Royal Life Has Not Been Easy For Princess Charlene Of Monaco

Charlene, Princess of Monaco, was not always a royal, nor has she always lived in Monaco. In fact, when the princess was born on January 25, 1978, she had no titles and was known simply as Charlene Lynette Wittstock. Although she spent her early years in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Charlene moved to South Africa when she was 12. It was there that she pursued her passion for swimming — first as a sport and later as a career. Indeed, Charlene first rose to prominence in 1996 when she won the national swimming championship and in 2000 she represented South Africa in the Olympic Games. 

As Charlene's swimming career took off, she caught the attention of Monaco's Prince Albert II. The two first crossed paths at an international swimming competition in Monaco, where Charlene won first place in her event. Sparks flew, and soon the couple was an item. In spite of what seemed to be a fairy tale romance, the pair faced early criticism of their relationship due to Albert's reputation as the "Playboy Prince." Nevertheless, following a long, drawn-out courtship, Charlene and Albert tied the knot in an extravagant 2011 ceremony.

Much like other royals before her, Charlene eventually discovered just how taxing it is to join one of the world's most privileged families. Like Grace Kelly and Princess Diana before her, Charlene watched her life change dramatically after her marriage. Some reports have even claimed that she feels isolated behind palace walls.

Princess Charlene had to change to be with Prince Albert

When Princess Charlene first met Prince Albert in 2000, she was — for the most part — a normal young woman. Of course, Charlene's successful swimming career set her apart from other young professionals. However, when it came to issues like choosing outfits, planning trips, and following royal protocol, Charlene enjoyed the kind of freedom that only a non-royal could experience. 

All that changed in 2006 on New Year's Day — it was then that Charlene and Albert began dating in an official capacity. During the early days of the relationship, Charlene realized that she no longer had the liberty to wear whatever clothes she wished. After all, the public began to view her as the possible future princess of Monaco, and they expected her to dress the part. In an interview with Vogue, Charlene recalled the disastrous 2007 Red Cross Ball, where she faced a "trial by fire" for dressing too informally. "I was literally a fish out of water. I thought it was all fun, fun, fun, and didn't give my outfit any thought," the princess admitted. In retrospect, Charlene said she should have dressed the royal part. "I realize that my debut into Monaco society should have been better executed."

In addition to her fashion transformation, Charlene had to alter her workout routine to make her figure more princess-like. She dropped the weightlifting routine that she performed as an Olympian and instead focused on stretching. 

Charlene faced media scrutiny before the royal wedding

One of the biggest challenges of being a royal is dealing with the tabloids. Historically, royal brides from Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, to Princess Diana were hounded by the press. Unfortunately, during her engagement, Princess Charlene did not escape the intensity of royal media coverage. Just days before her wedding, Charlene was bombarded by a flood of rumors alleging that she was going to leave Prince Albert. 

Indeed, the French outlet Le Journal du Dimanche went so far as to claim that Charlene had attempted to escape from Monaco three times in the weeks leading up to her wedding. Per this report, which Albert and Charlene vehemently denied, the princess sought refuge in the South African embassy in France after heading to Paris for a dress fitting. Apparently, she tried leaving the country a second time at the Grand Prix. The outlet also alleged that the Monegasque police force confiscated Charlene's passport after a final attempt.

Ultimately, all of this press attention took its toll. On the day of Charlene's wedding, she broke down in tears — no thanks to the salaciousness of these rumors. The princess later told The Times: "Everything was just so overwhelming ... There were all the mixed emotions because of the rumors 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.'"

The early days of the couple's marriage were strained

Even after Princess Charlene and Prince Albert tied the knot, rumors about the validity of their relationship swirled. This was particularly true during their honeymoon, which the newlyweds spent in South Africa. However, instead of cozying up in a romantic hotel room with a glass of champagne, Charlene and Albert shocked the world by staying in separate hotels. Indeed, right when the couple arrived in South Africa, Albert settled into the Hilton hotel in Durban. Meanwhile, Charlene stayed at a luxurious suite in the town of Umhlanga Rocks — 10 miles away from where her husband was staying.

Speaking to ABC News, Daily Mail reporter, Peter Allen, spilled the tea on why the couple was staying separately. The reporter revealed that a palace representative had released a statement to the Daily News, which read: "The prince was in a meeting at the Hilton with members of the International Olympic Committee from July 5 to 9. For practical reasons, it was better to sleep there." 

Despite this explanation, however, Allen remained suspicious of why the couple chose to be apart for their honeymoon. As Allen told ABC News, he found it odd that Albert fulfilled work obligations during the trip, "leaving poor old Charlene 10 miles up the coast at a seaside hotel." The journalist went on to inquire: "You have to ask, why couldn't Charlene have stayed in Durban? It's a mystery." 

