Prince Albert of Monaco weds Charlene Wittstock
(AP) Monaco's reigning prince, Albert II, wed Charlene Wittstock of South Africa on Friday in a long-awaited civil ceremony that transformed the one-time Olympic swimmer into the Princess of Monaco.
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.
Monegasques on Friday 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.
Wittstock wore a silken blue jacket with ankle-length trousers, an outfit that famed fashion house Chanel created for the civil ceremony, which precedes Saturday's elaborate religious wedding and star-studded wedding dinner gala.
When asked if they take each other in marriage, both quietly responded "Oui." The marriage became official — and Wittstock became a princess — when Philippe Narmino, president of Monaco's Council of State, pronounced "I declare you united by the bonds of marriage."
The royal couple signed the marriage register with a specially created pen in gold and precious stones and adorned with their monogram made by German luxury penmaker Montblanc.
Although Albert, 53, was seen for decades as one of Europe's most eligible bachelors, he had long resisted marriage. Many in Monaco, a country which is known the world over for its lax tax laws and glamorous casinos, feared he might never tie the knot.
The Riviera principality's 7,618 citizens and partners were invited to post-ceremony cocktails on the square in Monaco, to be followed by a concert by French composer Jean Michel Jarre and a laser light show.
With her bright blue eyes and delicate features, Wittstock has often been compared to Kelly, an American movie star known for her iconic fashion sense.
Friday's wedding was the first for both Wittstock and Albert, although the soft-spoken prince has acknowledged fathering two children out of wedlock.
Rumors raged over the past few days that a third illegitimate child had recently surfaced and that development allegedly prompted Wittstock to try to call off the wedding at the last minute and return to South Africa.
The palace dismissed the stories as "ugly rumors" born out of jealousy. Speaking earlier this week on Monaco-Info TV, a top aide to the prince said the couple were "affected" by the rumors but were concentrating on last-minute preparations.
Still, the tensions were evident when 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."
Wittstock also joked that she would bring South African barbecue traditions to Monaco.
The guest list for Saturday's festivities included the kings of Spain, Sweden, Lesotho and Belgium, the presidents of France, Iceland, Ireland, Lebanon, Malta, Germany and Hungary, France's richest man, celebrated opera singers, top models and race car divers.
The Catholic ceremony will also take place in the palace, followed by a gala dinner by three-time triple-starred Michelin chef Alain Ducasse. Besides the Champagne and the South African wines, everything served at the sumptuous buffet is being sourced in a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius from Monaco, Ducasse told The Associated Press in an interview.
The festivities kicked off late on Thursday with a free concert by the legendary Los Angeles band The Eagles.
Albert and Wittstock attended the show, he in a dark suit, she wearing a strapless black pantsuit.