Monaco's princely couple plans royal wedding for the people

Monaco is best known as a playground of the rich and tax-shy, but when Prince Albert II marries Charlene Wittstock next week the happy day will be marked with a decidedly populist festival.

When Albert's parents Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly married in 1956 it was without doubt the society event of the year, some said the decade, but this year April's British royal wedding has already stolen that title.

When Albert and Charlene tie the knot on July 1 in this tiny principality, Britain's Kate and William will be in Canada on their first official foreign trip, pursued by an estimated 1,300 journalists.

Nevertheless, the older couple's loyal subjects are determined to put on a show, and the streets of their city state are bedecked in the red and white of the House of Grimaldi and the rainbow banner of Charlene's South Africa.

Souvenir mugs and plates emblazoned with the princely initials have replaced designer knick-knacks in Monte Carlo's glitzy boutiques, and the seats have been taken out of the opera house to allow it to host a fairy tale ball.

Only 35,000 people live in Monaco - many of them not local citizens but wealthy tax exiles or French service workers - and tourism officials hope to attract 200,000 wellwishers to what they call "48 historic hours".

The "historic" adjective might suit the royal house, as the Grimaldis have ruled Monaco since 1297, but it could also fairly describe the entertainment chosen by the 53-year-old former playboy for his guests.

On the Thursday night before the first ceremony, local residents will be serenaded by 1970s Californian nostalgia rockers The Eagles, then on Friday after the throne room nuptials the action moves to the port.

There, the crowds will be treated to snacks based on dishes from Charlene's African homeland and thrill to the instrumental stylings of Jean-Michel Jarre, France's 62-year-old electropop pioneer and disco showman.

Saturday will take on a more reserved air with a second, religious marriage ceremony in the grand courtyard of the princely palace, for which 33-year-old swimming champ Charlene has converted to Catholicism.

The women among 4,300 honoured guests have been asked to wear modest outfits with covered shoulders and the music - rebroadcast on big screens around the city - will come from American soprano Renee Fleming.

German fashionista Karl Lagerfeld will brush elegantly attired shoulders with style icon Ines de la Fressange, alongside Albert's friends from the world of sports governance, Jean Todt of the FIA and Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy will attend, but other world leaders will be notable for their absence, with the exception of presidents Michel Sleimane of Lebanon, Mary McAleese of Ireland and Carl Gustav XVI of Sweden.

Unfortunately for the several hundred press photographers who have applied for accreditation, Sarkozy's office has not yet confirmed whether his pregnant first lady, Carla Bruni, will make the trip.

After the ceremony the new royal couple will cross the city, or indeed their entire realm, in an open-topped Lexus hybrid to a chapel where the bride will leave her bouquet. Then it's off to the casino for fireworks and dancing.

The whole event has been carefully planned and marketed, with Monaco issuing commemorative stamps and signing sponsorship deals with the luxury brands that find so much exposure around its famous motor yacht marina.

Charlene's dress designer has not been revealed but, of course, the name Armani has been circulated.

And what do the locals think? Most seem pleased that the prince, who is broadly liked, is settling down with someone who is apparently keen to bear him the heir that the seven-century old regime needs to ensure its survival.

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