"They want to go back," Prince Albert tells PEOPLE of 3-year-old Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella

By Peter Mikelbank
January 23, 2018 02:25 PM
Credit: SC Pool - Corbis/Corbis/Getty

Clowns, balloons and a live giraffe greeted Monaco’s royal twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella Sunday as they made their debut under the little principality’s big top.

On their first-ever visit to the annual Monte Carlo circus festival, the pair “had the best time,” says royal dad Prince Albert. “Particularly when the giraffe came around. They want to go back.”

Adds an attendee: “It was beautiful. They were laughing and surprised. All the music and the lights and animals — it was quite a discovery for them.”

Albert and his sister, festival president Princess Stephanie, had their hands full, holding on to the 3-year olds during the afternoon performance of the one-ring show. The twins’ appearance was expected but unannounced, and word quickly spread among the performers a few minutes before their arrival.

“Someone asked the clown band to start playing a little softly so not to scare the children,” says a source. “It wouldn’t have mattered. They loved the music, the noise, the excitement.”

Prince Jacques
| Credit: SC Pool - Corbis/Corbis/Getty

Joining Jacques and Gabrielle was their 4-year-old cousin, Alva Grace Wittstock. Her dad, Gareth Wittstock, is Princess Charlene‘s brother and sat in the royal box along with Prince Albert and the twins’ much older cousins, Pauline and Louis Ducruet.

Princess Stephanie, Princess Gabriella, Prince Albert and Prince Jacques
| Credit: SC Pool - Corbis/Corbis/Getty

The twins, whose front-yard neighbors are a pair of veteran performing elephants, proved themselves game for the big outing. A video posted on the Palace’s Facebook page shows Jacques (in the arms of Stephanie’s daughter, Camille Gottlieb) enjoying one of the European-style circus distractions: giant balloons bopped around the crowd at intermission under the festival’s permanent tent.

“At one point, a trainer brought this baby elephant over to the royals and both children were amazing,” says the source. “They were delighted to feed it a banana.”

Founded in 1974 by Prince Rainier, the annual Monaco event is a mix of sawdust, popcorn and diamonds. The world’s première circus festival invites acts from all over the world. The 10-day program is organized as a competition, and its Clown d’or is the top prize for any acrobat or circus artist.