Charlene, Princess of Monaco has broken her silence on her ill-health after spending much of 2021 in her native South Africa undergoing treatment.
In May last year, Charlene travelled to South Africa for a funeral, however she contracted an ear, nose and throat infection that prevented her from flying home for six months.
After undergoing multiple procedures, the mother-of-two arrived back to Monaco in November. But she was only home briefly before going to a clinic in Switzerland where she was treated for emotional and physical exhaustion.
The Monegasque royal returned home in March 2022 following a four month stay at the Swiss clinic.
Now, the princess has spoken publicly for the first time about her health, saying the road to recovery has been "long, difficult and very painful."
"My state of health is still fragile and I don't want to go too fast," she told the Monaco-Matin newspaper.
Charlene said that when she returned to Monaco, she "focused all my energy" into her husband Prince Albert II and their seven-year-old twins Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques.
"They are my priority," she said, before denying rumours of an impending divorce: "I am very happy to be back home in Monaco and with my family."
While away, the South African-born Olympic swimmer turned Monegasque royal went months without seeing her two children face-to-face and was even separated from Prince Albert for their 10th wedding anniversary.
However, since her return to Monaco in early November, the royal has continued to face distressing setbacks.
In November it was announced that Charlene would be temporarily stepping back from public duties and retreating to a secret location to recover from her ordeal.
Weeks later, the royal remains in some form of treatment as family and friends, including the princess' father, share limited details about her ongoing ordeal.
It's just another concerning twist after months of ill health for Charlene, who has remained quiet since returning to Monaco.
But what illness was Charlene suffering from, how was it treated, and why are there so many rumours about her long stay in South Africa? We've looked into it so you don't have to.
Charlene's father speaks out
Charlene's father Mike Wittstock, has made a rare comment about his daughter to the news site News24 as she continues to be absent from public royal life while seeking treatment.
He revealed that he was too afraid to visit her while she was in South Africa earlier this year for fears that he could unknowingly infect her with COVID-19.
"I didn't want to infect her either because she had so many medical interventions, she is very vulnerable," he told the outlet.
He did keep in touch over the phone, also regularly checking in with her children in Monaco, six-year-old twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella.
Though Charlene is currently undergoing some form of treatment at a classified location, her father insisted that she will work through her ailments and return "stronger".
"Based on the way she used to train, I know she's tough and will get through this and come out much stronger," he told You magazine of his former Olympian daughter.
The princess was previously suffering from complications that arose after a severe ear, nose and throat infection, but Prince Albert recently told People his wife is now dealing with "profound general fatigue...exhaustion, both emotional and physical".
He rejected rumours that she is or ever was infected with COVID-19 and insisted that Charlene's absence from royal life had nothing to do with rumours about their marriage.
"It's not a personal relationship issue. And if you want to discuss another speculation, it isn't related to plastic surgery or facial work at all," he revealed.
Why isn't Charlene going out in public?
The Monaco royal palace announced on November 16 that Charlene would be taking a break from public duties after returning from South Africa earlier in the month.
"Their Serene Highnesses have both decided that a period of calm and rest is necessary to ensure the very best recovery for Princess Charlene's health," the statement read.
"Having battled with poor health over the past few months, the Princess is currently convalescing and will continue to do so for the coming weeks, allowing her time to recover from a state of profound general fatigue.
"In order to protect the comfort and privacy essential to her recovery, the Princess' location will remain strictly confidential."
The announcement comes just days after Prince Albert travelled to Dubai without his wife for an event, sparking fresh concerns for Charlene's health.
The princess has kept a low profile since returning to Monaco, sharing a single photo of her reunion with her family on Instagram before disappearing from the platform.
It's unclear when she will return to her public royal duties, but after months battling illness and complications from surgery in South Africa, it may be some weeks before we see her again.
When did Princess Charlene go home to Monaco?
Prince Albert confirmed in late October that his wife would be heading home to Monaco and their two children soon.
"She is much better," he told French publication Point de Vue. "This last operation which concerned the nasal septum went very well.
"We will be able to consider her return very soon. And I can tell you that she will be in Monaco long before the national holiday."
