By Kevin Dowling Fred Hauptfuhrer
July 03, 1978 12:00 PM

The romance seemed sweetly improbable from the night it began. She, after all, was Caroline of Monaco, the spirited firstborn of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier—and the international heartthrob of tout le beau monde. Her ardent swain, Paris businessman Philippe Junot, was a commoner of uncertain means and raffish reputation who was 17 years—and dozens of high-stepping romances—her senior. The House of Grimaldi was so unenthusiastic when Junot followed Caroline to the U.S. during her 1976 Bicentennial tour that Rainier’s bodyguards reportedly fended him off. When the rebellious princess told her parents she wanted to marry Philippe, they withheld their approval for months. (During this interval she met Prince Charles, but the encounter came to nothing.) Junot began spending long nights alone at his favorite Paris disco, Castel’s, drinking late and brooding openly. Finally Rainier gave in, and this week, at last, comes the wedding.

“We are very pleased with the marriage,” Her Serene Highness Princess Grace told PEOPLE correspondent Fred Hauptfuhrer, “and we find Mr. Junot to be a charming and intelligent man.” Some close family friends, however, remain skeptical about the family’s delight. As proof, they point to the wedding itself: an intimate palace service in marked contrast to the son et lumière extravaganza staged for Rainier and Grace in 1956. The comparison isn’t really fair. Because Rainier was Monaco’s reigning prince, his marriage was an affair of state—and one so spoiled by garish ballyhoo that Grace refused even to talk about it for a year. “Princess Grace wanted to save her daughter from that ordeal,” says Junot’s mother, Lydia Chassin.

Still, Philippe’s pedigree as a son-in-law is hardly unblemished. His age is one problem. He is 38 to Caroline’s 21, though such a difference is not unusual among Europe’s elite. His lineage is another. Philippe’s father is a deputy to the mayor of Paris, but his bloodlines cannot be traced—as the family once claimed—back to Napoleon’s Gen. Andoche Junot. The bridegroom’s romantic bona fides, however, are uncontested—and potentially worrisome. “His conquests would fill volumes,” says an admirer, and a palace aide notes with an implied wink, “It’s easy to understand why women fall in love with him.” An amateur rally driver whose penchant for practical jokes has outlasted his childhood, Junot is known less for his work than his play. “He is ambitious to make money,” says a friend, “but with the minimal amount of work. Philippe believes life is for living and enjoying.”

Junot describes himself as a “merchant banker” (i.e., an intermediary between finance and business), but he makes his office in his Paris apartment, and the source of his income remains obscure. The Philippe his friends know best is the well-muscled captain of an amateur soccer team sponsored by Castel’s, the confirmed night owl and unabashed bon vivant. “I’m nobody extraordinary,” he says, “but I’m a free man who does what he likes and doesn’t give a damn about prejudices and conventions.”

As a royal match Philippe is hardly a catch like Prince Charles, but at least he’s no Roddy Llewellyn. He spent his early boyhood with his mother on the French Riviera (his parents were divorced when he was 6), and a school friend in Nice remembers him as “the first among us to try smoking and flirting with girls.” As a teenager he lived in Paris with his father, then president of Westinghouse in France, who recalls Philippe as “a brilliant pupil” who was nevertheless punished regularly for “numerous scraps and fights.” By the time he reached 18, Philippe’s life had begun to border on the fast-and-loose. He failed his baccalaureate exams the first time, and one evening the following summer he and a friend tried to go by boat from Saint-Raphaël to Cannes on half a tank of gas. They nearly died for their foolishness, but after drifting at sea for two days were finally rescued by the French navy off Corsica.

Later Junot was admitted to the prestigious Institut d’Etudes Politiques but stayed only one year—as Caroline herself would do years later. After receiving his law degree from the University of Paris, he spent a year in local government, then moved to New York to train as a stockbroker. In the late ’60s he worked for Jack in the Box restaurants in California in hopes of adapting streamlined American fast-food techniques to the roadside snack bars on France’s auto routes. The idea was a flop, and Philippe returned to Paris to advise a French banking group on real estate investment in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Junot still has a partner in New York and an office in Montreal, and continues to make occasional transatlantic hops on business. (His English is perfect.)

In the years before Caroline, Philippe joined an elite squad of the city’s most eligible bachelors who ate at expensive restaurants and danced the night away at Castel’s. But when his romance with the princess grew serious, Junot began to change: His open shirts and slacks gave way to crisply tailored suits, and he partied with Caroline or no one at all. “He was clearly on trial in Monaco,” says one observer of that unusual scene, “and, being a smart man, he was not about to blow his chances.” The gang misses the old Junot, “but he is in love,” sighs one. “It could happen to any of us.”

They should be so lucky. The newlyweds will divide their time between Caroline’s villa in Monaco and a luxurious new apartment in Paris. Philippe will continue working, after his fashion, and Caroline may pursue a postgraduate degree in child psychology. But neither seems likely to give up skiing vacations in Switzerland or their sets at the Monte Carlo Tennis Club, where Junot takes twice-weekly lessons in an effort to end Caroline’s on-court advantage. She is not expected to be much of a housewife (her only known culinary works are omelets and American-style cheesecake), but a gypsy fortune-teller recently stopped her on the street to tell her she would give birth to three children. “Caroline loved that,” says a girlfriend. “She’s keen on astrology but even keener on children. She’s looking forward to starting a family soon.”

Though the princess may not match her parents’ performance in that respect (Caroline was born just nine months after their wedding), nothing would endear Junot to his in-laws more than the birth of the first Grimaldi grandchild. There is reportedly no plan to confer on Junot any of Rainier’s 17 titles, though continued good behavior may yet earn Philippe royal acceptance. Palace observers have described Junot as a “settling influence” on their often willful princess. And marriage for Caroline may provide a welcome relief from the tabloids’ breathless reporting of her life as a single.

On the couple’s last prewedding trip—a long weekend in Ibiza two weeks ago—they saw the sights together like any other tourist couple, on rented motorbikes. Observed their host, Hubert Michard-Pelissier, Junot’s best man and former co-celebrant of bachelorhood at Castel’s: “They both seemed very much in love.” Even to Princess Grace, that seems a persuasive credential for her new son-in-law. “We felt our daughter was a bit too young to make such an important decision,” she told friends recently, “but we wish above all for her happiness.” There may be residual doubts among Monegasques about Caroline’s Prince Charming who is, alas, not a prince, but no one doubts she married him for love. That, in the jaded principality of Monaco, which Somerset Maugham once described as a “sunny place for shady people,” should be fairy-tale ending enough.