos show a beaming Prince Albert, a man clearly happier than he has ever been, with Charlene looking pale and tired but proud by his side. Her hand however is held rigidly aloft, thrust out in a gesture that seems to say ‘halt!’ or ‘enough!’, far more than it speaks of welcome or ease. It is a photo that part tells the story of the changing days of Monaco’s royalty, and seems to show Charlene’s intimate understanding of the difficulties inherent in being a modern princess, surrounded by old rules and new demands.

Over the near 60 years since Grace Kelly brought her own particular brand of fairytale magic to the tiny principality of Monaco – converting it in one graceful swoop from “a sunny place for shady people,” according to Somerset Maugham, into a romantic Mediterranean kingdom – the story of the Grimaldis has been played out in a thousand such photographs and formal appearances. Here is a family that knows the value of their good looks and golden heritage, who celebrate each occasion with pageantry and splendour.

For the birth of twins Jacques and Gabriella, the city-state went into overdrive, with flags and bunting everywhere, framed proclamations of royal delight, light shows in red and white, the Monaco colours and 42 cannon blasts over the bay – 21 for each royal baby. It was an apt moment for national delirium. Not only was direct succession assured (until the twins, Princess Caroline was her brother’s heir) but, given the many years during which Prince Albert lived a resolutely carefree life, including fathering two children out of wedlock, and the apparently dramatic hiccups before his wedding, the birth of the legitimate royal babies must have seemed something of a triumph against the odds.

Probably to their infinite regret, much has changed for princes and kings. The old-style, remote monarchs who were able to hide behind official versions of themselves, have been forced into a more modern set-up, dominated by rumour, innuendo and constant press intrusion.

Consider the portrait of Grace Kelly in her glorious wedding dress of rose point lace over silk net, dutifully clutching her copy of Rev JM Lelen’s Bride’s Manual: A Manual of Catholic Devotion, and thereby heralding her faith (something for which she was greatly loved in this country), with Prince Rainier III at her side. As a couple they are resigned, serious, entirely conscious of the commitment they have made, to each other and to the public. It may not have been a happy marriage, but it was a artful one.

Contrast that with the famous photograph of Charlene Wittstock on the day she became the bride of Prince Albert in 2011, 33 years old, tears glistening on her cheek as she looks at him in what seems like faint supplication. They might be tears of joy – a young woman living out her very own impossible-seeming fairytale – except that Albert, then aged 53, by her side, seems stern, unyielding. Perhaps he simply feels the weight of public scrutiny and his official duties?

Whatever the truth of that raw moment, in a wedding that apparently cost £50m, there is no doubting the international frisson when excitable news stories broke that Charlene, a former Olympic swimmer, had tried to book a one-way ticket home to South Africa two days before the wedding. Royal officials, the rumours claimed, confiscated her passport and persuaded her to carry on with the nuptial plans, convincing her that inclination and duty may, after all, be brought together. The Palace denied the rumours at the time, and Charlene later described the allegations as “categorical lies,” saying, “Everything was just so overwhelming and there were all the mixed emotions because of the rumours, and obviously the tension built up and I burst into tears . . . And then I burst into tears some more because I was thinking ‘Oh no, now the whole world has seen me cry’.”

Perhaps because of the tears, the wedding seemed a rather subdued affair, despite the lavish entertainment – Alain Ducasse cooked for 500 dinner guests, and the Eagles were flown in (no, the royals aren’t exactly known for their cutting-edge musical tastes) – and Charlene almost instantly entered the most common state for royal brides: intense speculation over procreation that is the bitter lot of newly-weds whose sole official purpose, as far as the public is concerned, is to beget an heir.

For Charlene, the speculation was all the more difficult because it was coloured by the very stuff that clouded her engagement. Albert, once one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, who dated Brooke Shields, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, already had two children by the time he met Charlene. One, a daughter, now 22, he denied paternity of until DNA tests finally proved otherwise when she was a teenager. The other, a son, was born after a secret relationship with Nicole Coste, a former air hostess from Togo, now a designer who has dressed Emma Watson and Dita Von Teese.

