- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2011

MONACO (AP) - France’s richest man, an African prince and a James Bond actor are among the glitterati converging on Monaco this week for the much-anticipated nuptials between Prince Albert II and former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.

It’s the first wedding of a reigning prince in the tiny Riviera principality since Philadelphia-born Hollywood icon Grace Kelly walked down the aisle with Albert’s late father, Prince Rainier, more than 50 years ago.

The festivities kicked off Thursday night with a concert by The Eagles. The prince and Wittstock attended the free show, which was held at Monaco’s stadium and attracted thousands of fans from the principality and neighboring areas.

“The music is nice but it’s kind of beside the point,” said Fatima Aherdane, a 27-year-old call center manager who grew up in Monaco. “We’re just so happy that the prince is finally getting married, they could be playing whatever.”

Though Albert is in his fifties and has acknowledged fathering two children out of wedlock, this is his first trip down the aisle. His longtime confirmed bachelor status once worried many in Monaco, which is known worldwide for its glamorous monarchy, its lax tax laws and high-flying casinos.

The palace long kept the guest list for the two-day-long festivities Friday and Saturday under wraps, presumably for security reasons, but on Thursday released brief biographies of the celebrity guests.

Top names included Sir Roger Moore, who played British spy 007 in the 1970s and ‘80s, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, U.S. soprano Renee Fleming, and Bernard Arnault, the CEO of luxury giant LVMH _ and the wealthiest man in France.

Italian designers Roberto Cavalli, whose yacht often plies the waters off the Cote d’Azur, and Giorgio Armani, the man behind Wittstock’s wedding dress, and a smattering of supermodels including Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurkova are also expected.

Rumor had it that members of the royal houses of Spain and Sweden would come, but their names were not on Thursday’s list. His Majesty Leruo Molotlegi of the Kingdom of Bakofeng in South Africa is _ as is the former president of El Salvador.

A host of athletes are also expected, including swimmers, distance runners, race car drivers and tennis and rugby players. Romanian gymnast Nadia Comenici, who captivated the world by winning three gold medals at the 1976 summer Olympic Games, will attend.

Wittstock was born in Zimbabwe, but moved to neighboring South Africa as a child. She swam for South Africa at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Albert has been an International Olympic Committee member since 1985 and competed in five Winter Olympics as part of Monaco’s bobsled team.

Albert met Wittstock during a 2000 swimming competition in Monaco. Wittstock then began appearing regularly at social events and moved to Monaco in 2006.

Friday’s civil ceremony and Saturday’s religious ceremony will be held in the palace, a Renaissance palazzo that’s been home to Monaco’s ruling Grimaldi dynasty for centuries.

A multicourse gala dinner by three-time triple Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse will follow the religious ceremony.

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