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Albert II ascended the Monaco throne with the dream of escaping the shadow of his family and rehabilitating the less healthy image of his homeland. Amid his recent personal scandal, that goal seems harder than ever to pin down.
Before marrying South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock in 2011, Albert, the Playboy prince of Monaco, maintained the traditions of a dysfunctional family that had been seven Centuries of scandals and intrigues. His marriage seemed to be a turning point, an opportunity to put the ship back in order not only of his own life but also of his homeland. But now, 15 years after his accession to the throne and several scandals later, there’s a new one, perhaps the most outrageous of them all – a story about an anonymous Brazilian dueling lawyers in Milan and Paris, a cameo of Vladimir Putin and the worst sinus infection in human history.
When Albert II succeeded his father as Sovereign Prince of Monaco in 2005, he made a bold promise. For decades, the tiny principality – a colorful jewel on the south coast of the French Republic – had become synonymous with thrift, gambling and questionable banking practices. Somerset Maugham, the British writer and resident of nearby Nice, once described the French Riviera, which also includes the 700-year-old casino state, as “a sunny place for shady people”.
“Pas plus!” exclaimed Albert, the half-American son of Prince Rainier III, who led Monaco’s Grimaldi dynasty for more than half a century, and Grace Kelly, who scattered stardust over a constitutional relic. “I will fight with all my might to ensure that Monaco is above reproach,” said Albert in his accession speech. His government in the dazzling tax haven, which is smaller than Central Park and has fewer than 40,000 inhabitants, would be guided by “morals, honesty and ethics.”
But the billion dollar bachelor may not have had the same decency Privacy applied. No sooner had he ascended the throne than decades of his own quick life came back to bite his royal buttocks. Fifteen years later, it’s still biting. And the latest scandal, which involves a further claim to paternity, hangs gloomy over Albert’s principality.
Almost four decades after her death in a car accident, Grace Kelly still gives Monaco a public image that dwarfs its geopolitical significance. Albert knows this and has long tried to drop the stardust; he oversaw the design of a Princess Grace Suite valued at $ 50,000 a night at the historic Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo in Monaco, which reopened after a renovation in 2019. Yet despite all his best efforts, Albert, whose wife initially brought a more modern kind of glamor to his reign, seems unable to avoid himself. And the latest allegations pose another threat to his moral, modernizing mission.
In 2005, weeks after Prince Albert completed his accession to the throne at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, a cover story in Paris Match stunned France. In 10 pages, the French gossip magazine (and the Bible of Monegasque intrigues) revealed that the bachelor had a secret love child. Alexandre was born in late 2002, the result of a relationship that began in 1997 with Nicole Coste (née Tossoukpé), a flight attendant from Togo, West Africa. The prince asked for her phone number during an Air France flight from Nice to Paris.
In 2005, Albert accepted the now 18-year-old boy as part of his family – and his fortune. But not the line of succession, which Rainier insidiously changed in a constitutional amendment in 2002 to include siblings as heirs if they had children. (Albert has two sisters, one of whom, Stéphanie, had relationships, marriages, and three children with two bodyguards, an elephant trainer, and a Portuguese circus acrobat.) Monaco’s constitution excludes illegitimate children.
In 2006, a DNA test confirmed that Allegations by a former California waitress Tamara Rotolo who had insisted for years that her daughter Jazmin was the result of a brief encounter with Prince Albert in 1991 while on vacation in France. Rotolo’s attempts to seek legal child support had failed. Her daughter, then 14, was having a normal day at her school near Palm Springs when Albert’s lawyers announced that she had been officially recognized as a member of a billion dollar royal family around the world. Now 29, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi (who hasn’t responded to emails for this story) is an actress and singer.
