Monaco puts on the glitz for its royal wedding spectacle

Everyone knows the royal wedding will be a glamorous event. No one is quite sure how much income it will generate.

Royal wedding souvenirs display Prince Albert II of Monaco and his South African swimming champion fiancee Charlene Wittstock. AFP
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In homes and private collections in and beyond the tiny statelet of Monaco, porcelain trinkets and other mementos remind the owners of what the western media called the wedding of the 20th century.

Souvenirs from that occasion, the 1956 marriage of Prince Rainier III and his Hollywood bride, Grace Kelly, disappeared from the shops long ago.

Now, another set of objects from silk fans and photographs to coffee mugs and 18-carat golden charms is on sale as part of the business spin-off from the wedding of the late Rainier's only son, Albert, and the Zimbabwe-born former South African swimming international, Charlene Wittstock, on July 1 and 2.

Everyone knows it will be a glamorous event. No one is quite sure how much income it will generate.

With fewer than 34,000 people inhabiting the 200 hectares of this independent principality close to the French border with Italy, there are limits to any comparison with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in London in April.

The British royal wedding cost a reported £20 million (Dh119.2m). It inspired merchandise sales estimated at more than twice that figure and is expected to play a lingering role in boosting UK tourism to the value of £2 billion, although the cost of declaring a public holiday may have been half as high again.

Officials in Monaco are confident the economic benefits of Prince Albert's wedding will also be significant. "We have budgeted €4 million (Dh21m) as the cost," said one, adding that the gains should far outstrip this sum.

The pomp and ceremony planned for the weekend again demonstrate Monaco's penchant for punching above its weight.

The state's royal family is probably better known than any in Europe outside Britain. A Formula One race is staged annually in its streets, there is a robust financial services industry and the GDP per capita is the highest in the world at US$215,163 (Dh790,304). The football team, which receives financial support from the royal family, played for 35 years in Ligue 1, the French top flight, winning a clutch of trophies before being relegated in the season just ended.

If sporting gloom leaves Monegasques in need of cheering up, a glitzy July wedding could do the trick. "It won't be on the same scale as the wedding of William and Kate," an official said. "But it will be a great occasion for all to enjoy."

The tourism sector expects a bonanza. The sumptuous Hotel de Paris and Hotel Hermitage, both run by the state-controlled Monte-Carlo SBM, have been reserved for VIP guests. The group's other hotels, the Monte Carlo Beach and the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, will also be full, with a mixture of tourists and media representatives.

The government and palace have accredited more than 1,000 media personnel. The US rock band the Eagles will play an open-air concert, entry free but restricted to 15,000 "Monegasque citizens, residents, persons working in the principality and people from neighbouring communities".

The civil wedding takes place on July 1, followed by another open-air spectacle at Port Hercules, when tens of thousands of people will witness a sound and light show by the French music producer Jean Michel Jarre. After the religious ceremony the following day, at Prince's Palace, thousands are expected to line the newlyweds' processional route to the church of Sainte Devote, where the bride deposits her bouquet.

The wedding programme continues with a giant fireworks display and further events the following day.

Only later, with Prince Albert and his bride embarking on the next phase of the story of the House of Grimaldi, will calculations start on the balance sheet for Europe's second high-profile royal wedding in quick succession.

Michel Bouquier, president of the Monaco Government Tourist and Convention Authority, expects 200,000 people to visit Monaco over the festive period.

"As we speak, programmes are being printed detailing 200 events," he said. "The impact for Monaco and its image will be tremendous. We have had several meetings with hotels, restaurateurs and shopowners, and there is a common effort to make it a great success."