What The Lead-Up To Princess Charlene's Royal Wedding Was Really Like

On July 1, 2011, Prince Albert and Princess Charlene married in a romantic royal wedding. At the time, their nuptials were considered the society event of the season, with an extensive guest list that included 800 attendees. Naturally, invitations were extended to a wide range of famous faces, including Naomi Campbell, King Leruo Molotlego of Bakofeng in South Africa, and the CEO of LVMH, Bernard Arnault (who, in 2023, was declared the richest man in the world by Forbes). To impress this incredible group of people, Albert and Charlene spared no expense.

Over the course of three days, the royal couple was reported to have spent a whopping $70 million. They hosted two separate live music performances, kicking off the event on June 30 with a concert by The Eagles followed by an outdoor performance by French musician Jean-Michel Jarre. As if that weren't already elaborate enough, Albert and Charlene also celebrated their wedding with a light and sound experience that took place at the local harbor. What's more, they invited Monégasque residents to enjoy cocktails at the palace.

All in all, this blowout event was so over the top that it drew the attention of international news outlets. Well-wishers from all over the world hoped that Albert and Charlene's union would become a real-life fairytale love story. However, in the weeks leading up to the wedding, the couple was said to struggle under all the pressure.

Prince Albert presented Princess Charlene with a huge diamond

Before Prince Albert and Princess Charlene walked down the aisle, the couple enjoyed a customary period of engagement. And, as royal expert Arlene Prinsloo detailed in her book, "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," the couple kept this phase as traditional as possible. Indeed, right after Albert popped the question to Charlene, the Zimbabwe-born blonde asked the prince whether he had remembered to ask her father, Mike Wittstock, for his permission to propose. Caught off guard, Albert scrambled to get in touch with his soon-to-be father-in-law.

Thankfully for Albert and Charlene, Wittstock was supportive of the match. However, at the time that Albert called him, the protective papa was gearing up to watch the South African soccer team play against France in the World Cup. Thus, an engagement was the last thing on his mind. Reflecting on the conversation with The Star, a South African publication, Wittstock revealed, "He phoned me so I could give him the blessing to put the ring on her finger. ... He called me just before kickoff and I wanted to get the whole thing over and done with" (via The New Zealand Herald).

As soon as Albert secured Wittstock's permission, he slipped an engagement ring on Charlene's finger — and oh what an engagement ring it was! The ring boasted a three-carat pear-cut diamond with several smaller diamonds flanking each side.

Wedding planning began

Soon after Prince Albert and Princess Charlene got engaged, the couple had to start planning the royal wedding. Unfortunately, though, this is much easier said than done. Because of the prominence of the players involved, the wedding could be nothing short of spectacular. In practice, this meant that every aspect of the party had to be bigger and better than anyone could imagine. Commenting on this issue in an interview with People, Albert's best man, Chris Lavine, shared, "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 they said, 'Oh my gosh, what did we let ourselves in for here?'"

Regardless of whether or not Albert and Charlene were actually capable of planning a party of that scale, the couple decided to take on the challenge. In the end, however, this meant that wedding planning was extraordinarily stressful. Remembering this dynamic, Princess Caroline told People that Albert and Charlene took issue with many of the details. "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 princess divulged. According to Lavine, though, the real issue was that Charlene was not used to all the glitz and glam surrounding this event.

Prince Albert and Princess Charlene decided on a menu

One of the most important parts of a wedding — royal or otherwise — is the reception, and the Grimaldis wanted theirs to be perfect. In fact, it has been suggested that both Prince Albert and Princess Charlene dedicated a tremendous amount of thought to their wedding menu, taking into consideration factors like national identity and sustainability.

In order to emphasize the distinctly Monégasque nature of their party, the couple decided to hire local chef Alain Ducasse to prepare the dinner. Given Albert's preoccupation with climate change, the Grimaldis requested that the menu be as "green" as possible. As Ducasse revealed to the Associated Press, "We decided to do something sustainable, local and ethical. Prince Albert is very interested in protecting the Mediterranean, its flora and fauna. It's something of an obsession" (via People).

After much discussion, it was decided that Ducasse would source some of the ingredients directly from the Grimaldis' garden. As the chef would later tell The Hollywood Reporter, "[Albert] and Charlene wanted to share a part of themselves with their guests, so we decided to use sustainable, local fish and vegetables from their garden — an extraction of tastes from the Mediterranean sea and land." However, Charlene also wanted her Zimbabwean roots to be reflected in the menu — and that it was. "We had some South African wine to start for Charlene," the chef revealed.

