You could excuse any husband and father of young twins (with December birthdays) for being a little behind schedule after Christmas.
Now it’s Princess Charlene’s turn to party, as she turns 39 on Wednesday — and with time counting down, Prince Albert tells PEOPLE he has shopping on his agenda.
“Christmas was great,” he says. “The kids got a bunch of different toys — puzzles, a Playmobil house. I assembled that myself with help from my brother-in-law Sean. We screwed a few bolts in. It was great. Fun times.”
After Christmas in Monaco, “we went to Ireland for New Year’s with the kids and family. A few cousins came over to visit.” On return, unfortunately there were “a few little household issues,” says the royal dad, including a water leak in the apartment they’re using while palace rooms are renovated.
At two years old, “the kids are great,” he adds. “They’re jumping around. Talking more every day. They’re singing a lot. Lots of nursery rhymes. English and French. They’re currently doing ‘Daddy Fingers.’ We get that a lot. They watch a lot of videos. And ‘Hickory, Dickory,’ ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ is still popular. And the bus song. You know,” he adds with a smile, “the wheels on the bus get stuck in your head, stuck in your . . . ”
As for Charlene’s birthday gift, “to be honest, I just haven’t purchased it yet,” he said on Monday. He hints it will be “something in the jewelry category,” adding, “I’m a specialist in last-minute shopping.”
Speaking of his wife of five years, he says she has grown into her royal role.
“It’s more an ongoing process, getting her more familiarized with the people of Monaco, the institutional side, to give her a better understanding of how things work,” he says. “In the past, I haven’t always had as much time as I’d like to devote to that because I’ve been traveling and she has work with her foundation, and I didn’t want to throw too much at her at once.
“I know that it was an issue,” he continues. “People felt they didn’t see enough of her in Monaco. And she wants to and will do more of that, but she’s wanted to be as involved as she can in raising the children.”
Speaking to PEOPLE in July 2015, Prince Albert, 58, admitted he once “underestimated” his wife — and he stands by that. “I’ve learned she has an incredible resilience,” he says. “And pace. Husbands and wives sometimes rediscover one another’s qualities, and she has good judgment. She has excellent judgment in people. If she trusts somebody, there’s reason.
“She can also be a little more harsh than I am. But she often turns out to be right. She gets a good first impression of people. I’m more likely to give someone a second chance, or say, ‘Let’s wait and see . . . ‘ ”
Along with his older sister Princess Caroline, who turned 60 on Monday, Albert’s younger sister Princess Stéphanie (who turns 53 on February 1) also serves as a frequent adviser.
“Stephanie’s very practical,” he says. Drawing on her years in charge of the annual Monte Carlo Circus Festival, she has developed “strong experience and knowledge of organizing and bringing things together. And she’s done excellent work with her Fight AIDS Monaco and the Red Cross. She’s got a great heart, great empathy toward people. She has a good heart.”
“Whether it’s siblings or a spouse, it’s always a great feeling to know you have someone with solid character, common sense, good values that you can rely on for advice,” notes Albert. “Times you need just someone you can rely on, the first people to go to are family — and to keep that closeness is key. I know that I can rely on them, and I hope that they, and their children, feel the same.”