It must have been like something out of a fairytale – the beautiful Hollywood star meeting and falling in love with a charming prince. Even now, almost fifty years after the event, it’s still possible to let out a blissful sigh as you read about the first meeting in April 1955 at the beautiful almost exotic pink Grimaldi Palace in Monaco of Prince Rainier (who turned up late) and Grace Kelly, the Oscar winning actress and most famous of Hitchcock’s icy blondes (who wore a crumpled dress and was annoyed about his lateness).
The couple were engaged in December 1955 after a whirlwind romance that had been conducted mostly by letter while Grace was in America and Rainier remained in Europe and the news caused a worldwide sensation as Grace showed off her 12 carat emerald cut diamond engagement ring. Nothing could be more modern in the 1950s than a prince marrying a Hollywood star but nonetheless, the old world traditions of Europe prevailed when Grace’s family had to provide a dowry of $2 million before their daughter’s marriage could take place. Luckily they were able to pay up…
On the 4th of April 1956, watched by thousands of screaming fans and hundreds of news reporters, Grace boarded the SS Constitution at New York Harbour and sailed away to her new life in Monaco. With her went her pet poodle, six bridesmaids, friends and family as well as eighty pieces of luggage.
The couple were married before eighty guests in a civil ceremony in the Throne Room of the Grimaldi Palace on the 18th of April. The bride wore rose pink taffeta trimmed with Alençon lace and a simple but sweet Juliet cap. There was a reception afterwards followed by a huge ball at the Monaco opera house in the evening. Grace was afterwards to say that she much preferred this low key wedding to the extravaganza that took place the following day at Saint Nicolas’ Cathedral in Monaco, to which six hundred guests had been invited.
Grace Kelly had a seven year contract with MGM at the time of her marriage, which was irksome as Prince Rainier was insisting that she give up acting as soon as she was married. This wasn’t unusual at all – it was still generally accepted at this time that women should give up work when they became wives and the duties of a Princess of Monaco would be particularly time consuming. Okay, maybe Rainier went a bit far when he banned Grace’s films from being shown in her new country but it was important to him that his wife should be fully respected by his people. Remember how Marie Antoinette’s harmless amateur theatricals with her closest friends harmed her reputation and dignity in France?
As part of the conditions of her release from MGM, Grace had to agree to the wedding being filmed for distribution worldwide as a film. Grace hated the intrusion of dozens of cameras filming what was supposed to be the best day of her life, but I am sure cinema goers of the time and the estimated thirty million people who watched on television loved the spectacle of celebrities turning up to the star studded event before the bride herself appeared, followed by her husband.
Has there ever been a bride more beautiful than Grace Kelly? Even her dress was pure Hollywood as it was designed by Helen Rose, chief wardrobe designer at MGM and presented to her, along with her wardrobe from High Society as a gift from the studio. The gown is perhaps a little demure for modern tastes, which favour sleeveless bustiers and as much cleavage as possible on display but it is strikingly, exquisitely beautiful nonetheless, made of a shimmering almost ivory silk taffeta (that somehow manages to look silvery in the photographs) and gorgeous antique Valenciennes rose point lace with a wide sash at the waist.
It took three dozen seamstresses six weeks to create the gown, which was designed to combine Hollywood glamour with a regal dignity and discretion. The 90 yard long tulle veil was made by nuns, while her cap was covered with thousands of seed pearls and appliquéd lace lovebirds. In her hand she held a small white prayer book and a lily of the valley bouquet. How gorgeous.
Clearly unwilling to be left out of the sartorial drama, Prince Rainier designed his own outfit, basing it on a dress uniform from the Napoleonic period. Together they made an incredibly romantic looking couple. Oscar de la Renta commented: ‘On her wedding day, Grace Kelly gave new meaning to the word icon. Her whole look, from the regal veil to the feminine lace details and the conservative gown, made her an ageless bride.’
The wedding took place in the morning of the 19th of April and the couple were married by the Bishop of Monaco while kneeling in front of a flower bedecked altar. Etiquette decreed that they should look straight ahead and not at each other and in the photographs, Grace, well bred and a talented actress looks utterly princess-like and poised as she gracefully kneels and breathes in the scent of lilies and lilacs while the Bishop intones Mass above her head.
After the wedding, the new Prince and Princess of Monaco hosted a garden party for the populace of Monaco (it’s not a big place) with a six tier wedding cake then sailed off on honeymoon in the yacht ‘Deo Juvante II’ that Rainier had given Grace as a wedding present along with a pearl necklace from Van Cleef and Arpels and a perfume created by Creed just for her: Fleurissimo, which has top notes of bergamot and violets with roses, iris and ylang ylang at its heart. A fittingly glamorous end to a day in which the old and new worlds merged as one.
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Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Burning Eye.
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