If there is one member of the Grimaldi princely house who has created more than her share of controversy it is Princess Stephanie, the youngest child of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace; the one even at a young age whom Princess Grace referred to as her wild child. Some of her actions may have caused gasps from the faint of heart and raised a few eyebrows, but Princess Stephanie has also displayed an abundance of creativity, a restless energy and a down-to-earth way of connecting with people and helping people. She is living proof that it is often those who are considered outcasts at times who most sympathize with and most help the outcast and most downtrodden of their fellow man. Throughout her life Princess Stephanie has been a model, fashion designer, singer, mother and patron of charitable causes. She has gained a great deal of wisdom over the years from the many ups and downs in her life but she has never lost her rebel spirit and her mischievous but always compassionate heart.
Princess Stephanie was born Stephanie Marie Elisabeth Grimaldi, Countess of Polignac on February 1, 1965, the youngest child of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco. From a very early age she was known as a precocious and energetic child. She was given a proper education from the start but was always more drawn to the creative and the artistic than the cerebral. It would probably be impossible to overstate the significance of the fact that it was young Princess Stephanie who was riding with her mother back to Monaco when the accident occurred that took the life of the beloved Princess Grace on September 13, 1982. Stephanie survived but her mother did not and she was not even able to attend the funeral because she was still hospitalized recovering from her own injuries. This had a tremendous impact on the poor girl and would affect the rest of her life. It is also a large part of the reason why I will not tolerate dismissive criticism of Princess Stephanie.
Few people who have not had the misfortune to experience it can imagine the pain and emotional suffering that goes along with surviving an accident that takes the life of someone else. I am among those fortunate ones, but members of my family I am very close to have and I am painfully aware of the hurt it causes. Not only did Princess Stephanie go through such trauma, but it was made worse by the fact that it was her own mother and at her age losing a parent would be traumatic enough without being in the same accident and having to face the feelings of guilt that arise from the fact the you walked away and your beloved mother did not. Even with this worst of scenarios there was even more hardship heaped on the young princess with the thoughtless and hurtful rumors that she had really been driving the car and that the palace had covered it up. It was all totally untrue of course, Princess Grace had been driving, had suffered a stroke and thus lost control of the vehicle. However, just imagine what an extra amount of torment Princess Stephanie had to endure by being subject to the whispers that she was responsible for the death of her own mother. Add to all this the fact that she spent a long time afterwards going through the physical pain of her injuries and it was not until the following year that she had completely recovered; from the physical wounds at least. It would take some time for her to work through the emotional issues associated with the whole incident.
Following her recovery in 1983 Princess Stephanie began working as an apprentice at Christian Dior under Marc Bohan, a friend of Princess Grace. Some might have thought it was Stephanie who was doing Bohan the favor as here mere presence brought a great deal of publicity to Christian Dior and before the end of 1984 Princess Stephanie was a fashion model and appeared in numerous European and American magazines including Hola!, Vogue and Vanity Fair throughout 1985 and 1986. This line of work ended, however, at the insistence of Prince Rainier III who was not happy about his daughter working as a model. Yet, the creativity of Princess Stephanie could not be contained and toward the end of 1986 she came out with her own swimwear line and when the line was officially unveiled her family supported her and the world was treated to pictures of the lovely princess modeling her own creations. Princess Stephanie was on magazine covers all around the world from Europe to the U.S. and Brazil to Japan. However, Stephanie was too restless to stick with the fashion industry for long and began looking for others ways to express herself and find an outlet for her creativity. It was then that she turned to music.
February 1986 saw Stephanie release her first single, the hit "Ouragan" or "Irresistible" as it was titled in English. It was a great success, quickly rocketing to the International Top 10 and ultimately selling some five million copies. In September she released her first full album with many new songs including the smash hit "Flash" (in English "One Love to Give") which sold over two and a half million copies. In 1987 she released another single with the profits donated to UNICEF. That same year, to continue her music career and move in with her boyfriend-of-the-month Mario Oliver, Princess Stephanie moved to Los Angeles, California. Unfortunately, Princess Stephanie learned how fickle the music industry could be. After five years her next album was finally released and was greeted with lackluster sales and poor critical reviews. The open-minded liberals of LA seemed more obsessed with punishing a Princess than giving her music a fair hearing. They prefer their artists to be starving heroin-addicts from out of the gutter after all. Princess Stephanie ended her musical phase with an anonymous part in a Michael Jackson album.
On the bright side, she had produced some very good work and with the end of that chapter could move on to other creative endeavors. In 1989 Princess Stephanie came out with her own perfume line and in the succeeding years became an unofficial spokesperson for the Replay Store and Café with her own store in Monaco. She also opened one in Barcelona in 1997. By this time Princess Stephanie had become a mother and, although it is a long and complicated story, I might as well go ahead and dive into the personal life of Princess Stephanie. Over the years her boyfriends, companions and husbands have been numerous and frequently changing and often included men of less than admirable reputations. As stated, I tend not to be critical of this often criticized behavior, mostly because of what Stephanie had to endure. It has also been stated that, in French pop-culture, the princess who hangs around with ruffians is somewhat romanticized as an ideal, a sort of fetish over breaking the rules.
