Strange Things Everyone Ignores About Princess Charlene

Ever since Princess Charlene married Prince Albert in a multi-day ceremony in 2011, people have questioned the Zimbabwe-born's decision to marry into the Monégasque royal family. Sure, Albert is a prince, but he's also a seemingly retired playboy, with a dating history that has involved dozens of women and at least two love children. What's more, the palace's narrative that Charlene and Albert fell in love over their shared passion for sports can fall somewhat flat when one considers the vast gap between the couple's athletic experiences. While the prince essentially started bobsledding on a whim, the princess trained as a swimmer since she was just a young girl. 

So, while there are many unusual aspects of Prince Albert that the public forgets about, there are also several strange things we forget about his wife, too. Over the years, the Monégasque princess has attempted a career as a sports model, accepted swimming advice from a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and even dabbled in water biking. The eclectic experiences that she had before meeting Albert may have drawn her to the unusual prince, who has also had some strange episodes throughout his life. As Charlene once told The Times, the couple spent their entire first date "laughing and talking." Perhaps, their connection blossomed from a mutual experience of an unusual past.

Before she was a royal, Princess Charlene dabbled in sports modeling

Although Princess Charlene is best known for her royal status, the princess had quite a life before meeting Prince Albert. Back in the day, she was an Olympic swimmer who clinched the 5th place position in the 4 x 100 meter medley relay race in Sydney, Australia. Leading up to the competition, however, Charlene was not just your average team member. In fact, she was selected to model the official uniform for the 2000 South African Olympic swim team.

Of course, it's important to note that posing in front of photographers was not necessarily the backstroker's dream career — at the end of the day, Charlene was very much a dedicated athlete. However, reports indicate that she was quite good at showing off her clothes for the cameras. As royal expert, Arlene Prinsloo, noted in her book, "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," Charlene's "tall frame and stunning looks" made her a "natural choice to model new official team wear."

Chatting to Prinsloo about this topic, former sports editor, Bokkie Gerber, revealed that it didn't take long for Charlene to become a South African sensation. "She became the pinup girl for swimming in the good sense of the world [sic]. Even though her achievements weren't always the best, we always looked to see what nice pictures there were of Charlene because visually, she had such an impact. She was an immediate hit at the South African Championships."

She struggled with modeling when she messed up in a photoshoot

Princess Charlene was ultimately a better swimmer than she was a model. Although her Olympic performances happened to be lackluster, Charlene still brought home plenty of gold over the years. In the Swimming World Cup, she snatched the first place position a total of five times, according to World Aquatics. In the African Games, she also won three races throughout her career.

As for modeling, Charlene was known for being a little bit too clumsy to make a career of it. According to the princess' former teammate, Mandy Loots, this became evident on one of the days that she and Charlene were shooting an advertisement for Telkom before the 2000 Olympic Games. In an interview with Arlene Prinsloo for the book, "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," Loots divulged, "The story line was that we were all supposed to look like we had swum all the way from South Africa to Sydney to compete. Obviously, we had to be dry." 

Unfortunately, though, this seemed to be too much to expect of Charlene. As Loots recalled, "We were filming around the pool deck, and I don't know what kind of put Charlene off, but all of a sudden she was in the pool." In the end, this mishap got in the way of the whole commercial shoot. "Obviously, filming was delayed, as she had to get dry again."

She received career advice from Nelson Mandela

These days, the late South African president, Nelson Mandela, is probably most remembered for his commitment to racial equality. He fought tirelessly to end the apartheid in his home country — a move, which earned him the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. Interestingly, however, to Princess Charlene, Mandela was far more than a role model, an activist, or a leader. He was also the man who helped convince her to continue her swimming career.

According to Arlene Prinsloo's "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," Charlene met Mandela for the first time in 2005. At the time, the Olympian and the former president were both in London. Due to their shared ties to South Africa, the pair were introduced, and soon they started chatting about Charlene's career. At some point in the conversation, it seems that the swimmer mentioned some of the health difficulties that she had faced in previous years. Between a shoulder injury and a chronic stomach virus, Charlene wondered if her athletic career was done for. Mandela, however, told her not to give up.

