July 27, 2018 10:50 AM

Monaco’s annual Bal de la Croix Rouge, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary on Friday evening, has a long and rich history.

“It is special,” says Prince Albert II, who serves as the event’s patron, calling the black-tie event the highlight of the principality’s summer calendar.

“The Red Cross Gala is unique,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively. “There’s great history there. It’s the highlight of the summer in terms of social and charity events.”

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Princess Charlene and Prince Albert II
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

Albert explains that although the event started under his father, Prince Rainier, it really took flight under his mother, Princess Grace: “Pretty soon after their wedding, in ’58, Mom took it on and then, it became something else.”

Employing Hollywood contacts and her personal style, Grace transformed the event — infusing it with celebrity guests, fashion designers and top entertainers.

“I remember we would see Mom and Dad get ready for it when we were kids,” the Prince recalls. “It was always something to see. I didn’t attend it until I was 16. But I haven’t missed too many years since then.”

Prince Albert and his mother, Princess Grace, in 1974
Prince Albert and his mother, Princess Grace, in 1974. AP

“Mom remained president until her passing [in 1982], and I’ve been privileged to head the Monaco Red Cross since then,” he says.

The 70th edition “is gearing up pretty well,” he says. “Gonna have a look at the room, see to the rehearsal on Friday afternoon like I always do.”

While his parents’ choice of musical entertainment reflected their generation’s taste — Maurice Chevalier was the entertainment at the 1948 inaugural, and Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra came later — Prince Albert’s musical choices have included Tina Turner, Elton John, Tom Jones and DJ Bob Sinclair in Le Sporting Club’s open-air setting.

Friday’s rehearsal stop-by, His Highness says, will include a few moments to greet Seal. “He’s a great artist, and we’re thrilled to have him this year.”

The event, which is widely known for its fabled parade of designer gowns, also features a signature opening: a dance between Albert and his wife, Princess Charlene.

Charlene has been on a 10-day visit to South Africa, attending the 100th anniversary celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth. She met with former President Obama, who addressed the stadium ceremony, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“She had a great trip, I know that,” Albert tells PEOPLE. “I know that she was thrilled to be part of the event, that she enjoyed it. She did some work for her foundation as well, and she wanted to see Desmond Tutu too. He’s great man and he’s very fond of her.”

“But,” he confesses, “she hasn’t given me a lot of details because she’s only gotten back early yesterday morning and she went straight home to see the kids.”

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