MONTE CARLO, MONACO -- His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco is hosting a dinner. To his left sits Goldie Hawn in form-fitting black lace, burbling on about Hollywood nothingness. A few seats more to the left is Hawn's lover boy, Kurt Russell, throwing back whiskeys and getting louder and redder with each slug. On Albert's right is a pretty French starlet, tossing her brown mane as she chatters.

And then there's Albert, at the center of the table in the center of the room of the Monte Carlo Yacht Club, of which he is president. He listens intently to Hawn as she whines about how she doesn't have enough clothes for her trip. He smiles and laughs as Russell guffaws at his own wittiness. He's polite and charming and even engaging, although his eyes look as sleepy as a newborn's.

As soon as coffee is served, the prince's personal assistant, Capt. Bruno Philipponat, appears out of nowhere to pull out His Highness's chair. The prince stands, bids adieu, hops into the passenger side of his Audi Quattro and is whisked off into the rainy night, presumably to his private chambers in the palace for a well-earned night's sleep.

But not half-an-hour later he's sitting at a table with a half-dozen painfully beautiful young people at Monaco's hip Tex-Mex joint, Le Texan. The blazer is gone, the tie is gone, the sleeves are rolled up. He's drinking a beer and telling jokes and everyone is laughing. In a mere 30 minutes, he has shed his royal persona and turned into a totally normal guy -- the kind of guy he prefers to be.

At 35, Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi, only son of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace, is the great irony: a prince-in-waiting who doesn't really want to be a prince. Every time a milestone comes around -- Rainier's 40th anniversary as monarch in 1989, Rainier's 70th birthday last May, the principality's national holiday Nov. 19 -- Monaco's 30,000 residents buzz with the prediction that Dad will retire and let Son take over the family business.

Everyone's eager, except Albert.

"You know," he says quietly during a rare interview later, "in a few years' time, you'll come back and ask me {how it's going} and I'll say, 'I'm sick of all this {obscenity}.'

"No, I didn't really say that,'" he coughs, as if he stunned himself.

He lunges toward the desk and shouts at the tape recorder:

"Of all of this business! Business!" Then he chuckles.

Theoretically, Prince Albert of Monaco is one of the most desirable bachelors in the world. Marry him and you get a country, you live in a palace and you certainly have no financial worries.

Plus, you get a pretty sweet guy.

The problem is, you also get a man who, underneath all of his cheerful positiveness, seems terribly unsettled.

When American movie star Grace Kelly married little-known Prince Rainier back in 1956, she brought not only Hollywood glamour to this Mediterranean resort, she brought the spotlight. And that spotlight has been on the Grimaldi family and this tiny principality ever since.

Monaco is a strange place, as multifaceted as the diamonds worn by the women -- and men -- who live here. It's where the fabulously rich reside, where there are more jewelry stores than grocery stores, where you can see eight Ferraris in less than 10 minutes. It's also where thousands of tourists flock each year to plunk a few francs in the slots of the famed casino and where thousands of workers come to punch timecards in assembly line factories.

And Albert, unlike Prince Charles of England, will someday have to rule his country. Because of that responsibility, the spotlight has been particularly bright, with analysis of his character, his business sense and his diplomatic abilities.

But he's not a leader yet. He's a figurehead. And a frustrated one at that.

Albert estimates that he attends 300 official events a year, in Monaco and abroad. "One year," he groans, "I actually counted on the fingers of one hand the number of nights I spent at home in the first six months."

His sisters -- Caroline and Stephanie -- do less and less, now that they are mothers. His father does less and less because, says Albert, "he's sick of doing it."

"I just grin and bear it."

Sometimes that's painfully obvious.

One guest recalls that during a dinner last winter Albert pulled the middle out of his bread, rolled it into a ball and challenged another guest to a dough ball flicking contest. Whoever could sink his dough ball into a water glass got a buck.

Albert won.

Then there are the paparazzi. They never leave him alone.

"Every time I take my boat out," he says of his 40-foot speedboat named Mogambo, after his mother's film, "there seems to be a lens out there to catch things. I've only been out six or seven times this year and every time I saw my picture two days later in the papers.

