The princess and the ex-All Black

A royal riddle is brewing as the Princess Charlene of Monaco engages Byron Kelleher.
Princess Charlene and Byron Kelleher

Reports that former All Black Byron Kelleher is romantically linked to Princess Charlene of Monaco are being frantically played down by royal aides who are desperate to preserve the image that her marriage to Prince Albert II of Monaco is not a sham.

A Spanish newspaper claimed that Charlene (35) was absent at Dutch King Willem-Alexander’s coronation because she was with her “intimate friend” Byron in her home country of South Africa, where the pair were said to be working together on a sporting project. But although Byron’s father, Dunedin kiwifruit orchardist Kurt, insists the rumours are “mere speculation”.

Fellow All Black Josh Kronfeld quipping to the Herald Online: “If anyone can meet women, it’s him!”

Byron, 36, has been close to both Princess Charlene and her husband, Prince Albert, for several years and was a guest at their wedding in 2011. Although Prince Albert has described the France-based Kiwi as “a very close friend” of them both, it’s Princess Charlene with whom the Kiwi sportsman has most in common. Last December the princess set up a charitable foundation in her name, the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, to help talented young athletes develop in sports, starting with swimming and rugby. Charlene, herself an ex-Olympic swimmer, took the helm of the swimming projects, beginning with a Learn to Swim project this March, while Byron is in charge of “sports projects linked to rugby”.

Fifty-seven-cap All Black Byron is a regular at many events with the Monaco royal couple, and was spotted deep in conversation with Charlene at the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament earlier this month. It’s a far cry from the former Otago Boys’ High School student’s previous life in the spotlight, although that was equally colourful. In 2004 he became engaged to Singapore-born erotic dancer and actress Ashley Spalding, whose stage name is Kaylani Lei. Byron bought them a house in Tauranga; however, the pair split in 2006.

The “unpredictable” scrum half and 1999’s Super 12 Player of the Year, moved to France to play for Toulouse after the 2007 Rugby World Cup, then for Stade Francais.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing for the star, however.

In October 2009 he was given a two-month suspended jail term and fined 3,500 euros ($5,500) for a drink-drive incident in which he hit out at the occupants of the other car. He was also implicated in a French investigation after being accused of arranging contracts for rugby players in 2011.

Despite these incidents, Charlene has often been photographed looking happy and carefree when she is with Byron – far more so than when she’s with her husband.

Rumours that her marriage to Prince Albert was a sham have been strenuously denied by the Monaco royals.

In January, Prince Albert accepted an apology and “substantial damages” from UK newspaper The Sunday Times after they alleged Albert’s marriage to Charlene was bogus.

“[The newspaper] accused [Prince Albert] of having Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene’s passport confiscated at Nice airport in order to prevent her from leaving Monaco, so that she would marry him for appearance’s sake,” Prince Albert’s lawyer Mark Thompson told the British High Court, adding that the paper’s suggestion she had attempted to flee because she discovered the existence of a third love child was defamatory.

Elizabeth Searle

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