Prince Albert took over Monaco’s royal powers yesterday, assuming all but the throne in the tiny principality after a royal commission decided that his critically-ill father was too sick to perform his duties.
The announcement by the royal palace marked the first time since 1949 that Prince Rainier III – Europe’s longest-serving ruler – had not been in control of the Mediterranean realm smaller than New York’s Central Park and famed as a playground for the rich and famous.
Albert, 47, is the only son of Rainier and his late wife Grace Kelly, the American beauty who exchanged Hollywood stardom for the life of a princess.
Well-travelled, multilingual and Monaco’s top ambassador in recent years, the unmarried Albert is regarded as a shy, even reluctant, heir. Sports are a love: He is a five-time bobsledding Olympian and has headed Monaco’s Olympic Committee since 1994.
Albert promised to devote himself “with strength, conviction and passion” to his new role as regent.
“The state of health of our father remains very fragile,” he said in a statement. “Today, faced with the difficulty for my father in exercising his high functions, I will assume all of the royal powers in his name.”
Rainier, 81, was admitted to hospital on March 7 and has been intensive care for 10 days with breathing, kidney and heart problems.
The Council of the Crown, a commission appointed by Rainier, met yesterday at the royal palace that overlooks Monaco’s yacht-filled harbour and decided after weighing his doctors’ diagnosis that the ailing prince can no longer rule.
The regency means Albert takes over royal powers while Rainier is sick, but his father could regain them if he recovers, said palace spokesman Armand Deus. Rainier keeps the throne.
“The sovereign prince is still Prince Rainier III,” said Deus.
Albert has been groomed to rule the principality run for seven centuries by his family – the Grimaldis.
But he has remained heirless – causing such concern that the constitution was revised in 2002 to ensure the continuation of the dynasty. His older sister - Princess Caroline, now 48 – would succeed him. She in turn, would be succeeded by her oldest son, Andrea Albert Pierre, now 20.
Befriended by numerous celebrities, Albert has remained doggedly his own person and, despite his retiring nature, increasingly assumed the role as Monaco’s public face as his father grew frail.