Friday, June 24, 2011

The "other" royal wedding: will Monaco's Albert and Charlene be the next Kate and Will?

 (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
She’s from a middle class family. He’s a prince. Their royal wedding has inspired tabloid gossip, fashion designers and mountains of memorabilia. Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock are not exactly Kate and Will, but they are the next big royal bride and groom.

Dubbed "the other royal wedding," the couple's three-day affair in Monaco beginning July 1st, is expected to fill the void left after April's wedding of the century. Reportedly budgeted around 4 million euros (or $5.6 million dollars), it's a huge event but still a fraction of the $30 million estimated price-tag of Will and Kate’s big day. But the royal touches are no less garish. A palace wedding with two ceremonies and a processional, a performance by The Eagles, a meal prepared by Alain Ducasse, a sound and light show and fireworks will ring in union between Monaco’s prince and his new princess.

The tourism bureau, for one of the world’s smallest and richest principalities, is expecting some 200,000 visitors and 1,000 members of media at least. Royal souvenirs will also likely generate profits but nothing compared those garnered from Will and Kate’s wedding.

Charlene, a former Olympic swimmer turned fashion muse, plans to walk down the aisle in a custom gown by Giorgio Armani. The dress will, no doubt, draw comparisons to Kate’s House of McQueen confection. An interest in fashion is one thing the two brides have in common. Kate’s used her background in the industry to carefully cultivate her iconic style and raise interest in British designers. Charlene is working to perfect her regal look with the help of designer Karl Largerfeld. She’s also hoping to bring a fashion week to Monaco during her tenure in the palace.
Prince Albert and Charlene attending the royal wedding of William and Kate in April.
The similarities don’t end there. The two women have the legend of their beloved mother-in-laws, Lady Di and Grace Kelly, to live up to. Both are also under immense pressure to produce an heir to the thrown. Like Kate, Charlene’s engagement to Albert was a decade in the making, leaving her subject to media scrutiny that her womanizing prince will never settle down.

But Charlene and Albert’s romantic trajectory is more complicated than Will and Kate’s collegiate connection. At 53, Albert is 20 years her senior and known throughout royal circles as a perennial player. He's had two children out of wedlock, both conceived during short-lived flings and only confirmed to the public through a litany of paternity tests and lawyers. The couple met in 2000 at a swimming event in Monaco. “It was incredibly flattering,” Charlene recently recalled in Vogue Magazine. “After seeing me swim, Albert asked my management for permission to take me out. We spent the whole evening laughing and talking.” Five years later they reconnected and soon after she moved from her native South Africa to be near her prince. At 53, Albert's wedding is lot longer in the making than William's. And for Monaco's royal family, eager for an heir born through marriage, it can't come soon enough.
At Monaco's Grand Prix race in May

But lately, it's Charlene who’s under extreme pressure to adjust to the expectations of royalty. The daughter of a swim coach and a salesman, Charlene never attended college and focused her efforts on her athletic skills. Under fire for not speaking French, the language of the country she’s poised to inherit, Charlene’s life is now occupied by royal protocol lessons. Some speculate the role of Princess isn’t coming as naturally to her as it has to Kate. “I thought she was one of the most anxious people I have ever met,” one radio interviewer told the New York Times. “She was absolutely terrified of saying the wrong thing and falling foul of the terrible women in the palace.”

But as Kate and Will proved only months ago, a big old-fashioned royal wedding can lay any doubts or criticism to rest. At least until after the honeymoon.
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