Charlene Wittstock looked serene at her July 1 wedding to billionaire Prince Albert II of Monaco. But up until the day she said “I do,” she was dogged by reports she had tried to run away from her opulent nuptials.
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In an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer on TODAY Wednesday, the 33-year-old former Olympian from South Africa said that she was a victim of the press’s overactive imagination in the hoopla leading up to a royal wedding.Video: Royal couple dispels runaway bride rumors (on this page)
“Why would you go through all this effort to have this fantastic, you know, couple of days and have our most intimate, dearest friends come and join us for us to be reluctant?” Princess Charlene said as she sat alongside her new husband. “You know, for me, it just sounded hilarious.”Story: Royal weddings to commoners more common
Days before the wedding, the French weekly paper Le Journal du Dimanche reported Whittstock made up to three attempts to flee Monaco in advance of her wedding to Prince Albert. The paper reported she sought refuge at the South African embassy in Paris when she was being fitted for her wedding dress in May, tried to leave the country again at the Formula 1 Grand Prix race and then, just days before the wedding, was stopped from boarding a helicopter flying from Monaco to Nice, France as officials persuaded her to stay and go through with the wedding.Slideshow: Monaco’s royal wedding (on this page)
Princess Charlene told Lauer she understands the European media was latching onto a story of royal magnitude — even if it was imagined. “It was a wonderful opportunity for them to ride on something, you know, (a) negative spin, because people would buy the magazines or listen to all the negativity,” she said.
Prince Albert may understand the story even better — the only son of the late Prince Rainier III and the late American actress Grace Kelly, Albert had generated headlines all his adult life for his rich and varied dating life, during which he fathered two children born out of wedlock. That the lifelong bachelor was finally marrying at age 53 may have signaled an end to the press’s obsession with his personal life.
“I think there were, you know, part jealousy, part, people that were envious or did not like the fact that we were finally coming together and marrying,” Prince Albert told Lauer.Slideshow: The wedding of Charles and Diana (on this page)
Still, Prince Albert faced even more scrutiny for allegedly looking more serious than blissful at the Catholic wedding ceremony before 800 onlookers at the royal palace in Monaco.
“It is unfair,” he said, turning to Princess Charlene. “I thought I paid attention to you and smiled at you many times.” Laughing, he added, “Maybe that’s not enough for some people.”
Now, media types are on a royal baby watch as they wonder when Prince Albert, who ascended to the throne with his father’s passing in 2005, will produce a legitimate heir. The 19-year-old daughter he fathered with a California woman and the 8-year-old son he fathered from a relationship with a flight attendant from Togo are not, per Monaco’s Princely Law, considered heirs.
With Prince Rainier in failing health in 2002 — and his only son still not married — the Monaco constitution was amended to include females in the line of succession. It means that if Prince Albert II passes before producing an heir, the throne would fall to either of his sisters, Caroline or Stephanie.Story: Low-hanging princes: The world’s eligible royals
“What it means is that it can go through the other siblings in the family,” Prince Albert told Lauer. But Albert also noted that should his marriage to Whittstock produce a daughter but not a son, she would be first in line for the throne.
But for now, the royal couple seems to be reveling in their first year as a married couple. Princess Charlene joked that her training as a world-class competitive swimmer has come in handy.
“I think I kind of went into Olympic mode, really,” she said of the spotlight that shone on her nuptials. “I was in the zone, and I don’t think anything was affecting me at that time.”Story: Bhutan's 'Dragon King' marries his commoner bride
Prince Albert also said he is ever mindful of his family’s American connection via his mother, the Philadelphia, Pa., native who rose to big screen stardom before retiring from acting to marry Prince Rainier in 1956. Prince Albert and Princess Charlene attended the 29th Annual Princess Grace Awards benefit in New York City on Tuesday.
He said it warms his heart at how warmly his mother, who died in a car crash in 1982 after suffering a stroke, is remembered.
“I’m still amazed at how many people not only remember her, but look up to her as a model and as an icon,” he told Lauer.
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