"It would be difficult for anybody to follow my mother as the Princess of Monaco," Prince Albert once said of his iconic mum, Grace Kelly, the Hollywood beauty who married Prince Rainier III in April 1956. So expectations were high among royal watchers when the perennial bachelor was spotted at the Winter Olympics in 2006 on a date with an attractive blonde, who bore a striking resemblance to the Oscar-winning actress. Their easy rapport was immediately clear, with the couple smiling and exchanging intimate glances. The lady in question, South African Charlene Wittstock, proved her mettle by refusing to appear flustered by the interest surrounding their romance. Perhaps it helped that she's been on the international stage in quite another capacity – as an Olympic swimmer.
Charlene Lynette was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on January 25, 1978, to Mike and Lynette Wittstock. Her childhood, the athlete would later say, gave her this grounded attitude. She once told Hello!: "I know who I am and where I come from. My father works in marketing and sales and my mother is a swimming coach; that's what sparked my interest. I started out very early. "I grew up in a very simple way with my younger brothers". Simple yet outstanding all the same.
By the age of 15, she had already distinguished herself by winning the national junior title. The following years brought more national honours, including the women's 50m backstroke title, with the highlight of her career coming in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Charlene was a member of the women's 4x100 medley South African team, which finished fifth. When a shoulder injury put her out of competition for 18 months she went back to the drawing board, training in Europe to recover her form. This period allowed her to spend more time in Monaco with her love Albert and firm up her ideas about her future. "I have a year left of competitive swimming and I just want to be the best that I can at all times," she said in 2008. "After that, I want to get involved in charity work, and development work with athletes' (organisations)".
Her high-profile relationship with one of Europe's reigning sovereigns provided the perfect platform for her interests. When Charlene accompanied Albert to Monte Carlo's prestigious fundraiser, the Red Cross Ball, in the summer of 2006 – just one of several official appearances that led royal watchers to believe she was set to become a permanent feature in the prince's life - all eyes were on her. And the statuesque blonde looked every inch a royal consort in a glamorous, split-to-the-thigh evening dress. Once a sporty youngster, who didn't have much time to spare for fashion, the striking South African began to develop a reputation for chic dressing through her association with Giorgio Armani. "I identify with his style, which is sober, elegant, and sophisticated. (His team) knows what I like and what suits me," "Whatever the occasion I like to feel natural". It's a formula with which Princess Grace would have agreed, and which will stand her in good stead as first lady of Monaco. Half a century after the iconic actress became a Grimaldi, the principality will have another ice-cool blonde in the reigning family. On June 23, 2010, the couple ended years of speculation about when they would walk down the aisle, by announcing plans to marry.