The holiday he's referring to is H.S.H. the Sovereign Prince's Day, which falls on Friday November 19 this year.
Royal watchers were thrilled at the news Charlene would be home with her family soon, though her husband was unable to share an exact date for her return.
Albert added: "It is not possible for me to give you the exact date, but I promise you will know when the time comes."
She finally returned by private jet and helicopter on November 8.
Why did Princess Charlene collapse?
Princess Charlene collapsed on the night of September 1 due to complications following one of several surgeries for a severe and ongoing ear, nose and throat infection.
The 43-year-old was rushed to Netcare Alberlito Hospital, where she was treated and was soon in a "reassuring" condition according to a palace statement.
"On the night of September 1, Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco was taken to hospital after becoming ill due to complications from a serious ENT infection," the statement to People read.
"Her Highness is being closely followed by her medical team, who say her condition is reassuring."
Charlene was reportedly scheduled to undergo another surgery to treat the illness that day, but it was pushed back.
Prince Albert II and their twin children, Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques, had only recently travelled to reunite with Charlene and had hoped to return to Monaco as a family in October.
"She's ready to come home," Albert told People of his wife. "I know she's said possibly late October, but that was before this most recent round of appointments.
"I'm pretty sure we can cut that time frame a little short. She's jokingly said that she's ready to stowaway on a ship to come back to Europe."
Is Princess Charlene sick?
The royal was suffering from a severe ear, nose and throat infection she unknowingly contracted before a visit to South Africa at the start of 2021.
She returned to the country where she was raised at the start of 2021 for a funeral and to participate in wildlife protection efforts.
It's understood she developed the infection before she arrived and underwent surgery to treat it in mid-May 2021, People reported.
Charlene was taken into the operating room again in June to address complications from the first surgery.
She underwent a "final" surgery in early October.
What has Princess Charlene said about her illness?
Though Charlene hasn't shared many details of her illness and surgeries publicly, she did speak about missing her family.
"It's been a trying time for me. I miss my husband and children dearly," she told South African News Channel24 in December 2021.
"Albert is my rock and strength and without his love and support I would not have been able to get through this painful time."
On social media, the royal kept her posts 'business as usual', choosing not to address her illness during her extended stay abroad.
The princess was forced to miss her and Prince Albert's tenth wedding anniversary because of her illness, but shared tributes on social media to mark the occasion.
"Happy anniversary Albert. Thank you for the blessing of our beautiful children," she wrote on Instagram, alongside a video tribute to their marriage.
"Spending time with Jacqui and Bella making blankets for the crèche next door," she captioned a series of photos on Instagram.
The snaps showed the royal FaceTiming her son and daughter, showing them the creche and blowing kisses to the phone.
She had seen them when they visited South Africa in June that year, then reunited with them for another visit in August.
When did Princess Charlene reunite with her family?
Charlene finally reunited with her husband and children at the end of August, when the Monegasque royal family flew to South Africa to join her.
The princess was thrilled to see her family again, taking to Instagram to share adorable reunion.
"I am so thrilled to have my family back with me❤️," she captioned a series of photos of her cuddled up to her children.
Prince Albert could be seen smiling in the background, but it was little Princess Gabriella's DIY fringe that caught everyone's attention, Charlene joking that she tried to fix her it.
Hours after posting the family shots, Charlene also shared two loved-up photos with her husband.
Why are there rumours about Princess Charlene’s trip to South Africa?
Princess Charlene first travelled to South Africa in March for a funeral, then returned in May for her wildlife conservation project.
However, some insiders claim the royal delayed her return to Monaco due to tensions in her marriage.
Some reports also claim Charlene has remained in South Africa to distance herself from rumours that Prince Albert has a third love child.
He faced a possible legal battle at the start of the year over the paternity of a child whose mother claims Albert is the father, but Albert's lawyer called the claims "totally false", "based on lies" and "akin to blackmail".
Charlene did not publicly addressed the situation, but made a pointed comment earlier this year after news of the supposed love child came out.
"When my husband has problems, he tells me about it,'" she told French magazine Point de Vue.
"I often tell him, 'No matter what, I'm a thousand percent behind you. I'll stand by you whatever you do, in good times or bad'."