With her startling blue eyes and her shock of wavy blonde hair, Grace Kelly was the epitome of Hollywood glamour. Her innocent girl-next-door looks coupled with her extraordinary talent set her up for some of the industry’s best roles, and in 1955 Grace took the starring role of lovestruck Princess Alexandra in The Swan, released in 1956. It was to be startlingly prophetic for what was to come in her own life less than a year later.
Ever the sweetheart of the silver screen, Grace was invited to the 1955 Cannes Film Festival in France as guest of honour. Exhausted and having recently moved apartments in New York, she was reluctant but dutifully accepted. Arriving in France, she contended with an all-consuming schedule, which included a visit to the Principality of Monaco on her first day. Here, the editor of Paris Match magazine had arranged a meeting at the royal palace between the starlet and Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
Calamity struck in the form of an electrical strike on the morning of Grace’s intended visit to the palace. With a suitcase full of creased clothes and no means to style her hair, she opted for the least-wrinkled garment in her possession – a garish black rose-patterned dress – and twisted her hair into a chignon, decorating it with an array of artificial flowers to substitute the lack of a formal hat that was required for meeting royalty.
One of the most eligible bachelors of Europe’s elite, Rainier was 32 with the Mediterranean looks and continental charms that proved irresistible to most women. But Grace’s first impression of the prince was anything but favourable. Scheduled to meet at 3pm, Prince Rainier failed to show. For 45 minutes Grace was given a tour of the palace with the magazine’s photographers before her patience ran out. Due to host a reception in Cannes at 5.30pm, she lamented the prince’s rudeness and set out to leave. At that moment, Rainier arrived.
The prince gave her a tour of the palace’s gardens and his own private zoo. Expected back in Cannes, the meeting was short but significant. Grace’s elegance and shy dignity had won the prince over, while Rainier’s air of power and self-assuredness overshadowed the actress’s first impression.
In secret, the two corresponded across the Atlantic, but it wasn’t until Christmas of the same year that they saw each other again. While in the US, Prince Rainier and his entourage visited Grace at her family home in Philadelphia during a Christmas Eve celebration. The pair spent time together each day and their romance quickly turned into an engagement, with the official announcement made on the 5 January 1956.
With the brief courtship over, the couple turned their sights towards the future and their impending wedding. Set for April 1956, it wasn’t far away, and there was plenty that the couple had to take care of. For Grace, the shadow looming over her future marriage with Prince Rainier was her acting career.
In a media interview, Grace deferred the question of her career to her husband, who remarked that she would stop. But stepping out of Hollywood wasn’t so straightforward – Grace went to visit Metro Goldwyn Meyer, the company to which she was contracted, to let them know that she wouldn’t be able to fulfil her contract. They agreed to end it early under one condition – that they were given the exclusive rights to film the entire wedding. Grace agreed, tragically unaware of the media frenzy that would soon engulf her marriage to Rainier.
On 4 April, Grace set sail for Monaco aboard the SS Constitution, having travelled with her family, a select few journalists and her trusty poodle, Oliver. Tucked away beneath the deck were over 60 pieces of luggage, including a steel box that housed the most precious garment of all: the wedding dress. Bidding her adieu were crowds in their thousands; reporters jostled with fans to see off the film star on her voyage to become a European princess.
Eight days later, she arrived in Monaco, where Rainier sailed out to greet his bride on the yacht Deo Juvante II. Having left behind the great crowds of New York, Grace came face to face with thousands on the shores of Monaco, welcoming her to her new home.
Over the week between her arrival in her new country and the wedding ceremonies, Grace and Prince Rainier were sent from one party to another, a whirlwind of celebration that never seemed to end. Among the festivities were firework displays and ballet performances. It was an exhausting week; reporters and photographers, all looking for a scandal or breaking story to cement their own careers, constantly hounded the couple. The media hysteria was overwhelming and, in the absence of any true story to print, journalists took to salacious rumour-mongering. For the couple, the wedding and an end to the nightmare media attention it was garnering couldn’t come soon enough.
On the morning of 18 April, they attended the civil ceremony, the first half of their official wedding according to Monégasque law. Held in the palace’s diminutive throne room, the couple said their vows in front of a small audience of just 80 guests.
In keeping with the ceremony, Grace wore a simple but elegant dress designed by MGM’s costume designer Helen Rose, made of rose-coloured taffeta and covered with Alçenon lace. The simple dress was accessorised with white gloves and a Juliet cap, while Rainier wore a black morning coat.
The wedding would continue the next day, but not before Prince Rainier and Grace hosted a reception in the palace courtyard for 3,000 of Monaco’s citizens. Here, Monégasques were kept fed and watered with appetisers and champagne and shook hands with the half-married couple. Technically not wed, the couple retired to separate rooms, with Grace staying in the palace while Rainier went back to his villa.
The next morning was the final part of the wedding ceremony. Held at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco, it should have provided the pair with some welcome respite from the media frenzy, but MGM’s cameras and lights were set up inside, ready to film the wedding of the century; even in the most intimate part of their wedding, they couldn’t escape the world’s ever-watching eyes.
The scene was set for a fairytale wedding. A sea of white flowers – lilies, white lilacs and snapdragons – cascaded across the cathedral, hanging in baskets and fixed to chandeliers, while the high altar was surrounded by flickering candles. Seated in the crowd were some of Hollywood’s most celebrated stars, including Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson and Ava Gardner. With all the guests seated, it was time for the bride to arrive first, as Monégasque tradition dictated.
Grace in a promotional shot for her 1954 film, Rear Window
On the arm of her father, Grace walked past guards of honour from the visiting warships of Britain, France, Italy and America and into the cathedral. Walking down the aisle between candles and flowers, Grace was the embodiment of a fairytale princess, with the soft flickering light of the candles capturing the intricate details of lacing and pearl on her exquisite gown.
Just moments after Grace took her place at the altar, a trumpet blare signalled the arrival of Prince Rainier in a uniform of his own design, based on the uniforms of Napoleon Bonaparte. As he joined Grace at the altar, the two momentarily locked eyes, the prince smiling nervously at his bride-to-be, while Grace remained tense and tight-lipped.
With the nuptial Mass conducted in French by the Bishop of Monaco, the couple reiterated their vows and exchanged rings before kneeling to receive communion. The religious ceremony signified the end of Grace Kelly – as the couple stepped out of the cathedral, the world was presented with the prince and his new wife, Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.
With the ceremonies complete, the couple were taken on a driving tour of Monte Carlo in a black and cream Rolls-Royce, gifted to them by the people of Monaco. Later, they retired for a private function with the 600 attendees of the religious service. Guests were fed a luncheon of soup, smoked salmon, caviar, lobster and salad, all washed down with champagne.
The incredible six-tier wedding cake was also unveiled here, featuring a sugar replica of the palace, with each tier depicting a different scene from the history of Monaco, topped with a spun sugar crown. The extraordinary cake was cut by the royal couple using Rainier’s ceremonial sword. Finally, the stress of the world’s most anticipated wedding was over; the couple could finally relax. Later, the prince remarked on how the dignity of the wedding was compromised by the intrusion of the press in the ceremony: “We both agreed that we should really have got married in a little chapel in the mountains.”
The wedding was finally over, all the strain and anxiety that went along with it a distant nightmare. But Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco faced a new, rather more complex challenge – winning over the Monégasque population.
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco in later life