Charlene was pressured to produce an heir

It's no secret that royal brides are expected to produce an heir to the throne, but Princess Charlene faced particular pressure to do so. After all, Prince Albert fathered two royal love children prior to his marriage, making the need for a legitimate son even more essential. Royal expert Baron Henri Estramant told Insider that the Monegasque elite has long expected Albert to provide the princedom with an heir. A government spokesperson also echoed this sentiment. "Charlene has beauty and style, and we are all praying that she will ensure the royal succession in our principality," the spokesperson told the French outlet Point de Vue (via the Daily Mail). "The time is now right to produce the next ruler of Monaco."

Unfortunately, all this chatter meant that Charlene was faced with the burden of conceiving quickly. When the princess didn't get pregnant within a year of her marriage, the pressure got to her. In 2012, the French tabloid, Voici, reported that Charlene was struggling so much with the issue of pregnancy that she refused to talk about it. "Charlene has made the subject of pregnancy a taboo topic around the Royal palace," Voici alleged (via the Daily Mail). "She might have a smile on her face at official functions, but inside she is stressed and frustrated ... This subject is weighing more and more heavily on her shoulders."

The princess endured a complicated pregnancy

In 2013, Prince Albert and Princess Charlene announced they were expecting twins. This was initially great news for the couple, as they were both anxious to conceive. Nevertheless, the pregnancy didn't prove an easy ordeal for Charlene. On December 10, 2014, the princess prematurely delivered Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques via a cesarian section. Afterward, the mother and her two children remained in the hospital for some time. 

Although many Monegasque people were worried about the family's well-being, Charlene ensured the public that it was routine to be hospitalized for that long. "It is a fairly standard procedure in this kind of situation to have to be monitored for a few more days in the hospital," she told the French outlet Paris Match. Even so, the proud mother reaffirmed that everyone arrived in good health. "I'm a little tired but we're all fine thank you. I am recovering from the cesarean section and the little ones who arrived a little prematurely are doing wonderfully."

Charlene's pregnancy may not have been easy, but she seemed to immediately fall in love with both Gabriella and Jacques. "At first, I was happy to hear their first cries. I was obviously a bit overwhelmed with emotion," Charlene told Paris Match shortly after their birth. According to the princess, those initial emotions gave way to awe. "Every second with them is magical. I look forward to being able to spend more time in their presence," she explained.

She started living outside of the palace

Even after Princess Charlene gave birth to Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella, it was clear that she continued to struggle with certain aspects of royal life. Chief among them seems to be living in the palace — which, for many people, would be a dream come true. Indeed, the Prince's Palace of Monaco is an elaborate construction, complete with maid service, private chefs, and panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea. In spite of these luxuries, however, Charlene decided against living in the palace, choosing instead to inhabit a nearby apartment located above a former chocolate factory. 

To Monegasque people, this unusual living arrangement was hardly a secret. As one local source anonymously told the Daily Mail: "We often saw her outside the palace and she would usually be alone or with a bodyguard, but she was never with Albert. It was obvious she chose to spend most of her time in the apartment rather than the palace." That being said, many members of the public hoped that Charlene would move back in with the rest of her family. Speaking to the Daily Mail, another Monte Carlo resident expressed their hope that Charlene would "proudly move back into the palace and start living like a proper princess." Ultimately, though, Charlene's fans won't decide where she resides. And, the princess' sister-in-law, Chantell Wittstock, has hinted that Charlene has no plans to leave the apartment (via the Daily Mail).

Charlene stayed in South Africa during the pandemic

In May 2021, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Princess Charlene traveled to South Africa. Unfortunately, though, what was supposed to be a short trip quickly became a months-long ordeal — and it all started when Charlene developed a severe ear, nose, and throat infection. According to some sources, the princess grew gravely ill at a shockingly rapid pace. One royal insider told Page Six that she was diagnosed with "severe sinus and swallowing issues stemming back from an earlier surgery." As a result of these issues, Charlene was forced to undergo several surgeries. 

Although the princess did, eventually, regain her health, the path to recovery wasn't easy. "She has not been able to eat solid food in over six months because of all the surgeries she has since gone through," the same source told Page Six. In the insider's view, the resulting lack of nutrition took its toll on the princess' body. "She has only been able to take in liquids through a straw, so she lost nearly half her body weight."

Despite the publicity surrounding Charlene's medical issues, the media speculated about her absence from Monaco. The French outlet Paris Match even alleged that she was leaving Prince Albert once and for all. Nonetheless, insiders have defended Charlene's marriage, with one source telling Page Six she "desperately missed her children and her husband while she was stuck in South Africa."

