In early March, Princess Charlene of Monaco flew alone to an official engagement in her native South Africa, and has not returned. Ever awash with rumour and intrigue, the star-studded Mediterranean principality has been left to guess when, or if, it will see her again. The sparse bulletins that have trickled out of the ‘Pink Palace’, the royal family’s 800-year-old fortress home, say that the princess developed a sinus infection and had to undergo an operation. But her long absence follows reports of severe turbulence in her 10-year marriage to the realm’s 63-year-old ruler, Prince Albert, and many in Monaco fear something deeper is afoot.
Last month, under growing public and media pressure for reassurance, Albert and the couple’s six-year-old twins, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella, flew out to meet Charlene at an undisclosed South African location. Official photographs showed the royal couple dressed in rugged outdoor clothes and bush hats, surrounded by dense vegetation. In other photos, the twins were sitting in a tree, with blonde Gabriella displaying an outré DIY hairdo that came eight months after Charlene made world headlines with her own edgy semi-shaved hairstyle.
“I am so thrilled to have my family back with me,” wrote 43-year-old Charlene on Instagram. “Gabriella decided to give herself a haircut! Sorry my Bella, I tried my best to fix it.” Albert, whose Grimaldi family has run Monaco since the 13th century, is seen in one pose giving his wife a bear hug, but the pictures offered few answers to the questions gripping the couple’s subjects.
“Albert’s one of the richest men in the world,” says Riviera-based journalist Louis Ducreux. “People are asking why he couldn’t have chartered an air ambulance to bring her home, or even sent the royal yacht. The feeling here is that something else must be happening, and they’re using her medical problems as a cover.”
A veteran Riviera socialite adds: “Suppose she’d been taken ill in somewhere like the Middle East. Would they have let her stay there for seven months? Isn’t it odd that she’s supposedly unable to leave a country where her family and friends are, and has often spoken of missing?”
The concerns intensified when it was revealed that just days after her husband and children returned to Monaco, Charlene collapsed at her rented lodge near Durban and was rushed into hospital. She was admitted, late at night, under a false name and amid tight security, and released – with few details of her condition – the following day.
The palace has tried to stay aloof from the gossip, but in August Monaco was sent into meltdown by a lengthy article in a French magazine, written by Stéphane Bern, a well-known authority on royal affairs and confidant of Albert, which strongly suggested that Charlene and the principality have had enough of each other.
Headlined ‘Charlene et Albert au bord de la rupture?’ (‘Charlene and Albert on the brink of break-up?’), the piece noted that, for three months before Charlene’s departure, the royal couple had not appeared together in public, and portrayed the princess as effectively living outside the royal set-up.
“In Monaco,” writes Stéphane, “everyone has known for years that Charlene escapes from protocol at the first opportunity, splitting her time between Roc Agel [a royal family holiday home across the border in France], a house in Corsica loaned to her by friends, and private holidays in Turkey. Even when she lingers in Monaco, she doesn’t stay at the palace, but at an apartment once used by Princess Stephanie (Albert’s sister), which has been put at her disposal.”
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