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Monaco celebrates a royal wedding

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Monaco's new royal couple
  • NEW: Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock are wed in a civil ceremony at the palace
  • A religious ceremony and fireworks will follow Saturday
  • The lavish event has a star-studded guest list, including heads of state and celebrities

Editor's note: Watch live coverage of the Monaco royal wedding on from 1300 GMT/9am ET Saturday

(CNN) -- The tiny principality of Monaco celebrated Friday the beginning of festivities for ruler Prince Albert, who wed his South African fiancee Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer.

The pair married in a civil ceremony at the palace Friday afternoon, which was followed by a picnic outside the palace and a concert by musician Jean Michel Jarre.

A religious ceremony will take place Saturday, with an official dinner and a fireworks display lined up for later in the evening.

The guest list for the wedding includes heads of state and the rich and famous, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British model Naomi Campbell, fashion designer Giorgio Armani and British business mogul Richard Branson. However, the United Kingdom's royal newlyweds -- Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge -- missed it as they are on an official tour of Canada.

Preparations for the lavish event have been overshadowed this week by a report in the French news magazine L'Express that Wittstock was getting cold feet about the wedding after finding her fiance's private life was "not as exemplary as she imagined."

The paper's claims were strongly denied by the palace as "false allegations", intended only "to seriously damage the image of the Sovereign, as a result of damaging that of Miss Wittstock, and bear down on this happy event."

Albert's adviser, Christiane Stahl, told CNN affiliate BFM-TV that the two were "completely disappointed" by the story.

Prince Albert: I'm not too nervous

The couple announced their engagement last summer, having first met at a swimming event in Monaco in 2000.

The 53-year-old prince and ruler of Monaco, the only son of Princess Grace and the late Prince Rainier, has never married before.

Like his 33-year-old fiancee, Albert is also an Olympian, having competed in five Olympic Winter Games -- from Calgary in 1988 to Salt Lake City in 2002 -- in bobsledding. She swam in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In 2005, Albert publicly acknowledged he had fathered a son with a flight attendant, and he has also acknowledged a daughter, now in her late teens.

He formally became Monaco's ruler following the death of his father in 2005 and has two sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie.

Monaco, a sovereign principality, is one of the smallest countries in the world, measuring just under 2 square miles. It sits on the French Riviera and is bordered on three sides by France. It has a population of about 33,000.