She spent months in a health facility in Switzerland

When Princess Charlene recovered from her ear, nose, and throat infection, the public largely expected her to return to Monaco and resume her royal duties. Instead, within mere days of leaving South Africa, Charlene was flown to Switzerland, where she was admitted to a luxury healthcare facility called Clinic les Alpes. Known as one of the best psychological treatment centers in the world, Clinic les Alpes offers an idyllic environment with breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains. Its amenities include yoga classes, a swimming pool, and an Oxford-educated psychologist. And, it's not cheap! A report in the Daily Mail found that the clinic charges as much as €43,000 per week. Charlene lived there for four months.

Naturally, the princess' long-term stay in a medical treatment facility raised questions about her recovery. When asked about the status of Charlene's health, Prince Albert told People that the princess was struggling. Apparently, within a few hours of her arrival in Monaco, Albert noticed that "she was clearly exhausted, physically and emotionally. She was overwhelmed and couldn't face official duties, life in general or even family life." Thus, she decided to seek help.

Interestingly, though, Charlene's friends have voiced their overall disagreement with Albert's characterization of his wife. Speaking to Page Six, one such individual noted: "It is unfair that she is being portrayed as having some kind of mental or emotional issue ... The palace is downplaying that she almost died in South Africa."

It has been speculated that Albert started paying Charlene to do her royal duties

Royal life has not always been easy for Princess Charlene — a fact that has not escaped the notice of the public. Perhaps because of the princess' struggles, rumors began to circulate about why she remains active in an official capacity. In 2022, the French tabloid, Voici, claimed to have reason to believe that Prince Albert was paying Charlene to perform her royal duties. According to the outlet, the wealthy prince signed "an ultra-confident contract" with his wife, stipulating that he pay her €12 million per year to appear by his side. 

While this sort of arrangement would be considered highly unusual, not all royal insiders think it would be a bad thing for Charlene to earn a salary. "Of course the Princess enjoys huge perks, but ready cash is not guaranteed," one Monegasque source told the Daily Mail. "She's been through a very difficult time, so it would make sense for Charlene to try and secure her own guaranteed income."

Albert and Charlene have long spoken out against the media's claims about their marriage. Speaking to the French outlet, Nice Matin, Charlene was especially vocal about the way the press spread rumors about her while she was away recovering. "You want to talk about divorce rumors ... I find it truly regrettable that certain outlets peddle rumors about my life, my relationship."

Princess Charlene might become a rebel royal

Over the years, a lot of people have portrayed Princess Charlene as a sad woman who has slowly been wasting away behind palace walls. However, as time has passed, this characterization has grown old. As articulated by a piece in the French outlet, Paris Match: "The palace has so many times had to invoke the image of a suffering princess that the Monegasques, today, find it hard to believe" (via Vanity Fair). 

The princess' friends agree that Charlene is not as powerless as the media has portrayed her to be. In an interview with People, one of her closest confidants reminded journalists that Charlene has a long history of showing resilience. "Just to be honest, Charlene, she's an Olympian, and she's a tough cookie," they said. This anonymous individual went on to debunk the idea that Charlene is somehow unable to fend for herself. "She's a little bit of an iconoclast. She's her own person, and she's not a shrinking violet."

If anyone doubted that characterization, they would only need to look as far as Charlene's ever-changing hairstyles. Over the years, the princess has used her haircuts to challenge old-fashioned notions about what royal women should look like. Her most controversial do was a partial buzzcut that she debuted at a Christmas fair in 2020. At the time, royal expert, Nigel Crawthorne, told the Daily Mail, that Charlene "has shorn away Monegasque etiquette" — making her, perhaps, something of a rebel.  

Charlene does not seem interested in stepping down

In spite of all Princess Charlene's struggles with royal life, she has expressed a strong interest in continuing her official role in Monaco. In 2022, the princess returned to the principality after completing her treatment in Switzerland. Like any young person returning home after spending a long time away, Charlene seemed content to be back on her home turf. "I am very happy to return to my home in Monaco and to my family," she revealed in an interview with Nice Matin. Apparently, her time away reaffirmed what she felt for the Monegasque people. "I have received so many warm and positive messages when I was far from Monaco, and I am thankful for their support," the princess shared.

Of course, following months of medical issues, Charlene said that she was hesitant to jump too quickly into her royal duties. "My state of health is still fragile, and I cannot go too fast. The path has been long, difficult, and painful," she told Nice Matin. As a result, the princess said that her main priority would be her family life. "After returning to the principality, I have concentrated all my energy on my children, my husband, and my health."

Prince Albert has spoken out in support of his wife, telling People: "I'm really proud of my wife. Charlene's doing really well. As you can see for yourself, she's been active in any number of different events."