Fairytale moment for new princess
Rumours scotched as Albert and Charlene say 'I do'
The daughter of a South African photocopy salesman became Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco yesterday when she married Prince Albert II at a civil ceremony on the tiny Riviera principality following a week of intrigue and rumour.
Under clear blue skies, scores of residents and tourists lined the streets to watch the statuesque blonde's transformation from commoner into princess in the red silk damask-draped throne room where Hollywood icon Grace Kelly married Albert's father, Prince Rainier III, 55 years ago.
Scotching persistent rumours that she had sought to flee Monaco shortly before the wedding day after discovering Albert allegedly had a third illegitimate child, the 33-year-old Olympic swimmer was the first to say "I do" in a matching Chanel sky-blue jacket and skirt.
Under huge chandeliers and with Albert's forebears looking on from portraits adorning the room, she exchanged restrained smiles with the prince, 20 years her senior, who wore a dark suit and grey tie.
Only 80 family members, friends and dignitaries were gathered around the couple during the 20-minute ceremony. But the gates of the Italian Renaissance residence were thrown open to more than 5,000 Monegasques who followed the proceedings from the palace square, waving the red and white flags of Monaco and those of Charlene's native South Africa.
Many more watched giant screens erected near the palace and down at Monaco's port, as the couple exchanged a kiss in the presence of Albert's two sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, who shed a tear.
Minutes later, they appeared at the palace balcony for another kiss while Albert blew a second one to the cheering crowd.
Philippe Narmino, president of Monaco's Council of State, who officiated yesterday, spoke of his "joy" about the union in both English and French -- a language the new princess can barely speak a word of.
The head of the Olympic council of Ireland, Pat Hickey, and his wife Sylviane, personal friends of Prince Albert, were among the high-profile guests attending the civil ceremony.
They were to present the royal couple with a specially designed gift from Newbridge Silverware on behalf of the Irish Olympic movement.
The Hickeys will also join the newlyweds in Durban, South Africa, next week as they attend meetings for the International Olympic Committee.
Monaco is hoping the "fairytale" wedding will lift the gloomy economic situation in the world's second smallest state after the Vatican, which is only one-10th the size of Disneyland Paris.
"Monaco is glamour, luxury, exception. It's in our DNA. This will help us project a more rounded image," said Michel Bouquier, Monaco's tourism chief.
But according to French press reports, the couple almost failed to tie the knot over claims Albert may have fathered a third illegitimate child.
A senior detective from Monaco told 'Le Figaro' newspaper that "Charlene had her passport confiscated so that the prince's entourage could persuade her to stay" after they stopped her at Nice Airport last week with a one-way ticket to South Africa.
Albert's first two love children and their mothers stayed away from yesterday's ceremony and are expected to be absent from the ceremony today to spare them "media exposure".
Guests are expected to include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, James Bond star Roger Moore, former supermodel Naomi Campbell, and fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani, who designed the wedding dress for the religious ceremony.
The £45m (€49.8m) celebrations surrounding the wedding included a concert by The Eagles on Thursday night and another by Jean-Michel Jarre last night.
Multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse will provide a seafood and vegetable meal for 500 lucky guests at a gala at Monaco's opera house.
Charlene met Albert at a swimming competition in Monaco in 2000. Both share a love of sport, with Albert competing in Monaco's Olympic bobsleigh team.
"I was 22 and focused on my sport. I wasn't in the emotional place for a relationship," Charlene said last year.
"But the moment I met Albert I felt a profound sense of destiny. I have been quoted as saying I felt weak at the knees. This is a slightly trite way of phrasing it, but it is true. I knew he was 'The One'."