The charged particle multiplicity distribution of hadronic Z decays was measured on the peak of the Z resonance using the ALEPH detector at LEP. Using a model independent unfolding procedure the distribution was found to have a mean 〈n〉=20.85±0.24 and a dispersion D=6.34±0.12. Comparison with lower energy data supports the KNO scaling hypothesis in the energy range GeV. At GeV the shape of the multiplicity distribution is well described by a log-normal distribution, as predicted from a cascading model for multi-particle production. The same model also successfully describes the energy dependence of the mean and width of the multiplicity distribution. A next-to-leading order QCD prediction in the framework of the modified leading-log approximation and local parton-hadron duality is found to fit the energy dependence of the mean but not the width of the charged multiplicity distribution, indicating that the width of the multiplicity distribution is a sensitive probe for higher order QCD or non-perturbative effects.