The wedding of Prince Albert of Monaco

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For the principality of Monaco the wedding of Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock was a day of hope and nostalgia, long anticipated by the Monegasque people. A ruling prince had not wed since Albert’s father Prince Rainier III married Grace Kelly in 1955. In the contemporary context it was seen as confirmation that the principality’s political and economic future is secure. With such thoughts in mind the ruling prince’s nuptials were awaited by the principality’s thirty-plus thousand residents, hopeful that the sovereign marrying the statuesque South African would usher in a new golden era, taking Monaco back to its heyday of glamour and sophistication. To that end no expense had been spared with the cost of the wedding estimated in the region of £55 million. However, for a long time it had seemed quite unlikely that Prince Albert would marry at all. He had certainly enjoyed his bachelor days and the beautiful women he has been linked with over the years included actresses Brooke Shields and Gwyneth Paltrow and supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell. None of Albert’s girlfriends turned out to be ‘the one’ but with the passing of Prince Rainier III in April 2005 there was increasing expectation that Albert would marry and take on the mantle of his father.

Whatever Albert’s personal plans were at the time, his succession coincided with some unwelcome revelations of his having fathered illegitimate children with two women. It was only a few days before his enthronement that Albert acknowledged he was the father of a son, Alexander Coste (born 24 August 2003) with Nicola Coste, a former Air France employee from Togo. A year later Albert acknowledged he was also the father of a daughter Jazmin Grace Grimaldi (born 4 March 1992) with a Californian woman named Tamara Rotolo. In the midst of all this Albert was getting to know his future bride. Albert first met Charlene Wittstock in 2000 at the ‘Mare Nostrum’ swimming event, but any romance was not publicly suggested until 2006 when they were seen together at the opening ceremony of that year’s Winter Olympics. In the circumstances Albert’s caution to propel a relationship to the front pages was understandable but all the indications were that he was in a serious relationship. Shortly after their appearance at the 2006 Winter Olympics Charlene moved to Monaco. Thereafter she was gradually, though not officially, introduced as Albert’s companion and likely future bride. It was not until late June 2010, a few days after jointly attending the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling, that the engagement was announced. Cautious as he has been to speak about his love life, Albert has spoken of his feelings for Charlene: “I fell in love with her humour, her simplicity, and the natural way she relates to people. To me, Charlene never looks more beautiful than when she is natural – without makeup and her hair pulled back.”

For her part Charlene described Albert as “the most charming, generous person I’ve ever met. His patience knows no bounds and he is exceptionally caring. He has a unique ability to make everyone he comes into contact with feel special.” Beyond mutual attraction it was said that Charlene’s down-to-earth attitude and her sharing of Albert’s environmental concerns made them an ideal match. It was also noted that in Charlene’s company Albert was relaxed and comfortable. The wedding date was set for July 2011 and the anticipation built steadily. Monaco’s wedding would, some suggested, outdo the nuptials of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The guests would be “wall to wall billionaires” and the dress code would be strictly “haute couture”. With its famed role as a tax haven there was a good deal of truth in this but the guest list also boasted an impressive set of royalty and world statesmen. It would be a grand occasion in distinctly Monegasque style with Albert’s populist touch evident throughout. It opened with the civil wedding ceremony. – a private ceremony held in the Throne Room of the Prince’s Palace but viewed on television and giant outdoor screens to allow people across the principality to share in the moment. The ceremony was conducted by Philippe Narmino, Director of Judicial Services and president of the Council of State who told the bride: “Charlene, you are marrying not only a prince, but a country as well.”

Naturally it was also a very special day for Mr Narmino who described officiating as “the event of my life. Me, who as a magistrate, has dealt with hundreds of divorce dossiers during twenty-seven years, will be marrying a couple for the first time.” After the newlyweds had signed the marriage register Charlene received the formal style Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco. The brief ceremony, which lasted just twenty-minutes, was also attended by Prince Albert’s sisters, Caroline, Princess of Hanover, and Princess Stephanie, as well as the best man and maid of honour, Christopher Levine and Donatella Knecht de Massy, who acted as witnesses for the groom and bride respectively. Caroline’s husband, Prince Ernst of Hanover, was an absentee, but Caroline was joined by her four children: Charlotte, Pierre and Andrea, as well as Princess Alexandra, her 11-year-old daughter with Ernst. The ceremony over the crowds outside the palace awaited Albert and Charlene’s appearance on the balcony of the Salon des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) scheduled for 6pm. The atmosphere amongst the crowd filling the palace square (Cour d’Honneur) was vibrant as the Palace Guard’s Brass Band played the first notes of ‘Princess Charlene’s Anthem’. The four-minute piece was arranged and orchestrated by Jean-Christophe Aurnague, organist of the Church of the Sacred Heart, and Christian Escaffre. To mark the occasion four silver trumpets had been added to the band and decorated in the Grimaldi colours. s the band played a wave of excitement rippled through the crowd.