Within a year, a Playboy prince and dedicated bachelor had ascended to the throne and had admitted two illegitimate ones To have children. Further paternity claims, valid or not, may have been inevitable. “One day Albert said to me: ‘Oh, if I listen to all the claims, I would have more children than anyone else in the world,” “Stéphane Bern tells me. Bern is a prominent French television presenter who has been close to the prince since 1989. “Sometimes I joke about it. I say I’m too old to be his son and he laughs. ”
But new claims are different – and less amusing – because Albert is 63 and no longer a bachelor. His 2011 wedding to Wittstock (now Princess Charlene of Monaco), who is 20 years younger than him, reportedly cost $ 55 million. Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld and Naomi Campbell were guests. The couple had twins Jacques and Gabriella in 2014, which finally resolved all succession problems.
But even in the run-up to the wedding, rumors were circulating about another love child. The French weekly L’Express published claims – which the couple and Albert’s lawyers strongly denied – that Charlene, who cried during their wedding, tried to “escape” the principality after traveling to Paris once to do a wedding dress fitting. “You can see from the outside that you are living in a fairy tale, but life is always knocking on the door,” says Bern.
Mariza S, as she is called according to the British newspaper Telegraph and the German magazine Bunte in the context of possible legal proceedings is a Brazilian woman who is now in her mid-thirties and lives in Italy. She has thick black, curly hair and claims that Prince Albert was noticed in a Rio nightclub in 2004.
According to Telegraph and Bunte, legal documents filed in Milan by a lawyer with a confusing name (Erich Grimaldi, who tells me Mariza found him on Facebook is not related to the Grimaldis of Monaco) claim that Mariza, then 20, did not recognize the prince. She says he told her he was a Canadian attorney and diplomat.
What follows is a story that Albert’s attorney dismisses as pure fiction. According to Mariza, as detailed in Bunte’s legal record, she and Albert had an extraordinary two-week globetrotter meeting that flew from Rio to Lisbon and then to Milan, where Mariza says she applied for a visa to travel to Moscow . about Monaco. In the Russian capital, Mariza says she remembered meeting President Putin with her “diplomatic” lover before she was finally put on a plane back to Rio via Amsterdam.
Nine months later, Mariza allegedly had a daughter who was known in the trial as Celia, as reported in the Telegraph and Bunte. At this point, Mariza apparently claims that Albert stopped responding to messages. She said she continued to think of him as a Canadian diplomat until years later she recognized him in an Italian gossip magazine.
Mariza started a fight for recognition and support. When direct messages to the palace’s official Instagram account went unanswered, according to news reports, Celia sent a letter to the prince last September. “Queride Papai” (Dear Papa), the letter begins, handwritten in Portuguese and reproduced by the German news agency RTL. “When I was five or six years old, I kept asking my mother where you are and why you are not with us … but I never got an answer from her … I don’t understand why I grew up without a father, and now … that I’ve found you, you don’t want to see me. “
” One day Albert said to me: ‘If I listen to all the claims, I would have more children than anyone else in the world.’ ”
When I reach Grimaldi, Mariza’s lawyer, he is racing across Milan on a Vespa. In broken English and in translated text messages, he tells me the case is delayed. A court hearing was scheduled for February when the prince was to be summoned for “paternity recognition”. But Grimaldi said in March that the prince’s lawyers had pleaded for sovereign immunity. At the time of writing, Grimaldi was hoping a judge would deny the plea and was waiting for the case to come back to court, which he believed should be done immediately.
Grimaldi says he cannot find any documents related to the case but claims that there is evidence of Mariza’s memories of traveling around Europe. The attorney, more used to contract law and credit collection, says Mariza just wants a DNA test. He is not intimidated by his royal adversary. “For me it makes no difference whether my counterpart is a prince, a king, a president, a politician or an entrepreneur,” he says.
Thierry Lacoste, Prince Albert’s longtime lawyer, has Mariza’s story in French Le Point magazine dismissed as “sham” and “blackmail”. In a statement from his Paris office, Lacoste tells me that “the claims before the Italian courts are completely unfounded”. The sovereign immunity is “very classic for a head of state as part of the defense package”.
But Mariza’s accusation is not the only thing that drives Monaco’s huge gossip mills now. In December, Princess Charlene shocked royal watchers at a charity event when she revealed, over a face mask adorned with gold sequins, that the blonde curls on one side of her head had been shaved off. Was it a sign of inner restlessness? Not as she suggested in an interview with Isabelle Rivère, one of her husband’s biographers, in January; She just liked the style.