The princess worked with Giorgio Armani to design her wedding gown

Although Princess Charlene may have struggled to plan such a large wedding, she also got to enjoy some royal perks. As reported by Vogue, the blushing bride collaborated with none other than the Giorgio Armani to design her wedding gown. And from what we can tell, this unlikely duo had a grand old time dreaming up the perfect dress. As Charlene told the fashion publication at the time, "I've reached the point where I know what I like and what works. I'm starting to play with fresher, bolder, and more daring looks."

Armani seemed open to this idea of Charlene embracing her own sense of style. As the iconic designer revealed in a conversation with Vogue UK, it didn't make sense to dress the princess-to-be in anything too derivative. Explaining his thought process when designing the gown, Armani divulged, "The idea was to go for a completely modern look, without an obvious sense of nostalgia or revivalism. I felt this was appropriate given that there would inevitably be comparisons with Princess Grace, and though such comparisons are of course a sign of admiration, each person has their own individual and unique style, and style is an expression of the times."

Ultimately, Charlene and Armani dreamed up an off-the-shoulder gown that glittered beneath a layer of 20,000 mother-of-pearl teardrops and 40,000 Swarovski crystals. The ensemble was tied together with a long white veil, which would trail Charlene down the aisle.

Charlene threw a bachelorette party

Designing a wedding gown with Giorgio Armani was not the only fun thing that Princess Charlene got to do leading up to her wedding. She was also able to enjoy a blow-out bachelorette party in New York City. As Charlene told Vogue at the time, the springtime bash boasted a risqué leather and lace theme. Charlene's two maids of honor, Isabell Kristensen and Donatella Knecht de Massy, got to dress her up in outfits that reflected this motif. Testing the bounds of what was appropriate for a soon-to-be-royal, the two women sent Charlene to her party in a black leather corset designed by Anne Fontaine. They paired this revealing top with a tight pair of pants for a scandalously sexy look.

Naturally, though, the night was about more than just a rebellious black outfit. It was also a celebration of Charlene's last days as a commoner. The princess-to-be kicked off the evening with dinner at The Lion. Later, she headed to Cipriani Downtown for music and dancing. 

As she trailed the fashionable blonde all evening long, Vogue's Nathalie Livingstone noted that Charlene's party was, in some ways, typical of other brides her age. After all, Charlene didn't hesitate to party the night away — tequila shots and all. That being said, there were moments when her quasi-royal status was clear, thanks to a guest list that included big names like Karolina Kurkova and Demi Moore.

Did Charlene get cold feet?

Even as Princess Charlene was getting ready to join one of Europe's most famous families, there were whispers that she was not actually going to go through with the wedding. The reason for her hesitation? According to the Monégasque gossip mill, Prince Albert's playboy past had become too much for the bride-to-be to bear.

As some royal watchers may remember, the prince used to have something of a reputation for dating women ranging from Brooke Shields to Catherine Alric. And, as is rare for a modern-day royal, he had two children out of wedlock — a daughter, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, who was born in 1992, and a son, Alexandre Grimaldi, who followed in 2003. 

Right before the royal wedding, a French publication, Le Journal du Dimanche, claimed that the prince's past was catching up to him. Per these reports, Charlene began rethinking her relationship with Albert after hearing rumors that the prince had fathered another royal love child. One advisor to a Monégasque parliamentarian even told the outlet, "We are talking about a hidden child, but the whole issue would be to know if he is over five years old, because Charlene and Albert have officially been together for five years." Compellingly, this tidbit was never confirmed. 

Rumors of a runaway bride stole the show

As if rumors of a royal love child were not salacious enough, the European press printed reports claiming that Princess Charlene had tried to escape from Monaco leading up to the wedding. As detailed in "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," the French newspaper L'Express was the first to break the story, which it titled "Albert and Charlene, marriage in danger." According to the report, Charlene had purchased a one-way ticket back to South Africa after discovering some less-than-acceptable news about her husband-to-be. The paper went on to allege that while Charlene was headed to the airport in Nice, she was intercepted by a group of Monégasque gendarmes (police officers), who confiscated her passport.

Within days, another French paper, Le Journal du Dimanche, claimed to have confirmed these rumors. The outlet went on to allege that Charlene had attempted to leave Monaco three times. Allegedly, she first tried to leave the principality in May when she went to Paris to try on her wedding dress. At the time, she supposedly tried to hide in the South African embassy. Later, she apparently attempted to return to her home country during the Grand Prix. According to this report, the episode in Nice was Charlene's third attempt to break up with Prince Albert.

Although this story may sound unbelievable, it is worth noting that L'Express tends to be a reputable source. As royal author and journalistArlene Prinsloo noted in "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," "L'Express wasn't a tabloid but a respectable French newspaper."

Albert and Charlene's spokespeople insisted that everything was fine

As the rumors about Prince Albert and Princess Charlene's relationship raged on, the people closest to them grew indignant. Within days, both the groom and the bride gave their respective spokespeople permission to speak out against the claims of a potential third love child. Albert's lawyer, Thierry Lacoste, vehemently denied the existence of any secret children whatsoever. As Lacoste told French publication Le Parisien at the time, "There is no child, it's a totally false rumor" (via Page Six). In a separate interview with Reuters, the royal's lawyer added, "I was just with the Prince and Charlene Wittstock in Paris three days ago and I can promise you everything is fine."

Charlene's father, Mike Wittstock, also went on the record to defend his daughter's relationship. According to the biography, "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," Wittstock addressed the public via Radio 702, saying, "I heard about this rumor for the first time this morning, and I'm very surprised. The only thing I can think it was, is that Charlene took her mom to Paris on Monday to get shoes and a hat for the wedding, and that's the only time she was anywhere near an airplane and she was there for the day and back." 

Nevertheless, the editor of L'Express stood by the publication's reporting. 

A photographer claimed that Charlene and Caroline got into an argument ahead of the big day

As if dealing with the gossip mill was not stressful enough, Princess Charlene may have also had an argument with Princess Caroline leading up to her big day. As explained in "Charlene: In Search of a Princess," rumor has it that a South African photographer named David Crighton saw Caroline and Charlene fighting before the wedding. According to Crighton's account, the drama started when it became clear that Prince Albert wanted Charlene to wear a ring that had once belonged to his mother, Princess Grace Kelly. Caroline supposedly felt that this gift was unfair — after all, she was Grace's oldest daughter. "It was just fingers being pointed in faces," Crighton told the Afrikaans language publication, Rapport (via News24).

Although Crighton claimed to get the princess' heated verbal exchange on camera, he never handed the footage over to the press. When Rapport expressed interest in viewing his video, the photographer said that he could no longer produce it, claiming, "The palace wants to buy my silence. That's why I haven't been able to send the video to the papers."

Naturally, Charlene's representatives were quick to discredit the story. As per Prinsloo's reporting, the bride's father, Mike Wittstock, even went to Rapport after the wedding. "There are no hard feelings or conflict between the royal family and Charlene that I am aware of," he explained, later adding, "I don't know where this guy is getting his allegations from."

Princess Charlene grew nervous about the wedding

In light of all the negative press surrounding her wedding, Princess Charlene grew increasingly nervous. On the morning before the ceremony, the stunning bride was supposed to work with photographer Julian Lennon to get some pre-wedding pictures. However, when Lennon arrived at Charlene's hotel room, she was apparently a total mess. Chatting with People about the incident, Lennon said that the first thing he noticed about her was "how on edge she was." In his view, the princess-to-be was overcome with "bridal nerves."

Charlene was apparently so overwhelmed with everything that was going on that she asked Lennon to go away, insisting that she was not up to having photos taken. As a longtime friend of Charlene's, however, Lennon tried to talk her down. "Let me photograph you," he reportedly told her. "We've so little time left and this will happen only once in our lives, let me capture these moments for you, for all of us." 

Ultimately, Charlene agreed to sit for the photos, and the final results turned out beautifully. That being said, Charlene remained tense the entire morning before her wedding — and during the ceremony, as well. Looking back on that day, the princess told People, "I think it's impossible ... for someone on the outside to understand how awful, how much pressure there was for both [Albert and me]. Enormous. You wouldn't believe it."

Albert purchased bespoke jewels for his bride

Although Prince Albert and Princess Charlene endured a lot of stress leading up to their royal wedding, the couple tried to make the event as special as possible. To commemorate Charlene's transformation from a commoner to a princess, Albert purchased some expensive jewelry. He even commissioned a bespoke piece, known as the Ocean Tiara, from Van Cleef and Arpels to make his bride shine. 

According to The Beau Monde, Albert wanted to buy Charlene a piece of custom-made jewelry that would reflect her past as an Olympic swimmer. Thus, the Ocean Tiara was conceived with an aquatic theme in mind. Using 1,200 stones, including diamonds and sapphires of different shades of blue, jewelers were able to create a tiara that looked like moving water. Interestingly, though, the piece ended up being far more than just a tiara. It can also transform into a stunning necklace on occasions that don't require the formality of a headpiece. Additionally, Albert gifted Charlene a rose gold necklace featuring over 1,200 diamonds and six extraordinary pearls by Nagib Tabbah, dubbed the Infinite Cascade Necklace.

These gifts show that Albert wanted his wife to have something uniquely her own — and to wear to any kind of event. And if they weren't already chic enough, the prince also bestowed a one-of-a-kind aigrette upon his new wife. Designed by Baumer to resemble ocean spray, the headpiece gave Charlene an even greater air of oceanic elegance.