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Culture

Monaco's Prince Albert announces engagement to swimming champ

Famous for his bachelor lifestyle, the ruler of Europe's tiny Mediterranean principality has amazed the public by revealing plans to marry for the first time.

Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock

Prince Albert won't be the first in his royal family to marry a commoner

Prince Albert II of Monaco has announced his engagement to South African swimming champion Charlene Wittstock. The news has made waves in the media, as the 52-year-old ruler of the wealthy principality on the French Riviera has never been married before.

A brief statement from the palace confirmed the engagement, but did not mention a possible date for the wedding. However, southern French newspaper Nice Matin has quoted the prince as saying that the wedding would take place in the summer of 2011.

The announcement was splashed across front pages in Wittstock's native South Africa, with various publications anticipating a "fairytale wedding." The Star quoted Wittstock's father Michael recalling how Prince Albert phoned him to ask for his blessing just before the South African national football team's decisive World Cup match against France on Tuesday.

Michael Wittstock joked that he tried to hurry the prince along so he could watch the game: "He called me just before kick-off and I wanted to get the whole thing over and done with."

Charlene Wittstock is a 32-year-old school teacher. She is also a former Commonwealth 100 meters backstroke champion who has appeared on the prince's arm at several society events in Monaco. These public appearances raised speculation that the two of them would eventually marry.

Prince Albert II of Monaco in Dresden

Prince Albert II, pictured here in Dresden, took the throne in Monaco in 2005

Chance to produce a legitimate heir

Prince Albert is the son of deceased Prince Rainier III and the late Hollywood actress Grace Kelly. He has ruled Monaco, where he is reportedly well-liked by his 8,000 subjects, since July 2005.

With a fortune estimated at some two billion euros ($2.5 billion), Albert has been linked to various women over the years. He has two children, a girl and a boy, who have been officially recognized since his accession to the throne, but who cannot succeed him, as Monaco's constitution requires the principality's rulers to be born in wedlock.

Albert's failure to marry and have legitimate children resulted in a 2002 change to Monaco's constitution, under which the 700-year-old Grimaldi dynasty can continue through the female line if he dies without an heir. This would make his two sisters, Caroline and Stephanie, eligible to take over the throne.

ew/AFP/dpa

Editor: Kate Bowen

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