On time at 6pm the window of the Salon des Glaces opened and Albert and Charlene came out to greet the crowds. As they did so the couple’s official monogram was displayed on screens around the Cour d’Honneur. The newlyweds then shared a loving kiss, before Charlene affectionately rested her head against her husband’s shoulder. After the iconic kiss they were joined by Caroline and Stephanie with their children as well as Charlene’s parents, Michael and Lynette Wittstock, and her brothers Gareth and Sean. It had been fifty-five years since a sovereign princess had greeted the people from the palace balcony and the blonde Charlene was inevitably likened to Princess Grace on her wedding day to Prince Rainier. The princely family then joined their fellow Monegasques in the Cour d’Honneur for a specially prepared buffet of Mediterranean and South African dishes by chefs from South Africa and Monaco, including Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse. The party continued into the evening with a free concert by French composer Jean-Michel Jarre and his group on the Port Hercules, with a spectacular display of lights, lasers and fireworks. The Monegasque revellers were joined and indeed outnumbered by a largely French contingent, which saw some 100,000 people filling the principality’s only deep water port. Charlene commented that the day had been a challenge, comparing it to diving into a freezing cold pool every morning during her years of training as an Olympic swimmer. On a more conventional note she talked about her wedding day outfit, which she had designed with the help of Karl Lagerfeld.

Of the powder-blue corset, chiffon pleated palazzo pants and a powder blue jacket decorated with tiny silver and pearl buttons she said: “It is my creation and I am proud of it. It’s feminine and keeps with tradition yet has a little twist that reflects my personal style. I thought it was a nice change to go for trousers instead of a skirt, especially since I am an athlete and have always kept my clothes clean and simple.” The following day was for the religious ceremony and a day of national celebration. Previous Monegasque royal weddings had been held in cathedrals, the wedding of Albert’s parents at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Albert and Charlene chose to break with tradition by holding the service in the courtyard of the palace. The idea was to allow the Monegasque people to participate in the ceremony and the gates to the palace were opened to enable some 3500 guests to be seated for the ceremony, which was broadcast on giant screens. In the Mediterranean sunshine it was a splendid sight and as a populist move on Prince Albert’s part it was certainly a success. Albert’s aim to be a prince for the people is evident in all that he says and does. onaco may be tiny, covering an area a fraction greater than two square kilometres, but the guest list was an impressive one with a host of royalty joining the celebrations. Reigning monarchs were amongst the congregation: King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, King Albert II of Belgium and King Letsie III of Lesotho. Joining them from Denmark were Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary and Prince Joachim and Princess Marie. The Netherlands were represented by Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Crown Princess Maxima; Norway by Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. From Britain the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. From Luxembourg Grand Duke Henri, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa and their son Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume. Representing another well known European principality was Prince Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein.

Like Monaco the Alpine province is famed as a tax haven and coincidentally has a similar population to Monaco, around 35,000, although it spans a much larger territory of some ninety plus square kilometres. Central Europe was also represented by Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia, and Maximilian, Markgrave of Baden. From France the two pretenders to the abolished Bourbon throne Henri, Count of Paris, and Prince Louis of Bourbon; from neighbouring Italy Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy with his son Prince Emanuele Filiberto and wife Princess Clotilde of Savoy. From a little further east the Balkans were represented by Crown Princess Margarita and Prince Radu of Romania and Crown Prince Alexander II and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia; whilst the Romanovs were represented by Maria, Grand Duchess of Russia. epresenting France was President Nicolas Sarkozy. Fairing badly in the opinion polls Sarkozy received a rousingly warm welcome. The last guest to enter according to protocol, he was greeted with loud applause and hoots of approval. Other heads of state attending were Malta’s President George Abela, Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman, Ireland’s President Mary McAleese, Hungary’s President Pál Schmitt, Iceland’s President Olafur Grimmson and Germany’s President Christian Wulff. VIP guests included designers Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli, supermodels Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurkova. Adding a touch of Hollywood glamour was former James Bond actor Roger Moore. Into this glamorous scene Charlene appeared to the gasps of onlookers, chaperoned along the red carpet on her father’s arm.

