In the absence of Princess Charlene, her brothers and parents are in charge of keeping her name alive in Monaco and South Africa. The Wittstocks even seem to have never been so close to Albert II…
They are the other ruling family. They have no titles or coat of arms. In the European gotha, nobody knew them before the beginning of the 2000s. Despite their distant German roots, they are only cuttings in the Grimaldi family tree. The Principality of Monaco remains a much more exotic land than Zimbabwe, where these South Africans lived until the end of the 1980s, before returning to Benoni, in the suburbs of Johannesburg. And yet… The Wittstocks, parents and brothers of the elusive Charlene of Monaco, have become indispensable to Albert II. The year 2021 will have strengthened their ties, both willingly and unwillingly. The eight-month retreat of the princess to the savannah of KwaZulu-Natal, her medical ordeal, her temporary return to the principality and her exfiltration to a specialized establishment on the other side of the Alps, where dental treatment will immobilize her “for several weeks”, according to the palace, have obliged Albert II to communicate on the reasons for her exile, her convalescence and the strength of their marriage. To the great relief of the Wittstocks.
Until the prince took over, Charlene’s news came mainly from Chantelle, the wife of her brother Sean. With the corrections that were sometimes necessary: no, back on the Rock, the princess would not settle alone in an apartment located on the port, as misreported by the Daily Mail have let believe. Installed in Benoni, the stronghold of the Wittstocks, Chantelle and Sean have been a daily support for the princess between her many passages in the operating room to limit an infection of the ENT sphere. In June 2021, Charlene, who has embarked on a new project, celebrated with them the birthday of her niece Aiva Grace. It is still the couple, in charge of the South African branch of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, who put online an album of unpublished photos of the wife of Albert II for her forty-fourth birthday, this January 25. But the management of the media is another matter.
The intervention of Michael Wittstock, Charlene’s father, with the South African media News24, last December, was probably intended to remind. Because of their ages and because of Covid-19, this retired Xerox company employee and his wife Lynette, a former swimming teacher, were unable to visit their daughter during her convalescence in South Africa. Their conversations remain by phone, but “knowing her diligence in her swimming training, I know she is tough and will come back much stronger,” said the septuagenarian. Words of encouragement for Charlène. A barely disguised warning against Nicole Coste, ex of Albert II and mother of his son Alexander.
Michael Wittstock has always gotten along well with the sovereign, “a charming man, easy to live with,” with whom he likes to talk rugby and drink pints of beer, as he confided to Paris Match in 2011. It was in a very relaxed way, much more occupied by the World Cup final between South Africa and France, that he granted her the hand of his daughter in June 2010. Charlene wanted her consent before an announcement was made to the press. The matter was settled as quickly as a penalty shot. The Wittstock clan was much less appreciative of Nicole Coste’s tackling of the princess in an interview given to Paris Match last August. Albert II himself said he was “furious” about the interview in which Charlene, wife and mother of his heirs Jacques and Gabriella, was portrayed as a mean-spirited mother-in-law to her eldest son Alexander.
Two months later, on November 19, the day of the Mongolian national holiday, Sean and Gareth Wittstock, the princess’ other brother, appeared on the balcony of the princely palace, then at a gala dinner organized at the Grimaldi Forum. Furtive images, but strong, symbolic. Since the wedding of Albert II and Charlene in July 2011, the two brothers have often joined the princely family to greet the Monegasques. But on this day in November 2021, their sister is again absent, although she returned ten days earlier from South Africa. And new justification, of a rare transparency, of their brother-in-law to People magazine. Charlene is treated far from Monaco for “deep general fatigue”. She did not put up any resistance. The decision was made as a family, with Gareth, Sean and Chantelle Wittstock, gathered by Albert II. “She had already made her decision, but I wanted her to express it in front of us. And we wanted to tell her again how much we love her, show her our support, and, probably most importantly, assure her that she had nothing to worry about.” Vertiginous confidence of the sovereign. Until then, he was believed to be supported mainly by his sisters, Princesses Stephanie and Caroline. The Wittstocks no longer appear as mere extras. Their involvement in the well-being of Charlene, very thin, insomniac and apathetic, is recognized by the sovereign himself.
At the beginning of December, Gareth Wittstock, his wife Roisin and their daughters Kaia-Rose and Bodie accompanied Albert II, Jacques and Gabriella to the Christmas market set up on the port of the principality. More discreetly, this time. Unlike his parents or his brother Sean, Gareth has been living in Monaco – in La Turbie, to be exact – for more than ten years. It was there that he married Roisin in 2015, a former dancer he met while dining with friends of Albert II, five years earlier. The prince and Charlene were among the hundred and twenty guests at their wedding. It is still there, from an office located in the Jardins d’Apolline, a few meters from the palace, that this former computer scientist coordinates the actions of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, which works for the prevention of drowning, sports education and the protection of biodiversity throughout the world. He was appointed Secretary General by sovereign decision in 2018. Nearly 900,000 people in 40 countries and more than 400 projects have benefited from the foundation’s support since its creation in 2012. Gareth Wittstock doesn’t really like the light. Some people are rumoring that he would have acquired a villa in Bedoni, near his parents and his brother Sean. His central role in Monegasque associative life, his conversion to Catholicism, the state religion, and his appointment as godfather to Princess Gabriella, with whom his daughters play a lot, have nevertheless earned him the nickname “Count of Monaco.” Jealousy?
From the beginning of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, he participated in the distribution of masks in the principality. Last November, he was also part of Albert II’s delegation to Dubai. Officially, he was on the trip as president of the Monegasque Rugby Federation and co-founder with his sister of the Impi’s team participating in the Dubai Sevens tournament in early December. It is rumored that he has the good graces of Princess Caroline, First Lady of the Rock in the absence of his sister. On December 14, Gareth Wittstock will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. It is the work of a whole family, to tell the truth. Michael, Lynette, Sean and Chantelle Wittstock are all working hard to make Charlene’s name shine in South Africa. The Monegasque princess remains a local child. The savannah, a refuge, as the year 2021 proved.
The Chasing Zero campaign, which Charlene launched against rhino horn poaching last spring, is now being continued by her sister-in-law Chantelle, who is working on its deployment in several other African countries. Organizer of an English boxing tournament to benefit his daughter’s foundation in Monaco in 2014, Michael Wittstock is now calling for donations via entries to horse shows and Olympics. Every year, Charlene’s father is able to take a hundred children to the races at Turffontein Racecourse, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. In the fall of 2020, the septuagenarian, accompanied by his wife, also proudly inaugurated the renovation and expansion of the Gugulesizwe Primary School in Daveyton, a neighboring town to Benoni.
The bad tongues perspire that the Wittstocks would have multiplied the investments and increased their real estate patrimony since Charlene’s marriage to Albert. Jealousy, still? In December 2010, in a long portrait that Tatler, the bible of the European gotha, devoted to her, the princess surprised by this confidence, almost premonitory: “I have met some wonderful people since I have been living in Monaco, but they are only acquaintances. My real friends are my family members. My mother and brothers are the only people I need and trust. Long reign at the Wittstocks.
Crédits photos : Dominique Jacovides / Bestimage