As Prinsloo explained in her biography, the Nobel Peace Prize winner "urged Charlene to use her talents and return to the swimming pool." Apparently, the future princess took this advice to heart. Soon after she returned to South Africa, she threw herself into training once more — this time with the renowned coach, Branislav Ivkovic. Thanks to Mandela, Charlene was back in action.

She is the antithesis of the stereotypical princess

Despite Princess Charlene's past pursuits as an Olympic swimmer, most fans know her as a Monégasque royal. As such, it is common for her to face questions about what life in a palace is truly like — especially when she is working with children. Speaking to Top Billing about this issue, Charlene revealed, "Now that I have become the princess, I get asked a lot of questions from children. They'll say to me, 'So where is your tiara? And, why are you not wearing a dress? And, is your palace pointy?'"

Although Charlene is now expected to answer these questions, she has never been particularly interested in all the features that surround traditional notions of what a princess should be. If anything, she has tended to be against it. In the same interview, the princess explained that, during her own childhood, she actively resisted anything that involved a hot pink skirt or a sparkly plastic crown. "Actually, I avoided princess parties, and it was hard to keep me in a dress. My hero was Zorro, so I wanted to be him."

Interestingly, this lack of interest in all things princess might have ironically been what drew Prince Albert to Charlene in the first place. As Albert once confided in biographer, Jeffrey Robinson, for the book, "Grace of Monaco: The True Story," he was oftentimes afraid that his dates were attracted to his titles, rather than his personality.

The princess has openly expressed her opinions on royal protocol

Princess Charlene may have disliked all things royal throughout her childhood. However, as an adult, she has had to take a more neutral perspective. Leading up to her wedding with Prince Albert in 2011, Charlene sat down with Euronews and was asked if she thought she could handle protocol. The bride-to-be replied confidently. "Well, I think I have a little bit of experience since I've been here for four years. And, I've obviously been on a couple of head of state trips with [Albert]."

Eight years later, though, Charlene's reaction to royal rules came to resemble bafflement. As relayed by Arlene Prinsloo's "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," in 2019, the princess told the Afrikaans language publication, Rapport, that she struggled to follow protocol. During this conversation, she even admitted to breaking these royal rules, "Like when I address royals incorrectly, or often curtsy to those I shouldn't be curtsying to or I forget to curtsy." 

The princess opened up about some of the embarrassment that she had faced while trying to curtsy, telling Rapport, "The seam of my dress has split while curtsying and I've also lost an earring in my blouse while curtsying." All in all, Charlene said that following strict royal rules did not exactly make for a positive experience. When asked what she thought about the stiffness of the folks in the palace, the princess candidly responded, "It's frustrating!"

Charlene is rumored to have undergone a lot of cosmetic surgery

Over the years, Princess Charlene has transformed from a competitive swimmer into a full-blown royal. Naturally, this change in her personal life has also led to changes in her body. Before she was a royal, Charlene engaged in a lot of weight training as an Olympic hopeful rather than as a royal-to-be. But leading up to her wedding, Charlene told Vogue that she had cut her usual workout routine in order not to appear too muscular. The bride-to-be had to shoot for a "leaner" physique — as opposed to an athletic one — to gain acceptance in royal circles.

It has also been suggested that Charlene made other physical alterations as she integrated into palace life. A 2017 report in El País alleged that the princess had also engaged in a great deal of cosmetic surgery. The report claimed, "Since her love relationship with Prince Albert began, the princess has undergone different aesthetic interventions, and has radically renewed her image on several occasions. Among the most obvious of these are rhinoplasty and breast augmentation."

Although it's impossible to determine the veracity of this report, the media continued to accuse Charlene of undergoing aesthetic procedures. In 2021, when the princess fell ill with a severe ear, nose, and throat infection, a piece in Lecturas hinted that the illness was perhaps a complication of a botched plastic surgery. Prince Albert denied these claims in an exclusive interview with People.

Charlene had little dating experience when she met Prince Albert

It would be easy to imagine that Princess Charlene had a serious relationship or two before meeting Prince Albert. After all, by the time the couple officially got together on New Year's 2006, Charlene was almost 28 years old. She was well-liked by her old coaches and teammates. Plus, as a former Olympian, she had met interesting people from all over the world.