Under Monaco’s strict inheritance laws, neither of these children has any claim to royal titles or to be considered as heirs, but both have legal rights to a share of Albert’s huge personal fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine to exceed $1bn. And of course the very fact of their existence is naturally complicated for Charlene, who is nearly 20 years younger than her husband, living with him on the opposite side of the world to her own home and family, and reportedly not always at ease there: “The people I mixed with in Monaco didn’t relate to my South African mentality or humour. Of course, I’ve been subject to jealousy, but that comes with the territory. Although I have met some wonderful people since I’ve been living in Monaco, I regard them all as acquaintances. I only have two people I consider friends here,” she once said to Tatler magazine.

And indeed, at first there was a faintly sniffy attitude towards Charlene among some of Monaco society; for a country in which the average income of citizens inches towards €160,000 a year, one of the highest in the world, where social attitudes aren’t particularly progressive, Charlene, the daughter of an IT developer and a swimming instructor, was for a time considered, in the words of one resident, “common”. Part of the problem, undoubtedly, is that the role she was trying to fill was once held by Grace Kelly, an icon throughout much of the world, a legend within Monaco. In fact, Charlene’s closest friend seems to have been Maxima, new queen of the Netherlands: “Maxima has been unbelievably supportive if I need help with anything,” Charlene has said. “Because she came from Argentina and moved to Holland, we have made similar lifestyle choices. She has given me advice that I identified with.”

In the years since the wedding, during which time Charlene has played her part in official engagements with grace, if not particularly marked enthusiasm – indeed, the habitual expression on her rather beautiful face is slightly wary – attitudes towards her have softened. Now that she is a mother as well as a princess, the citizens of Monaco are positively gushing towards her, turning out in their droves to welcome the family on the first official presentation of the babies.

But real life is always tough and fairy tales usually don’t last longer than the time required to snap a photograph. The pictures of Princess Grace with Caroline, Albert and Stephanie clustered prettily at her knee, are proof of that. The family image that Grace presented to the world was elegant perfection, but that charmed world broke up in 1982, when Grace died after driving her car over a cliff. Caroline, the oldest, was 24 at the time, already married and divorced, from Parisian financier Philippe Junot; they married when she was 20, in a wedding attended by Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, and divorced two years later.

She then married Stefano Casiraghi, heir to an Italian industrial fortune – the story went that they began dating after she saw photos of then-beau Roberto Rossellini, son of Isabella, on holiday with another woman in Greece. Whatever the myth, they quickly fell in love, married and had three children, Andrea, Charlotte and Pierre, before Stefano died in a speed-boat accident when he was 30. “Monaco,” announced the national media at the time, “is in a state of shock. It has lost its Prince Charming.”

By the time they married, Caroline was pregnant with Andrea. She hoped for an annulment of her first marriage by the Vatican, but chose not to wait. “I wanted a real home and children,” she later said. “It was difficult for my conscience, but I was overwhelmed by the desire to have children. Surely that can be understood from a Christian point of view.” Although the annulment did come through some years later, this was a significant moment in the Catholic consciousness of the Grimaldis; Caroline’s decision would have been unthinkable a generation earlier.

Described as “quiet and private,” even “taciturn,” Stefano was very different to Caroline’s first husband, and with him she settled down, leaving behind the nightclub scene, which she had frequented with a series of jet-set boyfriends, including Mark Shand, younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Jonathan Guinness; and Henri Giscard d’Estaing, the son of the former President of France.

After Stefano, Caroline married Prince Ernst August of Hanover, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, and apparently the man her mother had picked out for her many years ago, for his impeccable breeding, dynastic possibilities, and what she believed might be his “stablising influence.” The couple have one daughter, Alexandra. However, his steadying influence may have been over-rated by Princess Grace, as the Prince has been dogged by a number of controversies.

