Prince Albert and his women

Monaco's playboy prince settles for bride half his age (plus six years) – a formula he's familiar with
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Prince Albert seems to have taken to heart the adage that the perfect relationship for a man consists in a partner half his age plus seven years. He wavers from this ratio only occasionally and never to a very great degree.

The 52-year-old offspring of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III of Monaco has spent most of his adult life testing the formula, and then enthusiastically retesting it with some of the world's most attractive actresses and models. In each case they came close to the magic number: Naomi Campbell (half his age plus seven), Claudia Schiffer (half his age plus six), Gwyneth Paltrow (half his age plus six) and Brooke Shields (half his age plus eight) are but a few among many.

We can only assume his dalliances with a not-inconsiderable number of less high-profile partners – he has two children by two other women – have not strayed too far from his lucky number.

Now the rake's progress has screeched to a halt, we are told. Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi last week announced his retirement as Playboy of the Western World, pledging fidelity and future marriage to the Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock, a former backstroke champion. Fortunately, she too, it seems, is as near as dammit to the magic ratio: the South African is just one year off the mark, at half Albert's age plus six years.

The couple met in 2000 at a swimming competition and the bride-to-be moved to Monaco six years later. It is the first marriage for Albert, whose mother, the American-born actress Grace Kelly, died in a car accident in 1982.

Ms Wittstock, described last week as a willowy blonde, and actually rather similar in appearance to Princess Grace, is reportedly being coached on royal social mores. Her father, Michael Wittstock, said the prince did things the old-fashioned way: "He phoned me so I could give him the blessing to put the ring on her finger."

So now the Monégasque population can finally look forward to the royal wedding, and perhaps soon a legitimate heir, for which it had barely dared to hope.

Given the prince's track record, however, it was inevitable that the question of a shotgun wedding would be raised. The palace's official response was restrained: "Honestly, I don't think so." The spokeswoman did hedge her bets, stressing she was not privy to private matters, but added that, if Ms Wittstock were with child, a formal announcement would have been made.