Charlene Lynette Wittstock was born on 25 January 1978 as the daughter of Michael and Lynette Wittstock. She was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. She is the eldest of three siblings, and her two younger brothers are Gareth (born 1980) and Sean (born 1983). When Charlene was 12 years old, the family moved to South Africa where she attended the Tom Newby Primary school in Benoni.
Charlene developed a love for swimming from a very early age. She became a competitive swimmer, and at the age of 18, she won the South African Championships. At the 1999 All-Africa Games in Johannesburg, she won three gold medals and one silver medal. She competed in the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games for South Africa and won a silver medal in the 4×100 metre medley relay in the 2002 games. In 2000, Charlene competed in the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney. She was in the women’s 4×100 metre medley team, which ended up in fifth place. Later that same year, she won the gold medal for the 200-metre backstroke event at the Marenostrum international swimming meeting in Monaco. This is also where she would meet her future husband for the first time as he was presiding over the competition. At the time Albert was known as The Hereditary Prince of Monaco.
Charlene continued her career in swimming until 2007. Her relationship with Prince Albert – who succeeded his father of Prince of Monaco in 2005 – became public in 2006. They were seen together at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics, and she moved to Monaco. On 23 June 2010, their engagement was announced by the Prince’s Palace. Charlene converted to Catholicism, even though this was not required. She also received French lessons. Her engagement ring was a pear-shaped three-carat diamond with diamond brilliants surrounding it.
Charlene and Albert were married in a civil ceremony on 1 July 2011 in the Throne Room of the Prince’s Palace, followed by a religious service on 2 July. Her wedding dress was designed by Giorgio Armani. Charlene placed her bouquet in the Sainte-Dévote Chapel as per tradition. After the wedding, Charlene became known as Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco.
Her pregnancy was announced on 30 May 2014, followed by a second announcement in October that she was expecting twins. On 10 December 2014, she gave birth to Princess Gabriella, Countess of Carladès and Jacques, Hereditary Prince of Monaco. Monaco still practises male-preference primogeniture, meaning that even though Jacques was born second, he is the heir.
As Princess of Monaco, she is involved in the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, Ladies Lunch Monte-Carlo, Special Olympics, Nelson Mandela Foundation, asfAR, The Giving Organisation, and Monaco Against Autism.