Princess Charlene expecting heir to Monaco throne

Princess Charlene expecting heir to Monaco throne
Prince Albert II of Monaco and his wife Princess Charlene

MONACO - Princess Charlene, the South African wife of Monaco monarch Prince Albert II, is expecting the couple's first child at the end of the year, the royal palace announced on Friday.

"Prince Albert and Princess Charlene have the immense joy to announce they are expecting a happy event," the palace said in a statement. "The birth is due at the end of the year."

Charlene, 36, is a Zimbabwe-born former Olympic swimmer who married Albert, 56, in 2011.

Rumours that the eagerly awaited announcement that she was pregnant could be imminent had swirled around the tiny principality on the French Riviera for several days.

They reached fever pitch after Charlene was taken unwell and had to rest during an official trip to France earlier in the week.

The new baby, who will replace Albert's sister Caroline as the next in line to the Monaco throne, will be Charlene's first child and the grandson or granddaughter of Hollywood superstar Grace Kelly.

Albert, who succeeded his father, Kelly's husband Prince Rainer, in 2005, already has two children from affairs during his days as one of the world's most eligible bachelors.

His US-born daughter Jazmin - from a fling with former waitress Tamara Rotolo, is now 22 and recently graduated from university in the United States.

The prince denied being her father for years before DNA tests proved otherwise when she was a teenager.

Despite that complicated history, media reports suggest Albert now has a good relationship with her.

The prince also has a 10-year-old son, Alexandre Coste, from an affair he had with Nicole Coste, an Air France hostess of Togolese origin.

Mother and son now live on the French Riviera, not far from Monaco, in accommodation reportedly funded by the royal household.

Nicole Coste recently gave an interview to Britain's Mail on Sunday in which she claimed Albert no longer came to see his son, a state of affairs she attributed to the influence and jealousy of Charlene.

Under Monaco's inheritance laws, neither of the two recognised illegitimate children have any claim to royal titles or to be considered as heirs to Albert.

They do however have legal rights to a share of his huge personal fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine to exceed one billion dollars.

Albert and Charlene's relationship has repeatedly been reported to be on the verge of collapse since well-sourced reports suggested that she had attempted to flee Monaco just days before their wedding, distraught at rumours that details of a third illegitimate child were about to surface.

Palace officials were reported to have brokered a deal under which the former Charlene Wittstock would be guaranteed a generous divorce settlement if she still wanted to leave after providing Albert with an heir to continue the line of the House of Grimaldi.

It was widely reported that the couple spent at least part of their honeymoon in separate hotels and regular pictures of the princess looking gloomy since then helped to fuel reports that she was depressed, either over the marriage in general or specifically over the couple's failure to conceive.

A glamorous blonde who has retained her swimmer's physique, Charlene hails from a middle-class Zimbabwean family with German roots who relocated to South Africa when she was 11.

She swam for her adopted country in the 4 x 100m medley relay team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

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