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Albert, Charlene wed in Monaco religious ceremony

A day after the civil wedding that transformed one-time Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock into the Princess of Monaco, she and Prince Albert II exchanged vows in a star-studded religious ceremony Saturday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A day after the civil wedding that transformed one-time Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock into the Princess of Monaco, she and Prince Albert II exchanged vows in a star-studded religious ceremony Saturday.

VIP guests including Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, former James Bond actor Roger Moore and French President Nicolas Sarkozy drew cheers from the thousands-strong crowd of Monaco residents invited to follow the ceremony on screens just outside the palace.

But none of the celebrity guests elicited nearly as much excited applause as the bride. She wore a dress in off-white duchess silk by Giorgio Armani Prive with a dramatic boat-neck collar and a 5 meter- (5.5 yard-) long train. With its clean lines, the dress seemed like it was channeling some of the legendary elegance of Charlene's predecessor, the late Princess Grace.

The couple exchanged 18 carat white gold platinum rings by Cartier. As Albert, who wore a white military suit, slipped the ring onto her finger, he winked, and as Charlene put his on, she burst out into a broad smile that contrast with the demure expression she wore throughout most of the hour-and-a half long ceremony.

Though she appeared to tear up behind her flowing veil as she entered the princely palace, neither bride nor groom let much emotion transpire. But the tears flowed freely down the new princess' face as she left her bouquet of lilies of the valley and other white blossoms at the Sainte Devote church — a Monegasque tradition.

U.S. soprano Renee Fleming and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performed during the ceremony, as did singer Pumela Matshikiza, who wowed the A-list crowd with her traditional South African "Click Song" — a nod to the princess' roots.

With photographers shouting for the attention of the A-list guests as they streamed into the palace, the wedding had something of the flavor of a star-studded red carpet at the film festival in neighboring Cannes. Photographers shouted at Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova, dressed in a sober navy skirt suit, to strike a pose, and fellow model Naomi Campbell, in a mint green flowered column gown drew a collective gasp of appreciation from the crowd.

Giorgio Armani, the man behind the wedding gown, was also on hand for Saturday's ceremony. The "petites mains" or seamstresses of his haute couture atelier put more than 2,500 hours of work into the dress, a strong-lined, made-to-measure concoction of more than 130 meters (about 142 yard) of different silks, 40,000 Swarovski crystals and 20,000 mother of pearl beads, the government's press service said.

After the ceremony, about 450 select guests were invited to a multi-course dinner prepared by celebrated French-born chef Alain Ducasse.

Ducasse, who like many in his tax bracket has taken citizenship in Monaco, is the first chef to earn three Michelin stars in three different cities, including three for his Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. He has said freshly caught fish and vegetables grown on Albert's farm will be on the menu. A fireworks extravaganza will follow.

The couple was married in an intimate civil service on Friday inside the prince's palace. Albert's sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, were among several dozen guests at Friday's ceremony, which was held in the palace's sumptuous throne room where the prince's father, the late Rainier III, wed Hollywood legend Grace Kelly in 1956.

The blond beauty died in a car crash nearly 30 years ago, and this tiny principality on the Riviera had been without a princess ever since. Known as a notorious ladies man, 53-year-old Albert long eschewed marriage, and many in Monaco had resigned themselves to forever having a bachelor prince.

The constitution was even modified to ensure the continuity of the Grimaldi line, one of Europe's oldest dynasties, in case Albert never produced an heir. The prince acknowledged having fathered two children out of wedlock, but only his legitimate offspring would be able to succeed him. Rumors have swirled in recent days that a third illegitimate child had surfaced — prompting Charlene to allegedly try to call off the wedding and return to South Africa days before the festivities.

The palace has denied the reports, dismissing them as "ugly rumors" prompted by spite and jealousy.

Charlene, 33, has told interviewers she would like to have children.

Several thousand residents came out for the civil ceremony a day earlier, many of them sporting dark suits or evening gowns and heels despite the scorching temperatures.

One of the attendees, 72-year-old Marie Malghreli, was still glowing from her family's brush with royalty.

"My husband last night touched the prince's hand and then the princess touched my husband's hand — my husband was touched — and I was standing next to him and I was jealous," she said. "She is really pretty, she's delicious."

Charlene was wearing a blue, ankle-length ensemble press handlers said was designed by the princess herself.