A PREGNANT French actress from a poor Paris suburb is to marry the heir to the Italian throne later this week in a star-studded ceremony at the Vatican.
Clothilde Courau, who is six months pregnant, will marry Prince Emmanuel Filiberto of Savoy, 31, during a mass performed by Cardinal Pio Laghi. The news has already inspired the French press to hail the bride as "the new Grace Kelly", after the American actress who married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.
But while Kelly came from a well-off Philadelphia family, Ms Courau, 34, comes from a modest background.
"In love, pregnant, a penniless actress and getting married by a cardinal from the Vatican, it really is rather fabulous," Ms Courau, an award-winning actress who has appeared in over 20 films and several plays, admitted.
The ceremony is to take place on Thursday at Sainte-Marie des Anges Basilica in Rome, a medieval church to which the prince’s grandmother has already made several generous donations. Among the 200 guests will be Prince Albert of Monaco who is the best man and who introduced the couple three years ago at a charity gala.
American actor John Malkovich, who lives in the south of France, is expected to attend, as well as Italian actress Monica Bellucci and France’s answer to Elvis Presley, Johnny Hallyday.
Emmanuel Filiberto, whose family were exiled from Italy until earlier this year, is best known in Italy as a Juventus fan and for his appearance in an advertisement for cocktail olives, recommended to viewers who want to "feel like a king".
According to the French press, the prince’s affection for the actress was not immediately returned and he had to court her for several months to win her hand.
When they met, Ms Courau had recently gone through a painful split with the troubled son of actor Gerard Depardieu, Guillaume, and was keen to avoid the jet-set.
Although pregnant, Ms Courau is reported to have kept her slim figure and is to wear a long, ivory, silk dress with a high neckline by Italian couturier Valentino.
The Savoys ruled over Italy for 85 years before Emmanuel Filiberto’s grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel III, was forced into exile after his family’s repudiation in a referendum on the monarchy.
The royal family was tainted by involvement with fascism and approval of Benito Mussolini’s anti-semitic laws.