Still, Princess Charlene is said to have skipped an official meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron around the same time. In May she then flew to South Africa for what was supposed to be a week, just to keep Monaco away for months. Doctors, she said, had warned her not to fly home so that a pressurized private jet worsened a sinus infection related to a dental implantation. (Albert and her children visited South Africa in August.)
Charlene had still not returned by early September, and she was not expected until October at the earliest. When rumors surfaced, a disgruntled Albert granted an interview with his biographer Peter Mikelbank. “She did not go into exile. It was absolutely just a medical problem that needed treatment, ”Albert told Mikelbank in People magazine in September. Without referring directly to Mariza, in January prior to her isolation in South Africa, Charlene insisted that she be happy and expressed her full support for her husband. “If my husband has problems, he tells me about them,” she said Rivère. “I often tell him, ‘No matter what, I’m a thousand percent behind you. I will stand by you whatever you do, in good times or in bad. ’“
The intense interest in the recent paternity case reflects the appetite for Monegasque intrigues that predate Albert’s Playboy past. Bad times have long characterized life in Monaco, more than 700 years after François Grimaldi conquered a fortress and established a family fief. (Although Monaco is now a member of the United Nations, it is a sovereign city-state that relies on the protection of France.) Albert’s father, Prince Rainier III, once had an attempted coup by his own older sister, Princess Antoinette, baroness von Massy, who was married three times herself. She wanted to declare herself regent and secure the throne for herself and her son. Monaco remained a constitutional anomaly that existed in part to satisfy an interest in kings as a fantasy in a country that had beheaded its own king in 1793. “Monaco is a kind of surrogate monarchy for the French,” Bern told me.
Rainier’s marriage to Grace Kelly ruined Antoinette’s plans. The fact that he married into Hollywood kings has also driven Monaco from a French occupation to a glittering global reputation. “Grace Kelly’s mother thought her daughter was marrying a prince from Morocco,” says Bern. “She had never heard of Monaco.”
The wedding in 1956 was a sensation and attracted 1,500 journalists. MGM has broadcast it live to more than 30 million people. The 700 guests included Cary Grant, David Niven and Aristotle Onassis. Rainier, who had become ruler in 1949, called it “the greatest circus in history.”
Princess Grace helped change Monaco’s reputation, but the couple’s glamor and fame only put pressure on their heirs. As the only son who arrived between two sisters, a fate hung over him like a heavily jeweled sword of Damocles.
Having a tough, critical father didn’t help. “Prince Rainier always said to me: ‘I’m not sure if my son is ready,’” recalls Bern. “And when I spoke to Albert, he said, ‘If I say I’m ready, my father will be upset. If I say I’m not ready yet, people will think I’m a stupid boy. I can’t comment on that. ‘He had to be silent and experience his own life with girls and sports.”
Albert made the most of the immense privilege and stunning looks while he waited for the inevitable. He was (and remains, says Bern) a personable man, and he was a popular figure in Amherst, where he studied from 1977 to 1981.
Bruce McInnes, then head of the Glee Club in Amherst, remembered one relaxed prince with a fine baritone voice. McInnes once entertained Prince Rainier and Princess Grace at his home after a concert at Massachusetts College, and he conducted a performance at Monaco Cathedral during a European tour. David Niven and Yul Brynner attended.
“We have become good friends,” wrote McInnes, who died in April at the age of 85, in an email. “There were many times when he got hunger pangs late at night and called me and walked the short distance to my house for a grilled cheese sandwich or – pardon the language – a ‘shitburger’ which was a very messy, grossly oversized cheeseburger, grilled onions and a fried egg. Several of his pals would come along for these tasty treats!
“I will always remember Albert as a real gentleman – not arrogant at all, never flaunting his position in life… He certainly knew something of what was to come, but in Amherst he was – as good as it was went – just one of the boys. “.”
