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Cinderella Stories

updated 01/12/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Clotilde Courau

Old Life: French film actress
Royal Life: Italian princess

When Italy's Prince Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, 31, wed Courau, 34, in September, the seven-months-pregnant bride walked down the aisle in an Empire-waisted Valentino gown. Did his staunchly Roman Catholic family approve? Courau, a socialist who has appeared topless on film, doesn't care. "When the baby is born, we will be the family," she has declared. The prince, who would have been second in line to his country's throne had Italy not abolished its monarchy in 1946, immediately fell for the engineer's daughter when he met her at a charity ball in Monte Carlo, but she dodged his calls for almost a year before agreeing to go out with him. "I don't like the rich and powerful," explained Courau, who plans to retain her maiden name and acting career. "I only believe in nobility of the heart."

Mary Donaldson

Old Life: Australian lawyer
Royal Life: Future Queen of Denmark

You can't get farther from the palaces of Europe than the remote reaches of Australia. But that's where Donaldson, 31, grew up, in a humble suburban home in Taroona on the southern island of Tasmania. The daughter of a college professor and a university vice-chancellor, she moved to Sydney to pursue a law career and met Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik, 35, at a nightclub during the 2000 Olympics. Within a year Donaldson had moved to Copenhagen to be near her blue-blooded beau, trading the courtroom for classes in protocol to fit in with one of Europe's oldest royal families. But as her May wedding approaches, Donaldson insists she is still a down-to-earth Aussie girl at heart, telling reporters she watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana on TV as a kid but wasn't impressed. "I wasn't thinking about becoming a princess," she said. "I actually dreamt of becoming a vet."

Letizia Ortiz

Old Life: TV journalist
Royal Life: Future Queen of Spain

Her mother is a nurse and her father a newspaper reporter, but Ortiz, 31, doesn't let her fiancé, Crown Prince Felipe of Spain, pull rank. When Felipe, 35, interrupted her during a press conference to announce their engagement, she grabbed his arm and chided: "Let me finish!" Introduced by friends at a dinner party last spring, the couple kept their love a secret until the fall. Though she has been married before, to a college professor, that wedding was a civil ceremony, so she and Felipe can still have the church nuptials his conservative Catholic parents would want when the couple marry in May. Royal-mad Spaniards can't wait. "It's like a fairytale," says Ana Campillo, a journalist who knows Ortiz. "Not because she is marrying a prince but because she is marrying a man she loves."

Claire Coombs

Old Life: Land surveyor
Royal Life: Belgian princess

For years most Belgians assumed that puckish Laurent, 40, the youngest son of King Albert II and Queen Paola and eighth in line to his country's throne, would never marry, preferring fast cars to settling down. But after a Brussels dinner party in 2000, the prince decided to help with the dishes and wound up washing and drying with fellow guest Coombs, 29, the soft-spoken daughter of a British businessman and a Belgian mother. When the prince proposed two years later, he flushed so red with nervousness that Coombs, who worked at a surveyor's office in Wavre, Belgium, until her April 2003 wedding, burst out laughing. Since then, the unpretentious pair have avoided the limelight, and loved ones credit Claire with slowing Laurent down. As her English grandfather, Charles Coombs, put it, "She's got a good head screwed on her shoulders." One fit for a crown.

Maxima Zorriegueta

Old Life; Investment banker
Royal Life: Future Queen of the Netherlands

Bloodlines don't matter much anymore—unless your dad happens to have served in one of the 20th century's most brutal military dictatorships. Before the Buenos Aires-born Zorriegueta, 32, could wed Crown Prince Willem Alexander, 35, in 2002, the Dutch parliament insisted that she agree not to invite her father, the minister of agriculture during Argentina's Dirty War of the '70s and '80s. "That's the way it is," conceded the disappointed bride, who worked as a banker in Manhattan before meeting her prince at a party in Seville, Spain, in 1999. The Dutch have since warmed to Maxima, who gave birth to baby girl Catharina Amalia on Dec. 7. Still proud of her roots, she has encouraged her husband (brother of Johan Friso, see page 90) to try Latin dance, "[but] his hips are a little rigid!"

THINK GLASS SLIPPRES ARE JUST FOR GIRLS? MEET A COUPLE OF CINDER-FELLAS

ARI BEHN

Old Life: Author
Royal Life: Consort of Princess Märtha Louise of Norway

Marrying down is old hat in liberal Norway, where Crown Prince Haakon wed single mom Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby in 2001. So it was no shock to the Norwegian royals when Princess Martha, 32, announced her engagement to former playboy Behn, an author. Märtha, who met Behn through his mother, one of her college tutors, didn't mind. "He makes me shine," she declared. Since their 2002 wedding, Behn has settled down, becoming a proud papa to baby Maud Angelica in April. Said his father-in-law King Harald: "Who hasn't done one or two reprehensible things in youthful recklessness?"

KITIN MUNOZ

Old Life: Globe-trotting explorer
Royal Life: Consort of Princess Kalina of Bulgaria

Kalina, 31, didn't grow up in the old country (the Bulgarian monarchy was abolished in 1946), but she chose a Bulgarian mountain resort for her October wedding to dashing Muñoz, 45, an explorer who has made a name for himself trying to sail across the Atlantic and Pacific on rafts. The pair met through a mutual friend three years ago and are a fixture in European society columns. Though based in Madrid, they'll spend a lot more time in her ancestral home: In '01, Kalina's dethroned dad, King Simeon II, was elected Bulgaria's prime minister.

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