It's Prince Albert II's big day. After decades of waiting on the sidelines, the 47-year-old bachelor will be sworn in as the top dog of the principality of Monaco.
The "Playboy Prince" has declared he wants to lead his tiny, sun-drenched Riviera territory with a focus on ethics and honesty, starting with himself. Just last week, Albert admitted he was the father of an illegitimate son.
Illegitimate children and numerous love affairs seem to come with the territory for the royal family in Monaco. No one seemed particularly shocked about Albert's dalliances considering his sisters' soap opera-style lives. However, Albert did wait until he no longer had to fear Dad's wrath.
Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre was born March 14, 1958, in Monaco, the sovereign principality on the northern Mediterranean coast -- a state about the size of New York's Central Park. He is the only son of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly, the stunning American actress who died in a car accident in 1982 at the age of 52.
What better way to usher in a new leader than to throw a party?
That's exactly what Prince Albert has planned. Festivities start on a serious note with a Mass at 11 a.m. local time. After an afternoon snooze, the palace hosts an official ceremony before the real fun begins at 10 p.m. Expect music, fireworks and food (Mediterranean specialties) along with dancing.
The palace has given 2:30 a.m. as the approximate end time but Albert's known as a party animal so you can bet the inaugural shindig won't end until breakfast. Perfect, since Monaco is particularly proud of its doughnuts. Might as well party hard, it's been more than 50 years since the last coronation and if Albert has as much stamina as his father, don't expect another ceremony for a long time.
In case you're wondering, Albert declared the day an official holiday so no one will miss out on drinks and revelry. But before you head to Monaco, know that the party is only for those born in Monaco, known as Monegasques. That means only about 7,000 people can attend the garden party in the palace courtyard. But the 24,000 other residents need not despair -- they're invited to the festivities on the port.
Don't bother trying to bust in, authorities will be checking ID, so unless you've got a couple of million dollars and a fast-track resident application, kiss that royal dream goodbye.
"His [Albert's] wish was to make it a celebration of ties between his family and the people of Monaco, that's why it's restricted," explained a consulate spokeswoman.
Oh well, I hope Albert enjoys himself at least. God knows he's been groomed by Rainier to take over for years despite concerns about his son's confirmed bachelorhood, his perceived lack of toughness and his preference for sports over politics.
Outing the Prince
It's been hectic for Prince Albert since his father died April 6 at the age of 81. A month after Rainier's death, one of Albert's former lovers revealed to the world that she wanted her almost 2-year-old son to be officially recognized by Albert.
Bombshell Nicole Coste, 33, a former flight attendant, recounted her love affair with the heir-apparent with photos of Albert holding the tot during visits to her Paris apartment. Their affair started innocently enough in July 1997, according to Paris Match magazine.
Coste gave him her food tray when he said he was hungry on a flight to Paris. Albert must have been ravenous or maybe Coste slipped an elixir in the food because who in their right mind would want to eat another over-nuked airplane dish?
Bad palate or not, Albert got her number and called two weeks later.
"What he represented wasn't important to me," Coste said in the Paris Match interview. "He really was charming."
Over the next five years, the black beauty, originally from the West African country of Togo, came to call Monaco home at least one weekend per month.
"He never hid me," she's quoted as saying of her numerous visits trips to Monaco where she stayed at Albert's posh apartment away from the palace.
Rainier wouldn't approve, nor did he when he met her, according to Coste. Afterward, Albert told her it would be best if they stayed friends.
Did Rainier not approve of an African bride for his son or had he simply had enough with his children's love antics?
Soap Opera-Style Lives
Caroline, Rainier's eldest daughter, defied her parents in 1978 and married a Parisian man-about-town who happened to be 17 years older. The marriage didn't last and Caroline had to fight long and hard to get the Vatican to annul the whole affair so that she could remarry and have children who would be recognized as legitimate.
In 1983, she exchanged vows with Stefano Casiraghi and lived happily until his tragic death in 1990.
Caroline resurfaced six years later out and about with Prince Ernst of Hanover. No matter that the German royal was the lawful wedded husband of a close friend, she married him anyway.
