PARIS Monaco's royal palace vehemently denied a report on Tuesday that the fiancée of ruler Prince Albert tried to skip town a week before their wedding.
French weekly L'Express reported on its website that Charlene Wittstock, who is set to marry the tiny French Riviera principality's head of state on Saturday, went to the airport in nearby Nice last week to board a one-way flight for South Africa, where she grew up.
It required "infinite persuasion" by the prince and members of his entourage to convince the 33-year-old former swimming champion to change her mind, the magazine said.
"These rumors only serve to gravely hurt the image of the Sovereign, and that of Miss Wittstock, and bring major harm to this happy event," a palace spokeswoman said in a statement, calling the claims untrue.
A lawyer for the couple, Thierry Lacoste, similarly denied the report and told the daily Le Figaro he had started legal action against L'Express.
"It's sheer madness, everything is false," Lacoste told the newspaper. "This rumor has been going on three weeks ... I was just with the Prince and Charlene Wittstock in Paris three days ago and I can promise you everything is fine." Thousands of guests, including dozens of heads of state, are expected to attend the lavish Monaco ceremony on Saturday.
The 53-year-old head of the House of Grimaldi, son of Prince Rainier III and Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, met Wittstock in 2000 while presiding over an international swimming event in which she was competing.
Albert has ruled the small city-state surrounded on three sides by France since the death of his father in 2005.
(Reporting by Gerard Bon and Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato)