The four-day nuptials were Monaco’s first royal wedding in 55 years

By Peter Mikelbank and Isabelle Rivère
July 01, 2019 09:00 AM
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On July 1, 2011, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock tied the knot in a fairy tale ceremony. The four-day nuptials were Monaco’s first royal wedding in 55 years — the first to occur since the “Wedding of the Century,” when Prince Rainier wed Hollywood star Grace Kelly in an extravagant ceremony in 1956.

Albert and Charlene had big wedding shoes to fill when it came to their own celebration, and eight years later, their glamorous event is still the template by which other modern-day royal events are measured.

The $70 million, four-day, open-air event was filled with pageantry and fireworks. It was also the first royal wedding to be simulcast on television and the internet. Eight hundred invited guests stood in the palace courtyard with cocktails alongside thousands of locals who were invited to join the cocktail party. An estimated 150,000 bystanders crowded the route to catch a glimpse of the bride and groom. Charlene wore an Armani bridal gown with a magnificent 66-foot veil and train. And they feasted on a five-tiered wedding cake, requiring 110 lbs. of strawberries.

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Princess Charlene
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Prince Albert and Princess Charlene
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They also had one of the world’s top-selling acts as their wedding band — the Eagles, who gave a free concert in a nearby soccer stadium, recalls Prince Albert’s cousin and best man Chris Lavine.

“Some people hire a string quartet — he got The Eagles. It was a huge, huge weekend,” Lavine says.

The Eagles concert, a second outdoor concert featuring French musician Jean-Michel Jarre, a spectacular harbor-side sound and light experience and even the palace cocktail party were all part of “for-the-public” festivities, which added additional scale and planning to the program’s immense scale.

Prince Albert and Princess Charlene with the Eagles
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Though both Albert and Charlene have since expressed preferences for a smaller-scale ceremony (“Under a tree somewhere,” Charlene confided last year in Albert II: l’homme et le prince) — that was never going to happen!

After a 10-year courtship, theirs was a wedding the world wanted to attend.

“It would certainly have been easier,” Lavine suggests. “Especially for Char who was not used to that kind of a large – and this was BIG! – event. It was spectacular, but it just kind of got out of control with all of the events. Monaco, they just wanted to put on the biggest show they could and I’m sure that at some point during that wild time that they said, ‘Oh my gosh, what did we let ourselves in for here?’ ”

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According to Albert’s sister, Princess Caroline, who was deeply involved in the months of planning that led to the event, “There were huge arguments. Not between us — but with everybody. I think then there was an epidemic among a lot of people that between ourselves we now call ‘Monaco Fever.’ ”Laughing, she recalls her royal arbitrage concerned, “Everything! From the shape of the wedding cake to those people saying, ‘We’ll give you the wedding cake!’ And I remember them saying, ‘But we don’t like this wedding cake, it just looks awful.”

The long wedding weekend involved four days of festivities, which included two successive days of ceremonies (a civil service on July 1 and a religious ceremony the following day). The decision to hold the larger religious ceremony outdoors in the palace courtyard was decided because the Cathedral only sat 500 and the couple had a big guest list, including relatives from three continents, royals and celebrities, like Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden, Denmark’s Princess Mary and Prince Frederik, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurakova.

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“If we could have had the wedding on a beach somewhere with 20 people like one I went to for some friends of mine years ago, we would have been, very happy,” reflects Prince Albert.

“This was an enormous affair — probably even bigger than I ever thought. It was nice in many ways, we had some great side events leading up to it, like the Eagles concert, a lot of wonderful things. Jean Michel Jarre’s show in the harbor. That was great, but the actual wedding day itself was not as…I mean it was pleasant, but I was more worried about how things would turn out. That probably shows on the footage,” he says.

“I was worried how things were going to turn out, the sequence of events. I wasn’t very relaxed. I think it turned out okay, but it was just so many things to think of,” he adds.

“I was glad to share it, to share the moment with a lot of people from Monaco, but it would have been a private affair it would have been fine with me. And fine with Charlene too.”

To add complication to the already-packed schedule, just days before the wedding, the couple was faced with unexpected rumors. Unfounded stories started by tabloids announced Charlene as a runaway bride, saying she had attempted and been prevented from fleeing her own wedding.

“And then the rumors started,” Princess Charlene recalls. “They said I was running away. Where was I running to?” she asks, pausing for a laugh before replying, “The dark side of the moon?”

“I think it’s impossible though for someone on the outside to understand how awful, how much pressure there was for both of us. Enormous. You wouldn’t believe it,” she says.

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The actual weekend remains an understandable blur to those at its centerstage. The civil ceremony, held Friday before family and friends in the Palace, was “the more emotional” one, Caroline recalls.

“I just remember being exhausted having to do all the planning,” she says. “I actually left the evening quite early because I could hardly stand on my two legs. And just a sense of relief. Probably the civil wedding was more emotional because it was more intimate, there were fewer of us, and then we were all together. But it went well.”

At the civil ceremony on Friday, Charlene wore a suit that she designed in collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld. It’s particularly vibrant shade of robin’s egg has since been dubbed “Charlene Blue.”

Princess Charlene
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“We wanted something to match the color of my eyes,” she told Vogue. “It’s feminine and keeps with tradition, yet has a little twist that reflects my personal style. I thought it was a nice change to go for trousers instead of a skirt, especially since I’m an athlete and have always kept my clothes clean and simple.”

Any bride experiences jitters on her wedding day, but one marrying in front of the world on live television before millions, it’s considerably more. In advance of her wedding, Charlene had asked her friend Julian Lennon to take a series of intimate portraits of her getting ready at the Hotel Hermitage.

Arriving on the morning, though, the musician/photographer, discovered he would be “entitled to no more than 10 minutes” with Charlene, who was practically due to leave the hotel as he entered the suite.

As Lennon first sat down beside her, he sensed “how on edge she was. [I could] feel her bridal nerves,” he told PEOPLE in 2016. “At the last moment, she asked him not to take any photos, fearing it wasn’t the right time. Persisting, the artist promised to stay out of everyone’s way.

“Let me photograph you,” he pleaded. “We’ve so little time left and this will happen only once in our lives, let me capture these moment for you, for all of us.”

Charlene relented and agreed. The resulting black and white portraits — seen on Lennon’s website — deliver a rare vision of the bride.

Eric Mathon - Palais Princier via Getty
Princess Charlene and Prince Albert
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Few wedding gown choices have ever been as anticipated as Charlene’s Giorgio Armani design. Announced six months in advance by the designer himself, the handmade gown did not disappoint.

Using 130 meters of silk, the gown features a 66-foot veil and train, embroidered with 60,000 crystals and mother of pearl teardrops, the gown was spectacular. Despite its intricacies, it showed off Charlene’s athletic figure with classical simplicity. Still earning compliments today for its modernity, it is a distinct and convincing response to those inevitable comparisons to Grace Kelly’s Helen Rose gown.

The bride herself admits to having suffered a common case of nerves ahead of her nuptials. Asked last year to share one memory of her wedding, she confessed, “It was very emotional. It was hard because everything had to be perfect. It was a lot of stress, a lot of pressure.

“I was so absolutely exhausted that after about three hours we’re putting the rings on the finger and this is one thing I remembered, that I was like so nervous – not that I had energy to be nervous – but I was aiming for the wrong hand when it came time to actually put the ring on. I think Albert’s like, ‘Babe it’s this hand. And I’m ‘Oh God, I wish you had said that earlier, oh no! I was going for the wrong hand! I’m like, Oh man, I wish I could have done this better after everything I’ve learned. It was stressful, a lot of pressure.”

“And having to lug that train,” she says with a grin. “I was like, ‘Okay I want to take everything off and go for a swim.’ That’s what I remember.”