"I think for a second she was able to block the world out of her head," photographer Julian Lennon tells PEOPLE
Credit: Courtesy of Julian Lennon

There’s nothing quite like a princess bride!

Five years ago on July 1, 2011, South African beauty Charlene Wittstock wed Monaco’s Prince Albert. For the grand royal wedding – a four-day, $70 million extravaganza – Charlene asked her friend, musician-photographer Julian Lennon, to join her in her final moments before she faced the world stage.

An estimated 150,000 spectators flooded the principality’s streets eager to see the bride in her jaw-dropping Giorgio Armani gown with its 66-ft. silk tulle veil and train, with millions more watching on TV and online around the globe.

Just minutes before, Lennon photographed Charlene at Monaco’s Hermitage Hotel as she made her last preparations to walk down the aisle.

“She appeared so serene,” he says of the shot he took of her in hair rollers. “I think for a second she was able to block the world out of her head, eyes and ears, and just observe herself in that moment. The future Princess of Monaco. A natural beauty.”

But that’s not to say there were no wedding-day jitters. Lennon recalls being “entitled to no more than 10 minutes” – with Charlene, who was practically due to leave the hotel as he entered the suite. As he first sat down beside her, he sensed “how on edge she was. [I could] feel her bridal nerves.”

At the last moment, she asked him not to take any photos, fearing it wasn’t the right time – Lennon listened but insisted, promising to not get in anyone’s way.

“Let me photograph you,” he recalls asking. “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.” Realizing the moment, Charlene relented and agreed.

Weaving his way among hairdressers, makeup artists and their assistants, Lennon went to work.

“I floated like smoke between the cracks of the room, pushed against walls, crushed in behind the racks of clothes, hiding in every corner, I managed to capture the emotional moments before Charlene leaves us to become Princess Charlene of Monaco. ”

The images featured here – as well as others of Princess Charlene on Lennon’s web site have only been shown publicly during a 2015 exhibition at Paris’ prestigious Artcube Gallery. Lennon, who has displayed his works in galleries and art fairs worldwide, retains a special memory of that particular Saturday afternoon.

“I’ll never forget that photo shoot,” says the photographer (seen reflected in the mirror in the session’s final shot, after Charlene had changed into her wedding gown.) “I think I managed to grab Charlene in a light never seen until now.”

Photography has been a lifelong pursuit for Lennon, whose parents John and Cynthia met in art school. An accomplished musician, photographer and documentarian, he is also a recognized philanthropist, having founded the global environmental and humanitarian organization, The White Feather Foundation, a decade ago.

For more information and images, visit julianlennon.com.