The Wittstock family is of German origin; Charlene's great-great-grandparents Martin Gottlieb Wittstock and Johanne Luise née Schönknecht emigrated to South Africa from the Pomeranian village of Zerrenthin in northern Germany in 1861 to escape hardship. In South Africa, the Wittstocks worked as handyworkers and unsuccessfully prospected for diamonds. Gottlieb's son, Heinrich Carl Wittstock married Olive Florence Caldwell, of English origin. Their son Dudley Kenneth Wittstock, Charlene's paternal grandfather, married Sylvia Fagan Nicolson, also of mostly English origin. Charlene was given a certificate in 2014 which verified her Irish ancestry.
Princess Charlene was born on 25 January 1978 in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (renamed Zimbabwe in 1980), the daughter of Michael Kenneth Wittstock (born 1946), a sales manager, and Lynette Wittstock (née Humberstone, born 1957), a former competitive diver and swimming coach. Two brothers were born over the next five years: Gareth (born 1980), a coffeehouses businessman operating in Monaco, and Sean (born 1983), a promotions and events businessman operating in South Africa. The family relocated to South Africa in 1989, when Charlene was 11 years old. She attended Tom Newby Primary school in Benoni, near Johannesburg, from 1988 to 1991.
Princess Charlene was born in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe), the daughter of Michael and Lynette Wittstock, and the family relocated to South Africa in 1989. Princess Charlene represented South Africa at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with her team finishing fifth in the 4 × 100 metre medley relay. Princess Charlene retired from competitive swimming in 2007.
Charlene won three gold medals and a silver medal at the 1999 All-Africa Games in Johannesburg. She represented South Africa at the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games, winning a silver medal in the 4 × 100 m medley relay in the latter competition. She also was a member of the South African women's 4×100 m medley team at the 2000 Summer Olympics, which finished fifth. Charlene finished sixth at the 2002 FINA Short Course World Championships for the 200 m breaststroke. She left her Durban-based team (the Seagulls) to join the Tuks Swimming Club at the High Performance Centre of the University of Pretoria. She never enrolled in classes. The Club sponsored her by providing her with free access to their pools, free coaching, accommodations, and gymnasium access.
Charlene met Albert II, Prince of Monaco, in 2000 at the Mare Nostrum swimming meet in Monaco. They were first seen together in 2006. They went public at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Charlene moved in with Albert in 2006. She accompanied him to the weddings of the Crown Princess of Sweden in 2010 and of the Duke of Cambridge in 2011.
She decided to leave Pretoria in January 2005, and returned to Durban; she then went to the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, where she joined a former University of Pretoria swimming coach, Brannislav Ivkovic. On 13 April 2007, Charlene regained her title as South Africa’s 50 m women’s backstroke champion when she completed the 50 m backstroke final at the Telkom SA National Aquatic Championships in 30:16 seconds, to finish third behind Australia’s Sophie Edington and Brazil’s Fabíola Molina.
Over the years she has won several national titles. She planned to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, which she said would be her swansong, but she did not qualify. Previously she had been out of competitive swimming for 18 months with a shoulder injury. Charlene said she would be swimming in Europe in the near Future, hoping to improve her times. "I have a year left of competitive swimming, and I just want to be the best I can be in that time. After that I want to get involved in charity work, and development work with athletes' commissions".
On 23 June 2010, the palace announced the engagement of Charlene and Albert. Charlene, who was raised a Protestant, converted to Roman Catholicism, even though this is not a requirement of the Constitution of Monaco. The Future Princess was also instructed in the French language and the Monégasque dialect, and became familiar with European court protocol. The Prince presented her with an engagement ring featuring a pear-shaped three-carat Diamond at the center and round Diamond brilliants surrounding it. This engagement ring was reported to be created by Parisian jeweller Repossi.
The couple were married in a civil ceremony on 1 July 2011 in the Throne Room of the Prince's Palace. Wittstock was reported to be in tears during the wedding. The Nuptial Mass on 2 July was a lavish affair presided over by Archbishop Bernard Barsi. Only days after the beginning of the couple's honeymoon in South Africa, several newspapers from Spain, Britain, and elsewhere reported that Charlene and Albert were not staying at the same hotel, but were in fact booked in different hotels several miles apart. These reports fueled rumours about the couple's marital crisis that had sparked even before their wedding.
On 30 May 2014, it was announced that the Princess was pregnant. It was confirmed on 9 October 2014 that the couple was expecting twins by the end of the year. On 10 December 2014, her twins were born at The Princess Grace Hospital Centre. Princess Gabriella was born first, followed by Hereditary Prince Jacques, who is heir apparent to the throne.