"I've got to be more careful," he says, "and have to find another way to have fun."

The lack of freedom poses a natural conflict for a half-American fellow who spent childhood summers at Camp Tecumseh in the Berkshires, studied at Amherst and did internships at Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. and at the New York advertising firm Wells, Rich, Green.

Back in his Amherst days, he told friends he'd like to be an actor -- just like his mom. And of his work at the ad agency, he says: "I could have done something like that."

But he can't be an advertising executive, he can't be an actor. He's an heir to a throne. According to Monaco's 1962 constitution, the 800-year-old throne should be passed on to a son. As Albert is the only son, he's trapped.

So this night, like the night before and the night before that and the next night, instead of "having a quiet night at home," he says, "I have to put on my tux again and go out and shake some hands, make a speech, give a toast."

He sighs.

"I wish I could just take off sometimes and be on my own and be with some people I like being around."

An All-American Kid

It's not as bad as all that.

Once in a while, Albert does get to "take off" and have fun. His usual accomplice is childhood buddy Mike Powers, an American raised in Monaco and the owner of Le Texan. Last summer Albert and Mike went to Wyoming to trace the hunting expedition that Albert's great-great-grandfather Albert I went on with Buffalo Bill Cody. Every summer they go to a friend's ranch in Texas and spend a few weeks riding horses, rounding up cattle "and sucking down some long-necks," says Powers. "It's an annual boys' trek where he can be normal."

About 10 years ago, while on a skiing holiday in Switzerland, Albert hopped into a bobsled, whizzed down the icy track and loved it so much he decided to put a team together.

In the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games, Albert's two-man came in 25th out of 41 teams. Four years later, he came in 43rd out of 46 in the two-man and 27th out of 29 in the four-man. "It is disheartening," he said at the time. But he didn't stop. Next he will compete in the World Cup races and hopes to qualify for the Olympic Games -- perhaps his last -- in Lillehammer, Norway, in February.

Several motives drive this passion. One is Albert's desire to keep up with his mother's family -- his grandfather Jack Kelly was an Olympic gold medalist and his Uncle Jack was a bronze medalist, both in single sculling. Another is the need to be "normal." And, perhaps more than anything else, it's one of the few things Albert does that he wants to do.

The internal struggle between Albert the Prince and Albert the Average American Guy goes back, perhaps, to the way he was raised.

Princess Grace wanted her children to retain not only their American roots, but also some sense of an unroyal life. The Grimaldis would frequently visit their Kelly cousins in Philadelphia and spend summer vacations at the Jersey shore.

"She would take them shopping in Monaco, take them to the dentist and for goodies at the pastry shop," says Nadia Lacoste, a former longtime palace spokeswoman. Grace made sure the family had at least one meal together each day, and that she and Rainier tucked the kids into bed each night. She also made sure that her three children spoke thoroughly American English. "I guess I must have said 10 words probably in French with her in my entire life," Albert says with a laugh.

Many, including those close to the family, suggest that it is for that very reason that Albert stutters. In English, it's hardly noticeable -- he only got tied up during this interview at the Winter Sporting Club complex when he spoke about his mother, a difficult subject for him still, a decade after her fatal car crash. Friends speculate that because he was so close to her, his English is smooth. In French, however, he seems to struggle. Several friends believe that happens because Albert converses primarily in French with his father. One reasons that "Albert is terrified of Rainier."

Of Models and Marriage

One night recently, Albert walked into the Stars and Bars sports/blues club with a bunch of pals, sat down at a table 10 feet away from his old shiny red bobsled, ordered a glass of water and focused on a voluptuous blonde wearing too much mascara.

He has a taste for such female specimens: blond, busty and basically gorgeous.

Mainly models, it seems. He laughs. "Yeah. A lot of them have been models."

The most well-known is Claudia Schiffer.

