Monaco unsure of what dress to wear for its 700th birthday


ONCE the epitome of glamour, Monaco celebrates the 700th anniversary of its ruling dynasty today in a surprisingly lacklustre fashion. The tiny principality seems unsure of what dress to wear for the opening of its 10-month party.

Apart from its own royal family, which claims to be the longest reigning European dynasty, the highest-ranking celebrity expected to attend today's opening Mass is the Vatican representative.

A day before the event, the streets were virtually deserted, hotels had vacancies in abundance and festival decorations consisted largely of recycled Christmas lighting.

"The Prince [Rainier III] wanted the celebration to be between the princely family and the people of Monaco," explained Ms lsabelle Peters, spokeswoman for the event.

The territory, on the Mediterranean coast and surrounded by France, can be walked from end-to-end in half an hour. Even so, Ms Peters says, many of its 30,000 people are likely to stay at home today and watch the party live on cable television.

After Mass, today's celebrations involve the dedication of a statue by Kees Verkade, a waterfront reenactment of the principality's past glories and a concert. All of the events are to take place, as the organisers put it, "in the presence of the princely family".

The family has been in the public eye more or less constantly since Prince Rainier married the Irish-American movie star, Grace Kelly, in 1956. Ever since Monaco has probably been best known around the world from the succession of glossy cover pictures of the photogenic family. But it has had a bad run of luck since Grace's death in a 1982 car crash, all of it amply documented by paparazzi.

Prince Albert (38) is co-ordinating Monaco's birthday party at his father's request. Prince Rainier (73) is grooming him to take over the state but seems in no hurry to step down despite major heart surgery two years ago.

Princess Caroline (39), believed to be the first princess ever photographed topless, appeared completely bald in her latest cover shots. Her younger sister, Princess Stephanie (31) has not been a stranger to controversy either. Her most recent cover appearances followed the publication in Italy of photographs of her now ex-husband, Mr Daniel Ducruet, cavorting with "Miss Topless Belgium" at a Riviera poolside.

Prince Albert said yesterday he was in favour of extending the voting rights of the citizens of Monaco. At present only one sixth of the 30,000-strong population can vote in parliamentary elections.