- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2011

MONACO (AP) - After waiting for nearly 30 years, the glitzy principality of Monaco has a new princess.

Charlene Wittstock, a one-time Olympic swimmer from South Africa, married Prince Albert II in an intimate civil ceremony Friday.

Wittstock succeeds Grace Kelly, the Hollywood beauty who wed Albert’s late father, Prince Rainier III, in 1956 and had three children with him before dying in a car crash in 1982.

Dressed in a dusty blue jacket and matching palazzo pants made by Chanel, her blond hair pulled back, 33-year-old Wittstock seemed to be channeling a bit of Princess Grace’s legendary elegance.

The couple took their vows in a ceremony before several dozen guests in the palace’s sumptuous, red silk-walled throne room, where Grace and Rainier also married.

“Oui,” both responded in voices so soft as to be barely audible, when asked if they took each other as their spouse. The marriage became official _ and Monaco finally had its princess _ when the president of Monaco’s Council of State, Philippe Narmino, who officiated the ceremony, pronounced “I declare you united by the bonds of marriage.”

“A new page in the history of the principality has opened today,” Albert told his subjects in a florid, post-ceremony address. “I know that (Princess Charlene‘s) spontaneity and generosity will come into full bloom … to the great joy of the principality and its inhabitants.”

Many of Monaco’s 7,618 citizens braved the scorching sun to watch the ceremony live on two giant screens set up in front of the palace, some of them decked out for the occasion in suits or formal gowns and heels.

Cheers erupted from the crowd when, after the 15-minute-long ceremony, the newlyweds emerged from a window to wave at their subjects. The couple’s brief, embarrassed peck on the mouth garnered even more enthusiastic applause.

“It’s a gift that they’ve given us,” said Henri Doria, a retired 73-year-old, as he watched the ceremony. “We’ve waited to long for him to marry and now he’s given us this lovely bride, who will hopefully give us children, heirs. That’s would be the most beautiful gift of all.”

Long regarded as one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors and reputed for his string of romances with some of the world’s most beautiful women, 53-year-old Albert long eschewed marriage. His reticence to settle down was known to have exasperated his father and made many here despair of him ever tying the knot.

Albert’s prolonged bachelorhood even sparked persistent rumors he was gay, though those were largely quashed after he acknowledged having fathered two children out of wedlock _ a now-teenage daughter with a California woman and a little boy with a stewardess of Togolese origin.

Rumors that a third illegitimate child may have recently surfaced have overshadowed the wedding. News reports emerged earlier this week suggested that Wittstock learned of the child and allegedly tried to break off the engagement and return home to South Africa days before the wedding.

The palace unequivocally denied the reports, which a top aide to Albert dismissed as “ugly rumors” born out of jealousy and spite.

Still, the tensions were evident when Wittstock talked in a rare TV interview before the wedding about wanting to have her own children.

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