Monaco, Jun 27: The people of Monaco, a moneyed principality on the Mediterranean Sea near the French city of Nice, have long hoped that heir to the throne Prince Albert would settle down and provide a legitimate heir to the throne.
Ditching decades of bachelorhood, the boyish if balding monarch Prince Albert II will marry Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer from South Africa who is 20 years his junior.
Albert met the blonde in 2000 when she travelled to Monaco for a swimming competition.
She has lived in the principality since 2006 and has since discreetly participated in the public life of this glitzy financial centre.
“She's got it all,” says Colombe Pringle, chief editor of Point de Vue magazine, who met the couple just a short time ago.
“I think she groomed herself. Remember she's a swimmer. I mean, she's used to being trained by people but, she knows, she has that, you can feel it, she is going to be tough. She is going to run the Palazzo.”
Charlene Wittstock has not one, but two very tough acts to follow.
As the future princess of Monaco, the Zimbabwe-born, South Africa-raised former Olympic swimmer is to succeed Grace Kelly, whose 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier III is still widely seen as the gold standard for royal nuptials.
And her wedding comes on the heels of the royal wedding of the decade, Kate Middleton's union with Britain's Prince William.
“I'm sure she looked at every picture of Grace,” says Pringle. “For me, I don't see Grace at all when I see her, because Grace is unique.”
Though the Monaco wedding might not pack the same global media punch as the blockbuster British event, it's the biggest thing to hit Monaco since Grace walked down the aisle, ushering in a new era of high-wattage glamour into the principality known for its high-flying casinos and lax tax laws.
The emblematic 148-year-old Hotel de Paris, where a diamond suite costs just under 10-thousand euros (14-thousand US dollars) a night, will open its door to the couple's guests.
Bertrand Lambert, chief executive of Societe des Bains de Mer, which owns the most exclusive hotels and casinos in Monaco, will have to make sure the exclusive crowd attending the ceremony is satisfied.
“It is certainly the most important event that has occurred in the last 40, 50 years,” Lambert says.
The country still mourns Grace, who died in a car crash nearly 30 years ago, but Monegasques are eagerly awaiting their new princess-to-be.
The Grimaldis - one of Europe's oldest dynasties - have been beset by romantic scandals.
Princess Caroline, the eldest of Grace and Rainier's three children, was divorced after an unhappy two-year marriage to French playboy Phillipe Junot.
After her second husband was killed in a boating accident, she remarried a German prince known for his explosive temper.
Albert's younger sister, Princess Stephanie, has had three children out of wedlock, including two with her former bodyguard.
She was also briefly married to a Portuguese circus acrobat.
Albert himself acknowledged fathering two children out of wedlock, Jazmin and Alexandre Coste.
So the wedding is set to be a grand affair.
It will be held over two days in the princely palace where members of the ruling Grimaldi dynasty have lived since the 15th century.
The event's guest is a list of who's who of Europe's rich and powerful.
Several heads of state are expected, along with royals from Spain to Sweden, top names in the sporting and music worlds, and even the celebrated couturier of the stars, Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld.
A civil ceremony will be held on July 1 in the palace's throne room, the red silk damask draped hall where Grace wed the late Prince Rainier 55 years ago.
The religious ceremony will take place the following day in the palace marble courtyard, before some 3,500 seated guests.
Access to Monaco's old town will be limited during the event, but the principality's 7,600 citizens will be allowed in to watch the ceremony on giant screens set up outside the palace.
A fireworks display over the azure waters of Monaco Bay will cap the festivities.
The marriage will give Wittstock the title Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco.
The couple have said in an interview published in France that they're looking to become parents soon after they tie the knot. AP