Prince Albert of Monaco - Biography
When Prince Albert took over the reins of the tiny Mediterranean principality of Monaco upon the death of his father Prince Rainier on April 6, 2005, he brought a wealth of training, dedication and long years of experience to the role.
Born on March 14, 1958, Albert first studied at Monaco's Lycee Albert I, graduating with distinction in 1976. He went on to Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he studied political science, economics, psychology, philosophy and English literature.
While his accomplishments in the academic sphere are impressive, the prince's accomplishments as an athlete are truly remarkable. He was his school's best middle-distance runner and competed on its cross country team for two years.
At Amherst he trained in javelin, and also played on the Monaco soccer team for four years. A black-belt in judo, he has competed in the Olympics three times with the Monaco bobsleigh team.
After finishing college he served as a second-lieutenant with the French Navy on board a helicopter carrier before becoming president of the Monaco Red Cross in 1982.
Humanitarian work was to become an increasingly important part of the prince's activities after he entered the gruelling Paris-Dakar race in 1985.
The poverty and suffering he encountered on his journey through the Sahara inspired him to set up the Monaco Aid And Presence Association. The organisation currently has projects in Nigeria, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Rumania and the former Yugoslavia.
"I find it hard to tolerate these constant images of human beings in extreme distress," he says. "I try to make my contribution, however modest, to alleviate some of it."
The humanitarian prince is also, of course, a statesman. When his father passed away and he became the Sovereign Prince of Monaco he had already represented the principality as president of its delegation to the United Nations.
An internship with the Morgan Guaranty Trust of New York meanwhile gave him the financial know-how to help maintain the country's reputation as a major banking centre.
While he's clearly a capable and qualified leader, royal watchers always remained hopeful the prince would find a partner. Albert has always said he shared his father's vision for the future of Monaco, and Rainier was unequivocal on the importance of family life. "Children are essential to the future of our principality," he once said.
For years the athletic royal resolutely insisted he hadn't yet found the right woman, however, and he would only marry for love. In fact, the situation eventually forced a change in the territory's constitution, making his elder sister next in line to succeed him should he die without legitimate heirs.
Referring to his marital future, the prince - who had dated a number of attractive girlfriends, including supermodel Claudia Schiffer and American pole-vaulter Alicia Warlick - once said: "I feel that the public should let me decide at my own pace."
He added: "My companion won't have to play the traditional representational role usually attributed to royal spouses, but she will be closely associated with the affairs of the principality if she so wishes.
"It is true that it would be easier to share (everything) with another, not only the work but (your) emotions."
In May 2005, not long after Rainier's death, royal watchers received surprising news. Togo-born flight attendant Nicole Coste, who had been spotted many times in Albert's entourage, claimed the prince was the father of her little boy, Alexandre, then nearly two years old.
And days before his coronation as Monaco's monarch on July 12, Albert confirmed reports that he was a father, publicly acknowledging little Alexandre and promising to continue to take responsibility for the boy.
The baby would not bear the Grimaldi name, and would not be in line for the Monegasque throne, however.
"The rules of the constitution are very clear on the subject," he was later quoted as saying, in reference to a 2002 law which states that only the "direct and legitimate descendants" of the sovereign can ascend.
When it comes to royal fortunes, however, Albert's lawyer stated that Alexandre will "have the same inheritance rights as any other children of the prince, should he have children".
This proved a pertinent issue when a year later the prince confirmed he was father to a second love child, 14-year-old American high school student Jazmin Grace Rotolo.
Albert had met Jazimin's mother, Tamara, on the Cote d'Azur in July 1991 where the Californian former waitress was on holiday. "For the time being, Jazmin Grace will pursue her studies in the United States, but she will always have the option to come to the principality to spend a few days or to live," said his attorney Thierry Lacoste.
Lasting love came in the form of a relationship with Charlene Wittstock, a pretty and accomplished young woman from South Africa.
Charlene seemed a perfect match as a former Olympic swimming champion - she was a member of the women's 4x100 medley South African team that finished fifth at the 2000 games.
And after being spotted by his side at the Winter Olympics in Turin the athlete became his regular companion.
In 2010 after a four-year courtship the couple announced their engagement - Albert had found a princess that would be worthy to carry on the Grimaldi legacy.
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