Press reports around the world have predicted for more than a year that Claudia and Albert were going to get royally hitched. The pair showed up together at high-profile principality events, the Paris fashion shows and celebrity gatherings in New York. Then Schiffer moved into a little pied-a-terre just steps away from the palace. Her side was coy. The palace remained customarily silent. The rumors spun. USA Today's Jeannie Williams even claimed that Albert proposed to Schiffer and she said no.

"I was never romantically involved with her," Albert states. "I think that the high visibility of it all scared me. ... There was too much hoopla around it and I didn't want to deal with it.

"And," he adds, "I don't know how much people around her tried to promote it and tried to push her into saying things."

In fact, it has been speculated that the affair was a setup between Schiffer's boss, Chanel head Karl Lagerfeld, and his dear friend Prince Rainier. According to this theory, Chanel would get invaluable publicity and Monaco would get a beautiful, sin-free, money-loaded princess.

Why not?

Lagerfeld, also a resident of Monaco, would not talk about Schiffer for this story, but told Vanity Fair last year, "This kind of girl doesn't need me for that." Schiffer didn't return phone calls.

Albert simply says, "I'm her friend."

Although he says he is not a suspicious person by nature, he has been taught to be wary of the women he dates. He questions their motives "95 percent of the time," and says bluntly, "I've gotten burned a few times."

Like by the German model a few years back who said he fathered her child (the palace dismissed her as a publicity-seeker).

Or by the California woman whose paternity case against Albert last year was thrown out of court.

Or by the Playboy centerfold who talked to "Hard Copy."

Albert says he has had two "long-term" relationships. One at Amherst that lasted six months, and another for a year back in the '80s -- with an American swimmer.

"I think he was really in love with her," says an old friend who asked not to be identified, "but I don't think she could handle the pressure of it all. You have to be very, very secure to feel that you deserve that position."

On that, Albert agrees.

"Obviously, she has to be patient and understand what this whole thing is about, Monaco and all the things that go along with the title. ... I feel sorry for her already, whoever she may be," he says. "It's tough for anybody in any position of public office to deal with criticism and deal with jealousy, and people talking behind your back. She's going to have to be tough -- as well as being sweet and beautiful."

He's told that it sounds like he's just described his mother.

"I don't know if I did," he laughs, "I wasn't thinking about her. ... I'm not even trying to find someone who looks like her; I mean, it's silly. I mean, why would I? I have my own tastes. But obviously her image is here, and people are going to compare whoever is going to be with me to my mom."

A Different Place

If Albert has his way, Monaco will be known more for its serious endeavors than for the playboys who tool around the 480-acre principality in red Ferraris, or the movie stars who drop by for a tennis tournament.

Sports, it appears, will be his stamp on Monaco. In the mid-1980s, a 20,000-seat stadium was built in Fontvieille, a new section of the principality reclaimed from the sea. Monegasques can now attend football, baseball and soccer games and international track meets. In September the International Olympic Committee, of which Albert is a member, met here to vote on the site of the 2000 Olympic Summer Games. The U.S. Olympic basketball team -- "The Dream Team" -- trained here last year. And three years ago Albert started a push-sled competition on the road next to the yacht-filled harbor. Last September, he proudly reports, 25 countries competed before 800 spectators.

Monaco under Albert "will be an international sports center," says Mike Powers. "He's bringing in events, and he's very much behind his country's athletics, from the little local kids playing soccer to the professional team. He's going to bring a lot of youth and energy and vigor into Monaco with his drive and interest in athletics."

Albert's attorney and longtime friend Thierry Lacoste says that under Albert's reign, the destruction of old Mediterranean villas in order to build plain condominium skyscrapers will stop.

In Albert's Monaco the focus will be on industry -- plastics, cosmetics, electronics -- not on the chichi tax-dodging residents. And he'll talk about the 17,000 middle-class Italians and French who commute here each day to work on assembly lines or in hotels. He'll try to "convince people that it's not only fun and games and Rolls-Royces. It's not only a playground for the rich. ... They're really the minority but the most visible because they flash their possessions," he sniffs with disgust.

Albert's Monaco will be a more democratic place.

In fact, it already is: McDonald's opened here last year.