Monaco's Prince Albert, after admitting love child, to take the throne
MONACO (AFP) - Prince Albert II of Monaco is due to be enthroned Tuesday as ruler of the Mediterranean statelet in a ceremony that caps a turbulent period for the 700-year-old Grimaldi dynasty.
Albert's father, the veteran prince Rainier who was best known to the world for his marriage to the American film star Grace Kelly, died in April.
The official mourning period was not yet over before Monaco was back at the centre of media attention when a French-Togolese former air hostess claimed that Albert had fathered her now 22-month-old son.
Illegitimate offspring are nothing new in the Grimaldi clan, with Albert's younger sister Stephanie having three children out of wedlock.
But Albert, a 47-year-old confirmed bachelor, has rarely spoken publicly of his love life despite alleged alliances with a string of famous models and actresses.
The shock was thus all the greater last Wednesday, the last day of official mourning for Rainier, when Albert, who is estimated to have a fortune worth some two billion euros, confirmed that he was indeed a father.
His son, Alexandre Coste, cannot become ruler of the principality under current succession laws that exclude illegitimate children but will "want for nothing" in his life, the prince told French television late Monday.
Albert also told TF1 channel that there were other women "who present more or less the same case" as the boy's mother. But when asked if such paternity claims were false, he neither denied nor confirmed.
"We will answer that when the time comes," he said.
An Englishwoman living in California has told British newspapers that Albert is the father of a daughter she had in 1992. Tamara Rotolo said she met the prince and conceived the child during a holiday in Monaco the previous year.
Nicole Coste, who has two children from a former marriage, said she began a five-year relationship with Albert after meeting him on an Air France flight in 1997. The 33-year-old became pregnant with Alexandre in December 2002.
The affair marked another remarkable chapter in the history of Monaco, a statelet no bigger than New York's Central Park which has become indelibly linked with Hollywood glamour and jet-set wealth.
The principality was busy Monday preparing for Albert's investiture ceremonies.
The red and white Monegasque flag flew from many buildings and lampposts, while workers put the finishing touches to a waterfront stage and prepared the square in front of the prince's hill-top palace for a buffet reception.
"It's awesome, just like in a fairy tale," said Mary Frost, an American tourist who had been unaware before arriving in Monaco that a prince was about to be enthroned here.
Tuesday's events were due to begin with a Catholic mass in the cathedral. In the evening, the mayor of Monaco will symbolically hand over the keys of the town to Albert, following which the prince will make a speech.
A concert of the Monte Carlo philharmonic orchestra, an open-air ball in the port, and a fireworks display were also planned.
Another investiture ceremony for Albert is set for November 19 to which foreign heads of states will be invited.
After Tuesday's festivities, Albert will doubtless be hoping to move away from the media glare and get down to the business of governing his principality of 32,000 residents, of which just 6,000 are Monegasque citizens.
At nearly 50, the tall and balding figure is still largely untried in the ways of government.
During his 55 years in power Rainier was credited with turning the rocky statelet from a Riviera backwater into a thriving banking and business centre, noted for its fabled casino and its Monte Carlo car rally.
Rainier's marriage to Kelly in 1956 added to the air of jet-set romance. Albert, who is passionate about the environment and about fighting poverty in the world, will be closely watched to see if he can live up to his late father's combination of charisma and entrepreneurial genius.