Russia is set to celebrate its first royal wedding in a century when Nicholas II’s purported heir marries in an elaborate ceremony in the former Imperial capital of St Petersburg.
Grand Duke Georgy Mikhailovich Romanov, a hereditary pretender to the Russian throne, will tie the knot with Victoria Romanovna Bettarini in front of hundreds of guests at St. Isaac’s Cathedral on Friday.
The couple will wed amid in a lavish two days of imperial pomp and ceremony complete with Faberge wedding rings, royal guests, and a banquet provided by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the catering tycoon known as “Putin’s chef” who has also been linked to Russian mercenary company Wagner.
"This was the first place in Russia to which we returned," George Mikhailovich, 40, told news website Fontanka.ru about the choice of St. Petersburg for his wedding. "This is very, very close to the family.”
“The Orthodox spirit and history of our country, traditions, culture – these were constant conversations at home. My grandfather always tried to keep in touch with some Russian people in Russia and France, to support charitable projects,” he added.
Georgy Romanov is the son of Grand Duchess Maria Romanova, the self proclaimed heir to the Russian throne, and the Prussian Prince Franz Wilhelm of Hohenzollern.
His great grandfather, Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, was a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II who escaped to Finland during the Bolshevik Revolution and proclaimed himself emperor in exile after the rest of the Royal Family were gunned down in 1918.
Russian royal family tree
Born in Madrid, Romanov spent most of his life living in Spain and France and studied at Oxford before visiting Russia for the first time in 1992.
He worked for the European Parliament and the European Commission, before taking a job as an aide to the director of Norilsk Nickel, one of Russia’s largest mining companies. The couple currently live in Moscow, where he runs several charity projects and she works as a writer.
He first met Rebecca Bettarini, the daughter of an Italian diplomat, when they were both taken by their parents to official functions in their youths. Years later they reconnected at a reception and at the French embassy in Brussels, where they lived for six years before moving to Russia.
Ms Bettarini converted to the Russian Orthodox faith last year and took the name Victoria Romanovna last year, and the Grand Duke proposed at Christmas with a ruby and diamond engagement ring given to him by his mother.
Announcing their engagement in an Instagram post in January, Ms Bettarini wrote: “I hope that the journey ahead will be full of love, suspense and adventure as the first part of our life book was.”
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The couple wed at a civil ceremony in Moscow on September 24 before arranging this week’s religious ceremony, which has been designed to echo the traditions of the Russian imperial family.
The two-hour church service will see them exchange wedding rings made by the House of Faberge, the favoured jewellers of the Imperial family before the revolution.
Ms Bettarini will wear a dress by Hollywood fashion designer Rim Acra, who has also dressed Beyoncé, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and Melania Trump.
A third of the guests have been invited to an evening reception at the St Petersburg Ethnographic Museum, which was founded by Nicholas II.
The following day 700 guests have been invited to the Konstantinovsky Palace for brunch, live performances, and an auction. The evening will end with a concert in honour of the opening of the Russian Imperial Musical Society. Guests will reportedly include Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the brother of the Emir of Qatar, Queen Sofia of Spain, the mother of king Philip VI, and Princess Leia of Belgium.
The wedding of Tsar Nicholas II and the Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt on November 26, 1894
Credit: Heritage Images
Scions of several other exiled royal houses will also be present, including Leka II Zogu, the titular king of the Albanians, and his wife the actress and singer Elia Zakharia, Simeon II, the last Tsar of Bulgaria, and his wife Margarita, a distant relative of the Spanish king Juan Carlos, and Prince Joachim Murat, the descendant and namesake of the King of Naples and brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Nicholas II was overthrown in 1917 in a revolution fuelled largely by anger at his mishandling of the First World War.
He and his immediate family were murdered by a Bolshevik firing squad in the cellar of a merchant’s house near Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow, in July the following year.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 they became subjects of veneration for many Russians. Russia’s Orthodox Church elevated the Tsar to sainthood in 2000.