In preparation for a royal wedding, Friday has been declared a national holiday in Monaco. Saturday Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer, will wed before a star-studded list of guests at the Prince's Palace of Monaco.
The wedding – the first of a ruling prince since Albert's parents in 1956 – and its related festivities will last three days.
But along with lavish preparations, the couple is flatly denying rumors that Ms. Wittstock attempted to flee to South Africa, where she was born and raised, in order to ditch their wedding this weekend.
Paris magazine L'Express reported that Wittstock decided to leave after discovering that the prince had fathered a third child – a claim that the palace flatly denied. Albert publicly acknowledged in 2005 that he is the father of two children, one now a teenager, CNN notes.
"The sole intention of these rumors is to seriously damage the image of the Sovereign, as a result of damaging that of Miss Wittstock, and bear down on this happy event," a statement from Albert's adviser read. "Then, they were hurt, but not for long because they know, especially the prince, that rumors are part of his life. But I think that among all of what he has heard, this one was more hurtful than others because it is damaging and the purpose of this rumor is to damage a happy event, his wedding."
Albert is the son of Prince Rainier III and American actress Grace Kelly. He competed in the Olympics as a bobsledder for Monaco several times and he and Wittstock debuted their relationship at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He assumed the throne after his father's death in 2005 and acknowledged his two children around the same time.
Until a few years ago, Albert was under pressure to marry and have a legitimate heir, but in 2002 his father amended the constitution so that the crown could pass to a female heir and therefore to one of Albert's sisters (he has two). [Editor's note: This sentence was edited after posting to correctly reflect Prince Albert's number of siblings and the line of succession.]
Monegasques hope a glamorous wedding and a new princess will boost the fortunes of the tiny city-state of Monaco, which "lives off its image as the epicenter of luxury, fast cars, and betting tables," Reuters reports.
The country, only about one square mile and populated by many extravagantly wealthy residents, has been swept up in the pre-wedding preparations, with national flags flying from public and private buildings, TV screens put up throughout, and recent parking tickets excused.
According to TIME, the whole wedding will cost $70 million.
According to The Telegraph, Albert expected some kind of rumor intended to disrupt the wedding.
Stéphane Bern, France's best-known royalty journalist who is close to the prince, said he had expected a last-minute upset. "It was too perfect. I was certain such a stinking ball would taint the preparations," he said.
Alluding to the rumour, he added: "A woman can very well claim she is pregnant with his child. They are not going to do a DNA test to verify [her claims] three days before the wedding. Why don't they leave them in peace?"
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