The bridal gown was an Armani creation. Charlene had said she wanted “something new” for the occasion and it was certainly that. The gown was made of off-white silk duchesse satin with a five metre train. The front of the dress, trim and train boasted gorgeous floral embroidery made of Swarovski crystals and mother of pearl teardrops in tones of white and gold. Giorgio Armani said: “The idea was to go for a completely modern look, without any obvious sense of nostalgia or revivalism. I felt this was appropriate given that there would inevitably be comparisons with Princess Grace, and though such comparisons are of course a sign of admiration, each person has their own individual and unique style, and style is an expression of the times.” The bridal gown was completed with an off-white silk tulle veil, which used twenty meters of fabric. The Armani seamstresses at the designer’s haute couture atelier put a massive 2,500 plus hours of work into the dress, which required 130 metres of different silks, 40,000 Swarovski crystals and 20,000 mother of pearl beads. In her sumptuous gown, her hair pulled back in a French twist and with only the slightest hint of makeup, Charlene’s athletic beauty recalled Princess Grace’s effortless elegance. Prince Albert also cut a striking figure in the cream coloured summer uniform of the Palace Guards. The sleeves adorned with golden embroideries of oak and olive leaves, the Prince’s crown was represented on the collar and golden oak leaves were placed on the shoulder pads and the golden buttons of the jacket were marked with the monogram of H.S.H. the Prince. Albert wore the medals of the Order of Saint Charles, the Order of Grimaldi and that of the French Legion of Honour. The ceremony which lasted an hour and a half was conducted by Monseigneur Bernard Barsi.

Music was provided by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra of Monaco and the Choir of the Cathedral of Monaco. Amongst the soloists were sopranos Renée Fleming and South African Pumeza Matshikiza and tenors Juan Diego Flórez and Andrea Bocelli. Albert and Charlene seemed subdued for much of the ceremony and only as they took their vows and exchanged rings did the solemnity lift. As they slipped on the 18 carat white gold Cartier rings onto each other’s fingers, Albert winked at Charlene and she responded with a smile. But it would not be until the post-ceremony symbolic visit to the Saint Devote church that Charlene’s emotions got the better of her. The tears flowed freely as she left her bouquet of lilies of the valley and other white blossoms for the Virgin Mary. he official reception and ball at the Opera Garnier and on the Terraces of the Monte-Carlo Casino brought a glittering ending to a day that combined royal history with the glamour of the Cannes film festival. Just hours after sitting through the church mass, the 450 VIPs, dignitaries and royals did a quick change into their ball gowns and tails for the after-party at the Opera Garnier. The ostentatious wedding cake was a centre piece. The five-tier cake dwarfed the couple as they stood next to it and prepared to cut the first slice. Always keen to pay homage to her roots Princess Charlene ensured the cake was also decorated with Proteas, South Africa’s national flower. Charlene’s outfits had garnered approval – dazzling everyone in her Karl Lagerfeld and Armani gowns – and for the official reception and ball she slipped into an Armani Prive cocktail dress with a sheer top and four-tiered skirt, which she paired with white peep-toe heels and a tiny clutch bag. A chic choice reflecting Charlene’s preference for “clean and simple” lines, further emphasised as she wore her hair swept back, similar to the tight chignon seen during the religious ceremony in the palace. Albert also made the sartorial grade in a cream jacket with black trousers and honourary medals. Some had felt that Charlene looked tense during the wedding ceremony and her more relaxed demeanour was apparent during the evening celebrations.

If Charlene had been nervous and even overcome with emotion at times it would only have been natural on such an auspicious day. But there was another narrative that undoubtedly cast a shadow of speculation and controversy in which she and Albert’s every move was scrutinised for hidden meaning. The trouble had started days before the wedding via reports in the French media that Albert was alleged to have fathered a third child out of wedlock. The story, which was soon international news, broke after it was claimed that a tearful Charlene had been stopped on her way to Nice airport whilst trying to board a plane to South Africa with a one-way ticket. The story had it that her passport was confiscated so that Albert’s representatives could persuade her to stay. An official statement from the palace dismissed the reports: “These rumours have no other goal than to severely damage the reputation of the monarch and thereby that of Miss Wittstock and severely undermine this happy event.” Charlene’s father suggested the story was due to a misunderstanding: “The only thing that I can think it was is that Charlene took her mum to Paris on Monday to get shoes and a hat for the wedding and that’s the only time she was anywhere near an aeroplane and she was there for a day and back.” The French rumour mill nonetheless went into overdrive and it was the last thing that Albert and Charlene wanted in the build up to their big day, but a direct response would have been difficult from either of them. However, after the wedding Charlene did speak out: “It is a shame that those rumours came at such a bad time, but I think they were timed to sabotage such a happy occasion. They are categorical lies. I will not dignify them with any response other than to say that the photographs of me and Albert in love and getting married will speak louder than any vicious gossip and empty rumours.” The wedding of Prince Albert II and Miss Charlene Wittstock was an historic event, and equally a media event which may well explain the outbreak of scandalous stories surrounding the couple. Nonetheless, some sections of the media have continued to run with the story and it may be a while before the matter is resolved. For their part Albert and Charlene have absolutely dismissed the stories as vicious and unfounded and that, for the time being, is where the matter rests. Monegasques will no doubt be cheering on the sovereign couple whatever media slings and arrows they have to endure. (Royalty Magazine Vol. 2203)