Monaco celebrates first part of royal wedding weekend with a kiss
MONACO's reigning Prince Albert II wed Charlene Wittstock of South Africa yesterday in a long-awaited civil ceremony that transformed the one-time Olympic swimmer into the Princess of Monaco.
Ms Wittstock succeeds Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly, who wed Albert's father, Prince Rainier III, in 1956, had three children with him but died in a car accident in 1982.
Residents of the principality on the Riviera swarmed the plaza outside the palace where the ceremony took place, hoping to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds during the first of two days of royal wedding events.
The bride wore a silken blue jacket with ankle-length trousers, an outfit that famed fashion house Chanel created for the civil ceremony. Today will see a religious wedding ceremony and a star-studded reception.
When asked if they would take each other in marriage, both responded "Oui". The marriage became official - and Ms Wittstock became a princess - when Philippe Narmino, president of Monaco's Council of State, said "I declare you united by the bonds of marriage".
The royal couple signed the marriage register with a specially crafted pen, in gold and precious stones and adorned with their monogram, made by German luxury penmaker Montblanc.
Prince Albert, 53, was seen for decades as one of Europe's most eligible bachelors, having long resisted marriage. Many in Monaco - known the world over for its lax tax laws and glamorous casinos - feared he might never tie the knot. With her bright blue eyes and delicate features, Ms Wittstock, 33, has often been compared to Princess Grace, an American film star known for her iconic fashion sense. Yesterday's wedding was the first for both Ms Wittstock and Albert, although the soft-spoken prince has acknowledged fathering two children out of wedlock.
Rumours raged over the past few days of a third illegitimate child and that development allegedly prompted Ms Wittstock to try to call off the wedding at the last minute and return to South Africa.
The palace dismissed the stories as "ugly rumours" born out of jealousy. A top aide to the prince, speaking earlier this week on Monaco-Info TV, said the couple were "affected" by the rumours but were concentrating on last-minute preparations.
Still, the tensions were evident when Ms Wittstock talked in a TV interview before the wedding about wanting to have her own children.
"I love children and have always wanted to have children of my own," she said on BFM television, sitting next to Albert with a close-lipped, tense smile. "We'll see in the next couple of months or years."
Ms Wittstock also joked that she would bring South African barbecue traditions to Monaco.
The guest list for today's festivities include the kings of Spain, Sweden, Lesotho and Belgium, the presidents of France, Iceland, Ireland, Lebanon, Malta, Germany and Hungary, celebrated opera singers, top models and racing car divers.
The Roman Catholic ceremony will also take place in the palace, followed by a gala dinner by three-time triple Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse.
Apart from the Champagne and the South African wines, everything at the sumptuous buffet is being sourced within a six mile radius from Monaco, Mr Ducasse said.
Ms Wittstock was born in Zimbabwe, but moved to neighbouring South Africa as a child and swam for that country at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Prince Albert met Ms Wittstock during a 2000 swimming competition in Monaco. She then moved to Monaco in 2006. Prince Albert has been an International Olympic Committee member since 1985 and competed in five Winter Olympics as part of Monaco's bobsled team.
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