Despite all these factors, however, Charlene's commitment to competitive swimming made it very difficult for her to have a serious relationship. Her training schedule involved long hours in the pool and constant travel — both of which complicated any potential romance. As reported by royal expert, Arlene Prinsloo, in her book, "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," the former Olympian addressed this issue in a 2001 conversation with the South African edition of Sports Illustrated. During the interview, Charlene shared, "Sometimes, you would like to be normal, but the desire to win often stops you from getting involved with other people."

Apparently, it was particularly difficult for Charlene to find partners who would accept her busy travel schedule. In the same interview, Charlene said, "It's very hard to have relationships because they don't understand that you have to travel. I've had boyfriends that would have other girlfriends by the time I get back from my trips. I try not to get too involved because I get heartbroken."

The weeks leading up to her wedding were challenging for Charlene

After years of romantic struggles, Princess Charlene met her Prince Charming. She and Prince Albert two got along swimmingly and one thing led to another. In the summer of 2010, the Prince's Palace of Monaco announced that Albert was engaged to the former Olympian. Before long, the couple found themselves deep in the throes of wedding planning. This was said to have been particularly challenging for Charlene, whose background as a commoner meant that she was not necessarily prepared to throw a royal party. As Albert's best man, Chris Lavine, told People, "It would certainly have been easier [to have a smaller ceremony] ... Especially for Char who was not used to that kind of a large — and this was BIG! — event."

Rumor has it that Princess Charlene became overwhelmed planning the wedding due to its magnitude. According to her austere sister-in-law, Princess Caroline, both Charlene and her beau grew just a tad too nit-picky during the planning. "There were huge arguments. Not between us — but with everybody," Caroline told People. When asked what caused this sort of conflict, the older princess went on to say, "Everything! From the shape of the wedding cake to those people saying, 'We'll give you the wedding cake!' And I remember [Albert and Charlene] saying, 'But we don't like this wedding cake, it just looks awful.'"

The princess has water biked against world-famous athletes

As the leading lady of Monaco, Princess Charlene is expected to fulfill many royal duties — including a great deal of charity work. Because of this, she founded the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, an organization dedicated to water-related education. Over the years, Charlene's foundation has gone from country to country, teaching children to swim and combating the prevalence of drowning. However, to maintain these life-saving courses, the princess has had to work hard to fund her foundation — and relied on an unusual sport to do so.

As explained on her foundation's website, the Water Bike Challenge is a yearly race organized to raise money for new and existing charitable endeavors. Teams, which oftentimes include some of the biggest stars from the sporting world, compete to see who can successfully maneuver a catamaran with pedals across miles of water in the shortest amount of time.

In the past, Charlene herself has competed in this event, facing off against world-famous athletes. But, the princess does not go into the race unprepared. Au contraire, she has been known to train for the Water Bike Challenge in the time when she is not off performing her royal duties. As Charlene once told Point de Vue (via Gala), the sport is difficult enough to warrant the extra effort. "It's a fairly technical discipline, very different from road cycling or fitness cycling," she said.

Charlene's swim team didn't think her relationship with Prince Albert would last

Almost six years before Prince Albert and Princess Charlene officially became a couple, they met at a swim meet in Monaco. Charlene had her eyes on the gold medal; Albert had his eyes on Charlene. The future princess won her race, and her husband-to-be handed her a prize. Afterward, he spotted her out at lunch and asked her on a date.

According to Arlene Prinsloo's book, "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," Charlene was not all too certain of how to respond to the prince. Apparently, the gorgeous blond would later tell a journalist, "You can't actually say no to a prince when he asks you out ... I was more worried about my curfew [for training] and whether I would be allowed to go out so late at night. So I said jokingly he should ask the team management for permission." 

Naturally, Albert asked the head swim coach, Wayne Riddin, if it was okay to take Charlene out. Riddin humorously agreed — under the condition that Albert pose for a picture of him. As Prinsloo revealed in her research, nobody on the swim team took the date seriously. When asked if he could have imagined that Charlene would one day marry Albert and become a princess, Riddin replied, "No, not in my wildest dreams." This sentiment was echoed by his former colleague, Dean Price, who told Prinsloo, "No one expected it to carry on."