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MONACO — Monaco’s Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene promised each other love and fidelity in an extravagant religious wedding Saturday attended by international celebrities and royalty, bringing new allure to the tiny principality known for its luxurious casinos and as stomping ground for the rich and famous.
The Catholic service followed an intimate civil ceremony Friday, which saw Charlene officially transformed from commoner into royalty. The marriage of the 53-year-old prince and the 33-year-old Charlene Wittstock, a one-time Olympic swimmer from South Africa who is now known as Princess Charlene, ended a three-decade wait for a new princess.
The last wedding of a ruling prince in Monaco was in 1956, when Hollywood star Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III.
Saturday’s ceremony was attended by guests including former James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and bohemian designer Roberto Cavalli, of Italy. Thousands of Monegasque citizens cheered the proceedings while watching on large screens set up outside the palace, where both ceremonies were held.
Charlene swept along the red carpet leading into the palace on her father’s arm. In her sumptuous boat neck gown by Giorgio Armani Prive, her hair pulled back in a swirling French twist and with only the lightest touch of makeup, she seemed to channel some of Grace’s effortless elegance.
Throughout the ceremony, which lasted an hour and a half, both bride and groom wore demure expressions, their eyes mostly downcast. Only as they took their vows and exchanged rings did the solemn facade crack: As they slipped on the 18 carat white gold Cartier rings onto each other’s fingers, Albert — in a white military uniform — shot her a wink, and Charlene cracked a broad, sincere smile.
The tears flowed freely down the new princess’ face after the ceremony, as she left her bouquet of lilies of the valley and other white blossoms at the Sainte Devote church — a tradition in Monaco.
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.
British actor Roger Moore, a longtime Monaco resident and a former James Bond, lent a touch of secret agent glamour. The carpet might as well have been a catwalk for British model Naomi Campbell and Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova — or for Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who cut a mean figure in his skintight suit.
Royal guests included the kings of Sweden and Belgium and Denmark’s crown princess. Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims, and Empress Farah Pahlavi, wife of Iran’s deposed shah, chatted with former French first lady Bernadette Chirac inside the palace.
The last guest to enter according to protocol, Sarkozy, elicited extensive applause and hoots of approval in what was likely the warmest welcome the French leader, whose popularity ratings hover at record lows, has received in a long time.