- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2011

MONACO — Charlene Wittstock has not one, but two tough acts to follow.

As the future princess of Monaco and wife to longtime bachelor Prince Albert II, 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 as if the blue-eyed Hollywood beauty-turned-beloved princess didn’t cast a long enough shadow, Albert’s long-awaited marriage to Ms. Wittstock comes on the heels of the royal wedding of the decade, Kate Middleton’s union with Britain’s Prince William.

It’s still the biggest thing to hit Monaco since Grace walked down the aisle in an elegant antique lace gown, ushering in a new era of high-wattage glamour into this tiny Riviera principality known for its high-flying casinos and lax tax laws.

The country still mourns Grace, who died in a car crash nearly 30 years ago, but Monegasques are eagerly awaiting their new princess.

Though 53-year-old Albert has been romantically linked to some of Europe’s most eligible bachelorettes over the years, he long resisted marriage, and the upcoming wedding will be his first trip down the aisle.

It’s to be a grand affair.

It will be held over not one but two days in the princely palace — a fortress-turned-Italian Renaissance residence, where members of the ruling Grimaldi dynasty have lived since the 15th century.

And the guest list reads like a 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 the celebrated couturier to the stars, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld.

A civil ceremony will be held Friday in the palace’s throne room, the red silk damask-draped hall where Grace wed Prince Rainier 55 years ago.

The religious ceremony will take place the following day in the palace’s 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 are to be allowed in to watch the ceremony on giant screens set up outside the palace.

World famous chef Alain Ducasse will be serving up a multicourse gala dinner for about 500 guests. Mr. Ducasse — who holds an astonishing 19 Michelin stars — hasn’t revealed what exactly is on the menu but says it will be local and sustainable, with everything besides the Champagne and South African wines sourced from a six-mile radius from Monaco.

A fireworks display over the azure waters of Monaco Bay will cap the festivities, which were so long in coming many Monegasques feared they might never come to pass.

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