Among the many bad boys Princess Stephanie has been associated with was a man convicted of car theft, an alleged rapist and a convicted con man who had served time in prison for fraud and theft. She also had flings with a Spanish singer, a French actor, a record producer, American actor Rob Lowe whose lack of French language skills ended his future with the Princess, a football star, and Belgian bodybuilder and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. In 1992 Stephanie began a relationship with her bodyguard Daniel Ducruet by whom she had two children; Louis Ducruet born in 1992 and Pauline Ducruet born in 1994. The couple finally married in Monaco on July 1, 1995 which legitimized their children in Monegasque law and put them in the line of succession. This might have been the start of a more calm period of happy family life for Princess Stephanie, but heartache found the rebel princess again when photos came out of Ducruet frolicking with a Belgian stripper. He was promptly expelled from the upper echelon of Monaco society and a divorce was granted on October 4, 1996. Princess Stephanie had been robbed of wedded bliss and her romantic misadventures were set to continue.
Stephanie still seemed to be drawn to those charged with her protection as things got rather serious between her and her chief of security Jean Raymond Gottlieb, a former Paris policeman and ski instructor. Soon Princess Stephanie was obviously in a family way again. On July 15, 1998 Princess Stephanie gave birth to a daughter, Camille Marie Kelly, named after her grandmother, in Monte Carlo and the Princess Grace Hospital Center. Everyone assumed that Gottlieb was the father though Princess Stephanie refused to reveal who was. Ducruet said the child was not his and an exasperated Prince Rainier III ordered his daughter to leave Monaco. That may not have been the best move in the long run as she went to the ski resort at Auron and fell in love with a Corsican bartender and was even spotted waiting tables from time to time. For someone who had never been impressed with the attention and pressures of being a princess Stephanie seemed desperate to be an anonymous, "ordinary" person. Nonetheless, after about 6 months that little fling was over and Princess Stephanie moved on.
In 2000 Princess Stephanie began a relationship with the Swiss circus owner and elephant trainer Franco Knie who she met a festival in Monte Carlo when awarding him a prize for Best Animal Tamer. Unfortunately, Monsieur Knie was married and the affair only became known publicly in 2001 when Knie announced that he was leaving his wife for Princess Stephanie. For several months thereafter Princess Stephanie and her children traveled with the circus, living in less than luxurious conditions, and her daughter Pauline became so infatuated with the elephants that Knie included her in the act. However, by the next year that relationship was over as well.
Throughout 2003 Stephanie was linked with Princely Palace head gardener (another married man), her former brother-in-law Philippe Junot and the Portuguese-Spanish trapeze artist Adans Lopez Peres, ten years younger than her and also a member of the Circus Knie. It was rumored that the two married and in the summer of 2004 a German newspaper reported that the two were divorcing and Stephanie was again seen with former husband Ducruet as well as Franck Brasseur, a married croupier. By November Stephanie and Peres were divorced and Stephanie was later seen dating another bartender and a French actor and musician. So far she has not shown any indication of wishing to marry again. She has also consistently tried to keep her children out of the public limelight and has said she wishes them to have as normal a life as possible, which may prove a futile effort.
Recently Princess Stephanie has taken on some more traditional royal duties. The death of Prince Rainier was a terrible blow to her. Despite their differences over the years she was very attached to him and her father had been her rock of stability throughout her many trials and ups and downs. However, she has said that his memory is with her constantly and she has become very involved in the fight against AIDS and helping AIDS victims around the world. She has become a UNAIDS ambassador and set up her own foundation, called Fight AIDS Monaco, to help the victims of the disease and to fight against the stigma that often goes with it. In this she seems to have found a niche for her particular talents, being a very loving person and also as someone who has been treated as something of an outcast by many she has more sympathy for these, the least of her brethren, than others might.
The years and her many high and low points seem to have brought Princess Stephanie a certain degree of worldly wisdom. She also does not ignore the spiritual side of life. In a recent interview she said, "It is important to believe in something. I am Christian and am baptized. Catholicism is the religion of state here and I respect it deeply". She went on to condemn excess and religious radicalism and expressed the view that, as the Bible says, all must work out their own salvation in fear and trembling. Over the years she has certainly been known as the wild child, the rebel princess and has made many eyes roll, however, she has had to deal with circumstances few other people in the world can understand. She has had to endure pain and emotional hardship the likes of which most onlookers and gossip columnists will never be able to comprehend. However, through it all her character has remain unchanged. She remains someone who is ready to help others, someone who refuses to quit and always displays her creative nature, her restless and rebellious nature and her indomitable spirit.