But speculations about Albert’s love life – and his appetite for more than just dirty burgers – were extraordinary even by the standards of the Grimaldis. He has been associated with such high-profile women as Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer, while his multi-year bachelorette party inevitably sparked gossip speculation about his sexuality.
Bern suspects that the pressure on Albert – and any future wife – could have led him to seek relationships without obligations and without impossible comparisons. “I think when you’re the product of such an incredible love story between a glamorous star and a prince, you’re in a difficult position to do it all over again,” says Bern. “Perhaps,” he later laughs, “he should have used more condoms.”
Albert is said to have once said of his tough, loving father: “I will get married when Rainier dies.” When that happened in 2005, Bern said that Albert, then 47, had changed. “I noticed he was like a different man,” he says. Albert’s speech, which Bern says had a hint of George VI’s stuttering, suddenly sounded confident.
Cleaning up Monaco’s reputation was part of the Prince’s mission to put his own stamp on the state after his father’s long reign. However, this would not be without its challenges, especially for someone whose reputation calls for rehab of their own.
Robert Eringer remembers the tension between Albert’s professional and private life. The American private detective says he met the prince in the 1990s and remember him as a “shy and awkward” man.
When Albert ascended the throne in 2005, Eringer founded an unofficial agency – the Monaco Intelligence Service – to deal with unsavory characters weed out that did not fit into the new image. At the end of the same year, says Eringer, he met Tamara Rotolo and Jazmin in Monaco, months before Jazmin was officially recognized. “I was hoping that Albert would meet his daughter for the first time in a private setting, our safe house,” wrote Eringer in an email to me from his home in Santa Barbara. “It would have meant a lot to her and eased the harshness of the legal process.” But Albert and his lawyers missed the opportunity, claims Eringer, and instead waited for Jazmin’s legal recognition the following year.
Eringer says he lost the king’s favor in 2007 and later tried to take the prince over for unpaid fees of $ 60,000 to sue. His case collapsed when a US court ruled that the controversial treaty had sovereign immunity. Eringer also wrote a blog that contained dozens of scandalous allegations about the prince and his reign, including a stunning photo of Albert jumping out of a boat naked in his more lighthearted days.
Albert and his lawyers have dismissed Eringer’s claims and sued the American for defamation and forced him to delete his blog, Eringer said. Albert once described his former consigliere as “a bitter person who spits his poison and resentment on the Internet”. Thierry Lacoste, Albert’s attorney, tells me that Eringer’s “defamatory attacks” are “a demonstration of his lack of honesty.”
Yet in the recent paternity scandal, Eringer emerges as an unlikely character witness for Albert, albeit a prickly one. His doubts about Mariza’s story center on her claim that Albert hid his identity. “Albert didn’t do it like that,” Eringer tells me. “He used his identity as a prince to attract women. In 2005, Albert was almost 50 years old, almost bald, fat, and quite ugly. It was his princely status that attracted women, especially not his looks. ”
Bern is more diplomatic – and more reserved – when it comes to the latest claims. “When there are already illegitimate children, it’s easy to say, ‘I’m one too,’” he says. “But I’m not going to judge, because if it is proven tomorrow, I would look very stupid.”
In the meantime, Albert has endeavored to present a healthy picture of his legitimate family, even if they remain physically separated. While she was caring for her sinuses in South Africa, Charlene published a series of lavishly produced videos this summer, showing their relationship on the occasion of the 10th. which was published on her official Instagram page. And yet, despite all public opinion, the couple did not celebrate together – by order of the doctor.
Meanwhile, Albert is doing his own PR tour. In an interview earlier this year, he talked about his children, who will be seven years old in December. Crown Prince Jacques is “shy and a little quieter”, while Princess Gabriella is “a little more sociable and definitely has the gift of chatting”. He has also spoken about the pandemic, which was an economic disaster for the principality, although his words could easily have been an assessment of the diminishing chances in his personal drama of achieving what he set out to do for Monaco as he took the throne nearly two decades ago. “When we don’t know what the future holds,” he said, “both in the short and long term … it’s a little worrying and very worrying.”