updated 06/30/2011 AT 8:00 AM ET
•originally published 06/30/2011 AT 12:00 PM ET
Despite unsettling rumors swirling around Prince Albert of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock, the “other royal wedding,” believed to cost upwards of $65 million, is still on for this weekend.
The most glamorous, high-profile event in Monaco since the 1956 wedding of Albert’s late parents, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, kicks off Thursday night with a major concert by the Eagles free for all residents of the tiny principality.
Albert, 53, and his 33-year-old bride-to-be, a former Olympic swimmer from South Africa, will wed in a small civil ceremony inside the palace Friday and in a larger religious ceremony in the palace courtyard Saturday.
Wedding Dress a Secret
With more than 150,000 guests and well-wishers are expected to mob the postage-stamp-size principality, Wittstock’s dress, custom-made by her longtime friend Giorgio Armani, is being kept secret until the day of the ceremony.
Celebrated chef Alain Ducasse is making dinner for 500 guests. Electropop icon Jean Michel Jarre is overseeing a light and music spectacular at the harbor. Also planned: an elaborate fireworks display topped off by the lighting of 1,001 roses in the night sky over the Mediterranean.
Gerard Butler, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Naomi Campbell, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and Desmond Tutu are along the celebrities expected to attend the wedding, along with heads of state like president Nicolas Sarkozy of France and King Gustaf of Sweden.
Shooting Down Rumors
Earlier this week, palace officials and Albert’s lawyer angrily denounced claims by France’s well-respected L’Express magazine that inferred Wittstock wanted to stop the wedding and return to South Africa after learning about Albert’s allegedly less than “exemplary” behavior.
Albert’s longtime friend Stéphane Bern, France’s best-known commentator on the royals, said the rumors were scurrilous but also told Le Parisien in a strangely worded statement that it would be very easy for a woman “to pretend she is pregnant by the Prince. We can’t carry out a DNA test to check this out just three days before the marriage.”
Perhaps to quell the rumors, Albert and Wittstock toured various wedding event venues in Monaco on Wednesday, dressed casually and holding hands.
Dated Since 2005
Prince Albert, who has ruled Monaco since 2005, first met Wittstock at a 2000 swim event in Monaco, but they did not start dating seriously until 2005. She moved to an apartment at the palace four years ago.
Wittstock hinted at how challenging it was to wait for the prince to propose (he finally did last summer) in the new issue of Vogue, saying she had to endure loneliness and jealousy.
“It was sometimes overwhelming,” she said. “I was trying too hard to please too many people and at times was at risk of losing my sense of myself.”