Most recently, Ernst August and Caroline seem to have been living independent lives. Although no formal separation has been announced, he has been snapped with various other women, including a Romanian model who has posed in lingerie, advertising for an Austrian brothel chain.

Always impeccably dressed – Karl Largerfeld is a close friend – fluent in French, English, Spanish, German and Italian, Caroline has dutifully played the royal role, assuming her position as First Lady after Grace’s death with solemnity and thereafter heading up the family, during all the years of Stephanie’s wild dash through careers, continents and boyfriends, and Albert’s romantic vacillations, in a responsible, serious fashion; indeed, for years, she looked as exasperated as only a put-upon older sister can.

Stephanie, in contrast, enjoyed all the privilege of the youngest, seeming to consult only her own desires in everything that she did. Fondly described as “my wild child,” by her mother, she certainly lived up to the name, adored by tabloid journalists and paparazzi for her regular errors of judgement. She ran away from her exclusive boarding school aged just 15 for a weekend with singer Miguel Bose, then threw a massive tantrum and refused to attend Caroline’s pre-wedding gala unless she was allowed to wear jeans. At the time of Grace’s death, she was apparently dating Paul Belmondo. Within a couple of years she had been sacked by Christian Dior, had been apparently held up at gunpoint in the car park underneath her Paris apartment, and had taken up with the son of actor Alain Delon, a convicted car thief who ran with a rough crowd.

Prince Rainier cut off her allowance in 1984, and she responded by launching a career in Euro-pop with a couple of catchy songs, and a duet with Michael Jackson. When Stephanie got pregnant by her bodyguard Daniel Ducrue, Rainier responded by changing his will to ensure that the spouses of his children could never inherit his wealth. The couple married in 1995 and divorced a year later. Stephanie then dated Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as a suspected cocaine-dealer who was shot dead near Nice in 2000. In 2003, she married Adans Lopez Peres, a Portuguese circus acrobat, and divorced him a year later.

More recently, however, Stephanie seems to have found a sense of purpose through her work with Aids charity Fight Aids Monaco, swapping the wild child role she played for so long, for something more discreet and philanthropic. In sympathy, her style is far more elegant and pared-back these days.

In comparison, the children of Caroline and Stephanie seem more restrained and savvy, or perhaps just better protected? Stephanie’s three – Pauline, Louis and Camille – had a peripatetic childhood, travelling with the circus for several years while being home-schooled by their mother. These days, they largely avoid the media but appear relaxed on those occasions they do appear.

Caroline’s older children have assumed more public roles – Andrea Casiraghi, once dubbed an ‘enfant terrible’ by the European press, and placed tenth on Forbes’ 20 Hottest Young Royals list, now takes his turn at official Monaco functions with good grace, giving speeches and opening events. He is involved with the World Association of Children’s Friends, a charity founded by Grace, and patron of the Motrice Foundation, which funds research into cerebral palsy. Married to Colombian heiress Tatiana Santo Domingo, the couple have one son, Sacha. Charlotte is a show-jumper and model who has been the face of Gucci and on the cover of Vogue Paris. She has a son with French actor and comedian Gad Elmaleh. Youngest son Pierre, meanwhile, works in the construction company founded by his father, and is engaged to Beatrice Borromeo, an Italian aristocrat and TV presenter, with a royal wedding due this April. Alexandra, the youngest, still just 15, is at school in Monaco.

The seven children of Caroline and Stephanie have by now mainly passed through the white-hot stage of adolescence and early adulthood, during which the European media kept them under close scrutiny, delighted by every youthful slip and indiscretion. They are now mostly embarked on grown-up lives and careers, and therefore safer from speculation and gossip. For twins Jacques and Gabriella, the journey has just begun. As direct heirs, the watching and snooping will be more intense. Tolstoy called kings “the slaves of history.” In this Age of Intrusion, history is little in comparison with the pressures of a voracious media. No wonder Princess Charlene stood so straight and stern on that royal balcony, arm stiffly raised. For her, these last years have been mere dress rehearsal; the most important role of her life is just beginning.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: