Monaco Prince Albert to wed Olympian Charlene Wittstock

Up to 3,500 guests are to attend lavish celebrations in Monaco to mark the wedding of Prince Albert II and South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock.Friday’s civil wedding will be followed a day later by a religious ceremony at the royal palace on the Mediterranean.Ms Wittstock, 33, who swam in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, will become Her Serene Highness, Princess Charlene.The palace has denied reports in the French press that Ms Wittstock was getting cold feet about the wedding.The guest list includes heads of state and royalty, from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the heir to the Spanish throne, as well as fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and supermodel Naomi Campbell.Charlene Wittstock will wear a Giorgio Armani gown.The couple will then proceed to the nearby chapel of Saint Devote, the patron saint of Monaco, where Ms Wittstock will leave her bouquet. But the event has been clouded by press reports suggesting that Ms Wittstock had come close to returning to South Africa, after learning secrets about Prince Albert’s private life.

The royal family dismissed the claims, as well as suggestions she had only turned back after royal aides persuaded her to stay.”These rumours have no other goal than to severely damage the reputation of the monarch and thereby that of Miss Wittstock and severely undermine this happy event,” said the palace.Ryk Neethling, a fellow South African Olympic swimmer said: “I just spoke to her assistant and whatever the story is, it’s not true.”I called her and asked if everything is okay, and they said everything is fine.”Charlene Wittstock was born in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo, moving to South Africa with her family at the age of 12.She represented South Africa at the Commonwealth Games before competing in Sydney as part of the women’s medley relay team that finished fifth in the final.

Prince Albert II, 53, has been the ruler of Monaco since the death of his father, Prince Rainier III, in 2005.He was also an athlete, competing in bobsleigh in five Olympics.The Prince and Ms Wittstock made their relationship public by appearing together at the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006, after meeting in 2000 at a swimming event in Monaco.She ended her swimming career in 2007 and has travelled widely for charity events with her fiance.The tiny principality, which covers about 2 square km (less than one square mile), is the world’s smallest independent state after the Vatican City.It has seen glamorous weddings in the past.In 1956 the Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier.The wedding ushered in an unprecedented era of glamour that ended with her tragic death in a car crash in 1982. – BBC