Meanwhile, Albert's younger sister, Stephanie, became tabloid fodder with her poor choices in men. The princess made Rainier's blood pressure skyrocket when she announced that she was pregnant and the father was her bodyguard, hunky Daniel Ducruet.
The couple had a second child -- again out of wedlock -- before marrying in 1995.
But marriage didn't guarantee happiness for Stephanie, who divorced Ducruet after he was caught fondling a topless Belgian model.
Stephanie left Monaco, got another bodyguard and, in 1998, had another illegitimate child. Once again her bodyguard was the father. Does she pick 'em for their looks or what?
The bodyguard thing didn't work out because in 2003 she got married to a circus acrobat (bodyguard to the chimps?). But that has fizzled, so send your résumé if you've got "bodyguard" aspirations.
By now you've gotten the picture.
Legitimacy is important to the Monaco family, but all in good time.
Never Popping the Question
Albert never walked down the aisle despite his father's stern encouragement to settle down. The prince, nicknamed "Sporty Prince," preferred soccer and bobsled, fueling Prince Rainier's fear that the principality wouldn't get an heir.
His father was worried enough to change the constitution in 2002. Under the terms of a 1918 treaty, if the ruling prince died without producing an heir, Monaco would become part of France. The constitution now allows power to pass from a reigning prince who has no descendants to his siblings or their offspring.
With that problem out of the way, Albert kept wooing pretty ladies around the world, including Coste.
Recognizing Baby Alex
Although Albert's affair with Coste had cooled off, she insisted on celebrating her 31st birthday with the prince in December 2002, according to Paris Match. Albert arrived late and she was pouting, but they still ended up doing more than just blowing out candles.
Coste calls it a night of destiny, saying a baby wasn't planned. She said she forgot her pills and when she informed Albert a few months later, he said, "I don't promise I will marry you, but keep it and don't worry," according to the magazine.
Reports differ on what exactly ensued. Albert's tune may have changed when he realized the consequences of an out-of-wedlock child, especially a baby boy. Albert avoided Coste but visited his son, Alexandre, two months after his birth on Aug. 24, 2003.
With a determined mother and a princely father, little Alex could live up to his emperor-like name.
Despite the "cold entente" between father and mother, Coste said Albert remained a "perfect gentleman." Or, rather a perfectly "generous" gentleman.
Coste ditched her apartment and started living in the prince's Parisian apartment in lavish style with a $15,000 monthly pension, according to published reports.
But that didn't seem to satisfy her.
She hired a bunch of lawyers and tried to force Albert to officially recognize his son. On Dec. 15, 2003, after haranguing phone calls and legal pressures, Albert signed papers recognizing Alexandre on the condition that it be made public only upon Prince Rainier's death.
After Rainier died in April, Coste still couldn't get her playboy prince to fess up. Albert had imposed a period of mourning until July 6, but Coste feared he was stalling yet again.
Photos in hand, she gave an interview to Paris Match in early May saying that she "wanted an end to the lies."
Leadership Pledge: Honesty
Coste got what she wanted. On July 6, Albert's lawyer and confidant, Thierry Lacoste, released a statement on the prince's behalf acknowledging his "secret son."
The child, aged 22 months, would not be in line to the throne and would not have the name Grimaldi, according to the statement.
Albert declares that honesty is the way he wants to lead his "Rock on the Riviera" and what better way to do so than by starting with himself?
Thus, his vision for Monaco is born.
"I want to put morality, honesty and ethics at the forefront of my government and my Cabinet," Albert said in an interview with French newspaper supplement, Le Monde2.
The prince has vowed to make sure that Monaco will never again be associated with money laundering, according to the interview.
Meanwhile, he's also decided to clean house.
His Cabinet is yet to be assembled, according to palace spokesman Nicolas Saussier, but "he has asked for his father's Cabinet members to hand in their resignation." Albert will probably name a new government a few days after his coronation, said Saussier.
No one knows if Coste and Alexandre will join the inaugural party. She's a French citizen and not a Monegasque, so unless the prince grants a special privilege, she'll have to watch it on TV like the rest of us.